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Thirty Years Ago I have wasted no time. Tom Laughlin, to synchronize perfectly with the spring reissue of The Trial of Billy Jack, has put the question, "Why are movie critics out of touch with the audiences?" He has answered it himself (see last weekend's newspapers) in some 2000 words; but, consistent with his belief in open forum, he has invited others to answer the same, in 300 words or less. He has put the question and invitation in the form of an essay contest-sweepstakes (details available at participating theaters and fine stores throughout the area), and the rewards are sufficient enticement for me to doff the airs and pretenses worn in the past. With any of the prizes -- whether $25,000 cash or 1975 Plymouth Trail Duster -- I can envision myself setting off on the road to a decenter life. What follows (copyrighted and postmarked, April 28, 1975) is my entry, my essay, or -- with a nod to Mr. Laughlin -- my artifact.

-- "DEAR BILLY," Duncan Shepherd, May 1, 1975

Twenty-Five Years Ago It had been a hard week with out-of-town newspapers asking me to reinvent the truth to suit their style and men downtown talkin' to me about my poetry readings as strip shows. I was adaptin' to street fights at the end of a workin' day in the world and doin' what I could to move past a bad case of the white middle-class blues. "Come on, brother, put down your knife and I'll put down the pipe and we'll do it right. Come on." It was just my life and it had moved back downtown with snortin' and dealin' and workin' women lined up three-deep in the doorways.

-- "ON MAYA ANGELOU," Sarai Austin, May 1, 1980

Twenty Years Ago In 1981 there were only five or so computer bulletin boards operating in San Diego County; today there are more than 70 such systems. Brock Meeks, editor of San Diego's own Computer News...says that initially the boards were established and used by "techno freaks," individuals in love with computers and electronics. But as more people bought computers, the boards became "kitten-for-sale boards." Over the past year, however, local computer users have discovered that setting up a bulletin board system can be a cheap (around $1400) method for sharing information.

-- CITY LIGHTS: "MODEM OPERANDI," Abe Opincar, May 2, 1985

Fifteen Years Ago San Diego has an overload of bums, not as bad as San Francisco or L.A., but more than the natural environment can hold. Bum residents talk to each other as they make their daily rounds: Horton Plaza to blood bank to a mission to liquor store to park to blood bank. They pass along encouragements to each other, "How's the day going? What's going on? I'm going to..."

-- "BUM, BUMMING, BUMMER," Patrick Daugherty, May 3, 1990

Ten Years Ago Manuet's is popular among Mexicali youth. While waiting for food or drinks, patrons blast music on their car CD players. On one April night, reggae seemed popular -- Jimmy Cliff's "Treat the Youth Right" and "One Love" by Judy Mowatt are heard. Other cars issue forth with Mexican pop artists Olé Olé, with "Te Dare Todo" (I'll Give You Everything) and "No Resistas" (Don't Resist). From inside a white Jetta with tinted black windows the Mighty Lemon Drops play "Happy Head," and a green Jeep Cherokee Wagoneer offers the Cure's "Never Enough."

-- CLUBS: "DRIVE-IN BOOZE AND THE SMELL OF BURNING TAFFETA," Victor Esquer, April 27, 1995

Five Years Ago Certain websites are like those historical cemeteries cordoned off in the middle of modern cities. Uncle Tupelo (www.gumbopages.com/uncle-tupelo.html) is devoted to the defunct band of the same name -- the standard bearer of what is variously called alternative country, insurgent country, and No Depression. For those who follow this rock trend, like me, it's hard to believe that its heave into the limelight happened. After the band broke up in 1994, it achieved a sort of retrospective success when each of the bands it splintered into, Son Volt and Wilco, released superb albums. -- SIGHTSEER: "PRETTY SUBVERSIVE CHARACTERS," Justin Wolff, April 27, 2000

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