Life was OK, but the grind never ended at the little daily newspaper at the heart of the Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota.

We had an editor who would consider it a compliment to be called a character and an even higher compliment to just be called a damned good, workmanlike journalist.

I have a tendency to work too long and too hard. He had a tendency to let me – to let all of us – and ask for more. We paid a price, but it all worked. In those days, even at a newspaper, you thought hard work led to something on the back end.

He used to tell us that it was a meat-and-potatoes outfit. Gravy once in a while, yes, but meat and potatoes first.

Here’s the gravy, and it was rare. High school hockey is a big, big deal in Minnesota. Back in a previous economy – newspapers made money, TV stations made money – they would put the quarterfinal games on TV, starting late in the morning and running all day, on a weekday no less.

Some years, if enough fires had been put out and enough deadlines met or ducked, three or four of us – led by the boss – would gather at a downtown bar and just watch hockey and talk smart and eat bar food and watch more hockey. For hours, it was a respite, until we needed real food or needed to get back to reality. Journalists always circle back to shop talk anyway, so what’s the difference? Pay the tab, and carry the conversation back to the newsroom.

It wasn’t hard to get a read on the men’s hockey tournament in the Olympics. The U.S. had a good team, but clearly our big challenge would be Canada – hard-working, loaded with talent, great goaltending – in the semi-finals. The boss blanched when I joked that I needed last Friday off, but I did take a long lunch.

We were going down, I feared, but my team needed any moral support I would render back through the TV all the way to Sochi.

Forget the local bar with one TV hanging in the corner. This was a generic sports bar, as most of them are, in a generic strip mall. TVs everywhere, but the play by play is drowned out. Times change.

A friend showed up. We talked smart and ate bar food and watched hockey. We watched the U.S. not score and watched Canada outskate and outshoot us. We’d have been depressed in that way only sports can bring on, but Canada had the better team and, besides, no one can stay mad at Canada.

The conversation drifted away from hockey and, all too soon, back to real life. Shop talk. Grumble this, grumble that. Hell, I can do this at the office. So much for the respite.

Pay the tab, and get back to it.

Reach Jeff Fox at or 816-350-6313. Follow on Twitter @FoxEJC or @Jeff_Fox.