Life off-camera takes positive turn
Wayland Boot has a new lease on life and, as he approaches his 70th birthday, some of that old vigor.
If you're a sports fan over 30 years old, you remember him as Ed Whelan, the wisecracking sportscaster who delivered sports news and clips along with funny lines for 26 years at KOIN (6).
It all ended abruptly in August 2007, when Whelan's contract was not renewed by KOIN management and his job ended — without cause, he says.
Whelan's life went into a gradual tailspin through the years, compounded by the continual effects of a stroke suffered in 1998. But Whelan says he has regained his edge, thanks to a job he accepted three months ago — as a dispatcher for Gerlock Towing in Northeast Portland.
"My outlook on life is so much better," says Boot, who will turn 70 in January. "My mom used to say you have to have an excuse to put your pants on in the morning, and it's so true. I just feel more useful. My spirits are up. I feel like the guy who was on television."
Hello, Ed. Nice seein' you again.
But gone is the stage name with which he was identified by hundreds of thousands of television viewers.
"I'm Wayland Boot now," he says over coffee near his Multnomah Village home. "I haven't been Ed Whelan for 10 years. I can't even recognize that guy anymore."
The 6-4 Boot walks with the help of a cane, slowly, with difficulty.
"I have a hard time with my balance," he says. "My legs have gotten weaker because of the stroke. I had a diabetes scare not long ago and lost 40 pounds. I'm down to about 250."
But three or four days a week, Boot hobbles into his blue 1985 Mercedes station wagon and drives to a job that has him taking calls from tow-truck drivers throughout Oregon.
And Boot is enjoying the hell out of it.
"It's been a godsend to me," he says. "You never can tell the twists a life will take."
Though at times, Boot admits, he feels like a fish out of water.
"It's the first job I've held in 10 years," he says. "I feel like a convict who has been in prison and is getting back into the real world.
"When I left (KOIN), there were cords attached to the mouse on the computer. One day after I first started (at Gerlock), I was trying to move the mouse on the computer, and I was holding the stapler."
Within the past five years, Boot had suffered several setbacks, including the death of his mother and a younger brother and sister.
"There are no more Boots left except me," says the long-time bachelor.
Then, with the end of the Affordable Housing Refinancing Program, his mortgage payment was raised $250 a month. Boot dealt with depression.
"I was sitting around the house, staying up late, getting up late," he says. "And I knew I had to get out in the work force to help myself financially."
A friend, Farzana Chowdhury, "convinced me that I wasn't too broken down, that I could get out in the world and still contribute," Boot says.
Visits to Mount Olivet Baptist Church in North Portland helped.
"Sometimes when I was feeling depressed, I'd drive down Barbur Boulevard and head downtown," Boot says. "I'd see all those young people standing in the rain outside the Union Gospel Mission and realize I didn't have it so bad."
Then Boot stumbled upon an ad on Craigslist for a job at Gerlock. He mailed a letter of application. One of the co-owners, Kim Karnes, recognized the name. She interviewed Boot and hired him for the job.
"I'm 50, and I've lived in Portland since I was 10," Karnes says. "I couldn't believe it was him. We all joke around here that we grew up on Ed Whelan. We feel like we have a celebrity working for us. He doesn't feel that way, but we do."
Boot wasn't quite prepared for what he was getting into.
"I thought it would be a cinch, that all you'd have to do is get on the phone and say, 'Hey Joe, go to Fifth and Taylor for a pick-up,'" Boot says. "But it's a very complicated process. It's like going from arithmetic to calculus. It was easier for me to send a (TV) crew to L.A. to cover the Blazers and Lakers than it is to send a tow truck to Fifth and Salmon.
"You have to be very professional. Those drivers are in a hurry. It's all business to them. They could give a hoot about some guy who was on TV. I learn every day, but I walk out of there with my head spinning. Kim and company have been very patient with me."
Karnes says Boot has made that easy to do.
"Ed is older and has had a stroke, so things don't come as quickly as they could to some," she says. "But he's working on it. He's a great guy, and he's giving 100 percent. He's here every day on time. He's very dedicated and diligent."
Boot works the swing and graveyard shifts. There are no complaints about the late hours.
"I'm doing much better now than when I started," he says. "It gets me over the hump financially, but it's not about the money. The job saved my life."
Boot still keeps up with the sports world, and offers these observations on subjects of interest locally:
• The Trail Blazers: "They remind me of a football team that can't run the ball. They can't stop anybody in the paint. As good as (Damian) Lillard and (CJ) McCollum are as players, there's not the connection with the community like there was during the Drexler era in the early '90s. Maybe that's because they're not winning as much. (Jusuf) Nurkic will make a difference to a point, but I don't see them getting to the NBA Finals without at least two more A-list players."
• Former Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich: "He inherited a bad situation. The talent wasn't as good as advertised, and it seems like the character of the program had slipped under Chip Kelly. One of the reasons he was so successful is (Mike) Bellotti left the cupboard full for him. Bellotti never got the credit he deserves for building that program. Kelly was a good coach, but he was arrogant, and not what his reputation had him to be."
• New Oregon football coach Willie Taggart: "We shall see about him. He says all the right things. He can talk the talk, but I don't know if he can walk the walk. He has big problems with the defense. I do like that he can recruit in the south. They need to get some defensive linemen like they have in the SEC. I'm not looking for any big turnaround in the next couple of years."
• Sports broadcasting: "You can see the effect of the internet on the whole industry. Viewership is down; revenue is down. Look at the recent layoffs at ESPN. The technology has changed. The product isn't as good as it used to be. There are so many different venues for people to get the information. They don't hire people to sit around and collect it. By the time 11 p.m. comes around, everybody knows the news. They're getting the nuts and bolts out faster, but you don't see as much of looking behind the scenes. There's a lot of stuff going on outside the lines in sports that doesn't get reported anymore."
• On KOIN: "Except for NFL football and some sports programming, I haven't watched Channel 6 since I left. It brings back ... not painful memories, but it makes me think of all the friends I had there and the situation of me leaving. I just haven't watched it."