That first job can be an emotional killer. You might be a five hour plane flight from home, don't know a soul, dealing with weather you've never experienced, and a general public that seems foreign. The things you took for granted, the style of life, doesn't exist anymore.
Welcome to Palookaville.
Oh, and don't think I'm generalizing by saying all small markets are in Palookaville. The concept of Palookaville is different things to different people. To people who grew up in small towns, big cities can be as distasteful as small towns are to big city people.
Fish out of water. Doesn't matter where the fish is from, or the size of the pond. If you're out of your element, you're stressed.
I've often said that reporters who grew up in big cities have an advantage coming out of college, since they've grown up watching the best people. But in this fish story, it's the people who grew up in that one-traffic-light town who get the upper hand.
Why? Because it is harder for a big city person to slow down than a small town person to speed up.
Example: Grocery store in a big city. You put your stuff on the conveyor belt, cashier scans it, says nothing. You swipe your card, say nothing, and wheel your cart outta there.
Grocery store in a small town. You put your stuff on the conveyor belt, then begin to read the Hollywood tabloids because either the cashier has to have an extended conversation with the customer in front of you about Lindsay Lohan, or the customer in front of you fails to grasp the concept that she will have to actually pay for groceries. You know what I mean. Cashier rings up the total; then, and only then, does said customer open her purse, fumble through it, pull out a checkbook, ask if she can write a check for an extra twenty bucks, waits till the cashier gets approval from the manager. She couldn't have that checkbook ready when the cashier hit the total button? Noooooooo. Meanwhile, your Haagen-Dazs has now turned into a very expensive milkshake and you're heading to the pharmacy aisle looking for the equivalent of over-the-counter valium.
But reverse the process, and the small town person probably just thinks the cashier who said nothing is having a bad day and politely goes on his way.
Meanwhile, there's the stuff that's available. A big city person who can't get a sandwich after eight p.m. will go nuts while a small town person will marvel at the fact that you can roll out of bed at three in the morning and order a lobster.
Finally, the biggest factor of all. The people who live in your new home. If you don't have an accent that matches the locals, you're either an outsider who will never be accepted, or a novelty that invites attention. And every town is different. Some accept everyone, some hate all outsiders. (And all you have to do is mispronounce one local town and you've got the outsider label.)
Learning and polishing reporting skills is one thing, but dealing with a new environment can be the toughest aspect of this career. Just realize that if you're feeling lost and hopelessly out of place, you're not alone. The best thing you can do is adopt a "When in Rome" policy, get involved with a local charity, and think of it as a stop along the road trip of life.
TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano