[K.C. Meadows has been the Editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal since 1997. She talks about growing up in New York, how she landed with her husband in Mendocino County, opines about Donald Trump and the survival of newspapers, and describes her enjoyment of living in our corner of the world.]
I grew up in Manhattan in NYC, on the Upper West Side which in the 50s and 60s was considered the wrong side of the tracks. Today of course it’s a different story. And, even though it was the wrong side of town we still lived in a nice two bedroom apartment half a block from Central Park with a doorman/elevator man all on my single mom’s secretary’s salary. How was that possible?
My parents were divorced when I was about a year old and my dad lived on the East Side. He was Catholic and wanted my sister and I (she’s two years older) to be raised Catholic. My atheist mom said, fine, if you want Catholics be here every Sunday morning to take them to church and Sunday school. And he did. Most Sundays my sister, my Dad and I would troop over the Holy Name Church on 96th and Amsterdam Avenue for services and then take a taxi to one of my dad’s favorite watering holes for “lunch.” PJ Clark’s was a favorite. My sister and I would have hamburgers and my Dad would have scotch. We later learned that one of my Dad’s good friends at the time loved to join us because as two cute little girls we were the perfect way to meet women. His friend would ask the prettiest woman at the bar to take us to the bathroom as a way to try to pick her up. Those Sundays were lots of fun for us since we got to eat out (something our mom could hardly afford) and we got to ride home alone in a taxi, always considered an adventure.
My parents were both show business people. My mom started out as a big band singer named Francey Lane who traveled with bands in the 40s and in the early 50s, the age of live TV, she had a couple of local live entertainment shows on NBC where she met my dad, Kevin Jonson, who worked at NBC and eventually became a TV director – directing things like the Milton Berle Show and the Kate Smith hour. She quit the business when they got divorced and he went on eventually to start his own company directing “industrials” such as videos and training films for private companies.
My dad started out as a ballet dancer. He was a member of the Balanchine ballet troupe when WWII broke out. The Army had no idea what to do with a ballet dancer so they assigned him to Irving Berlin’s This is the Army production and he spent the war traveling in the show. I have his photograph book from those years and there are some wonderful photos of the company – one I especially love is a group of men using the railings of a carrier ship as a ballet barre.
We went to NYC neighborhood public schools throughout our education. The West Side was a very diverse area, lots of Hispanic – mostly Puerto Rican – and black kids, but the schools kept us fairly well separated, putting white kids in “accelerated” classrooms (for no reason, of course, other than that we were white).
We got what I figure was a pretty good education. Once high school time came around, it was time to try to get into one of New York City’s specialized high schools. Otherwise it was Brandeis High School on 84th and Columbus, which everyone knew was a complete drug and crime center from which you would never emerge alive. Both my sister and I had been taking music lessons from a young age and we both had good singing voices (thank you, mom) so we were able to get ourselves into Music and Art High School, a specialized school in an old convent on 135th Street. Your academic grades didn’t matter but you had to audition to get in for the music side. The art students had to submit portfolios. It was a wonderful curriculum. Four hours of music lessons (I got in auditioning on piano but was a voice student) every day plus regular school. We were there 8-4 every day.
At graduation I applied to and got into State University of New York at Purchase in Westchester. It was a brand new college in the SUNY group and we were the first freshman class. The dorms weren’t finished yet so our first half year we were put up in empty dorms at the New York Maritime Academy in the Bronx (a bunch of 1972 college kids invade a military school, what could go wrong?) and we were bused to Purchase every day. The campus itself wasn’t finished either so we had classes in the Museum building (THAT was done) and the administration building. Everything was new and experimental. We didn’t have subjects. We had pods. Each of us had to choose ahead of time one of the three “pods” we would take: Truth, Beauty, or Power. Each pod was taught by a variety of professors from the different academic areas: history, literature, science etc.all aimed at the overarching theme. Frankly it was chaos. We were assigned Karl Marx reading but half of us really hadn’t a clue about the Russian Revolution. One professor had us reading The Story of O. I’ll say no more. After a year of this I couldn’t wait to get out. I quit school and never looked back. Living in the city again, I took some classes at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village, mostly writing classes and that was it.
I was living and working in Washington DC during the 80s for the US House of Representatives. I met my future husband, Bob Meadows, in a local bar and we got on so well we decided to be roommates on Capitol Hill. He worked in a bar near the White House. We had a gorgeous two bedroom apartment which we shared for two years. At about the same time we both got tired of our work and wanted something new. Bob suggested a move out west so we put all of our possessions in storage and took his ginormous Ford station wagon, loaded it up with camping equipment and started driving west.
Bob had driven across country several times before, but though I had done a lot of traveling over the world and to coastal areas of the US, I had never been to Yellowstone or seen Mount Rushmore so we took a month and just camped our way across America. We had a small amount of savings, no credit cards and also no debt so we figured we’d just find someplace out west to live and get jobs and start our lives over. Our goal was somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. We almost stayed in Bend, Oregon. We loved it there but we wanted to see Eureka which a DC friend had told us was a great place. This was September 1989. We arrived in Eureka on a drizzly day. As we drove around town I kept seeing “No Checks” signs in the windows of stores and thought, Hm.. this place is on a downward spiral. I had no idea we were in the middle of a dying logging town. We parked the car with the intention of going into the Chamber of Commerce and a little old lady, seeing our east coast license plates came up to us to tell us her son lived back East. We asked her how she liked living in Eureka and she said she hated it, that it was a terrible place to live. So we just got right back in our car and kept heading south on 101.
When we got to Ukiah and passed the Welcome to Ukiah sign, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw it spelled haiku backwards. I mentioned it to Bob who had studied haiku as an English major at Maryland U and we both declared that it was a sign we should stop. We had $500 to our names. We figured that would be plenty to get set up. We went to the Green Barn restaurant off Talmage and sat at the bar with the Ukiah Daily Journal in hand looking at apartments. With first and last, etc. everything was way out of our reach. But there was a little ad in there for a trailer on East Side Road for $100 a month. We asked the bartender for directions and he said to take take Talmage Road east until we got to the City of 10,000 Boozers (at least that’s what we thought he said, wondering what the hell kind of town we were in) and then take a right. We ended up with our tiny trailer with a deck right on the Russian River for $100. We had $400 left so we went right back to the Green Barn and had the full prime rib dinner, the best meal we’d had in a month.
Two years later Bob and I were living in Hopland and I was working for The Cheesecake Lady and I saw an ad in the Ukiah Daily Journal for a news assistant. I didn’t know what that was but I had worked in news in the 1970s as news director at WUPY Radio in Ishpeming, Michigan and the start of my congressional experience was as a press officer. So I applied and got the job right away. It was kind of an assistant to the editor but I was quickly put to work writing feature stories and then soon after a reporter position opened up and I got it, covering the City of Ukiah and the Mendocino County Office of Education. I was hired in 1991 and named editor in 1997.
People ask me if I think the Ukiah Daily Journal will survive. Boy, I wish I had a crystal ball, but I think yes it will. Despite all the prognostications that newspapers are dying, newspapers are still the number one place people go for information. A lot of that, of course, is online now and the big problem for newspapers has been that online content was for years free. Newspapers didn’t see the online revolution coming. We allowed aggregating sites like Huffington Post to build huge brands using our stuff. We allowed Craig’s List to completely take the classified ad market right out from under us.
It’s all about the advertising. If advertising stops, newspapers stop, unless we find a different way to make money. The circulation and online subscriptions don’t pay the bills. If you see an ad in your local paper, thank that local business for keeping your newspaper going. I can see a day when we don’t print a newspaper any more, maybe not while I’m still here but some day. The newsprint and delivery costs are enormous. But will we be there to report the news? Yes. Will we be able to do lots of investigative work and lengthy series on complex subjects? Not as much. Thinking about the fires of 2017 and 2018, our staff worked around the clock to get that news out and that’s what we’re here for… to make sure people get the news and watchdog government and tell stories of local people, and let you know about entertainment and the arts in our town. What we do locally is document the history of our town one day at a time. I always hope that 100 years from now, someone can read old copies of the Ukiah Daily Journal and really get a feel for what it was like to live in Ukiah these days.
I, like the majority of Americans, was completely blindsided by Trump’s win in 2016. I think he is the worst president this country has ever seen. He is unfit for the job. I am convinced he did not expect to win and really never wanted the job in the first place and it shows. Living in Northern California it’s easy to find yourself in a bubble and forget that there are millions of people out there who have completely different points of view. The dark money in politics has also shaped the world we now live in and it is one of the ways a minority of powerful people end up in charge. The scariest thing for me is the emergence of Fox News and other prominent media outlets that no longer agree on basic facts, that are willing to tell and promote outright lies from people in power and help them shape an alternate world that millions of people see as real and truthful. That will still be the case I fear when Trump is gone. I hope that at least Trump has shown the majority of Americans that real journalism is important and needs to be supported because you never know when and where the despots and tyrants will show up.
As for my reading habits, I read the New York Times and Washington Post online and I have a subscription to the New Yorker. I also like Politico and Talking Points Memo.
I love authors Robertson Davies and Jonathan Irving. For years my favorite book was The Magus by John Fowles, but recently The Goldfinch blew me away. I am a one book at a time reader and I cannot put a book aside even if I am not really enjoying it. I figure I owe the author at least to finish it. I just finished The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason which was an amazing story and Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which somehow I missed years ago when everyone else was reading it. When I am in the mood for easy reading I am hooked on British detective stories although I have found a new strain of Italian and Indian versions I also love.
As a Hopland resident I love that Hopland has been in something of a revival. I love and recommend The Golden Pig (which we Hoplanders simply call The Pig) for great cocktails and food. Tyler the bartender is a gem and will fix you something you’ve never heard of but which will be your new favorite cocktail. Also the newly opened Hopland Tap for sheer great vibes and beer (which I don’t drink so they have wonderful apple cider from Gowan’s in Boonville).
My favorite winery will always be Graziano Family of Wines. Yes, my husband retired from there but in my opinion Greg Graziano is one of California’s truly exceptional winemakers and he keeps his prices out of the stratosphere.
I hardly go to movies any more but I could watch The Thin Man another 1,000 times and still love it. Gigi because it is charming and I loved it as a girl and I am also a complete sucker for You’ve Got Mail.
I am so glad Bob and I ended up here. We have had a happy life (we were married on my lunch hour from The Cheesecake Lady under the Chinese redwoods on the northwest corner of the courthouse by the county clerk) and made good friends and have had wonderful jobs that we truly love – and how many people can say that?