Thursday, September 20, 2007


I subscribe to the Park Rapids Enterprise, my hometown newspaper (comes out twice a week, circulation 6000.) I used to work there in the summers of '93 and '94. Since it's a tiny paper, I was able, even at ages 17 and 18, to do pretty much everything--I reported, took photos, edited, and did layout. This was pre-digital times: we were exacto-ing out the text columns, feeding them through a machine that coated the back of the paper with a skin of warm wax, and sticking them down into place. Peeling off and taping down long thin stripe-stickers to frame the photos. (O ye olde twentieth century.)

The Enterprise was housed then a couple blocks off Main Street in one of the strangest structures I have ever worked in. It looked like a tin can, cut in half the long way and tipped over, and painted dark brown. (Basically, a turd.) The walls were cinder blocks, the roof was corrugated metal, and it had two doors and one window. Inside: carpet, dark fake wood paneling, and an open room of desks. I sat three feet away from the editor-in-chief, LuAnn Hurd-Lof, who was/is openly feminist, worked all the time, and constantly drank from a small styrofoam cup of office coffee.*

Today I went through recent issues with a scissors to extract some clippings. As always, there are a few Onion-worthy pieces--"Couple Liked It Here In Spite of Incident," and an amazing editorial called "Bleach Accident Causes 'Bullet Hole,'" which describes in detail a laundry mishap, and which I may have to reprint here in its entirety. But the INCIDENTS section is hands-down the best part of the Enterprise and 90% of why I subscribe. On a slow news week, they print every single call that comes in to the police station. I have one in front of me that takes up a full five columns. They break it up into categories: Miscellaneous, Animal-related, Fires, Accidents, ATV-related, and Burglaries, thefts. Here is a selection of things that made the paper last week:
Careless driving and rude gestures were reported in Akeley Township; A male was reported shooting rocks through a PVC pipe into a Park Rapids park; A red boat was driving "very crazy" in Mantrap Township; A "weird odor" was reported coming from a neighbor's house; A house was toilet-papered; A caller asked to speak to an officer regarding her aunt exploiting her grandmother; A highly intoxicated female who's "worked up" was refusing to leave in Lakeport Township; A Park Rapids caller asked to speak to an officer regarding his neighbor who ran over his ice cooler; A Helga Township caller requested 27-year-old daughter be removed from her home; A caller reported her granddaughter broke into her home while she was gone and had a party; A caller reported her renters vacated property at her request, but left horses behind, which she's been feeding; A "skinny dog" was reported in Todd Township; A horse with a saddle, no rider, was reported in the ditch; Shoes were reported stolen while caller's son was at the neighbor's house; A foreign car was reported to have flown around a corner and hit a tree in Park Rapids; Loggers were reported cutting through the night on the east side of Lake Minnie, disturbing caller's sleep; a Todd Township mailbox was "stuffed with something."
Thefts: gas, chainsaws, the food shelf, guns, money, rings, golf clubs, tires, a wiper blade.

The masthead of the Enterprise today is still made up of three quarters of the people I worked with then. Can you imagine being a sports writer in a town of 3,000 people? The only sports are high school sports. But Vance Carlson has been doing it for at least two decades. He goes to every game and meet, he takes the pictures, he writes up the stories. He is a veritable thesaurus of ways to say "defeat" ("Seals Swim Past Panthers" said a recent headline.) I have nothing but respect.

* LuAnn liked me and paid me more than I'd ever made: $7 an hour. She even let me have an opinion column. Fresh out of my first year at Oberlin, leftist fires a-blazing and jarred by re-entry culture shock, I chose as my first subject the Little Miss Park Rapids pageant; my second, the word "feminazi." The newspaper received a surge of letters, including a four-page handwritten-in-blue-ballpoint missive about baby-killers, and one cane-waving (no joke) lady stormed in demanding to have a word with me--"Who's this Chelsey Johnson? Where is she?"--alas/luckily I was out "reporting." But I also got stopped and thumbs-upped in the supermarket by the rad middle-aged women of P.R.'s small yet ardent feminist posse.

1 comment:

prepy said...

amazing. i am a sucker for small towns. i'd love to live in one someday.