Signposts are few and far between in the Deadline Forest.

I am a creature of the Deadline.

When I was cartooning for my high school and college newspapers in the Seventies the Deadline popped round once per week. From 1977 to 1991, it was in my face every goddamn night, except for the one time I worked for an afternoon paper, when it was in my face every goddamn afternoon.

And after ’91 … well, it got complicated.

By then I was a full-time freelancer and either had a lot or nothing to do, depending on whether anyone other than VeloNews was buying what I was selling.

I was a regular at VeloNews, which began its Boulder residency in 1989 with 18 issues per year and then quickly ramped up with additional issues, special editions, race guides, and whatnot.

When Bicycle Retailer and Industry News came along in ’92 I was a regular there, too. BRAIN was brand-new, and started off with just nine issues that first year. But it soon found its legs and took off like free beer at an Interbike booth, to 18 issues a year, plus trade-show dailies, Sea Otter specials, and all manner of other projects.

So, yeah. I wasn’t a daily newsdog any longer. But I still had me some Deadlines.

In the early days I did my share of straight news, race coverage, and feature writing, with a side hustle of copyediting and proofreading. But eventually I settled into the one-two punch of cartoonist-columnist: an editorial cartoon in every VeloNews, and a “Mad Dog Unleashed” column and “Shop Talk” comic strip in every issue of BRAIN, with extra-credit cartoons in the various Show Dailies and other special editions.

When I started helping run the VN website I added “Friday’s Foaming Rant” to the mix. That came around weekly.

At my peak I was choreographing a conga line of cartoons and columns, each of which had to give at least a wave and a nod to bicycling. This is a very small and shallow pool in which to fish for one’s supper. There are trees nearby, but all the low-hanging fruit was picked long ago.

Happily, I had the Deadline.

You can’t bullshit the Deadline. It is not an essay question, or even multiple choice. You either make it or you don’t; true or false, right or wrong. And a freelancer only gets so many wrongs before an editor figures you are all the way wrong and stops giving you assignments and/or taking your calls.

The Deadline is harsh, but fair. It has no patience with the sluggard, but can be merciful to the weak. Sometimes, when the Deadline rumbles up to see you staring blankly into your wordless word processor or blank sheet of Bristol board, it rolls its Eye and growls: “Christ on a crutch. OK, hop in.”

“Where are we going?” you ask.

“Fuck do you care? Sitting there with your thumb up your ass. Can’t catch a ride like that. Hey, you gettin’ in or what? Tick-tock, shit-for-brains.”

So in you get, and before you can buckle up or even close the door, zoom, off you go, with tires smoking, on a high-speed, no-brakes tour of the back alleys in your brainpan, bowling over trash cans to see what spills out and leaning on the horn to get the Voices hollering.

At this point you are no longer writing or drawing. You are taking dictation and having trouble keeping up. …

When suddenly with a squeal of brakes your ride slaloms to a stop, your door flies open, and the Deadline kicks you sprawling to the curb. Where, in one white-knuckled fist, you clutch the finished Work.

“You’re welcome,” smirks the Deadline. “Pay window’s over there. See you next week, bitch.”

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15 Responses to “Deadlines”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    That’s definitely publishable in a place that writes your name in the “pay to the order of” column.

    • JD Says:

      Definitely agree, Khal. Brilliant in so many ways.
      But wait …. no ribbons for everyone with a deadline? Everyone’s a winner? Ha!
      The poetry of “You can’t bullshit the deadline” reminded me of Yoda in Star Wars when teaching Luke to become a Jedi: “There is no trying. You either do or you don’t.”
      Tip of the chapeau/sombrero, PO’G, and a prolonged rim-shot! 🙂

    • Pat O’Brien Says:

      The Supreme Word Wrangler strikes again! Khal is right. You didn’t have a deadline on that piece, but you damn sure should get paid for it. Chapeau you hoser.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Haw. Glad you guys liked it. I haven’t had a deadline for three months now, and haven’t written a BRAIN column since 2017, but if I started the thing off with a quote and added subheds it would have slotted right into my old column spot at 750 words. Practice may not make perfect, but it sure plugs the hole around the ads. “All the News That Fits, We Print.”

      This thing started in the shower last night with the idea about the Deadline taking a writer on a drive into undiscovered country, except I was thinking the writer was idling at a stop sign and the Deadline took the wheel. That’s all I had, and I noted it on the iPhone before getting into bed:

      “Bits are all there but we’re not going anywhere until deadline hops in and drives.”

      I kinda miss that old Deadline now and then. It surely does get the cattle to Abilene.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Deadlines keep you honed, I guess. I have some self imposed ones since I keep volunteering myself to get on these public boards. Not sure any of that stuff is really too effective but it gives the appearance of having a purpose other than eating and taking up space on the planet.

        • Pat O’Brien Says:

          Just don’t forget to take a break every now and then. We are taking at least a year’s break from volunteer work starting in 2023.

          • khal spencer Says:

            I’m a sucker for this stuff. Currently working on the Public Safety Committee on police stuff. Fascinating.

            I should fully confess. I graduated high school in ’72 and schlepped my way to downtown Buffalo to apply for a job as a cop with the Buffalo Police Dept. First part of the application said, in those days, minimum height requirement, 5′ 9″.

            So much for that, so I went off to college.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        The Deadline is cousin to The Fear. When faced with either the brain shifts into overdrive.

        • Herb from Michigan Says:

          Yeah one of your finest word rodeos indeed. If you’ve ever worked on straight commission then you know Fear is lurking around the premises like a surly teenager at a pizza buffet. After 45 years of that self flagellation, and finally hiding behind the shed when Deadline and Fear pulled up in their Vega (with of couse no muffler) it’s great to give them both the slip. But I’ll bet that you, like me, still have micro panic moments when you think you must have screwed up and missed doing something important? Well I’m just glad you still have those voices in your noggin POG. Sure makes for great reading.

          • B Lester Says:

            I have gonzo respect for straight commission guys. If you don’t sell, you don’t eat. I would suffer from both malnutrition and zero sleep.
            As for deadlines, running manufacturing and inventory control. You haven’t lived ‘till a supply or schedule screwup shuts down a production line and 200 people are idle.
            Two years ago I even decided that running the local soccer club was too deadliney.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          I tried selling a variety of products on commission — Bibles, cleaning products, what have you — but didn’t have the Right Stuff. Potential customers took one look at me and knew in their hearts that I did not believe in the product, though when I was hawking Bibles I looked a good deal like the Protestant take on Jesus.

          My one successful sales gig was retailing weed. Those customers were My People. Buy 10 pounds a week from my wholesaler in one town, break ’em down into retail ounces in another. My partners and I would run the seeds and stems through a blender and add ’em back into the product so we didn’t lose any weight.

          We offered a clean lid of Classic Seventies Mexican Ditch for $12 and never had any problem moving product, though occasionally when raids were rumored we had to relocate our inventory to a foil-lined footlocker buried in the country. These were also the only times that our dorm room got a thorough vacuuming.

  2. Shawn Says:

    Yep. I believe that any fruit on my shrubbery would have been used up on the first pass and I would have been out on my ass after failing to catch the second deadline train.

    Your column allows me to reflect on my own pitiful deadline to have my journal entry completed before English Comp class in high school. I was always able to put the pen to paper but holy crap did what I write stink exactly as that.

    Thanks for giving us the fear.

  3. Chris Ivich Says:

    Hmm – yeah the deadline. In my world of commercial construction it was “the schedule” and “the completion date” as in “if you fail to meet the completion date you will be assessed liquidated damages of $10,000 per day until final inspection and owner acceptance”. Life could be exciting and lo, 14 years after leaving that world I don’t miss it.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Newspaper work is kind of like construction, if we’re talking sand castles. Build the sumbitch today, watch it get knocked down by the tide, do it again tomorrow. And yet people wondered why we drank.

  4. NJgreyhead Says:

    Ten pounds a week?! Yow!

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