Billy, the college friend from thousands of years ago, called this week. He had read The City Wire coverage of Mayor Ray Baker’s death.
However, once Billy believed the solemnity was properly observed, he quickly asked about our future coverage plans. Billy, by way of reminder, is convinced The City Wire will never be a long-term success unless it includes stories about hunting seasons, high school football and presents a weekly photo feature of a local Hooters girl.
He’s now added NASCAR coverage.
“That Fort Smith area is a big place. Surely to hell there’s some ol boy from that part of the world that’s working in a pit crew, driving a truck or swapping out ball caps for sponsor photos. I’ll bet you a six pack of PBR that if you’d really do some reporter work for a change that you’d find some good stories about these salt-of-the-earth people doing 4-second tire changes,” Billy noted during the phone call.
The mayoral conversation went something like the following.
Billy: Saw where your longtime mayor died. Too bad.
MT: It is too bad. He certainly had the personality and pride and character that could only be snuffed out by death. And I doubt his passion will be snuffed out. Not sure this city will ever see someone with his type of sincere enthusiasm for public service.
Billy: Well, I ain’t a resident there, but it seems like whenever I saw him on TV, he was jumping up and down and throwing roses and talking about your life being worth more if you lived in Fort Smith.
MT: The saying is, “Life’s worth living in Fort Smith, Arkansas.” And he said it so often that it eventually permeated the culture, which is a remarkable feat.
Billy: Don’t know much about permeated cultures, but if you meant to say that he helped people be excited about their town, then I’ll have to be agreeing with you about his accomplishment.
MT: Yes, that’s what I meant. And it will be interesting to see if they put that phrase as an epitaph on his headstone.
Billy: You’re always trying to think ahead a step or two. This guy was mayor for 20 years. Can’t you ever just be in the moment? And don’t get all sentimental with me on the death of your Mayor Baker because I know y’all didn’t always see eye-to-eye.
MT. Sorry. Was just making an observation. Didn’t mean to get outside the moment. And, no, I disagreed with some of his pronouncements and votes, but that kind of thing is going to happen when …
Billy: But I bet you feel a little silly now, dogging him on some of those things like you did.
MT: Not really. Look, Billy, in this business you just have to call it like you see it. If I stepped back and said, “Gosh, I better not say anything on this subject because this politician is going to die someday and when everyone says great things about him or her, I’ll have been on the record saying a few negative things.”
Billy: You really believe that bulls&%t don’t you?
MT: It’s not bulls&%t. There is no doubt that Mayor Baker did many things for Fort Smith. And there is no doubt in my mind that 100 years from now people living in this city will know all about Mayor Baker, but they won’t have any knowledge of Michael Tilley or that I once gave the Mayor a hard time for opposing cable channel changes.
Billy: OK, I can see that. That’s a good point. You know, about every fifth conversation we have, you say something reasonable.
MT: You are so kind, Billy.
Billy: Thanks. The missus says I have my finer moments. And you might just be selling yourself short on being remembered 100 years from now. You get to cranking out them Hooters girls’ stories and NASCAR stuff and they might just be talking about the Tilley media empire years from now.
MT: I’ll take my chances on being forgettable. But, seriously, thanks for the call about Mayor Baker. I probably should have told you more about what made him so great, but that would be just so many words wasted on a truly remarkable man who did so much for Fort Smith with just seven words. It was, however, appropriate that he died on March 4th, because he certainly worked hard to see the city march forth.
Billy: That’s amazing!
MT: What? You like the clever little “march forth” thing?
Billy: No, it’s amazing that for once you decided against wasting words.
MT: Real funny, Billy. Goodnight.