Oct. 19 has come and gone. Very quietly, I might add.
Twenty years at the Winters Express, people. That was my anniversary. Where was the big party? The boss singing the praises of my loyalty and overall wonderfulness, and deep gratitude that I didn’t run away like my hair was on fire after the first day?
It’s only because of our bookkeeper, the lovely Laura Lucero, who can nag like nobody’s business and wield guilt like a machete, that Charley eventually relented to her hounding and chucked a couple of Buckhorn gift cards at me, and grumbled “Don’t say I never gave you nuthin.”
That’s Wallace for “Thank you.”
Now, I love Buckhorn gift cards, because then I can order something that’s not on the appetizer list, but it’s the spirit of the thing. Would Charley have done this on his own? (Everyone who knows Charley, stop laughing. And everyone who knows Laura, just say “No.”)
Not feelin’ the love. Did our City Council mitigate this and present me with a proclamation for not only enduring years of their mind-numbing squabbling over sewer laterals and affordable housing ratios and pretty much anything that falls from City Finance Director Shelly Gunby’s lips (nothing personal, Shelly, it’s just that hearing about municipal budgeting makes my soul bleed), but transforming them into fascinating stories that no one reads anyway? Nothing but the sound of crickets. Yet, the council flings proclamations around like kindergartners passing out Scooby Doo valentines on February 14. But for me? Faithful municipal scribe? Not even a “thank you” scrawled on a used Post-It.
Beyond dutifully documenting the excruciating minutiae of City Council discussions for two decades (and I haven’t even gotten to Planning Commission meetings, which inspire me to imagine how many ways I can commit suicide using only what’s available in the room — impalement by flagpole being my current favorite), you’d think I’d rank a proclamation just for working side by side with Charley Wallace for 20 years. Without killing him, mind you.
Not that I didn’t think about it.
More than once.
So. Twenty years. Yay, me. It’s my party (or lack thereof), and I’ll cry if I want to.
Let’s all grab a hankie and dial back to when this fresh-faced, starry-eyed dreamer walked through those doors, and thumb through the Oct. 22, 1992, edition to see what life was like.
On the front page, we find a story about the Oct. 20 City Council meeting, written by one Debra Ramos. Back in those days, we dashed back to the office right after the meetings to type the stories for that week’s edition. Even if it was midnight. Even if, say, our appendix was bursting and we were typing with one hand and holding our stomach with the other, while the boss played video games, and grumbled about how long we were taking, and when we said, “You know, our tummy really hurts,” and his response was “Toughen up.” And then we ended up in emergency surgery four hours later.
Haha, you think I’m kidding. Or exaggerating.
Just ask him.
That 20-year old headline reads, “Reality sets in at council meeting,” and the first line is “This week’s City Council meeting was marked by a combination of frustration and reality as the council further defined the strategy it will use to deal with its financial crisis.”
Two things: Wow, 20 years later and the amount of money I’m making isn’t the only thing that hasn’t changed. And, wow, pity I wasn’t around then to edit that supremely atrocious writing.
Besides my story, we also see seven Future Subscribers that week. Holy hornballs. Busy little monkeys, weren’t we. But we didn’t have super cool wine tasting rooms and whatnot in Winters back then. People had to do something to kill time.
Also on the front page was the football contest, which I ultimately managed to relocate to the sports page after, like, 10 years of whining about it. I also managed to wring the obituaries off the front page and onto A-2, following an impressive hissy fit when five obituaries threatened to darken the front page with death and despair. Now, you only make the front page for being born. (Note to self: Changing “Obituaries” to “Former Subscribers” on A-2 is a great idea.)
Charley’s column was front page news back then, until the Express joined the McNaughton empire, and getting him off the front page was one of only two demands they ever made of us. The other was “No more headline collages on the front page on the last week of the year.” They said it was “tacky.”
“Tacky.” What does that even mean in the context of the Express office? There’s a Jiffy Pop container hanging on the wall above me that says “Okie Smoke Detector” underneath.
Haha, right? It’s also the only smoke detector in the whole building.
The biggest change from 1992 is that we were still putting the Express together with scissors and waxed paper. God bless the McNaughtons for bringing us up to technological speed, and giving us computerized page design. Not only is it infinitely easier, but the barrier of computer technology stymied the little office paste-up elves from replacing my stories on the front page with ones they liked better before going to press. (Ida Wallace, you’ll always hold a special place in my heart.)
And yet… the smell of melted wax still makes me a little nostalgic. Until I look at my paycheck. Snaps me out of it every time.
What else has changed? Me. When I arrived at the Express, I was a sweet, gentle, patient fluffy bunny. But throw a fluffy bunny in with wolverines, and one of two things happen: The bunny gets eaten or it learns to fight. How did that turn out? Come by on a Tuesday and interrupt me when we’re going to press. If you want to leave with all your fingers intact, they’d better be holding a Buckhorn gift card.
— Email Debra DeAngelo, winner of the 2012 Best Serious Column award in the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest, at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com