Today and each morning last week, I’ve braced myself before opening the front door and peeking at the porch. I’m trying to prepare myself for the day when the Seattle P-I will no longer be there. I know it’s imminent, but I don’t have an exact date. UPDATE: Tuesday will be the last day. Every day that it’s there, I’m grateful. The P-I’s been such a fixture in our lives for so many years. I’m having a difficult time imagining what our mornings will feel like without it.
I haven’t always subscribed to the P-I. When the Seattle Times published in the afternoon, instead of the morning, I subscribed to the Times. I never had time to read the paper in the morning because I had one of those single person lives where I stayed out really late a lot of the time and got up in the morning at the last possible minute, grabbing breakfast on the way to work and eating at my desk or in my car. I looked forward to reading the paper each night when I got home, so it made sense to get the Times and more current news. We didn’t have the world wide web back then, kids, and I didn’t own a television and although I listened to an ungodly amount of NPR, I still wanted to read the news each day.
Newspapers run in my blood. I told Andy that if you cut me open, you would find blood mixed with newspaper ink. We always subscribed to multiple newspapers when I was growing up. I remember how exotic it was when my father subscribed to the Wall Street Journal for a couple of years while he was earning a degree in Economics. The Wall Street Journal arrived in the mail and was insanely expensive compared to our little local papers.
I started delivering the Whidbey News Times each week when I was in 6th grade. It’s hard to imagine now, but I would carry stacks of papers and go door to door in our Navy housing neighborhood, selling it for something like 25 cents a copy or even less, probably. I knocked on every single door and finished up after dark. Then I’d have to count out all the change, roll it into paper rolls, and take my cut, which I’ll bet was a couple of dollars, plus tips, which were miniscule.
When I was a little bit older, in 8th grade, I think, I switched to delivering the Skagit Valley Herald, which felt like a huge step up. The Herald was published 5 or 6 days a week, instead of 1, and people subscribed to it, so I didn’t have to stop at every house in the neighborhood and ask “Would you like to buy a copy of the Whidbey News Times?” like I did before. We were living in civilian housing then (near Lori!), and the Herald had telemarketers who would sign people up to subscribe, so I was no longer a salesperson, which was a big relief. I did have to collect the monthly subscription fee, but that mostly went okay. My sister and I split the route and delivered the papers from our 10-speed bikes after school. Sometimes, I’d make a detour and go to Kow Korner and buy fries, which I think cost about 29 cents. Sometimes, I’d go to Lori’s house and goof off, which was awesome. One time, she played me Alice’s Restaurant, which I’d never heard before. Another time, she was painting her dresser bright neon colors, using tiny jars of model paint or something like that, which blew my mind. Each knob was painted a different glowing color. I would still be on restriction TODAY if I had done that to my dresser.
I was also a newspaper nut at school. I took journalism classes every year from 8th grade thru 12th grade, and also during college. (How’s this for nerdy — my class ring from high school has a quill and scroll on it, symbolizing my involvement in the high school honor society for journalists!) Lori and I were both on our school newspapers in junior high and high school. I was editor of the junior high paper when I was in 9th grade and editor of the high school paper when I was a senior. I loved it. The managerial skills I learned in those positions still inform the work that I do today. The teamwork required to create those papers also taught me lessons that I use now in the work that I do. We did some great things. We did some stupid things. We learned from all of it.
In high school, Lori and I had the good fortune of having an outstanding journalism teacher. He was young, just out of college, and had a lot of energy and a high degree of tolerance for our shenanigans. He backed us up when we got pressure from the administration about what we were publishing, which was sometimes controversial and unflattering of that group. We did a lot of the usual high school newspaper stuff, but we also took some risks and won some prestigious awards. We typeset it ourselves. We laid it out ourselves. We used a process camera to create negatives of each page and then created the printing plates ourselves. We printed it on an AB Dick printer and assembled the pages ourselves, painstakingly folding each page. Then, we went from room to room and sold it to the students. That was after all the work we did to create the content, of course — all the writing, editing, photographing, drawing, selling of advertisements, and creating of headlines (which was my weakest area because I don’t have a witty bone in my body).
Lori excelled at writing the humor column, of course. I excelled at cracking the whip and making people do their work, of course. So harsh, but so true. I also wrote tons and tons of stories. We kept track of the column inches we wrote and I definitely raked them in. When, I was a senior, though, a new guy showed up, a junior from Colorado, and he wrote even more than I did, partially because he was willing to write sports (I wasn’t) and partially because he was even more of a journalism nut than I was. We became close friends and are still very close to this day, thanks to a shared love of journalism and rock music.
One of the great things about being on the newspaper staff when you’re in high school is that you can write record reviews. Oh, man. What a dream come true. I remember reviewing Cheap Trick at Budokan, Some Girls by The Rolling Stones, and My Aim is True by Elvis Costello. My new friend and I wrote a piece together about The Ten Greatest Albums of All Time. We thought we were IT. God, that was fun.
We had dreams of maybe writing for Rolling Stone some day and he eventually did get an article published in Rolling Stone, but they misspelled his last name. He went on, though, to become a really big mucky muck in the newspaper industry and now has one of the top jobs at an international newspaper. He recognizes how lucky he is to still be employed in a collapsing industry, but as he just told me in an e-mail message today, “it’s a lot less fun than it used to be.”
When he visited me in November at one of my libraries, I introduced him to a co-worker whose father works for the P-I. My friend made a wisecrack about how surprising it was that my co-worker’s father was still employed by a failing paper, but that was long before anyone knew that the P-I was going to be put up for sale and would lay off almost all of its staff. The joke made me uncomfortable at the time, but now I feel just terrible about it. My co-worker’s father hasn’t been laid off yet, but he has cleaned out his desk and is ready for it to happen any day this week.
I suppose we’ll subscribe to the Times now, but it won’t be the same. We’re used to the comics in the P-I, which were a key enticement in getting Lily interested in the paper years ago, the NY Times crossword puzzle, the P-I columnists, the entertainment pullout in the Friday paper, the more liberal than not editorial pages, etc. Even our most recent delivery driver has been excellent. I wonder if he also delivers the Times? Thank you, P-I, and bye bye. We will miss you.