TOO EARLY TO BE DRINKING? – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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.

Garry-With-TipONeill

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.

43 thoughts on “TOO EARLY TO BE DRINKING? – GARRY ARMSTRONG

    • Gordon C. Stewart June 18, 2017 / 5:05 pm

      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

      • Garry Armstrong June 18, 2017 / 6:36 pm

        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

    • Garry Armstrong June 18, 2017 / 6:34 pm

      Thank you, Tish! I need a refill.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Garry Armstrong June 19, 2017 / 11:29 am

          Tish, “Bottoms up” reminds of the times we covered Boston’s infamous “Combat Zone”. Those stories required journalistic zeal.

          Liked by 1 person

              • Tish Farrell June 20, 2017 / 5:30 am

                Hey ho! I’m probably with him on that front too. Drat. It’s always easier to nag someone else.

                Like

  1. swo8 June 18, 2017 / 3:17 pm

    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.
    Leslie

    Liked by 2 people

    • Marilyn Armstrong June 18, 2017 / 4:13 pm

      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

      • swo8 June 18, 2017 / 5:36 pm

        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.
        Leslie

        Liked by 1 person

        • Marilyn Armstrong June 18, 2017 / 9:56 pm

          As they SHOULD be! It has become horrific here too … but they still do it. And the kids are drinking a LOT. No more pot. Now it’s booze all the way. The last legal addictive high.

          Liked by 1 person

          • swo8 June 19, 2017 / 10:06 am

            They’re legalizing pot here. I think they want us all bombed while they carry on with all their shenanigans.
            Leslie

            Like

        • Garry Armstrong June 19, 2017 / 11:46 am

          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

          • swo8 June 19, 2017 / 12:41 pm

            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.
            Leslie

            Liked by 1 person

    • Garry Armstrong June 18, 2017 / 6:40 pm

      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

      • swo8 June 18, 2017 / 8:10 pm

        It does catch up with you. Iced tea and lemonade sound good to me.
        Leslie

        Liked by 1 person

          • swo8 June 19, 2017 / 10:04 am

            Sounds refreshing.

            Like

            • Garry Armstrong June 19, 2017 / 12:41 pm

              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

              • swo8 June 19, 2017 / 12:43 pm

                My father had a sweet tooth too. I think we all have to watch out for that sugar now.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Garry Armstrong June 19, 2017 / 12:45 pm

                  Leslie, heavy drinkers or former heavy drinkers often have a “sweet tooth”. I’m conscious of this and try to be diligent.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • swo8 June 19, 2017 / 1:38 pm

                    When you think of it there’s probably a lot of sugar in alcohol.

                    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wes Richards June 18, 2017 / 4:23 pm

    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

    • Garry Armstrong June 18, 2017 / 6:42 pm

      Wesley, so true. The Bosses often knew the bartenders by first name and would indicate if it was a legitimate news call.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Gordon C. Stewart June 18, 2017 / 5:01 pm

    Reblogged this on Views from the Edge and commented:
    Garry Armstrong, the veteran reporter pictured here with Tip O’Neill, offers an insider view to the stress of a reporter’s life with a humorous touch.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Garry Armstrong June 19, 2017 / 11:56 am

      Sandy, thanks kindly for the reblog. I’ll get the next round.

      Like

  4. jcalberta June 18, 2017 / 11:54 pm

    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

    • Marilyn Armstrong June 19, 2017 / 1:47 am

      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

    • Garry Armstrong June 19, 2017 / 11:48 am

      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.

      Like

  5. Martha Kennedy June 19, 2017 / 3:39 pm

    ❤ No hero bigger in my book than a person who says, "I've done this long enough," and finds away to walk away from a bad habit.

    Like

    • Marilyn Armstrong June 19, 2017 / 4:17 pm

      Garry is almost 14 years now. It saved our lives. If he had kept drinking like that, he’d be dead.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Emilio Pasquale June 20, 2017 / 1:37 pm

    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.

    Like

  7. evelyneholingue June 21, 2017 / 5:15 pm

    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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