This is what’s happened between blinks of the eye….
Shortly after The Zephyr’s first issue appeared on newsstands, in mid-March 1989, I was at the old Main Street Broiler, eating one of Debbie Rappe’s wonderful cheeseburgers and overheard a spirited conversation at an adjacent table. Two of Moab’s more prominent citizens were discussing my recently revealed plan to start a new monthly newspaper in Moab. One of them complained, “This smart ass kid thinks he can just start a newspaper and then tell us how to live! His ‘Zephyr’ garbage won’t last three months.” His friend nodded, “I hear he’s one of those environmental weirdos.”
Jump ahead—way ahead—to the day a couple years ago, when I found this post on our web site; it was in response to a story on extreme sports. The commenter declared his loathing for this publication like this: “It’s this geriatric community of do-nothings,” young Seth complained, “that wants to sit by and look at rock that is getting butt-hurt…It’s so sad watching you get old and bitter.”
From “smart ass kid” to “old and bitter.” It seems like only yesterday. But seriously, and being completely honest, both criticisms held and hold a certain degree of merit.
As for my “environmental weirdo” status, well…that’s a long story too. As we approached The Zephyr’s 30th birthday, I had intended to go into much greater detail on the evolution of this publication. But then it occurred to me: ‘Haven’t I already performed this chore?’ Sure enough, I looked up last year’s April issue and for reasons that I don’t fully recall, I had decided to get a head start on # 30.
The Apr/May 2018 TIOLI editorial was a year-by-year remembrance/celebration/whine about this publication’s history. If you’d like to get caught up on how we got from there to here (the last 12 months excluded), click here:
Still you’ll have to forgive me for reminiscing a bit more.
Back in 1990, in The Zephyr’s early years, when somebody asked Grand County’s conservative Commissioner Jimmie Walker what he thought of the new publication, Walker grinned and said, “I can sum up The Zephyr in one word…SHIT.” Jimmie didn’t like the upstart Zephyr’s stance on the proposed Book Cliffs Highway and we had some heated debates on the subject over the next few years. When the plan died in 1993, I found myself in Jimmie’s dog house for many years.
By 2016, the “progressive” Moab City Council and its Mayor Sakrison were referring to The Zephyr as “social media crap,” when The Zephyr reported on the local government’s efforts to “restructure” City Hall without proper public input and the controversy that surrounded the hiring of its then-new city manager. (and most of you know where that story wound up.)
Still, after all these years, I appreciate the fact that when Jimmie Walker offered his critique, he at least did it with a smile! And later when I saw Jimmie, he was more than happy to repeat his assessment, and again, with a Jimmie Walker grin.
But there were and continue to be some kind words to be found for The Z too…
Almost a quarter century ago, one reader had this to say about our new publication: “Stiles is an aggressive perpetrator of knowledge, a passionate defender of kindness and common sense, and has a splendid sense of humor…The Canyon Country Zephyr might be the best local newspaper in the country.”
But a local realtor disagreed: “Stiles wants to return to the good old days of Ed Abbey and economic depression. He has a closed mind when it comes to progress.
Just a year or so ago, one reader left this comment: “Stiles is a fount of unending negativity. I can’t believe it hasn’t killed him yet.”
But another another reader expressed a different sentiment: “Thanks for your eloquent writing.” And she thanked me for “the much-needed voice of the CCZ.”
In 30 years The Zephyr has traveled the spectrum, from “one word…shit” and “social media crap” to “perpetrator of knowledge” and “a much needed voice.” No wonder I feel a bit schizoid at times. I never know whether to bask in the love or jump off a cliff. Fortunately, most of the time, I’ve chosen to do neither. One thing is for certain, as we enter the 31st year of life, very few people who read The Zephyr are ambivalent about it. And though this roller coaster has almost broken me a couple of times, it’s a journey I’m grateful to have been a part of. It’s been quite a ride.
In the waning days of 1988, Moab was a different kind of place; so was the world…
Ronald Reagan’s presidency was winding down in November 1988, but his legacy would live on when George H.W Bush easily defeated Democrat Mike Dukakis on November 8. Reagan’s last year had been rocked by scandal. The “Iran-Contra Affair” involved the illegal sales of arms to Iran in exchange for U.S. hostages held in Lebanon by Iranian terrorists. The money from the Iranian arms sales was then funneled to aid the Contras, a Nicaraguan rebel group, by CIA operatives.
The average price of gasoline was around 91 cents. But home mortgage interest rates were off the charts. The national average was 10.3%, but in March 1985, the interest on my recently purchased little home in Moab was a bone crushing 13.5%. But a postage stamp went for 24 cents, a movie ticket sold for $3.50 and a VW Rabbit could be purchased for about $7000.
I was months way from publishing the first issue of a new publication I had recently decided to call, “The Canyon Country Zephyr.” I’d kicked a few less memorable names around, including ‘The Slickrock Journal” and “The Moab Monthly.” But driving along Mill Creek Drive, near Emmit’s K-D Second hand Store, ‘Zephyr’ popped into my head. It stuck.
I had recently been writing and cartooning for Bob Dudek’s irreverent monthly, “The Stinking Desert Gazette.” The Gazette had been around for a couple years and Bob had offered me work when his cartoonist Nik Hougan briefly moved north to run the family’s farm in Idaho. I needed the money and was intrigued with the idea of being part of a newspaper.
A year earlier, I’d given up my decade-long stint as a seasonal ranger at Arches National Park. Some thought I’d stay there forever and I was even worried at the time that I just might. But I gave up my rangering days forever and looked for honest work.
The Gazette was my introduction to newspaper production, 1988-style, and I enjoyed it. My role there grew and soon I was submitting stories and essays as well. I liked Bob and the gang who had been a part of the SDG since its inception, but Dudek and I were not a good fit. I think Bob enjoyed exploring the absurdity of Moab more than me, even then, and he avoided embracing the hard news stories. He once told me he wanted the SDG to become the “MAD Magazine of the Desert,” and I think he could have succeeded. Meanwhile I kept trying to slip serious stories about Moab politics into Dudek’s off-beat, funky rag. He always printed them and was consistently patient with my aberrations. But ultimately, for me, it didn’t work, so I gave my notice in September 1988.
My first thought was to pursue a reporter/cartoonist job with an environmental magazine like ‘High Country News,’ but opportunities then were far and few. I was even offered a seasonal job with the Park Service in Alaska by an old ranger buddy, Ron Sutton. But I really couldn’t imagine myself working for somebody else. After a decade as a “public servant,” I liked the idea of being self-employed.
Then, in November 1988, when Grand County citizens voted to stop a toxic waste incinerator, it occurred to me that Moab could use another news voice, besides the weekly ‘Times-Independent,’ Grand County’s newspaper ‘of record’ since 1896.
It was an interesting time to be in Moab.
(For a detailed account of the late 1980s, check out these Zephyr stories: )
The town was in dire straits; the uranium industry had collapsed, hundreds of jobs had been lost, and a quarter of Moab’s homes were empty and for sale. Moab’s ‘survivor’s were trying to figure out ways to keep their heads above water. Oddly though, because we were all in such a bad way, there was also a spirit of community and togetherness. It was that feeling that convinced me a monthly alternative could make it, as long as I kept it simple and my ‘business plan’ cheap.
And it was also my hope that it could be a gathering place for divergent ideas. From issue one, I was determined to offer all points of view. Not only would I welcome constructive criticism, I would seek out different viewpoints as well. I found Raquel Shumway, and later Jane S Jones, to represent the Western Alliance of Land Users to counter the monthly contributions of the Sierra Club and Lance Christie. The ‘debates’ that were waged in this publication 25 years ago still make for interesting reading. My hope was that we could at least remove the demons from the debate. We didn’t have to hate each other if we shared different philosophies. I know that’s an idealistic and maybe even simplistic approach. I know also that sometimes different values are irreconcilable. But if there was common ground to be found, I hoped it might be in The Zephyr.
I hit the streets in January 1989, looking for advertisers and did better than I’d expected. Still, at $18 for an eighth-page ad and $31 for a quarter, including art work, few could refuse. And when possible, we bartered…trade-outs were big in Moab in 1989. Even preferred. A few years later, Bill Hedden would note that Moab had been, “a hard place to get rich but a good place to be poor.”
(He was exactly right, though later, many professional environmentalists and enviropreneurs, found a way to achieve wealth via the last extractive industry of the West—Industrial Tourism.)
I also managed to convince almost a hundred friends to buy a $10 yearly subscription. I found a good printer in Cortez, Colorado. Larry Hausman, the head press man, explained the process and he looked over some of my dummy cut and paste pages. Now all I had to do was put together a newspaper.
APPROACHING VOLUME 1 NUMBER 1…
MARCH 14, 1989 & ED ABBEY
In early 1989, Moab was still buzzing from the November election. Grand County citizens had approved a measure to stop a toxic waste incinerator and had thrown two of its incumbent commissioners (and incinerator proponents) out of office. But the vote against toxic waste had crossed demographic lines; an interesting and diverse groups of Moabites had united to change Moab’s future.
At the time, it felt like a new beginning for Moab. I was actually hopeful that we might create something “entirely different” in Moab. I figured, what better way to keep this spirit alive than to create an ongoing dialogue with the new commissioners. I contacted incumbent Dave Knutson and newly elected commissioners Fern Mullen and Merv Lawton. All were agreeable to a monthly sit-down with The Zephyr, on tape, to discuss current issues. Later Mayor Tom Stocks also agreed to a spontaneous monthly, on the record interview.
In December, Ed Abbey made what would be his last trip to Moab. While he signed copies of “Fool’s Progress” at Ken Sleight’s book store, I told him about the proposed Zephyr. Abbey was delighted and later, as we sat in my VW Squareback, sipping beers, he offered to send something for the first issue. “I want to put an original story in your Zephyr,” he said. “Maybe I can become one of your regular correspondents.”
I’d already circled the first ‘press day’ on my calendar and so I told Ed, “March 14 is what we’re hoping for.”
Abbey replied, “I’ll get you something before then.” We shook hands in the cold December darkness and I watched him amble away in his familiar long, loping strides. I figured I’d see him next Spring.
Trying to put a newspaper together posed a problem. I didn’t have a computer and I didn’t know how to type (I’m still awfully slow). To say this was a shoe-string operation, even then, would be an understatement. But my friend, attorney Bill Benge, proposed that I use his computer and his secretary Trish West moonlighted as my transcriber. Beginning with the first issue and for three years, everything I wrote was hand-scribbled on yellow legal pads and left to Trish to interpret. Even long interviews with the politicians were hand-transcribed by me and passed to Trish.
We were also in need of a printer and Trish’s uncle, CPA Ed Claus, graciously allowed the use of his when we were ready to lay out pages. His printer had one postscript font—helvetica bold—and so for three years we used this thick bold eight point type for stories and essays and interviews. I hand-scribbled the headline type and ad copy too, with size and font instructions, and took it to the Printing Place, where Larry and Marge Fleenor punched out the copy on a photographic ‘Compu-graphic’ machine. From there it was all cut and paste. More precisely, the entire paper was held together with hot wax. My hand-held hand waxer would serve me well for the next 17 years.
In 1989, emails didn’t exist. No cell phones. We depended on 51/4 inch floppy disks (they really were floppy) to print some stories, but most of them had to be re-typed. It was a long process.
With my first deadline fast-approaching, I began to write and gather stories. The first issue included interviews with both the commissioners and the mayor. We ran original stories about asbestos-dumping in Grand County and a report on local child abuse. I wrote a piece about my next door neighbor called, “Toots McDougald’s History of Moab,” and featured local artist Kathy Cooney on our first “Zephyr Gallery” page. Ken Sleight and John Sensenbrenner (the owner of Milt’s ‘Stop n’ Eat’ in the 80s and 90s) offered opinion and analysis from the Left and Right. Even my mother got into the act with “Grandma Sue’s Country Kitchen and her recipe for Mock Turtle Soup.
Abbey’s story arrived in mid-February, and with a note from Ed. He had sent me a never-before-published essay called, “Hard Times in Santa Fe,” but he hadn’t written it exclusively for The Zephyr. He’d been busy finishing his sequel to ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang’ and was trying to beat a deadline. We would learn soon that the deadline was for more than his latest novel.
A couple days before I carried the layout boards to Cortez, I’d heard a rumor that Abbey was ill. The same rumor had hovered over us for years, in fact, but Abbey had always kept his health issues private. In January I called the Abbeys and learned he’d had “an episode,” but was on the mend. So at 5 AM on March 14, 1989, I packed the layouts and my check book into my 1963 Volvo and drove the 120 miles to Cortez News. It took about five hours to produce Volume 1 Number 1. I worried about typos and scrambled layouts, knowing that once it rolled off the presses there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to fix them. By noon, The 2000 Zephyrs were printed, boxed and loaded into my Volvo. The trunk and back seat and passenger seat were stacked to the ceiling. I barely had room to sit.
I got back to Moab after 2 PM and had just unloaded the first box when a friend of mine, Jean Akin pulled up to the curb. “Did you hear about Ed Abbey?” she asked. I shook my head. Jean said, “Edward Abbey died this morning.”
I couldn’t believe it. I was absolutely paralyzed. That afternoon, my great friends, the Knouff family–Becky, Kate, Terry and Tim— helped get the first issue on the newsstands. I headed out to Pack Creek Ranch to spend the evening with my buddy, and one of Abbey’s best pals, Ken Sleight. A few days later, Benge and I drove down to Tucson for the private memorial service. Bill had been Abbey’s attorney when he lived in Moab and had, in fact, written much of one of the last chapters in ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang.’ Abbey was a writer not a lawyer, and Bill helped fill in the blanks on courtroom procedure and the rule of law when the Gang went to trial. We gathered at Saguaro NM west of town. It’s a blur now. It was a hard day.
That evening, Bill and I made the long 17 hour drive home. Two days later, I had to put my 15 year old dog to sleep. I was ready for that week to be over. It should have been a week of celebration; instead it was one of the most bittersweet seven days of my life.
Looking back, I seem inclined to commemorate these anniversaries every five years, perhaps because I’m always amazed when we reach another milestone (by our standards at least).
Now, however, as I look ahead, the sheer reality of actuarial tables and grim statistics suggests that I won’t be punching out Zephyrs in another 30 years, or even ten. Anything is possible, but sometimes I also hear that little voice saying, “OK…Enough is ENOUGH.”
And when the last breath comes, I really don’t want to be hunched over this damn keyboard, fretting about Industrial Tourism, or the Bears Ears or some frivolous lawsuit.
But, on the other hand, there is reason and hope to believe that after my “termination date” arrives, this publication may still have a considerable shelf life, thanks to the Extraordinary Tonya Audyn Stiles…
Though some of the more comforting predictions about our relationship gave us “a month…tops,” Tonya and I have been together for almost a decade (married for almost eight!) and her role as Zephyr co-publisher expands with each issue.
Though she is considerably younger than me, clinical studies (not to mention public opinion) have shown that Tonya is 4-5 times smarter than I am and infinitely wiser. Her “Sowing Clover” contributions convincingly prove both observations. But beyond her own writing contributions, Miss T often provides insights and observations to me, as I struggle through some of my longer-winded pieces; consequently, her unseen suggestions often find their way into my own scribbles.
She is a force to be reckoned with. Consequently, The Zephyr could live on for another three decades after all. It will be an evolutionary process, as it has always been. Quien sabe’?
Despite some of the political controversies of the past decade, the attacks on our honesty and integrity we have had to endure, and of course, our ongoing legal problems, these have been the happiest ten years of my life. We make a great team. As my grandma used to say, “Who woulda thunk it?”
But if I am sounding too apocalyptic here about my own longevity, let me say that I’ve never felt better, I still have most of my hair, and I intend to at least live long enough to watch humans land on Mars.
And finally, to paraphrase Cactus Ed once more, I intend ‘to outlast all you bastards and live long enough to piss on your grandchildren’s graves.’
Or something like that.
Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.