One step forward, one look back

I hated the weekends when I was growing up. Every Sunday, after breakfast but before lunch, my father would knock on my bedroom door and beg me to wake. Within an hour this loving request would escalate into household pandemonium, complete with raised voices, a barking dog and a refereeing mother. Battle worn, I would stumble to the shower and hide there until the hot water ran cold, hoping he would grow impatient and leave without me. But he never did.

After exhausting every escape route, I would climb into his white ’97 Lumina, a vehicle that had the external complexion of an albino leper (for whatever reason, 1997 was a bad year for Chevrolet, white paint and covalent bonding). We would drive 20 minutes to the next county over, all the while popping country tapes into the sedan’s cheap cassette deck.

Arrival was marked by severe turbulence, as the tires dipped in and out of parking lot potholes the size of war zone craters. The pavement stretched endlessly, yet it never had to accommodate more than just a few rows of cars.

* * *

Despite its leaky ceiling and disheveled parking lot, the Valley View Flea Market was a home away from home for many characters. Bob and Frank sold records. Val sold guitars. Jeff ran an auction. I don’t know what George sold, and quite frankly I don’t think he knew either.

But it didn’t matter. Every weekend they could be found behind rows of antiques and collectibles, making bargains and shooting the breeze. And every weekend, my father made me join them.

We would talk news and politics, music and life. For them, it was regular, familiar, comfortable. For me it was hell on earth. After all, I was an adolescent plucked from his preppy lifestyle and immersed in a seemingly foreign space.

The drive home was always the same. Like payment for my compliance, my dad would take me to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant—Charlie Staples’ Bar B Que, Kravitz Deli. Over fried chicken or a sandwich he would tell me the same thing every weekend: “Don’t judge them, Tyler. You’re no better than they are.”

I never believed my father to be a profound man, but editing The Observer has changed my perception.

Looking back, I realize how right he was. The guys at the Valley View Flea Market gathered there every weekend because they knew what to expect. They knew that when they spoke, their buddies would listen. That when they walked through those front doors, they were about to contribute to an enterprise larger than themselves. They wanted to matter.

The Valley View Flea Market closed its doors in 2007, simultaneously closing a chapter in the lives of all of its characters. Bob moved to a new flea market. Frank turned to garage sales. Val tempted the guitar show scene. Jeff started his own auction house. And George sold his goods anywhere he was allowed.

* * *

This is my last issue as the executive editor and publisher of The Observer, so I’ve been thinking a lot about closing chapters lately. It may have taken me four years, but I have come to realize just how similar the students, staff and faculty members of Case Western Reserve University are to the vendors of the now-defunct Valley View Flea Market.

To me, the greatest flaw of Case Western Reserve lies in how painstakingly hard we try to differentiate ourselves from one another. We distinguish north side from south side; Greek Life from God Damned Independent; Case Quad from Mather Quad; humanities from engineering; dual degree from double major; B.A. from B.S.


That is all our categories and anagrams amounts to. From the birds-eye-view of this campus I’ve been blessed to see from for the past four years, I can tell you that none of it matters. The requests for coverage from students, staff and professors start the same way, regardless of how many letters fall after their name. They all want the same thing: to be heard, to be seen and to be validated.

They want to matter in somebody else’s chapter.

I can never know with certainty that what I wrote across these pages mattered to you. But I know damned well that this newspaper and its readers mattered to me.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Tyler Hoffman
—Executive Editor and Publisher