It was the first class of the first day of the first year of college at Ball State University, minds more open than our eyes as our group of 20-some aspiring Woodwards and Bernsteins scanned the room for any sign of familiarity or reassurance. Journalism 110 professor Ken Atwell was having none of this babes-in-the-wood thing. A crusty police reporter who'd moved into academia after a long career at the Kokomo, Indiana, Tribune, Atwell was as Joe Friday as the people he'd covered. No actor had ever played Ken Atwell in a movie; that wasn't the journalism he knew, and if we were looking for glamour, he was going to disabuse us of that right away.
"A good journalist," Atwell began, straightening his 6-3 frame and pausing for effect, "has no friends."
Eyes darted about the room. As I panned left, doing my best not to appear to be turning away from Professor Atwell's gaze toward the first row, there she was, panning right, toward me.
Not that I hadn't noticed on the way in. Blond pigtails, Love's Baby Soft T-shirt, ripped jeans, and a smile that caused temporary breathing stoppage - the stuff of a hundred teen-geek movies playing out in front of Ken Atwell. Our eyes met. And we fought not to crack up.
So was the nature of the casual friendship between Gina Spradlin and me in the mere 2 1/2 years before -- in her earnestness to move on with life -- she graduated cum laude after just five semesters, got married to the fiance as planned, a week after receiving her diploma, had two kids, and displayed the good sense to understand there was something to all that stuff Atwell had loaded on us about the thankless, lonely life of a journalist. I could never understand why she was so doggone serious, why she was in so much of a damned hurry; why she had to be, well, too smart and too pretty to be attainable. We were always friendly, but never close.
I caught a brief glimpse of her almost two years later when I arrived for an interview at the newspaper in Warsaw, Indiana, where she worked. We hadn't stayed in touch - there was no reason to - so seeing her was a surprise. We didn't have time for anything more than a passing hello as she ran off to cover a story. I was offered the job, but turned it down after being offered $20 a week more by another paper 30 miles away.
I wouldn't see Gina Spradlin again for 28 years.