If somebody had asked me at the beginning of this year if I saw myself leaving my hometown of more than 20 years and move 1,000-plus miles north to the Nebraska panhandle, I would have thought they were crazy.
But here I am, and now that I've been in Sidney for the past couple of weeks I am starting to think I was crazy for staying in one place so many years.
But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. My name is Anthony Ruiz, and I am the newest addition to the Sidney Sun-Telegraph. I grew up a military brat, moving from town to state to country for most of my childhood until my father retired and settled in his hometown of Alice, Texas, in the early 1990s.
Outside of college, I remained in that town, with a population of about 20,000, and after finding work with the local newspaper, the Alice Echo-News Journal, and later its rival publication, Alice24-7.com, I figured that is was going to be my home for the rest of my life.
Through those two companies, I have written for daily, semi-weekly, weekly and monthly publications. While each has their own rhythm, news is always news.
I've always enjoyed reporting small-town news, and I've done a bit of everything over the years. I've covered a multitude of newsworthy events, from fender benders to murders, from bond elections to recalls, from kindergarten graduations to state champions, and everything in-between. I've even covered scandals and hardships connected to my own coworkers and employers.
And if you want to talk pools, have I got a story that will leave you shaking your head.
Imagine spending multiple millions of dollars to build an aquatic center that is sorely needed by a community, only to have it suffer a series of setbacks, some happenstance, some politically motivated, to the point where even a year after it is completed it cannot open because the city cannot afford to do so.
In Alice, that is reality.
It is also representative of what forced me to leave my hometown. Alice is very much a town defined by the oil and gas industry. It is considered a "hub city" as it is an equal distance from several large cities and many companies utilized it for central operations.
When the Eagle Ford Shale was at its hight, the town was booming. Quality of life was never better and it felt like things would stay positive for years to come. Unfortunately, the oil and gas companies were looking elsewhere, and soon left to build their headquarters closer to San Antonio.
With things looking dire, the local politicians and officials spent more time taking care of themselves than the town, and beginning next year the city, county and school district will be operating on negative budgets.
Already, local businesses in every industry have dried up and people are losing their jobs at an alarming rate. And once those loses began cutting into our advertising, Alice24-7.com became a casualty as well.
I was at a crossroads. I couldn't find reporter work in the area, and even expanding my search to Texas was leading to dead ends. I started to consider leaving journalism all together and start training for a new career.
It was chance that brought Sidney to my attention, and I almost didn't take the job when the week I interviewed was the same this town endured a really bad snowstorm. As a Texan, I am quite thin-skinned. When it hits 50 degrees, I'm bundled up like it's a second ice age.
But something about the town just felt right. Within a couple of days, I made my decision and upended the life I knew for the unknown.
Within a month, I packed up what I could into a tiny U-Haul trailer and drove 13 hours to Amarillo, and then another 10 hours the following day through Oklahoma, Colorado and finally into Nebraska and Sidney. I arrived on a Friday and moved into my new apartment. I then moved to another apartment on Sunday when my first choice had become available unexpectedly.
I spent that first weekend walking around town. The weather was almost perfect, maybe a little windy, and found the streets to be laid out in a way that I never got lost. On Sunday, I made my way to the park and walked the Deadwood Trail to the gas station and back. That is an amazing trail, and I will be, and have been, walking it whenever I get a chance.
My first week, I spent most of my time introducing myself to the community, and I have to say that I've never felt so welcome, even in Alice where the tagline is that it's "buena gente," or "good people." Sidney has shown me what that really means.
I stayed with my last publication until the day it closed its doors for good, and it is my intention to work just as hard for this community. I'm here for you, and to tell your story, so if you see me walking around town feel free to stop me to say hello or to chat.
Thank you, Sidney, for making me feel welcome.