Editing Wally Trabing's column was a perfect challenge for a young editor. I was among those who had the challenge of editing Trabing's "Mostly About People" column -- in my case, starting around 1980 or so.
Trabing turns 90 today -- we share a birthday -- and Wallace Baine has written a great account of the former Sentinel columnist right here.
His copy was at once brilliant and, well, missing in the usual newswriting syntax. That was mostly to the good, but you had to be at your best to catch the inconsistencies. One time he referred to editing a "15 page newspaper in England" and he had to be reminded that newspapers have to have an even number of pages -- 14 or 16.
Then there was my favorite. After months of changing his copy from "laying down" to "lying down," I finally made an effort to explain to him the proper usage rule. He listened, politely, but his irritation got the best of him: "Doesn't anyone get to lay down anymore?"
Papers the size of Santa Cruz don't have daily columnists anymore. In fact, it's rare to find any paper with a daily columnist. Day in, day out, Sentinel readers were treated to Wally's take on Santa Cruz life. Or, sometimes he'd go back to his days in Kingsburg, in the Central Valley, evoking what life was like in the 1930s and '40s in rural California.
But my favorite Trabing story didn't involve his column. He was set to attend a Sunday afternoon concert by big band leader Stan Kenton at the Civic Auditorium. A big crowd showed up -- and so did Kenton and the band. But the concert promoter was nowhere to be found. It turned out the promoter hadn't even booked the hall.
Kenton said he'd go ahead and play if the Civic could be opened. So Trabing ran back to the Sentinel and called people he knew with the city -- and someone came down to open it up and turn on the sound system.
Finally, there was Wally's biggest contribution to Santa Cruz County -- naming Cabrillo College. According to founding college president Bob Swenson, it was Wally who first recommended the name. He wrote that the college should be named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the Portuguese explorer who visited the waters off California in 1542.
Happy 90th, Wally.