Not the Durham town that Roger Whittaker sang about (eeks, never thought I’d reference him in a blog!). Not Durham, North Carolina, where Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis educated Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh about women and baseball, and baseball and women.
No, Durham, Ontario, the town of 2,000 where I began my career in journalism in December, 1985.
A few months earlier I answered an ad in the Globe & Mail. National art & collectibles publication seeking reporter for a monthly magazine in Durham. I was living in Scarborough, now part of the GTA but then a city in its own right. I thought I was applying for a job in Durham REGION…the nearby towns of Oshawa or Whitby.
And then I got the call.
Durham, up Highway 6, north of Kitchener, south of Owen Sound. I was 23, and desperate to get out of my parent’s house and thus began my long and winding road to becoming Johnny Maraca. Durham would have been too much of a culture shock so I found an apartment in Owen Sound, a 30-minute highway drive from the old farmhouse that served as the magazine office.
It was my first experience driving on unlit highways and in the first few weeks I had a few white-knuckle, grip-the-wheel trips home. Following the lights of the vehicle in front and hoping the driver didn’t end up in the ditch.
My first place was a crappy attic apartment that literally had no kitchen sink. I washed my dishes in the bathtub. And, each night a snarling dog guarded the front porch and dared me to approach the front door. She was a sad, one-eyed creature that, thankfully, softened up when her lone eye recognized me.
So, when I went home to Scarborough for Christmas I had constant thoughts of not going back to Durham. I hated my apartment. The job was so-so. Rolling Stone hadn’t magically invited me to join their staff so there I was writing about Norman Rockwell collector plates and Hummel figurines.
My parents convinced me to get in my Sunbird and stick it out. After three years with “Insight on Collectables,” I became the editor but I also hit the ceiling in terms of position and salary. Eventually, I landed a copywriting job with CFOS in Owen Sound.
I spent three years as a journalist. I’ve been in radio for over twenty five years, mostly as a copwriter and producer and in 2008, I became Johnny Maraca.
Who knows what would have happened had I insisted on staying in Scarborough and kissed Durham goodbye? Another magazine or newspaper job? Public relations? Perhaps a totally different career.
Somewhere up Highway 10 in late December ’85 I, as John O’Mara, began a reluctant and long journey to become Johnny Maraca. Creating, researching and hosting the Rock and Roll Riot lets me combine my journalism background with my love of music so maybe I ended up in the right job after all.
Though if Jann Wenner’s reading this, I’d still kill to write for Rolling Stone.