Jim Yardley reports in The New York Times today from Vatican City on the surprise choice of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis. In 1981 I edited his first byline, an article about Gunn High students who took what is now the VTA bus to school. (I presume his historic route was 22 down El Camino to 89 up Arastradero, I just checked. The VTA was merely Santa Clara County Transit, in 1981, my sussing tells us, fyi; “V” is for “valley”, natch).
From VTA (30 kids on public transportation beat, gray-black puffs of carbon monoxide and diesel-soot) to The Vatican (white smoke and the conclave, new leader of a 1.2 billion worshippers beat) in only 32 years is quite a journey for Yardley. He had stops along the way in Greensboro (his hometown, where he was a Page Pirate, lettering in football), Chapel Hill (pretty sure he edited the Daily Tar Heel, as did his dad a generation before), Atlanta, Brooklyn, Houston, Beijing and New Delhi, plus a Pulitzer in 2006 for coverage of the Chinese legal system. I would estimate about 2,000 Yardley bylines from the various ports of call in between.
He also has about 400 tweets on Twitter, and about 3000 followers there; We recently had a brief exchange via text messaging/email about his book on Chinese basketball. (I didn’t realize he was watching the smoke when I started bugging him).
Here are my texts, which is like a crude form of review:
Jim Yardley: his ass is blue. Weiss
I am enjoying your book. Mark Weiss
Beyond the ‘observer effect’, Yardley constituted the secret sauce in the Dragons whopper of a season.
I saw Jim in Brooklyn around 2000, and barely missed him in Houston in 2002.
The Weekly at the time ran this blurb about his Pulitzer.
I am reading this book about hoops, and will write a slightly more focused review soon enough — this is about the tenth time I mention him here in Plastic Alto.
Oh, God, help me but I am edit-to-adding a quick parody of Joan Osborne:
Super Jim was once one of us/
Just an Oracle cub on the bus…
Yeah, Yeah, Jim is pretty great journalist. (And was also one of the first 500 fans of Superchunk….which is sort of like noting, as Bruce Newman does in today’s Merc that computer stalwart Peter G. Neumann sang back-up on a Norah Jones recording).
edit to add, a few minutes later: Jonathan Yardley was editor of the Daily Tar Heel in 1961; the paper talked to Jim when “Brave Dragons” came out, last year, and didn’t mention his being a former editor, so I may be making that up.
edit to add, March 19, 2013: This is a departure from “Brave Dragons” review (and the Vatican) but an old friend of Kent Lockhart commented here that he was looking for Kent and did I have any recent contact info (Answer: apparently not). But I was meaning to write a more direct review of the Yardley basketball book, which I have now finished, and I keep thinking about talking to Jim about Kent and our 1980-1981 Titans team. I only knew Jim for a matter of weeks before hoops season started but I could sense his passion for the game, and thought that being from Greensboro, North Carolina made him some kind of authority. I remember Jim came to our lunch hour public workout and rally to kickoff the season, and that Jim sat in the first row. I remember being anxious to see if our team met the standards of the great Page Pirates of Greensboro. I remember asking him what he thought the rally (which included some drills, some scrimmaging and some type of dunking exhibition — that would not have been allowed in pre-games per se — not that I could dunk — I could barely reach the rim — but Lock and maybe two or three others could). I recall Jim saying “Lockhart could start on any team in the country” and that it meant a lot to me that we have gotten his approval. I presume he caught more that a handful of games including the CCS championship at Maples Pavillion (that is now uploaded to the cloud by starting guard and Lock’s closest friend Jerry Chang).