Michael Precker admits he had a dream job while working as a reporter -- covering a war in Lebanon, interviewing interesting people and writing for one of the best newspapers in the country.
In the summer of 2006 he could see that dream job about to slip away as the Dallas Morning News announced a voluntary buyout program and plans to lay off workers if enough people didn't take the buyout. Precker, now 54, took the buyout, and hasn't looked back since.
His next job was at a strip club in Dallas.
"This was total serendipity," he told me during a phone interview this week.
It was quite a career change, but one, it turns out, that Precker was qualified for and could transfer his journalism skills to. He writes ads for the topless club -- called the Lodge -- and does public relations work as a "writer in residence" at the high-end club that is at the other end of the stripper scale from the Bada Bing Club from "The Sopranos."
He also fills in where needed as one of 10 managers by bussing tables, bartending and helping out however necessary. His people skills and critical thinking skills that he used as a reporter come in handy, as does creativity, he said.
"We are making this as respectable as it can be," Precker said of the Lodge, whose motto used to be "Where a man can be a man." Precker had it changed to "For the finer things in life." The club's TV commercials about how some things can only happen at the Lodge are funny.
His writing and reporting skills had moved him to various spots at the Dallas Morning News, ending at lead health writer before taking the buyout of a year's salary after 25 years at the paper. He was a foreign correspondent for 11 years in the Middle East, and loved the work, but came to an epiphany in the summer of 2006 while on vacation in Israel while a nearby war in Lebanon was happening.
It was during that war that Precker said he found he had "no urge to run to the border, and tell the truth to the American people, and play Geraldo Rivera, and brag that I had been shot at and all of the things that journalists do."
As a feature writer, he had interviewed his future boss, strip club owner Dawn Rizos, for a few stories. He jokingly asked her for a job while talking to her at a charity dinner, and she told him that she would hire him because he can write, is smart and that she needed someone in communications. He helped fill in at the newspaper until the end of 2006, then started his new job in January 2007.
The Lodge opened in 1996. In 2006 Rizos was named Industry Innovator of the Year at the Gentlemen's Club Owners Expo in Las Vegas, and last year the same group awarded her the industry's top honor as Best Overall Club. It's sold as a man's club, with a cigar room, bar and good food.
"It's a very classy nightclub," Precker said, with a cover charge of $10 at night or VIP entry for free for $750 in an annual membership fee, or $2,000 for lifetime membership.
"If you really resent the whole genre, and I understand that, then all the clubs seem the same. But if you look more closely, we're really different," Precker said.
While he misses working in a newsroom and all of the friends he made at the newspaper, along with a connection to the world, Precker is glad that he can now leave his job at work. He no longer has to worry about looming deadlines or what story he's working on next.
One condition his boss put on him was that his wife approve of the new job. She did, and their marriage of 25 years in June has easily survived, he said.
While Precker says that "Men are pretty visual and they just like looking at eye candy," he says he no longer finds that part of his job a big deal, describing the topless workers as becoming "part of the wallpaper."
He said every day is "just kind of another day at the office," even if it is with topless women dancing on stage.
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net