Ryan Lillis has taken readers inside the Pre-Flite Lounge, Darlene Jeffery’s home along the Sacramento River and the Broadway Triangle in Oak Park as part of a new column designed to bring a slice of Sacramento life to The Bee’s coverage.
You might recognize Lillis’ name because of his extensive coverage of the battle to keep the Sacramento Kings in town and city plans to build an arena. He’s covered City Hall for six years, finding offbeat stories during that time but not always getting the time to develop them. His Monday column gives him that chance.
I asked Lillis a few questions about his approach to the column and what readers might expect. Here’s what he said:
I believe newspaper columnists play such a vital role in their cities. The good ones are voices for their cities and tell stories that connect real people with one another. And as my family has settled down in – and grown to love – Sacramento, being a columnist in this city has really become a dream come true for me.
It’s actually been a little easier than I thought it would be. I’m staying away from politics. I’m not focusing on officials or leaders. And I believe there are some universal truths that I can express a point of view about – like the nostalgic connection we feel toward an old bar or dry cleaner, or how the heart of the city can be found in a dingy, urban park.
The arena and elections are the biggest. I’m not touching the elections in my column… (and) I’m not going to express an opinion about the arena. But I have been able to use it as an ongoing issue to explore other stories – the closing of the Pre-Flite Lounge to make way for the arena, and how Cesar Chavez Plaza remains the city’s gathering spot, even as the arena takes shape.
The video has been fun. It’s forced me – in a good way – to write about stories that involve strong visuals such as a place or a person. One thing you’ll never see in my videos is me.
That was a crazy day. I was in Los Angeles for five hours. And yes, I might be appearing in a movie. I was waiting for the mayor’s press conference to begin at … City Hall and decided to look for a coffee shop. I asked a police officer for a suggestion. He responded, “Hey, I’m an extra in a movie.” I looked around and realized I had wandered onto a movie set. Before I could react, a crew member yelled for all the extras to get ready and then said, “We’re rolling.” I just stood there and took out my phone, trying not to look dumb. Fake FBI agents started walking toward me, and a couple started playing Frisbee. The crew blocked off the sidewalk and wouldn’t let me leave until they were finished filming. It was a fun moment in what turned out to be a pretty historic day that Mayor Johnson played a huge role in.
The mayor runs pretty regularly. Yes, I ran with him back in 2008, right after he was elected. It was 5 a.m. and we met with a group in Oak Park. I really got a sense of how he interacts with people he’s close to – the group included some of his closest friends and advisers. We haven’t run together since, although I’d like to, given that he recently used running to shed 25 pounds he gained during the Kings saga last year.
My life is pretty much about hanging out with my wife and 4-year-old son. That means a lot of sports, camping and superhero games. I also just ran my fifth marathon, and I’m a wannabe triathlete who gets crushed in competition. I’m also the shortstop on a softball team that plays in the lowest tier of the city’s co-ed league.