Y’all know the old John Mellencamp song “Small Town,” right? Well, in the effort to get to know me, let’s start there. Feel free to click and dance to this next video, but please do continue reading this while you listen.
I was born pretty much in the middle of nowhere, specifically in the town of Salmon, Idaho — about a 2 1/2-hour drive through the Bitterroot Mountains south of Missoula, Montana (made most famous by Robert Redford and Brad Pitt in the movie “A River Runs Through It,” one of my favorites … they even mentioned Lolo!!!) and about a 2 1/2-hour drive through sagebrush-covered desert land north of Idaho Falls (made famous by those Idaho Russets you might eat on occasion), at least until you get to the Lemhi Mountains outside of the town of Leadore, where I took my driver’s ed class, with a population of about 100 … and that might be stretching it. Leadore is the closest real town to Salmon. Like I said, Salmon’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The middle. It’s located in the rugged Frank Church Wilderness Area in central Idaho. The center.
The middle. The middle class. The center. That’s part of who I am.
Salmon is the county seat of Lemhi County. Today, there’s a little over 3,000 people living there. As I was growing up, it was a little under 3,000 and was known more as a lumber town. Many of my relatives worked in the lumber mills in and around town. But then the mills started dying away as the years went along. Now, it’s known more as a tourist town with agriculture (mainly cattle ranching) also helping to provide the biggest boosts to the local economy.
There are also mining jobs to be had in the Salmon area, but those workers have to travel for miles deep into the mountains and live away from home for days at a time between their off days. It was in those mining areas that my father, a miner born in Kentucky, met my mother, a school teacher born and raised just outside of Salmon, in late 1956. They were married the following year, and on April 22, 1958, they were surprised by newborn twins — a boy and a girl.
They moved closer to Salmon from the midst of the mountains just before the births of my sister and brother. My father tried, unsuccessfully, to make it as a dairy farmer working on my Granddad Gilpin’s farm. When that didn’t work out, they moved to the wind-swept plains of Jeffrey City pretty much smack-dab in the middle of Wyoming — the middle — where Dad went back to being a miner. It was there that it was discovered that my brother, Curtis, had cerebral palsy. With that revelation, they moved up to Casper, Wyoming, to be closer to medical care for him. From Casper, Dad made a long drive to the molybdenum mines in the Shirley Basin to go to work. That’s where he was killed in an accident on October 20, 1960, when some ore cars went off the tracks, he stood up and turned around to try and rock them back into place, and didn’t know a low beam area was coming up behind him that would crush his upper body.
Mom moved back to Salmon after that with her children. I was born February 17, 1961, nearly four months after my father’s death. I was born into a family of survivors.
I grew up with an early love of rock and roll music. I can faintly remember my sister, Lynda, sitting with me on a couch in our living room, teaching me how to read, when The Ed Sullivan Show was on the television and a group called The Beatles came on. I was hooked on them and rock music ever since. To this day, I’m a music junkie — I’m a fan of everything from classic rock to progressive rock to jazz-fusion to country to some grunge and contemporary Christian, and then some.
My sister taught me to read so well that I was skipped up to the second grade in the middle — yes, the middle — of my first-grade year of elementary school. I guess words have been a huge part of my life.
Around the time I was in the eighth grade at Brooklyn Junior High School in Salmon, I tried my hand at creative writing as part of an English class assignment. The teacher was fairly impressed, which encouraged me to develop that ability.
I’ve been a huge football fan ever since sixth grade at least, and I combined that love of sports and football in particular into a dream of someday writing for The Baltimore Sun and covering my favorite NFL team, the Baltimore Colts. I wrote NFL preview articles on my own, showed them to my freshman English teacher at Salmon High School, and he advised me to write for the school’s student newspaper. I did that in my sophomore year.
Times were pretty tough for my family around that time. The only income my mother had then was from babysitting a few children in our home. Man, those were lean times! In 1976, Mom got a job in a potato processing plant near Idaho Falls and bought a mobile home to live in there, my sister and I lived with my grandmother Gilpin until Lynda graduated from high school (soon to be followed by her getting married), I took my driver’s ed in Leadore (getting my driving time on the 45 miles or so of highway between Salmon and Leadore while the instructor sat in the passenger seat) that summer, moved to Idaho Falls with Mom, and spent my last two years of high school at Skyline, graduating in 1978 with a world of new experiences behind me … first kiss, first girlfriend, first love, having a lead role in an operetta, first time getting drunk, making the honor roll for the first time, etc.
I started writing professionally for Idaho Falls’ daily newspaper, The Post-Register, as a part-time sports stringer at the beginning of my senior year in 1977. I stayed in that job through my first year of college at Idaho State University as a journalism major. While at ISU, I also worked as a reporter and sports editor for the student paper there part-time, while also earning part-time money as an ISU sports stringer for United Press International.
Between three part-time jobs and partying a bit too hard, it left little room for class time outside of my journalism-related classes. I foolishly decided I was getting enough experience in journalism to just start my career once I was out of school.
My love of music, my deep bass voice, and my writing at the Idaho Falls paper led the manager of one of the local radio stations to hire me full-time to work half the time as an afternoon drive-time disc jockey on the AM country music side, and the other half as sports director at the station. That was the most fun and least secure job I’ve ever had in my life! I did a good job, and I earned some loyal fans on the air. But I was 18 years old, headstrong, and thought I knew more than anyone, so the station manager and I clashed on some things — like whether we should or shouldn’t play Larry Gatlin’s “The Midnight Choir” on the air over advertisers’ protests, despite heavy listener requests. I lost, and stayed at that job for under a year.
From there, I moved on to spend a few years working at a weekly newspaper in the area as reporter, news editor, photographer, darkroom worker, coffee maker, classified ad taker, press helper, owners’ babysitter, pretty much everything. In 1984, I landed a job as a general assignment reporter at the respected Morning News in Blackfoot, Idaho. In 1985, the sports editor decided to go back to school so I moved into his old spot and pretty much gained a “local celebrity” status for my writing and photography work. In 1987, I was asked to move into the managing editor’s position, where I stayed until 1993 and achieved even greater “local celebrity” status for my continued reporting and editorial column writing. I couldn’t even walk through the grocery store without being recognized by people I didn’t even know. An odd feeling for sure.
In 1989, I met a young Christian lady named Amy Wareing on a blind date and knew this was the lady I would spend the rest of my life with, the one who would settle this smoking and hard-drinking renegade down. We were married on March 17, 1990, and lived in a single-wide trailer next to her parents’ home outside of Blackfoot. On my relatively meager editor’s salary, we had two sons — Curtis in 1991, Grant in 1993. It wasn’t long after Grant was born that I decided a career change was in order. Trying to make it as a journalist and move anywhere else without a college degree had become impossible.
During my managing editor’s days, I had assisted a lady who was a former journalist then working as an Apple computer consultant in setting up a new computer system for the newspaper. I worked with her every step of the way in setting everything up. The computer side fascinated me, so when it came time to decide on a new career I thought I’d take a stab at being a programmer.
Breaking out of the mindset of an editor– where you’re trained to take out details you think are unnecessary — to learning how to program a computer, where the smallest details ARE necessary, was quite a challenge at first. But, somehow, it suddenly clicked in my brain and I took off. I ended my two-year study at ISU’s Applied Tech program with a 3.90 GPA, made the dean’s list, graduated, and eventually found a job in Utah.
We’ve been here ever since. In 1999, we welcomed a “surprise” third child, daughter Alicia, who’s had my heart ever since, as most daughters do with their daddies. In 1998, I was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I’ve been the head deacon of my church for a few years now … not an easy job, but not bad for a former rowdy guy, huh? At least I’ve still got the long hair to remind me of those “wilder old days.”
I worked as a programmer in Utah starting in 1995 at a couple of credit card companies (the first one faded away), a regional bank that merged with a national bank resulting in layoffs, and ended up with an airplane parts manufacturing and distribution company that went through some budget cuts in October of 2011 which helped to cost me my job there.
After over 10 months of being unemployed and going through a wild roller-coaster ride of emotions as our family’s fought for survival — applying for jobs all around the country that I was fully qualified for and not even getting a nibble on them — I’m going through another career change now. I started trying my hand at selling cars in mid-September. Facing absolute poverty makes you do all kinds of things you never really gave much thought to doing before.
This blog is an attempt to show a day-to-day example of a middle-class life, from someone who’s lived it his entire life. It’ll have a fair amount of political views. I try to be independent in my political opinions, but I do lean more toward the liberal side because I see a lot more hypocrisy on the right, and nothing drives me nuts more than blatant hypocrisy. I’ll often try to make those views humorous (think along the lines of comedian Jon Stewart, one of my modern-day “journalistic” heroes) along with adding some humor to my “everyday” experiences. It’ll be a diary on everyday life as I struggle to keep my family housed, fed, clothed, and warm this winter (would that make this, in part, a “daddyblog?” Hey, there’s a fresh angle!). I’m still a big sports fan. I’m in two fantasy football leagues, maybe I could even offer some tips there (I’m in first place in one league, second in the other, so you could do worse than coming to me for fantasy football advice). So expect some discussion on sports as well. You’ll get a sampling of my musical tastes for sure.
Speaking of musical tastes, this blog and the popularity of its music playlists since the start of 2012 prompted me to launch a “niche” blog on music at thecrossovermusicchannel.com so if you love music in a variety of styles, feel free to check that out as well.
Stay tuned! Feel free to comment! Tell your friends! I could use the followers!
– John Gilpin Miller (named after my father, John Miller, and the Gilpin side of my family)