Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Best Thing About February is that it’s short

Essay by Ed Quillen

Colorado Central – February 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

IF I COULD RETURN to the founding of this magazine and I got to make the decision myself, Colorado Central wouldn’t be a monthly. It would appear 10 times a year, not 12, and there would be no January or February editions.

For one thing, that’s when the violently seasonal nature of the regional economy leaps up and grabs you by the throat.

For another, we all need to hibernate — to hole up or get snowed in somewhere and enjoy some time to think. I recall a conversation a few years ago with a contractor friend, who was complaining about all the work he had in February.

“But usually you’re complaining about having no work this time of year,” I said.

“Well, yeah,” he conceded. “But I’ve come to realize that if I really wanted to work all year, I wouldn’t live in Salida. I’d move to civilization. I’ve stayed here, and I’m learning now that the idle time in the winter is really part of why I stayed. It’s one of those blessings that you don’t miss until you don’t have it.”

When you’re creating a publication, as Martha and I did five years ago, you can devise your own schedule. We picked monthly because it would be more topical than quarterly, and it demanded less grunt journalism than weekly or daily. But we might have picked better if the selection had been monthly except for January and February.

There are ways that periodicals work around these slow times. Salida’s Mountain Mail, like most other small-town dailies, usually prepares its annual “Progress” or “Directions” edition this time of year — it gives you some new reason to go around and shake down the advertisers at a time when commerce moves with the speed of glaciers.

Our response has been to produce the January edition as early in December as reasonably possible, so that readers get it before the holidays, when advertising will do more for the merchant. I joke to advertisers that “We really publish two December editions, except we call the second one `January’.”

That leaves February, and it has evolved into our “end-of-the-year housecleaning” edition. But February as end of the year?

It works for us, in several ways:

1) The first Colorado Central was dated March, 1994. So we set ourselves up for a publishing year that starts with March and ends with February.

2) We start working on the February edition in December, just after the January edition goes to press, and in December, we’re constantly thinking about end-of-the-year matters.

3) Martha and I both hold considerable heritage from the British Isles, where until 1752, the new year began not on Jan. 1, but instead on March 25. The vernal equinox still seems like a much better time to start a year than in the dead of winter, a week after Christmas. We can’t change the official calendar back to this sensible approach, but we can adjust our publishing calendar so that our “new year” starts at the proper time.

4) I have seen magazines which list things like “The Best New Software of 1998” in their October edition, which was prepared in July and August, when the year in question was barely half over. If someone had tried to list the top American events of 1998 as of Dec. 1, the impeachment would have been left out. By waiting until February to examine the prior year, we get to see the whole year.

5) Business is slow in February, which gives us room to run the annual index of articles, essays, reviews, and even poetry we published during the preceding year. The index is a lot of work, and to be honest, I’m not all that sure that anyone else ever uses it.

But we need to prepare it for our own purposes — when someone wants to know when something was published, the index provides a reasonably prompt answer. And if we’re going to go to all that trouble, we might as well share the result, I suppose — especially since there’s always room in the February edition.

WHAT KIND OF YEAR WAS 1998 for Colorado Central? Better than it had any right to be, I suspect. Martha and I were tied up for half the year overhauling a rental house, and that took time and energy that could have made a better magazine.

Along the way, we learned something about our houses. Our current residence was once owned by William Marquardt, who published the weekly Salida Record back in the 1930s and 40s.

The rental house — one we lived in for 11 years, and couldn’t sell in 1990 when we desperately wanted to sell it for $28,500 — may be the oldest house in Salida. It shows up in the earliest pictures of the town, and I recently learned from Donna Nevens that it was built in 1880 by one Milton R. Moore, who founded the Mountain Mail that year with his partner, Henry Olney.

So perhaps George Sibley is right when he says “geography is destiny.” It seems to work even on a personal level — move into certain houses, and you end up practicing journalism in Salida, even though years have past since you quit your job at the local newspaper in 1983.

Some states have laws that require sellers of real estate to warn potential buyers about suspected ghosts, alleged apparitions, or gruesome murders on the premises — but it might be more important to know the occupations of the past occupants.

Back to last year. Another reason I didn’t give it as much attention as I should have is that I was traveling a lot to promote my book, Deep in the Heart of the Rockies.

It was fun, and I met a lot of good people. But the time you spend on the road isn’t time that you can write, or even think much about what you’re going to write.

Critics of trains often point out that they’re slow, that 40 years ago, when you could board the D&RGW’s Royal Gorge Express in Denver and step off in Salida, the trip took six hours, whereas today you can drive from Denver to Salida in three hours or less — how much less depends on the weather and the disposition of the State Patrol in South Park.

But if I’m driving during that three hours, that’s all I’m doing. Whereas on the train, I could be spending six hours in the bar car, enjoying myself, or at work on a laptop computer, being productive.

So when we’re comparing transportation efficiency, which is better — three hours of getting nothing done, or six hours of work?

THAT SAID, I won’t be out in 1999 promoting a book, and I hope the days of hard-core home-improvement won’t return for a while. Nor do I plan on visiting any courtrooms in 1999.

That was another big time-grabber last year — the lawsuit we filed on April 28 against the City of Salida for violating the Colorado Open Meetings (Sunshine) Law.

Anybody who thinks you just turn such things over to a lawyer, and let him take it from there, is dead wrong. Lawsuits require a huge amount of personal involvement, and I’m disgusted that I had to take time away from productive work just to get the city to obey the law, something it’s supposed to do anyway.

In my ideal world, if elected officials were holding an illegal meeting, you’d just call the sheriff. He’d arrest them all on your complaint, and they could explain to the judge the next morning why they thought they had a right to act in our name, and with our money, in secrecy and in violation of state law. If the judge agreed with them, they could go home; if not, a few days of public-service work, like picking up broken glass in the park, would be in order.

But no, the burden doesn’t lie where it should. Illegal meetings will continue, since few public bodies really like being accountable to the public, and they can always find an attorney who’ll tell them what they want to hear.

And I got even madder last spring when I heard, from my own elected officials, “What else could we do, we were just following legal advice?”

Advice is just that, advice. Even if it comes from a lawyer, it isn’t a law and it isn’t an order. As even President Clinton is learning, “following legal advice” doesn’t excuse acting in outrageous ways against the public’s interest. If you hold public office, the lawyer doesn’t sign your check — we do.

On the other hand, the lawsuit wasn’t entirely a drain. It made the magazine more visible, and I was impressed by two men who volunteered to join the suit: Bill Murphy of KVRH Radio and Merle Baranczyk of Arkansas Valley Publishing and The Mountain Mail.

Both volunteered to join the action as soon as they heard of it, even though they, too, would have to spend time that could otherwise go to their businesses, and even though they faced some degree of financial risk in getting involved — if the case had been thrown out, we plaintiffs could have been held liable for the city’s attorney fees, as well as our own.

They’re probably made of nobler material than I. If the situation had been otherwise, if the Mail or KVRH had filed the suit, I wonder whether I’d have had the gumption to join it.

As it was, I wavered a lot that lawsuit afternoon as the clock ticked down toward the deadline for filing an injunction to stop the executive session that could have booted Monika Griesenbeck off the council.

Eventually some guidance popped into my head. I think it came from, of all people, Ronald Reagan, who once asked “If not now, when? If not me, who?” That question arrives in all of our lives from time to time, but it would suit me fine if it doesn’t come back into mine for a while.

Despite my neglect caused by other occupations (it’s a weird world where you work 90 hours a week to avoid working 40), Colorado Central still did much better in 1998 than 1997. Circulation rose. We published 416 pages in 1997, and 488 pages last year, a 17% increase.

Much of the reason for this increase can be put in two words: Kathy Berg. She’s been doing a great job of selling advertising for Colorado Central, and more ads means more pages and more articles.

WHEN I TALK to colleagues at other offbeat publications, one frequent question is “Where do you find all the great writers you have?”

To be honest, we don’t have to look that hard. This area is blessed with many fine writers who sell to national markets, and I’m most grateful to them for sending their work to this small regional market.

One reason they send us their work is that their words are treated well. Martha is an excellent editor, much better than I am, and here’s why: when I have to do much work on a piece, it ends up sounding like me, but through her editing, no matter how much she has to do, she maintains the author’s voice.

I’ve worked with many editors over the years, and I’ve found only two who have that talent — Martha, and Ray Dangel, the editorial-page copy editor at the Denver Post before he retired a few years ago.

When we started this venture in 1994, one major worry was “Suppose Martha and I can’t find any free-lancers, and we have to write the whole thing ourselves.” Fortunately, that hasn’t been a problem. We receive lots of good material, and we wish we had the resources to publish more.

By some industry standards, our resources are stretched pretty thin as it is. With Kathy, we have a part-time staff of three.

Now observe another monthly, like Harper’s. On an “average” month last year, we ran 40 pages. Harper’s ran 92 pages — about 2½ times more than us — in its December edition.

So it should have 2½ times the staff, right? Let’s see, 2½ times our part-time 3 comes out 7½ part-time, or about 5 full-time. Their masthead lists 15 full-time people just in editorial (and there’s also the production and circulation to handle, as Martha and I do), along with various interns and contributing editors which Harper’s has that we don’t.

When I make such comparisons, I’m frequently tempted to pat myself on the back and feel good about getting this magazine out at all. Another temptation appears, too — to kick myself in the rump for getting into a “job” that seems to be enough work for four or five people in other shops.

WHERE SHOULD THE MAGAZINE go in 1999? Kathy’s doing a fine job with the ads, and Martha’s editing results in good magazines. I need to focus on circulation.

My problem is that the usual ways magazines try to increase circulation — sweepstakes offers, blow-in cards, telephone solicitation, direct-mail packets — all annoy me when I’m on the receiving end.

I’ve tried to take a “golden rule” approach to publishing — that is, don’t do things to other people that you don’t like having done to you. And since I hate those things, I really don’t want to be a party to inflicting them on other people.

So I don’t know what to do, but I do know that Central needs more subscribers to thrive and prosper. If you know of any decent ways to sell magazine subscriptions, I want to hear from you.

I’m a little more focused on another 1999 project — developing a web site. We have registered “” as a domain name (it’s a great boost to the ego to be able to talk about your own domain), and now we need to do something with it.

And if we do that right, it could boost paid circulation, and we could look like an Internet-oriented company that Wall Street seems to love these days, and we could take the company public, and Martha and I could be loafing on some tropical beach, or snowbound in a cozy mountain cabin, while our excellent staff puts out the February edition.

— Ed Quillen