If Al Gore invented the Internet, who is to say that Rick Cowley did not invent text messaging?
Roughly 10 years ago, Cowley began posting messages on the marquee at his Burger King restaurant at McKellips Road and Country Club Drive in Mesa.
Each Monday, Cowley would call in his new message to an employee at the Burger King. The trick, he says, was trying to convey an idea in an extremely limited space.
“You only have four lines,” Cowley says. “I’d start with an idea that might be three or four paragraphs and try to get it down to four lines. That’s pretty hard. You figure out how to use one letter or even a number to represent a word.”
Now, anyone who has seen a teenager with a cell phone immediately realizes how the challenge that faced Cowley 10 years ago has evolved into a sort of art form today.
So you can make an argument for Cowley being a pioneer of sorts.
But Cowley’s days as a textmessager have passed. In January, his lease expired. Carl’s Jr. will soon open a franchise in the building that had been occupied and operated as a Burger King by Cowley since 1994.
Although Cowley has four other Burger King restaurants in the Valley, none has a marquee.
It was fun while it lasted.
“It was a way to express my love for sports,” Cowley said. “Sports have always been my thing, so I felt like putting messages up would be something that people might enjoy, too. All of the messages were related to sports — Cardinals, Diamondbacks, ASU, local topics.”
Over the years, his weekly messages have brought a smile to thousands of folks who passed his restaurant. And while it would be overstating matters to say that Mesa has lost a piece of its identity with the loss of the messages, it is still one less smile we’ll have.
Among his favorites:
“After it was announced that Wayne Gretzky bought into the ownership of the Coyotes and the problems began I wrote, ‘Gee Wayne isn’t being in business for yourself fun?’ ”
“After the Coyotes traded Keith Tkachuk and he scored a hat trick against his old team, I wrote, ‘The Coyotes got the tkachuk beat out of them.’ ”
“When Jake Plummer was having one of those bad streaks and everyone was calling for him to be traded, I wrote, ‘The Cards need a cleanout Call a plummer, just not Jake.’ ”
Tougher sign ordinances make it unlikely that Cowley will reprise the act at any of his other restaurants.
His last message, by the way: “See you on the other side,” a thinly veiled homage to his religious faith.
Meanwhile, I have a message for Cowley:
It’s been gr8. Thanks 4 the memories.