The Rant

Tim Sampson looks back at the wild and wooly early days of the Memphis Flyer.

| June 05, 2014

Okay, I have a big, fat knot in my stomach. A knot the size of a Burger King Double Whopper with cheese, although I haven't had one of those in about four years. It's a knot the size of West Memphis, but more about that later. It's a knot the size of a pie at Knott's Berry Farm in California, although I've never been there to see how big that theme park really is. I have a very strong and dramatic dislike of theme parks and basically will not go to one for any reason. I visited Opryland once when I was in probably the seventh grade, and I vowed never to go to one again. Well, I guess I did go to Libertyland a time or two over the years here in Memphis, but that's neither here nor there and has nothing to do with the big knot in my stomach.

I think I have this knot, this pit, this twisted, gurgling thing in my gut because this is officially the 25th anniversary issue of the Memphis Flyer, and I feel that I should be waxing nostalgic and retelling all of the many things that happened in the early days when I helped get it started and served as its founding editor. The only problem is that the more I think about it, the older I feel, and it is making the knot grow bigger and more volcanic.

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I'm sure lots of the early days of this paper will be covered elsewhere in this issue, so that eases the pressure some. But I still feel like I should give an account of what it was like in those days and, well, at this point, I think I'm going to throw up the knot. But here goes with a few highlights from the decade that the first cell phone hit the market and believe me, back then they were bigger than this knot in my gut.

The personal ads: Oh, yeah, the personal ads. I guess every other alternative paper in the country contained personal dating ads, but to my knowledge no other paper in Memphis had ever tried it. Remember, this was before we had internet access, much less match.com, eharmony.com, gay.com, christiansingles.com, farmersonly.com, or any of the other niche online services to introduce strangers to each other for the purposes of dating or whatever.

It was scandalous to some, welcomed by others. I remember one ad from a woman who described herself as having a "Ruben-esque" figure, attempting to equate herself to the rather fleshy subjects in the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens. Unfortunately, she spelled it "Reuben-esque," equating her figure to a corned beef and sauerkraut sandwich on rye. Among our tiny staff at the time, there were some who ran personal ads for co-workers as a joke. I don't even remember how one answered a personal ad back then, as we didn't have email or passwords or any other real form of communication other than the phone. So I guess we called each other to set up these outings? All I know is that I tried it a couple of times just for fun and ended up having a bird almost peck my eyes out in Bartlett after a stroll through the Raleigh Springs Mall and attending Graceland's Candlelight Vigil after consuming far too much alcohol.

The way we got the editorial content together. Yes, we did have computers. They were little beige contraptions that were foreign to me at first and used a floppy disk so that some of the freelance writers could supply their copy on a disk, and it could be copied to the computer. However, most people back then still had typewriters and would simply type their various columns and articles, and I would either have to go to their homes to fetch the copy or have them bring it to the office, where I would have to key-stroke them into the computer. Some people actually hand-wrote their prose. And goodness knows we did not have spell check programs back then.

Once the articles and columns were typed up, I somehow got them to the people in the back of the room who were called typesetters. I think they had to retype the copy so that it would come out on long sheets of shiny white paper, which then had to be proofread and sent back for corrections until the copy came out clean and ready to go. Then, it had to be run through a machine that coated the back of it with wax and then cut up with a knife with a sharp little blade and then pasted to big sheets of cardboard, which were then taken to Mississippi on Tuesday afternoons and somehow would come back the next day as a newspaper.

Every Tuesday afternoon, after this race to the finish line, when the box finally went out the door, the staff would all go to the P&H Cafe to decompress, or something like that. And the next day, it all started again.

Twenty-five years of the Memphis Flyer. It is something to behold.

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