This is my 1,000th issue of the Mountain Home News. That's sort of a milestone in a business where journalists tend not to stay put in one place too often. We make too many enemies.
But you can also make a lot of friends, and over the years I've had a chance to get to know a lot of our readers, and with rare exception, I like most of them.
That's because I honestly believe that most people are good people. Or at least they try to be. Very, very few people are so self-centered and so selfish that you would ever describe them as evil. But then maybe one of my failings as a journalist is I tend to see the good in people before I go looking for anything bad.
Because, frankly, it's the bad and stupid people who keep me in business. Especially the stupid ones. I swear, half of the "bad" stories we write involve somebody doing something stupid.
And occasionally, the level of stupidity rises to the point where they become candidates for the annual Darwin awards. That's a sort-of-joke award given to people who, through amazing amounts of stupidity, manage to kill or nearly kill themselves, thereby proving that there is definitely a shallow end to the gene pool.
But I've never bought into the argument that we love "bad" stories because they sell newspapers. Actually, most of our papers go out to subscribers. It's not going to make a whit of difference in our revenue.
Frankly, I get a lot more satisfaction out of running a "feel good" story than I ever do about a "bad" story. The problem is, the "bad" stories are the ones we almost always have to run, while the "good" stories get set aside until we can shake some staff time free to go get them.
And unfortunately, people do seem to like the "bad" stories. For all the criticism the media gets about being sensational (and some of it is more than justified, especially at the national level), the fact is if people didn't want to read those stories they wouldn't be written in the first place. It's sort of like people objecting to sex and violence on TV. They know it's there because they watched it for six hours last night.
And I chuckle over those people who read the police log religiously to see who got arrested, and then object vociferously when their own name shows up there.
Since I started here 1,000 issues ago this community has changed a lot. Like all change, most of it has been for the better, and some hasn't.
When I first arrived the airbase was everything to this community. There was a constant interchange of people, ideas and concerns between the base and the town.
The base is still a huge component of our community. The personnel assigned there are our friends and neighbors, leaders in our churches and youth programs, volunteers in our community projects. And their economic impact remains the absolute bedrock of our community's well-being.
But for a couple of reasons, it isn't quite like it used to be.
Most of our growth in the last 5-7 years in particular has been independent of the base. We're becoming a bedroom community of Boise, and fewer and fewer people in town have a direct connection with or even concern about the airbase. Layoffs at Micron are starting to carry as much concern locally as losing a squadron on base would.
And since 9/11, it's a lot harder for people in town to get on to base than it was 19-plus years ago. The two-way exchange of people has been considerably reduced. What used to be a two-way street has increasingly become a one-way street. That's been necessary because of events, but it's too bad, as well.
Our economic health used to be tied directly to fluctuations on base. If a squadron deployed the business community was hurt significantly.
Today, it still hurts, but our economic infrastructure is a little more resilient. That was a deliberate effort by community leaders after the base closing scares of the early and mid '90s. Slowly, the economic base has begun to diversify.
We have more people, more jobs and more businesses than we had two decades ago. I actually hear people starting to complain today about traffic congestion and how we need more street lights at half a dozen places around town. I remember when I first got here the city getting just its fourth street light and it was big news.
We have a lot more houses in the community. But because a lot of our population growth has been from people who work at really good-paying jobs in Boise and can afford to commute (preferring our still largely small-town lifestyle and the personal safety that comes with it), a lot of those new homes are very pricey. It's been a long time since I remember a developer building a subdivision of "starter" homes -- which today would be about in the $100,000 or less range. An awful lot of the new homes have been in the $250,000-plus range, which is pretty much out of the league of most people who work exclusively in Mountain Home. Most jobs around here, with few exceptions, still don't pay much better (adjusted for inflation) than they did in the late 1980s.
We continue to have a retail shell with very little wholesale infrastructure behind it, and while we have more businesses than we did 20 years ago, fewer and fewer of them are of the "mom and pop" variety. Most belong to major franchises.
As a result, we've actually lost some things in some areas of our economy.
When I came here almost two decades ago there were at least three major "fancy" restaurants in the area where you could take your wife or girlfriend (if your wife wasn't available) out to a candlelight dinner and enjoy a high quality meal without a single "booth table" in sight. When AJ's becomes the top of the culinary pyramid, as nice as it is, you still know you've lost something. It's not quite the dining experience that the Basque restaurant at Joe's Club was.
When I came here there were three sporting goods stores in town. Real sporting goods stores where you could sit down with the owners and learn where the fish were biting and the best spot to get your deer. Where you could get those special shoes your kids needed for soccer or track. Where someone could intelligently give you good advice about the difference between different types of arrow shafts or hunting scopes.
Not one of those places went out of business because they were losing money. The owners either died or retired. But they were never replaced.
So like everything else, some things have gotten better, but not everything.
And I think the things I miss most are some of the people who are no longer with us. I look around and see the holes left by people like Don Etter, Hal Walker, Stu and Lenore Olbricht, Bill Hamilton, Bill Straw, Bill Sanders, John Greene, Scrubby (Jim Birchfield), and a dozen or so others from that group of community leaders active when I first got here whose boots were never completely filled.
And not all of them died, like the ones I've mentioned above. Many others are retired (and would be embarrassed if I listed their names here). They gave up their places in the leadership hierarchy of the community, having earned their right to a restful retirement, and those who replaced them have yet to achieve their level of greatness and altruistic spirit.
Maybe I'm just getting old, but it seems like the "age of giants" has passed.
Yet, as melancholy as I can get sometimes, for "the good old days," I see a community for which the future seems very bright, if we can avoid the infighting and jockeying for personal glory that can sometimes infect a community. I see a younger generation coming up with some new fire in their spirit, a new group of leaders emerging who are trying to balance our traditional small-town values with the demands of a growing community that is beginning to face the problems of a typical small metropolis.
It's a tough balancing act, and they'll need all the help, advice and ideas they can get.
One thousand issues. I'll be retired long before a second milestone like that comes around again.
But it's been a good ride, so far, and I've enjoyed it. I take my role as "voice of the community" seriously, and both hope and pray that I've created more good than ill.
I love this town, and I hope it shows.
I've tried to be moderate, compassionate, honest and honorable. I know I haven't always lived up to that, but the people at this paper make a sincere effort to try and achieve those standards each time we go to press.
Now, it's time to get ready for the next issue. Editors may come and go, but the news is always there.