City Life: I'm not going far

Last month, I accepted an offer to write a weekly column for the real estate supplement that is included with the Daily Pilot each Saturday. That supplement also appears in newspapers stretching from Seal Beach to San Clemente, which gives me a significantly larger audience and a chance to write about an important subject in which I gained some expertise a few years ago while writing for another publication.

My first real estate column appeared Dec. 18 and there is one in today's supplement. This will be my last regular City Life column for the Daily Pilot.

During the 12 1/2 years I have been writing regular columns for the Pilot, I have gone from twice a week to once a week, have had five editors, written more than 500,000 words and have missed just two deadlines, both of which occurred when I was in remote areas and could not send the column via e-mail.

And despite having been called just about every name in the book during that time, I have enjoyed every moment.

Of all the columns, there are two that stand out.

Several years ago, I wrote about a homeless family that had been given hope for a better life through the incredible support from the Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter in Costa Mesa. After reading that column, an anonymous donor gave $10,000 to the shelter. To that donor, again, thank you.

The other column was the most fun I've had writing anything for the 30 or so publications that have carried my byline since 1996. In 2006, this column fell on April 1, aka April Fool's Day, so I asked then-City Editor S.J. Cahn whether I could write a column that was an April Fool's joke. He approved, so I wrote that I had been cheating on my claim that I had not watched any television since 1994 and had even installed a small satellite dish inside a swamp cooler to hide it from my family and neighbors.

Even though I had given two good clues to the fact that I was fibbing, I caught many readers by surprise. After I came clean, one personal acquaintance was so upset at being fooled that she promised never to speak to me again. Hers was not an April Fool's joke — she was quite serious.

Over the years I have tried very hard to help you think differently and more deeply about our local issues because they have more impact on your life than almost anything that goes on in Washington. I have tried to make the point that we must always think of better ways of conducting ourselves and our business and that we should never be satisfied with the status quo.

I have expressed disgust at hypocrisy and arrogance among some of the elected representatives in Newport-Mesa. I've never tried to be friends with them — all I ever wanted from them is what you want, that is, to be good stewards of our tax dollars and to be held accountable when they make mistakes.

I have been blessed with work that I adore and which provides me with a good living. Few people can claim that combination and I have urged high schoolers to choose a passion over a big salary or job security because in the long run, it will be more rewarding. If, however, a passion comes with a good salary, that's even better.

The Internet has given me a chance to chat with readers in the threads following the columns, something that many old school columnists across the country still refuse to do. That is a shame because those exchanges are not only enjoyable, they add tremendous value to both the print and online versions of a newspaper.

Now it's my turn to practice what I preach and change the status quo. I'm not disappearing from City Life — I will contribute on occasion — but as far as weekly columns, this is it.

Here is a thank you to my family, which has either cringed or smiled at seeing their names in print over the years and a thank you to the editors, all of you, for making me look like a better writer than the original drafts I submitted for publication each week. Most important, thank you readers, for your spirit and may you enjoy a happy and healthy new year.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer.

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