Editor’s note: After March 17, Peter McKay’s column will no longer run in Coasting due to the columnist’s retirement.
The other day, I was out driving with my wife and daughters and the subject of British royalty came up. In my head, I teed up a funny anecdote about how, when I was 16, I literally bumped into the Queen of England. Long story, but she was a middle-aged monarch visiting the States, I was a brash teenager who didn’t respect barricades, and ... kismet. A long but good story.
I turned to my wife and daughters and said, “ Did I ever tell you about the time ... “
Dead stares. My daughter rolled her eyes. “Are you going to tell us how you met the queen? The same story you’ve told us 80 times already?” Then they all started reciting the story back to me – word for word.
It occurred to me last week that it’s the same feeling I have about writing a weekly column for 12 years without a break. I’m worried about repeating myself. I’ve fit writing this column into regular life any way I could – hotel rooms, restaurants, bars. Once I dictated a column to my wife while we barreled down the Jersey Turnpike. I wrote one column in a hotel room in London at 4 a.m., another on a frozen train platform in Germany at midnight and one at an Internet cafe in Italy, putting quarters into a box for more time. I wrote one column while squatting on an emergency room floor in Mexico waiting to see whether my wife had a serious head injury. (She didn’t.) But after 12 years of weekly columns, around 625 so far, I now spend more time trying to come up with ideas than I do writing. So I decided to quit while I’m ahead. I may write here and there in the future, but this will be my final weekly column.
When you run out of things to write about, there’s only one thing to say: Thanks.
I’m not generally a fan of people and especially not of meeting new people. This column, though, has put me in touch each week with so many folks (mostly women) who write to say that my family is just like their family, and they read it out loud to their husband and kids at the table. I often get letters from older ladies telling me that I remind them of their deceased spouses. At first I thought this was kind of neat – I have the same qualities of someone they loved. But then one older lady said, no, it was because I was so cranky.
I got a huge number of letters over the years about our tired, smelly, old West Highland white terrier, Harry, whom I suspect had more fans than I did. I once met a woman at a cocktail party who swore up and down she’d never heard of my humor column, even though she read the Saturday paper cover to cover. She did, however, want to know if I could direct her to “that jerk who owns Harry because I want to give him a piece of my mind!” I told her I didn’t know who that jerk was, but I’d check around. If you’re one of those people who wrote over the years and told me you liked a column, or you missed Harry, well, you made my day when you did that.
And if you’re a fan who has followed the column for years and years, I want to say thanks to you, too. The only real reason I’ve written this stupid thing for so long is because I picture a lot of people pouring themselves a cup of coffee, opening their morning papers and laughing for a couple minutes before going on to the real news. Thanks to all the wives who insisted on reading the column out loud, and to all the husbands who put up with it without yelling, “Jeez, will you please stop!”
My biggest thanks go to my family. I wrote the column, but most of the time it was about them. My kids were too young when I started to even know what it meant to have every embarrassing event broadcast in the paper, but as they got older, they learned to take it in stride and even enjoy it. My wife, Gretchen, who was definitely old enough to speak up and complain, to her great credit didn’t. She was in fact, the source of most of my ideas. Many a week, when I was at a loss for a topic, she’d throw out the perfect idea of something she’d read in the news and show me how it fit nicely with something happening in our own family. As I’d hunch over the keyboard and start typing, she’d happily call out, “See? What would you do without me?” The answer always was, is and always will be: I never want to find out.
Thanks. It’s been so much fun.