Flashback: Dinner with a Former Dittohead (October 2006)

It was a blistering hot June day in Atlanta and Jim Derych is pacing Peachtree Road. He is dressed in a casual button-down shirt which conceals his bright white undershirt - a classic sign of a Southern Gent.
"Hi, this is Jim," he answers on cell phone in his modern Southeast US drawl.
"Hey Jim. This is Bob Nebel, the freelance writer you are meeting for dinner" I say. "Are you the guy walking north on Peachtree with a backpack?"
I could see Derych from about two blocks away.
"Yes, that's me!" he says in surprised tone. He turns around. "Oh, there you are!"
Such is the day in the life of Jim Derych, a thirtysomething financial advisor from Memphis.
But, on this day, I was not meeting Jim for his money-making advice. I was meeting this well-spoken young man to find out how he got his first book "Confessions of a Former Dittohead" - published. The softcover is an independently published tome which takes readers through his journey as "an impressionable Rush Limbaugh-loving Young Republican" who slowly returns to the real world." "Confessions" is a fun little book that is part intellectual odyssey/part handbook for the converted and for those who have had enough of the past five-plus years (Hmm, did someone named Carville do this a few years back?).
After appearing on Air America radio's flagship staples including "The Al Franken Show," "Morning Sedition" and "The Majority Report," Derych has become something of a minor celebrity in both the book and Progressive worlds. "Hey, I might not have been on 'Colbert' or 'The Daily Show,' but at least I made it on CSPAN," he who later quip that evening. When I finally caught up with Derych, he was fighting off the hot Georgia sun better than most of us who endure these challenging temperatures. The heat was about to become even more intense as we walked into the La Fonda restaurant for our dinner appointment.
"I suppose the folks who don't like Jane Fonda stay away from this place," he joked. After almost taking the bait, I welcomed the Memphis resident to Hotlanta which was living up to its name on this day.Far from being a place named after the famous Fonda, who is a part-time Atlanta resident, La Fonda is an excellent hole-in-the-wall that serves up excellent Spanish fare.
Clocking in at 94 degrees in the upstairs, the spicy meals we were devouring were just as intense as the topics we were bringing up. Everything from Rush's rise to stardom and fall from "grace" to Ann Coulter's latest pile of bile to Dennis Miller's transformation to conservative comic was fair game.
The story of how "Confessions of a Former Dittohead" got published goes something like this: Derych chronicled his awakening on Daily Kos. A pair of hotshot New York publishers got a hold of the blog and informed Derych that he already wrote half of a book. All he had to do was expand on his ideas and produce the other half under deadline. He quickly complied and a confessional on paper was born. Now Derych is on a grassroots media tour courtesy of the small publishing house. After dinner, we headed over to the Barnes and Noble on Peachtree Road. I noted to Derych that Hillary Clinton signed her autobiography at this same B and N about three years ago. (I covered that event for a local conservative rag.) That knowledge made him feel better when a small crowd gathered to hear his story. Derych put on an astounding 30-minute speech on how college changed his Limbaugh-described "young skull full of mush." It was at school where he met people of all stripes who forever shifted his opinions. Leaving the confines of his sheltered conservative East Tennessee life, higher education gave Derych an education that he would have never imagined had he stayed home. The post-speech question and answer session to Derych's appearance was almost like a political meeting. "How can we stop these lunatics?" one spectator asked. "You make a lot of good points and you have a great sense of humor, but we are in serious trouble," another commented.After the two-way talk, I didn't know if I was elated for Derych or depressed for the world.
After Derych signed copies of his book, this one-time Barnes and Noble employee will take a break from the media tour and head back to Memphis to spend time with his wife of eight years. He will embark on another leg of the tour in a few weeks with a trip to Northern California's Bay Area. It is without a doubt, Derych will be met with enthusiastic crowds.
Here is my confession: I have been living in a conservative bastion for years. While I love my neighbors, I have no idea why they have plastered my neighborhood with Ralph Reed signs.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that my evening with Derych was one that was not only interesting, but something that I needed. 

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