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.

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.


    1. Garry, I love this piece. It’s downright sermonic in structure. Many was the time I woke up on Sundays saying, “i’m awake!” But THREE Bloody Marys in 10 minutes? Whoa! Designated driver time. Thank you for your work and hats off to all your colleagues then and now.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Hi, Gordon! Thanks for the kind words. I recall waiters stacking drinks on the roof of the Caravel Hotel in Saigon. They wanted to be sure we were properly fortified.

        Liked by 3 people

  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

    1. I know that drinking is no longer as “in fashion” as it was 40 or 50 years ago, but it is far from gone from our culture. The British are serious drinkers as are the Aussies. I’m sure they don’t hold back on the European continent either. Bars and pubs are on every corner of every city and suburb and every restaurant sells alcohol and most also have a bar. The folks in these places aren’t drinking sparkling water.

      AA is very much in business.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Peter and I would remark on some of the TV programs where the leading people would be out chugging shots at a bar. That is something a little foreign to us. Alcohol in Canada is very expensive. It must have 200% tax and if you order from a restaurant it extremely costly. So we tread lightly there. As for drinking and driving we are very cautious. The consequences are just to horrific.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Leslie, I notice the old 60’s TV shows I watch have LOTS of smoking and drinking scenes. When I had my first bachelor pad, it included a bar in the living room, fully stocked. The rest of the apartment was sparse.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. That’s true, Garry. I remember my parents had a box for cigarettes on the coffee table for company. Of course they always had a fully stocked bar. Perhaps it is just me, but we don’t have much liquor around. I do use some in cooking. I’d rather eat it than drink it.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Leslie, I’ve been out of the loop for 16 plus years. But I’ve noticed my old colleagues are drinking iced tea and or lemonade when we meet for lunch these days.

      Liked by 2 people

            1. Leslie, the only thing I need to be careful about is the sugar content in lemonade, etc. I believe sugar can be a problem for former heavy drinkers.

              Liked by 1 person

  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

    1. 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

    2. 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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