I drank my first cup of coffee the morning of May 19, 1975, after successfully negotiating four years of college, including all-nighters, without the beverage.
It was the day after graduation from college. I had spent the night in an old old hotel in Waupaca, Wisconsin (I was there not long ago — Waupaca, that is, not the hotel, because I went to where it was and it wasn’t anymore), and I reported as requested at 5:30 a.m. to the WDUX Radio studios on Tower Drive, where my first newscast as a professional journalist was due to be broadcast an hour later. Or wait, maybe it was two hours later, around 7:40-ish after Paul Harvey. Funny how the details blur after 46 years.
The morning man — I can see his face, but not quite his name, which is OK because it wasn’t his real name, everyone had radio names then; I would be Warren Phillips for five months, chosen because Wally Phillips ruled Chicago radio at the time — said you look tired, kid, have a cup of coffee.
I don’t drink coffee, I said, I never got around to it. No time like the present, he said. I poured a cup and tried it. And another. And another. And a rest-of-my-life caffeine addiction settled in.
Would my college career have been different if I’d surrendered to the coffee gods earlier? Hard to say. But waiting until that morning helped cement the fact that my new life had begun. Living in an ancient hotel until I found the apartment above the TV store a week or so later? Check. Starting my first full-time job in the adult world? Check. Drinking coffee? Check. I even attended my first Waupaca City Council meeting that night so I could experience my first 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. workday. Or was it 10?
I get nostalgic this time of year. WDUX recently remodeled and posted photos of its remodeled studio on Facebook, and I could see the bones of the old place in the pictures. That was the summer I bought my 12-string guitar and recorded an album’s worth of songs on a Sunday afternoon in the radio station’s production studio and kissed a girl shortly before midnight while “Dance With Me” was playing that time I substituted as a Saturday night DJ. I remember doing a remote broadcast from the newly opened car dealership out on the edge of town, which is now a mile or so from the edge of town because of all the development that 46 years can bring.
I only spent five months there. They never got around to raising my salary from $120 a week to $125 a week after three months like they said they would, and then the station at my adopted hometown of Ripon called and said they wanted to hire me away but could offer only $170 a week. It’s one of the only times I made a career move for mercenary reasons, but it worked out well enough that I can say I lived in Ripon for 11 years, not just the four.
Sometimes we drive through Waupaca and I see what’s different and what’s still the same, and I wonder how my life would have evolved if I had stayed. But mostly I remember a bright sunny summer and all of life ahead of me, and that first cup of coffee, and changing my name back to Warren Bluhm after introducing myself in Ripon with my radio name and having two or three people say “I thought your name was Bluhm, didn’t you just graduate up at the college?” Ah, small towns.