The Stories Behind the Stories in Bay Weekly
We’ve often joked here at Bay Weekly that we should write the screenplay for a sitcom. We’d base it not only on the trials and tribulations involved in getting a paper out every week, but also on the many characters we’ve met over the years. Maybe, we muse, we’ll call it Deadline. Or, perhaps, just Weekly.
These are the stories that go on behind the scenes, and like a magician who never reveals his tricks, there’s little place for them in the paper we’ve published over these 15 years.
But when we gather around the lunch table and kibitz, the talk is seldom about the news that fills the pages in your hands.
And it’s a shame, because those lunch-room tales are like legends filled with people who over retelling have grown larger than life. These are the stories that bond us together and that bind us to the past.
Take Bucky, the maintenance man at Tri-State Marine in Deale, where we had our first office. With a bald pate and gray ponytail, a white T-shirt and suspenders framing his well-kept beer belly, Bucky was the living, breathing stereotype of a Vietnam biker vet. He could fix anything, but that’s not why he hung around our office telling tales. No, it seems he had an eye for one of the sales women. One day, as the story goes, the two crossed paths at the 7-Eleven, where Bucky overheard a truck driver in line offer to buy the gas for the woman. Bucky followed the man out to his rig, climbed up to the passenger door and pulled a pistol on the truck driver. “If you ever talk to that woman again, it will be the last thing you ever do,” he said, slamming the cab door behind him.
Then there was Purnell Franklin, an old tobacco farmer we wrote about in our first year, back when Southern Maryland fields were flush with the crop. A veteran of World War II, Purnell came from the era when men dictated letters. Every few weeks, always at the pitch of deadline and once even immobilized with a neck brace, Purnell would come in to see “Sandy,” Bay Weekly’s editor and co-founder Sandra Martin.
Purnell was an animated talker, putting his entire body into his words. “Sandy, honey,” Purnell would croon. “Ah’ve got this letter Ah was hopin’ you could type fo’ me, please.” Waving a ream of hand-written paper in the air, he continued, “it’s just a couple ah pages, Sandy, dear.”
His charm, however, was as good as his timing bad, and sure enough, Purnell would slowly amble out with his letter in hand.
Then there was the intern responsible for our now-standard interview question for would-be employees: Can you change a tire?
You see it was, as always, deadline. Worse yet, it was deadline for Local Bounty, Bay Weekly’s Indispensable Guide to the Holidays. Everyone’s busy proofing pages, scanning pictures, making corrections and placing ads. Everyone, that is, but the intern, whose car has a flat tire. This young man had never changed a tire and didn’t even have a jack in his car. Too busy to stop, the rest of the office all offered him the use of their own jack. Thanks, he said, but his dad did not think it safe for him to change a tire. Nor did his father want him to drive on the flat the eighth-mile to the service station down the block. Instead, he spent the day either fretting out in the lot or on the phone with his father, the two of them trying to figure out what to do.
At our old West Street office in Annapolis, a customer our first in the new location stopped by to place a classified ad. Afterward, he asked to use the bathroom. Everyone settled back into their tasks until some while later, when we heard a muffled cry: Help! I can’t open the door. One of the quirks of that office was the bathroom doorknob, which you had to jiggle just so to open. After releasing the man, none of us had the courage to ask how long he’d been stuck in there, and he left without elaboration.
All in another weekly deadline.