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What it was like to work with Darrell Ankarlo

In May 2007, Darrell Ankarlo and I, along with a few others, were talking to coyotes on a hilltop just west of Nogales, Mexico.

They were busy sneaking immigrants across the border illegally. They were serving as lookouts observing the US Border Patrol’s movements. It was then that I realized working with Darrell was going to be an adventure.

I moved here to Phoenix a few months prior in January to work at KTAR with Darrell. Illegal immigration was hotly debated so we wanted to experience the US-Mexico border for ourselves. That is how we ended on the hilltop looking over a border fence into our home state. We spent five days down along the border.

A couple days later, back on the Arizona side, we met and interviewed Armando. He had snuck across the border and was walking through the desert in the May heat attempting to reach Tennessee. We offered him water. He had none left. He was dehydrated and out of energy but there he was, laying in the shade under the tree, resigned to his fate. I couldn’t help but feel compassion for him. But at the same time I was conflicted because he had snuck into this country illegally.

The Border Patrol eventually came and apprehended him and the experience left a lasting impression on me. Working with Darrell was like that.

Later that year, we were in Iowa covering the 2008 presidential election for KTAR. There, we met John Edwards before we knew about his affair. We saw the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama unfold at rallies throughout the state. Darrell even managed to annoy Arizona Sen. John McCain when he questioned the senator about illegal immigration. It was on that trip I got my first speeding ticket as we sped through the cornfields driving between political rallies. Darrell paid for half of it because he encouraged me to go a little faster. He’s that kind of guy.

In January 2008 back in Iowa, Darrell and I snuck into a caucus in Des Moines and broadcast live even as he was losing his voice. The media wasn’t supposed to be allowed in. Somehow, Darrell found a way. He always did.

Just like he finagled our way into a hotel near the French Quarter in New Orleans as Hurricane Gustav bore down. Luckily for my former hometown, the storm veered west, sparing the Crescent City just three years after Hurricane Katrina. We were there just in case.

Truth be told, working with Darrell wasn’t always easy. He demanded the best and held me accountable. We had quite a few open and honest conversations. There were days I wanted to yell at him as I’m sure there were days he wanted to do the same with me.

That’s just part of my overall experience with Ankarlo.

Now, we are like family. Just this past November, my wife, Amy, and I spent Thanksgiving with the Ankarlos. It was one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve ever had.

Darrell is a prankster. That hasn’t changed, even after his April 2009 car accident left him with a traumatic brain injury. He is always laughing or trying to get you to laugh.

The first time I met him, when I flew into town for my interview, he took me into Fry’s Electronics Store and decided throwing things up in the aisle would be a great way to get to know me. Of course, I caught them all and put them back on the shelf without a word. He said he knew then the job was mine. And honestly, that truly sums up what it was like working with Darrell.

Throughout it all, Darrell has also become a mentor and a friend. He has always been there to offer great counsel, whether it is about the job, a marital problem or just a life issue that comes up. It not only makes him a friend, but a great one. And a great dad. Even a great husband, though I know Laurie would question that sometimes, especially after suffering his brain injury.

Late last week, Darrell Ankarlo finally announced on his Facebook page that he and his wife are moving back to the East Coast and saying goodbye to Phoenix. It’s bittersweet.

I’m sad because I’ll miss my friend but I’m happy that he gets to close this chapter, a chapter that started with a move to Phoenix to start a brand new radio station, ending in tragedy after someone pulled out in front of his car a mile from his house.

That accident happened almost four years ago and it changed Darrell’s life forever. He’s spent countless hours in hospitals and doctor’s offices. Even more with neuroscientists and therapists. Now is the time for him to take the next step.

Here’s to hoping it’s the best one yet.