The green Ford died in Waco, by Stan Hochman's recollection. It was one of the stops along the way. The distance from Brooklyn to Philadelphia might be 100 miles, but the way Hochman drove, it was more like 6,600.
New York University, Class of 1948. Teaching school in New York. An invitation from the Army to join them at Fort Gordon, Ga. A job at the Augusta Herald and then Hochman's own personal Texas three-step, from the paper in Brownsville to Corpus Christi to Waco. Then San Bernardino in California. Then the long drive cross-country to cover the Phillies for the Daily News and its sports editor, Larry Merchant. It was 1959.
"I got the beige Dodge in San Bernardino," Hochman said yesterday, at the press conference announcing his inclusion in the fifth class of inductees to the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
"I drove across country, and I was unsure. Trepidation? Yeah, a lot. After 3 weeks, I was ready to go back. I called San Bernardino and asked if my old job was still open - and it was. It was 98 degrees and 102 percent humidity and I got three parking tickets the first 3 days and I said, 'I can't handle this. I can't handle the big city.' I grew up in the big city, but I had been away for so long.
"But I talked to my brother and he told me that I hadn't given it enough time, hadn't given it a fair chance, that 3 weeks wasn't long enough. So I gave it a chance."
He arrived on June 9. The Phillies were wretched, a last-place team that would win 64 games. A week after Hochman came to town, they left on a long road trip to St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"I get an apartment on 43rd Street in West Philly," he said. "I'm going to be away on a 12-day road trip and I know that on Tuesdays you have to move the car so they can sweep the street. So I put it in a garage. But I haven't unpacked yet, so there are golf clubs, binoculars, a record player, other good stuff in the trunk.
"I come back after the trip and go to get the car and there's a lot of scurrying around. I get in the car and I'm driving and the odometer has been disconnected, there are cigarette butts in the ashtray; they've been driving the car the whole time. I open the trunk and everything's gone.
"And I said, 'I really might have to rethink this Philly thing,' but I stayed."
Next summer, it will be 50 years of beat writing, sports editing and columnizing at the Daily News. It is hard to imagine Philadelphia sports without him. To watch him at his job is to see someone who is all about the effort, about the one-more-question. To see him in a press box, or to watch him take his place on a television set, is to witness somebody who has always insisted on preparation, never without this great, scrawled pile of notes. Stylistically, personally, Hochman seems one with the place.
"When he hired me," Hochman said, "Merchant told me, 'We want to inform 'em, we want to entertain 'em, and every once in a while, we want to surprise 'em.' That's what I've tried to do."
His writing voice - and his actual voice, for that matter - is unmistakable. His columns are easily identified, even without a byline. He has more than one club in his bag, but Hochman will forever be identified with an insistent, rat-a-tat style that accompanied probing, in-depth interviews. And he is fast; one time, in the late '70s, Hochman was granted total access to the Eagles leading up to a game against the Steelers and he wrote late into the night, 2,000 words a night, for a week.
He sometimes affects a gruff persona - all right, more than sometimes - but people who think that is Stan Hochman have never seen his face when he talks about his wife Gloria's work at the National Adoption Center, or how Gloria and their daughter Anndee are both better writers than he is, or the latest exploits of his granddaughter, Sasha.
And anybody who knows him could understand how he was both embarrassed and excited about yesterday's announcement.
"I'm so old-school that I believe journalists report the news, they don't make the news," he said. "But I'm not giving it back."