Pursuit editor and criminal defense investigator Hal Humphreys heads to his rural hometown to investigate his own origins.
TV Dinners and Boyhood Dreams
I grew up just outside of Humboldt, a small town in a sea of cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans.
I grew up with red on my neck and dirt under my nails. I grew up in the land of wood-fired pit barbecue.
I grew up on a farm in West Tennessee. This farm.
I learned to drive at the age of twelve, on a tractor. (Not this one.) It was my dad’s old Farmall Super A, kept alive with baling twine since the 1950s. When I tore down the field road on that thing, I felt almost like a grown man.
On Friday nights I was a kid again, hunkered down on a sectional sofa in my grandmother’s sunroom. Watching Jim Rockford tear ass down some California coastal highway, retooling my ideas of what a grown man might be. He may have lived in a trailer, but it was in Los Angeles. About as far as you could possibly get from Humboldt, Tennessee.
That gold Pontiac was the coolest car I had ever seen. Until the 11th of December, 1980, when another PI in another exotic locale drove another car altogether.
You know the one.
It was the sexiest car I’d ever seen in my life. May still be.
I daydreamed nonstop about that red Ferrari. I told my dad, nonstop, about how I was going to own my own PI agency and live in grandmom’s old house and drive that Ferrari all over West Tennessee. In my mind, the farmhouse was Robin’s Nest, and the rutted dirt driveway was the pea gravel lane that Magnum spun out on.
Every Thursday Night, for eight seasons. Eating TV dinners and dreaming of being a man like Magnum.
Career Side Track
I went into the family business, sort of. We lived on the farm, but my dad appraised real estate. I measured houses and took comp photos and learned the trade – along with the more important lessons of how to be a man like my dad: a gentleman and an honest businessman.
I went to college, got a degree in business, and became a real estate appraiser. I abided nearly two decades of tape measures and calculators until I burned out. I was unimpressed with myself. I was ripe for mistakes. Professionally, I was getting lazy.
Nearly 20 years to the day after the last episode of Magnum PI, I made a personal choice that landed me in jail. I got pulled over for speeding, 43 in a 40. It wasn’t the three miles per hour; it was the two glasses of wine.
I was lucky: the price was only a few months probation, several thousand dollars, and a reckless driving charge. Thank god no one was hurt; no permanent damage was done. But being handcuffed and booked made me think about what I value in life.
I wanted to be the kind of man people come to for help. The kind of man who’s capable of helping.
Somehow, that experience allowed me to let go of my attachment to the career that I had chosen. I began to think in terms of callings instead of vocations. And then one day, I had a conversation with a longtime lawyer friend who made the offhand comment, “You ought to become a private investigator.”
So I sat down and made a list of strengths and weaknesses. It was an epiphany. It was one of those aha moments.
The Aha Moment
There it was. My calling.
At the end of the day it had nothing to do with the cars. It was about what kind of a man I wanted to be.
I wanted to be a lot like my Dad, honest and reliable. I wanted to be a little bit like Jim Rockford, the kindhearted sucker for a good cause. And if I’m being honest, I wanted to be just a hint like Thomas Magnum, cool and carefree.
The kind of man people come to for help. The kind of man who’s capable of helping.
I don’t live in a trailer by the ocean in Los Angeles.
I don’t have a Ferrari.
I don’t live on the family farm anymore.
But I am a private investigator.