The Crestview News Bulletin's office is coming home!
At least, that's how I feel.
You see, ace reporters Brian Hughes and Matthew Brown; Randy Dickson, North Okaloosa's sports authority; Dale Robinson, our circulation district manager; and our wonderful media sales consultants, Sherrie Stanley and Melissa Tedder, get out more — in some cases, much more — than the CNB's office dwellers.
This group includes Dawn Barnes, our receptionist; Cristina Splawn, our circulation assistant; Renee Bell, our editorial assistant; and yours truly.
It's especially challenging for an editor, who mostly works from the desk, to justify 20- to 30-minute trips into town to make the rounds and visit the hot spots.
Our Ashley Drive office, which is just off PJ Adams Parkway, is a great office, and our property manager has been wonderful.
But a newspaper has special needs. And come Monday, we're getting them.
TAKING THE PULSE
Over the years, I've made mistakes in this business; I'm only human. Unfortunately, some occurred because I relied too much on social media to take North Okaloosa's pulse.
After all, when you're managing the newspaper, its website, all of its social media channels and the paperwork that entails, those valuable trips into town become unrealistic.
Sure, I can attend Crestview Area Chamber Commerce breakfasts, Professional and Inspired Leaders of Tomorrow meetings and a couple of other things each month, but it's like I told Randy, working on the outskirts of town makes it difficult to truly take the community's pulse.
That means seeing Bulldogs' "FSU bound!" markings on the backs of trucks at graduation time; watching downtown regulars pass in and out of places like Hideaway Pizza on Main Street; passing many of the roadside vendors; dining at restaurants that all the movers and shakers eat at; and so much more.
Many evenings, even after 6 or 7 o'clock, I take a detour from home and turn down Main Street just to try to imagine that spirit.
Soon, with our 638 N. Ferdon Boulevard location, I won't have to imagine it.
MUCH TO MISS
Despite relocation, there's plenty to miss about our PJ Adams Parkway location.
There's the proximity to Hub City Smokehouse — convenient on long days without lunch! — and the Barber Shop — great for long months when you can't break away, and being just up the road from Antioch Elementary School.
Not to mention the great people; they're not exclusive to just one area!
Heath Childs, the Crestview Force basketball team's assistant head coach, says it best: “Crestview might be the biggest city in Okaloosa County now, but it still has a small town’s heart."
Childs refers to the community's financial support of his team's trip to a Memphis tournament. But I've experienced that small-town heart numerous times.
A few weeks ago, I was leaving work, headed toward Antioch Road and started feeling ill. I was hot, nauseous and my heart was beating out of its chest.
That seemed like a good time to turn onto Cadle Drive and park at Palm Chapel Primitive Baptist Church. (House of God? Best place, this Catholic says, for such situations.) Now, doctors have run every test and say I'm healthy; I just have occasional, unexplainable anxiety attacks.
Luckily, emergency medication was nearby (left over from an ER visit last fall; oh, this former Boy Scout is always prepared— and thank you, North Okaloosa Medical Center.) I took the pill and phoned a friend to talk me through it, but medication without water? Not great.
I waited 10 or 15 minutes to drive, slowly steered to the closest house in the neighborhood beside the church, swallowed my pride, and carefully walked toward the front door.
By that point, I was on my knees, feeling like a beggar, asking for water. (It was very humbling.) But the man who answered the door, and his family, did much more. They gave me water, took me inside, fed me snacks and, a few hours later, drove me home.
True Good Samaritans — but not unexpected.
MORE LIKE NEIGHBORS
I've repeatedly experienced Crestview residents' kindness since I arrived here almost two years ago.
In the fall of 2012, I was photographing Covenant Hospice's Blue Jean Ball when Councilwoman Robyn Helt approached me, introduced herself and sent a warm welcome to town. That was the first indication that I made the right decision to leave the Alabama town my family helped settle and move to Florida. (Leaving not just your hometown but also a 100-year legacy? No easy decision, as all of you long-time Crestview natives know. But I love journalism that much.)
With time, I saw that Helt's example was no isolated occurrence.
On weekends, strangers, young and old, would strike up conversations with this introvert who's just trying to grocery shop as fast as possible (and they're brightening my day because of it).
Soon, I realized these strangers were more like neighbors.
I loosened up, changed the newspaper's tone (especially on the Opinion page) and started to take the community's pulse better; at least, based on readers' countless emails, phone calls and Facebook and Twitter comments I did.
Still, something has been missing these past two years; for Brian and many of our other associates, that absence has been felt even longer.
We're moving closer to Crestview's heart; and soon, you'll see, on these pages and our social media channels, what a difference a move makes.