We’re 10 Years Old!
By Jack Wright, Editor/Publisher
As days in history go, July 4, 2003 wasn’t exactly jam-packed with headline-grabbing events. There was a tape purporting to be of Saddam Hussein broadcast on Al Jazeera, marking the first public communication from the former Iraqi leader since his disappearance, early on in the invasion of Iraq. In the world of sports, Barry Bonds hit his 25th home run of the season, edging closer to equaling the 63-year-old record of Jimmie Foxx by becoming the second player in Major League Baseball to hit at least 30 home runs in 12 consecutive seasons. And singer Barry White, renowned for his super-sexy lush baritone and lyrics, died of kidney failure at the age of 58.
Overall, it would have gone down as a fairly unremarkable 24 hours in the annals of American life… except for the fact that at around 5pm that day a well-known local bartender from Philadelphia called Jimmy Quinn pulled up at the main entrance to Congress Hall in a beat-up late 1980s white Ford Escort station wagon and started unloading around 500 copies of a little newsprint magazine called Exit Zero.
As Jimmy (who at the time worked as a bartender at the Ebbitt Room but devoted one day a week to delivering Exit Zero) piled neat bundles against the yellow brick wall of Cape May’s famous old hotel, people came swooping in from all angles to grab copies. It was a very satisfying moment for me as I stood watching along with two other men who were key members of that startup operation — David Gray, a Scottish journalist I had known since 1990 who was taking a vacation in Cape May; and Maciek Nabrdalik, a young Polish student who was working as a lifeguard at Congress Hall swimming pool by day and taking photographs for Exit Zero by night.
Everywhere Jimmy Quinn went that evening he was greeted with pure enthusiasm and excitement, which made me think that maybe, just maybe, this thing had a chance of actually working. Later that night, the four of us — me, David, Maciek and Jimmy — celebrated the launch of Exit Zero with a few drinks at the Ugly Mug.
We may also have gone on to celebrate with a few drinks at Martini Beach and Cabanas. I do (very vaguely) recall downing way too many pints of vodka and Red Bull with Maciek one night at Cabanas, and then cycling home in a thunderstorm. Ah, those were the days.
But enough of those drunken tales. During those early days, I had no idea that this magazine, which started out at just 24 pages, would grow into an even more influential publication than The New York Times and Time magazine combined. Or maybe I’m just a little sleep-deprived right now — it’s been an intense few weeks here at Exit Zero Global Headquarters.
I’m very proud of many things that have happened during these past 10 years, and I will name a few. The aforementioned Maciek has gone from shooting photos of people hanging out at the bars and on the beach to becoming a photographer of real international standing. He routinely wins national photography awards in his native Poland, appears on current affair TV shows there and was also recruited by one of the best photographic agencies in the world, VII, based in New York.
He has gone on to shoot remarkable stories that include a chilling portfolio of life (if you can call it that) in the exclusion zone at Chernobyl. And later this month he will be releasing a book called The Irreversible that has attracted international attention. The book features haunting photographs of survivors of the Nazi death camps, along with interviews conducted by Maciek’s wife Agnieszka Kuliawak.
The CNN website has already published a preview of the book, as has the influential website Slate. So you can imagine how excited I was when Maciek asked if we would be interested in publishing the book. To say I’m proud doesn’t even begin to cut it. We will be selling the book on our online store, www.ezstore.us.
Another one of the founding fathers of Exit Zero, David Gray, came to stay with me in Cape May for a week in the spring of 2003, and ended up hanging around for five months, helping me to launch the magazine, falling in love with a woman (who was also visiting from Scotland and who would bear him two children) and penning a column, The Old Fogey, which has appeared in, I think, every single issue, which is remarkable.
I’ve also been excited to publish books by writers who made their debuts in these pages.
Terry O’Brien began writing the Undertow column in 2004, and then followed up with a collection of fine short stories which, in 2008, turned into the compilation Murder-Oke! And Other Spooky Cape May Tales, which was featured in the Philadelphia Inquirier and National Public Radio.
Ben Miller parlayed his weekly history column into The First Resort, a wonderful coffee table book which has gone on to sell, so far, nearly 9,000 copies, which is remarkable for a locally published book.
Diane Stopyra started writing two columns for us in 2010 — The Customer Service column, about her adventures as a waitress at The Ebbitt Room, and The Dating Column, about her (lack of) adventures as a single young woman in Cape May. Diane did a fantastic job writing The Essential Lucky Bones Cookbook, which has been a hot seller since we published it last year. She joined us on staff last year and doesn’t get anywhere near the credit she deserves for single-handedly producing this magazine every week, including writing Talk of the Town in every issue. Diane is way too talented for me to hang on to and will be taking a half-step away from Exit Zero as she pursues a career writing feature stories for national magazines. I’m glad to say she will still be writing for the magazine every week and especially for our color issues, for which she has contributed some stellar pieces.
I also need to pay tribute to Aleksey Moryakov, who started shooting for us in 2005 and who has gone on to become one of the hardest-working and best-known people in town. I have no idea how Aleksey can retain that beaming smile everywhere he goes, but I am very glad that he does. I can’t think of a better ambassador for this magazine.
The man who oils the machine every week and brings in the advertisers is Jason Black, the most organized and reliable colleague a person could ask for. As we’ve grown from a little mag to a big mag, opening three retail stores along the way, and experimenting with publications in other towns (few of which worked), Jason has had to do a lot of adapting and gear-changing. I’ve never worked with any single person as long as I’ve worked with him (it’s been nearly nine years) so we must be doing something right together.
Like any long-term partners, we have our moments, our spats and our disagreements, mainly because we have practically nothing in common except for Exit Zero and a fondness for stupid jokes. But I hope it’s a partnership that lasts a long time.
Okay, this is starting to sound like one of those boring, endless Oscar speeches, where they fret that there are important people they’ve forgotten to mention, and there are, no question about it. But I can’t pull ALL of the skeletons out of my closet. What I DO want to do is thank the advertisers who have been with us from the beginning, especially Curtis Bashaw, who was more than an advertiser — he helped me launch the publication (he was the one who came up with the name) and remained my partner through the first year. I don’t need to tell anyone what a brilliant, inspiring businessman he is, as well as a good friend. I’m in Cape May because of Curtis, and for that I can hardly say how thankful I am.
To the other advertisers who ponied up from the first issue… we never, EVER take your support for granted. Without you, we are nada. And to those who have joined us since, I hope you stay for the ride.
And to the readers who show such love and enthusiasm for this publication AND this town, your passion humbles me, and keeps me honest.
Please, all of you, come to our big birthday party at Sunset Boulevard this Wednesday, July 3 (the day we delivered the paper). There will be superb treats from Bliss Organic Ice Cream, Empanada Mama’s, Crespella Gourmet Crepes, Seaside Cheese, and free Surrey rides, courtesy of Cape Island Bikes, along with music from Audrey Snow and Barry Tischler. The party runs from 4pm to 8pm and everyone is invited.
Bless you all, each and every one.