Life at a Distance 

"The sounds of music and the smell of barbecue will again rise from Tom Lee Park in May 2020 ..."

"The biggest film weekend of the year looks to be the titanic matchup on December 18th, when Denis Villeneuve's science-fiction epic Dune, Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, and Memphis' own Craig Brewer directing Eddie Murphy in Coming 2 America battle for box office supremacy. See you at the movies!"

"Memphis foodies have a lot to look forward to in the year ahead, including more French food, riverfront views, and even a brand-new brewery." 

"... And there's Bar DKDC, Lafayette's Music Room, Wild Bill's, B-Side, Hi Tone, Minglewood Hall, Murphy's, Lamplighter, Blue Monkey, and many others, including the ever-reliable Beale Street. Get out there and keep live music alive!"

The preceding sentences were written by Flyer staffers in late December 2019, as they attempted to foretell what the forthcoming new year would bring. It was for a cover story called "2020 Vision," though in hindsight it should have been called, "2020: ARGGGHHH MAKE IT STOP!!!"

We'd just had a great company holiday party, and things were looking pretty good for the Flyer. Ad sales were up. Our editorial staff was hitting on all cylinders. We had a snazzy Downtown office in the Cotton Exchange Building. Life was good.

If you'd told us a year ago that we'd be vacating our office in mid-March and not seeing each other in person again for months, we'd have thought you were nuts. How could we possibly do our jobs without an office? In my March column announcing the "temporary" shutdown of our office, I wrote: "I don't know when we'll all see each other in one place again. Weeks from now, I suppose."

Or maybe a year from now? Who could have imagined? Not me, obviously.

It's been nine months and counting so far, and it turns out we can put out a paper without an office. It's not as much fun, but we've learned to work remotely via Zoom and Slack — two words that meant entirely different things to all of us a year ago. When we do go back to an office, it may be smaller. We've learned some things.

And 2020 was going to be a year of change for me, personally, as well. In the third week of January last year, I announced that, after 20 years of doing the gig, I would be retiring as editor of the Flyer. I was going to continue to write my weekly column, maybe take on some Memphis magazine work, pick back up on that novel I'd been fooling with, and get my wading boots wet more often. I was going to leave the editing and scheduling and hiring and firing to a new person, while I was still younger than the presidential candidates.

Oops. Turns out you really can't change leadership in the middle of an existential crisis. You can't bring in a new editor when they can't even meet with their staff. You can't make a pivotal hire when everything, including the future of the paper, is in doubt. So here I am. And glad about it. We'll try again this year when it seems feasible.

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So much about everyday life has changed in the past 12 months. Imagine how shocking it would have been to walk into Kroger a year ago and see everyone wearing a mask. Or imagine being told a year ago that you wouldn't be able to go hang out at your favorite bar, or gather with your extended family for holidays. Imagine being told that in the year ahead the country would become so divided that even medical advice would become politicized, that the very reality of a death-dealing pandemic would be questioned and called a hoax. And imagine being told that some of those same questioners would rush to be first in line to get a precious vaccination on the pretense that they were doing so to convince others it was safe.

"I'll use this last parachute just to show you it works." Yeah.

But, politicized or not, the vaccine does offer the first real hope that this nightmare will end, that a year from now we'll be back to some semblance of normal. I'm tired of social distancing. I'm tired of not seeing smiles. I miss my family and friends. I miss live music, live theater, going to the movies. And yes, I miss bars and restaurants. I know this: When I get that vaccination, I'm going to hit the back bar at my favorite Midtown bistro and order the best steak and best bottle of wine they've got. And then maybe do it again.

This is our last issue of 2020. Thank you for all your support of the Flyer during this difficult time. We made it, and we'll see you next year. And may it be a better one this time around.

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