Them Changes

Written by Burl on May 4th, 2012

We always give departing journos a "page." (Vicki Viotti photo)

OK, I haven’t been posting too often here lately. There’s a reason — my career is undergoing a massive shift. As of today, I’m leaving the newspaper business, where I’ve spent the last 35 or more years, and Monday I start work as Curator at the Pacific Aviation Museum.

The folks here at work gave me a nice send-off, complete with the obligatory fake newspaper page. I’ll post pictures of the crazed celebrations as I left, but in the meantime, here’s the text of the going-away “story”:

After 33 years as a distinguished model airplane builder who also worked part time as a journalist, Burl Burlingame will leave the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to become executive director of the International Plastic Modelers Society, which will now move its global headquarters from Enchanted Lake to Ford Island.

Burlingame, whose fascination with plastic cement dates back to his time as a Radford High School student, will also produce the society’s newsletter, which he founded in 1985 in his spare time as a Today section page designer. After typically spending 15 to 20 minutes designing the front page of the feature section, which in those days was done on paper, Burlingame would then begin writing detailed stories about how to build miniature replicas of the battleship USS Arizona and critical reviews of different brands of model paint.
His favorite color is said to be olive plaid.

Sometimes, Burlingame even wrote movie reviews, and once counted every word that Arnold Schwarzenegger said in “The Terminator.”

“After that he ended every day by saying, ‘I’ll be back,’ and by golly, he kept coming back,” said one former Today editor who asked not to be identified lest everyone figure out that she was the small Asian woman who often yelled at him to put a cap on the glue tube. Every day.

Burlingame maintained a love-hate relationship with computers. When he used Tal-Star computers, which crashed on a regular basis, he was able to merge his anger with his love of glue. One day, after losing the text and codes of his front page for a third time, he yanked the keyboard free, poured rubber cement on it and lit it on fire in the middle of the newsroom. On deadline.

“Burl had this glazed look in his eyes, like those kids who sniffed too much glue in intermediate school,” said a reporter who witnessed the fire. “He walked right up to me and lit up that keyboard. Then he walked out the front door, Executive Editor John Simonds frantically chasing after him. Burl went to the roof and tossed the keyboard from the third floor to a dumpster below.”

Burlingame outlasted seven Today section editors, management mandates to wear shoes to work and a newsroom campaign to end every headline with “eh?”

Top 10 Moments in Burl history!

10. Being the second most famous person who attended Radford High School.

9. Realizing at the University of Missouri that he wanted to be: a) a photojournalist; b) a writer; c) an international man of mystery; d) all of the above.

8. Finding out he didn’t want to cover crime after going out with a grizzled veteran who put wood blocks on his “murder shoes” to keep the blood off his footwear and slacks.

7. Playing in a band called Potato Cannon and recording an album that included the sleeper hit “Betty Rubble.”

6. In the 1980s Today section, helping turn the dry “Coming Up” Sunday column into a quirky must-read.

5. Building precision scale models at work. (Expect more of this!)

4. Writing books and publishing under his name and the pseudonym Rick Blaine. (Extra points if you can name the movie that spawned the faux author name.)

3. Having Katie as a daughter!

2. Having Amelia as a daughter!

1. Mary Poole marrying him and putting up with him for all these years. (And she’s still smiling!)

Yes, there are terrible factual errors! The flaming computer keyboard incident happened after five crashes and story losses whilst trying to get out a story on a looming deadline. The reason I got so angry was that the computer tech who was jiggling wires in the backshop was wholly responsible for the crashes, and when I complained, he said, “So? You’re just paid to type. What does it matter if the story disappears?”

I got so angry when it happened again — six times! — that I lit the keyboard and stomped through the newsroom waving it at editors. The only thing that I recall clearly was writer Murray Engle muttering, “Some day, that’ll happen to all of us!” And the damn keyboard went down spiraling off the rooftop like a flaming kamikaze.

The next day, I tried to apologize to Managing Editor Bill Cox, but he kept giggling.


4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Damon says:

    Congrats Burl!

    The Pacific Aviation Museum scored their best thing yet w/ you coming on board!

  2. Mutt says:

    Hey, where’s the comment I posted before Damon? I can’t let him beat me!

    Even though he’s right, of course.

  3. vonmerpf says:

    I’m going to miss your writing in the newspaper, but congrats on scoring the job at the Pacific Aviation Museum. That would be my dream job! So, is the Star Advertiser looking for someone to take over skewering Hawaii 5-0? If not, do you need an assistant at the museum? I work in IT, so I could guarantee that you’d never have to set another keyboard aflame.

  4. Bob in L.A. says:

    Excellent! You were a model journalist (like we all should be.) You’ll never flame out, I’m thinking.

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