Isn’t it too early to be drinking? by Garry Armstrong

I heard these lines recently in a movie. They made me laugh.

“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?” he said.
“No,” she said. ” I’m awake.”

The line had stayed with me many years after the laughter faded, replaced by memories of work, reporters, bars, and pubs from New York to Saigon.

As a reporter, I covered Presidential politics from 1962 to 2001. From JFK to Bush, Jr. As a newbie reporter, I saw veteran correspondents fueling up with multiple Bloody Marys as we began our day on the political or campaign trail. I was impressed. During my rookie year, I summoned up enough courage to question one famous reporter who had begun his career working with Edward R. Murrow. He was on his third Bloody Mary — in one 10-minute period.

“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?” I asked, slowly and politely.

The veteran reporter who’d covered FDR, World War II in the trenches, and the McCarthy Hearings, among other assignments. He looked at me for a long moment, then finished his drink.

“Is it too early to be drinking?” he repeated my question and ordered another Bloody. “No, I’m awake!”

I shook my head in amazement and admiration. He was clearly fortifying himself for the day to come. It would be another long day on the road. Cold, dreary, and filled by interviews with people from pompous to angry to clueless when asked about election issues and the candidates.

I remember one fellow decked out in a hunting outfit, cradling a shotgun. He sneered when answering my questions. When finished, he said “Figures the media is not tellin’ the truth. A Negro askin’ me stuff about that Catholic in the White House. That’s what’s wrong with our country.”

The veteran reporter had overheard the conversation. He gave me a wry smile.


Years later, I shared the story with “Tip” O’Neill, Speaker of the House and a personal friend. He laughed so hard the bar seemed to shake. Then he looked angry for a moment, patting me on the shoulder with a huge sigh.

“Garry,” he said, “Here’s looking at you, kid!” The Political Legend smiled as we clinked glasses. “Some days, it’s never too early to start drinking,” O’Neill concluded. And ordered one more round.

I wonder about “eye-openers” for those covering last year’s Presidential race and even more about how those trying to cover “news” in this insane political year are managing.

These days, for those who still drink, maybe it really is never too early to start drinking.


  1. You are referring to a time when things were so different, or maybe that is me. My father was an alcoholic and he thought that drinking was all right. My mother suffered and so did my brother and I. He seemed obvious to it all. I understand that life can be difficult but to have to anaesthetize yourself to get by, makes you incapable to change the things that need to be changed. Those days were from a another time and culture, hopefully we have a different view about drinking today.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You and I grew up in this business at the same time and we share many experiences only in different locations. The reason journalism is in the terrible shape it’s in today is simple. Most newsrooms no longer are easy staggering distance from a saloon. (There was an NBC phone extension in Hurley’s, AKA Studio 1H. They knew where to find us fast when they had to.)

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I quit drinking. BUT did it hot and heavy for several years. Moderation!??? HAH We went the bar nearly every day. On Friday we’d start as soon as got off work (mixed with other substances) and tried to recover on Sunday. I felt compelled to do this for some unknown reason? I don’t regret it, but certainly don’t recommend it. But since I quit I don’t miss it. I will tell you one thing though: when you quit you will lose just about all your (so called) friends. Our relations were centered abusing substances. I walked away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have heard that from lots of users of all kinds of stuff. But Garry was lucky in that most of his colleagues quit either before — or shortly after — he quit. Hardly anyone drinks now. They have work in common, so the drinking was just a part of the relationship. And my friends have pretty much given up everything. Now we share tales of blood pressure medication. Doesn’t get you high, but it keeps you alive. No small thing 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so right about losing drinking buddies when you quit. It’s a different life. But I’m lucky. A few of my pals also had wives and families who gave them support. I’ll be forever grateful.


  4. I grew up with a father who drank whiskey like orange juice every weekend morning when he was not working. I would wake up and he’d be in the kitchen, drink in hand, making me breakfast. And yet, I never saw him drunk. I started drinking in college, but usually just red wine. I continue to this day, though I now allow myself only one glass a night. I will have a hard drink very rarely. And I will not have my one glass of wine before 5 pm.


  5. I’m always impressed when I read about your career. This is a life well lived. Ashamed that you had to listen to the kind of comments the camouflage-clothed guy made. I bet you’ve heard your share through your professional and personal life. Pity this man and the ones who think alike.
    I’m not a drinker, although I love a glass of red wine with my dinner. So the idea to drink to get courage is strange to me. However I admit that the current state of our country could make me reconsider 🙂
    Lovely post, in any case.

    Liked by 1 person

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