In 2002 I was a college student looking to get my foot in the door at any publication that honestly would hire me and give me experience, like most of my peers. Being that I lived in O’Fallon, Mo., the prospects weren’t too high, but I was eager and determined, and I had a decent amount of writing experience already from my time in high school and college. But I had never been a paid writer or in the writing/editing field on a professional level.
Every day I looked in the classifieds in the newspaper (now I’m really aging myself), and there it was: an ad for a clerical worker at a drag racing magazine that just happened to be right down the road from my house. Could it be true? Being from Southeast Missouri I was already a racing fan, but I didn’t know much about drag racing in particular. Luckily I got an interview.
I walked into the suite at DRO headquarters and little did I know that day would change my life forever. But first, owners Jeff and Kay Burk and webmaster Matt Schramel introduced themselves and promptly proceeded to leave the office. Befuddled, I asked where we were headed, and I had no idea what was in store. We left the suite to go to El Tio Pepe, a local Mexican restaurant. My job interview was filled with pitcher after pitcher of margaritas, and by the time the wall started vibrating (I swear to this day it really was and not the tequila talking), I had been hired. It was the perfect fit from day 1.
The next couple of years were filled with endless knowledge, husband and wife banter (there were days I thought Kay would literally murder Jeff), boisterous laughter, Charlie the office cat who just aimlessly wandered into the office one day as I seemed to have done, and rampant phone calls to and from “kid” and “big boy,” Jeff’s names for any female-male counterpart who called. Within that timeframe I learned more than ever could have imagined; I was invited and encouraged to write and edit pieces, and I moved up the editorial ranks.
Throughout the next couple of years, I developed a fondness for Bob Dylan, met the most wildly gifted writer I’ve ever met in my life (RIP dear Chris Martin) and was taken under a wing of people who treated me not as an employee, but as family. Fridays were uniquely special, as after that last 1320 note, OK one more after that, just one more after that, we would hit the local watering hole and talk about love, life, writing and whatever other topics that arose. I left Fridays feeling like I could conquer the world, which is a gift that Jeff and Kay gave me that I will always cherish for the rest of my life. My mentors taught me everything I needed to know as a writer and editor: to always write with authority, be humble, but don’t take bullshit from anyone.
As my professional life moved on, Jeff and Kay served as a countless number of references for me, and Matt and I did pro bono piecework for each other until VAPE Magazine rolled around, where Matt asked me to come on board as his editor in chief, thus making me the first female editor in chief of any vaping publication in the world. Not a bad leap for a clerical worker.
Now as I write this 18 years later, I’m texting Jeff and Kay’s daughter, Casey, who has been a loving friend throughout all of these years. DRO’s closing is a much-deserved retirement for Jeff and Kay. And, it is the end of an era that changed mine and countless other lives. I am forever in your gratitude and debt.