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Papa needs a new Mercedes 

click to enlarge Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Phil Tollefson is retiring.
  • Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Phil Tollefson is retiring.

People often ask me what, exactly, Rich Tosches is like. He's a guy who tells funny stories.

In the year-plus that Rich has been working here at the Indy, he's shared some humdingers about his long life in the news biz. Like the one about a slob he used to work with, who awed his peers with creative use of White-Out. At lunch one day, the guy splooged some mustard on his wilting white shirt. With a downright eerie matter-of-factness, he pulled out the little bottle and touched himself up, then headed off to a press conference.

Rich got the journalism blood from his dad, a newspaper editor. This was back in the day when cigarettes dangled from reporters' lips as they hacked out copy on Smith-Coronas, and it was perfectly acceptable etiquette for perturbed editors to throw blunt, heavy items across the newsroom.

In that newsroom was one guy who was cold a lot, and another guy who ran hot. The hot guy wanted the window open, the cold guy didn't. It became a running feud. One day, the hot guy opened the window, and a minute later the cold guy closed it. The hot guy opened it again, and, incensed, the cold guy rushed to the window, slammed it shut, and, to drive his point home, whipped out some nails and hammered the sucker down. The window stayed shut.

Rich used to write for the LA Times, where he was a sports guy. One day a fellow reporter showed up to work, and suddenly everybody realized that they hadn't seen him for a while. Turns out the guy went to Mexico for a little vacation, but ran into some trouble and landed in prison. It had been a year. "A year ago!" marvels Rich. "How can you be gone for a year and nobody even notices?"

click to enlarge Will Rich Tosches go gray?
  • Will Rich Tosches go gray?

One of Rich's colleagues was so piggish that he would decide the games the newspaper would cover based on which hosting team had the best buffet spread. Every day, the columnist would make the rounds, calling the teams' PR gumflappers to find out what was on that night's menu. Finally, the Lakers flack got smart. He told the writer buffet information would not be provided in advance any longer. The reporter was outraged.

Perhaps most worth a mention was the time that Rich was covering a celebrity golf tournament. Right before the event, the celebrity, Andy Williams, had a massive heart attack. Things were tense; no one knew what was going to happen. At a reception in the clubhouse, Rich got to joking with another reporter about the situation. Why, Rich said, Williams probably was dead already. Yup, deader 'n' a sand trap. And hey, if he really did die, then did they still have to name the goddamn tournament after him? Rich was having so much fun he was oblivious to his pal's frantic sideways looks and fast-working eyebrows. Finally Rich glanced to his left. Next to him, staring right at him, looking none too happy, was Andy Williams. Oops.

Rich came to the Independent after working for a decade at the Gazette. This was how happy he was: At the Indy, his work space was underneath the swamp cooler, and when the thing kicked on and dead bug parts began raining down on his head and computer, he thought he'd died and gone to heaven. And his writing! He makes his readers cry and laugh and shake their fists. He infuriates the suits upstairs; he has mastered the essence of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

When it comes to Rich, we've got a few war stories of our own. Like the time in the diner when he got pumped up about the possibility of staging a modern-day Roman Coliseum event at the World Arena, complete with Christians and lions. At the end of breakfast, the nice woman in the booth behind him tapped him on the shoulder and invited him to her church.

Rich, of course, has taken an almost perverse delight in going after local politicians and other leaders who really deserve it. Among them is Phil Tollefson, the head of the city's publicly owned utility, who rakes in a salary of "a mere $265,900" -- which, in Rich's mind, is not nearly enough. "Papa needs a new Mercedes" has been Rich's rallying cry as he has tried to secure a raise for that poor CEO, who has had to endure wearing the same $700 tie to a council meeting twice in six months. (And no, I didn't even mind having to spend a full hour and a half dissecting everything Rich ever wrote about Tollefson and Colorado Springs Utilities with a fuming spokesman.)

Which brings us to the reason for recounting all these Tosches war stories. At the end of this month, Rich is ending his run here at the Independent, at least as a regular columnist and staff writer. He's been offered a sweet gig at the Denver Post, where he'll be the newspaper's new Rocky Mountain Ranger. We'll leave it to Rich to explain his new role in greater detail in the coming weeks, and we hope that includes the part where he promises he will continue on as a contributor to the Indy.

In the meantime ... Hey, Rich! Don't forget to give us a ride in your new Mercedes!

- degette@csindy.com

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