Hello from 36,000 feet above Manitoba. By writing this, I effectively join the newest variant of the Mile High Club—people who work on airplanes but don’t work up a sweat. I’ve never even opened a laptop on a plane before, but given that I’ve just entered the eighth hour of a 10-hour flight, I figured I may as well. If past journeys abroad are any indication, I won’t be getting much work done for the next couple of weeks anyway—I’m jetlag Velcro.
When I get home today, Monday, it will be a month since leaving Salt Lake City. The July 16 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune was the last newspaper I’ve read. Until the Delta Air Lines stewards passed around complementary copies of today’s edition of USA Today when we boarded this plane in Paris, I hadn’t even touched a daily newspaper in a month. It was both a break and an experiment. I’ve learned I can live without a newspaper, albeit dumbly. The experience reinforced my conviction that the Internet is not a good substitute for a newspaper.
I’m normally as glued to the Internet
as anyone, and agree that the newspaper
industry has to change to keep pace with
evolving technologies. However, having
just visited Athens and Paris, where the
street kiosks remain filled with dozens
of daily and weekly newspapers, I have to
wonder if all newspapers are dinosaurs—
that they will become extinct, as some
dailies already have—or if at least some
newspapers are the sharks that will survive
the information-transmission wars. I
think weeklies like City Weekly are Jaws.
Especially in Paris, I saw people reading
in earnest. Parisians weren’t lining the
banks of the Seine reading laptops, they
were reading newspapers and books. In
Greece—where we lost power one night—it
was obvious that where there is no power,
and no battery recharging, there is no
Internet. I can carve on stone like the ancient
Athenians or read from French stationery,
but I can’t turn on a dead computer.
So, that was it for me: A month bookended
by reading a newspaper. I’ll read my first
one in 30 days tomorrow, assuming The Salt
Lake Tribune hasn’t folded its tent yet. There
were other bookends this month, too. When
USA Today reminded me of Woodstock’s
40th birthday, I remembered that on the first
day of this trip, I drove past Woodstock and
Bethel, N.Y., near Yasgur’s farm. I was 15 when
the original Woodstock was held and remember
wishing I was there, but after seeing the
movie, was glad I wasn’t. Today, I looked at
the picture in USA Today and thought—good
God, those kids are over 60 now!
A month ago, we
toured the Baseball
Hall of Fame in
and as diehard
Yankee fans, marveled
at every pinstripe
we just finished
watching an in-flight
movie, 61*, the story
of New York Yankee
Roger Maris’ eclipse
of Babe Ruth’s sacred
home-run record in
1961. I remember that
year like yesterday,
better than 1984 or 1977 or 1998, yet I was
only 7. Baseball does that to people, and
watching 61* with my son led to misty eyes.
But, I’m a crybaby, anyway. Kentucky
Derby, I cry. Michael Phelps winning a neckful
of gold medals, I cry. Listening to showstoppers
from hit musicals like “Defying
Gravity” from Wicked, I cry. Saturday was
the perfect bookend day. It began by walking
into Notre Dame Cathedral during a
church service. August 15, the celebration of
the Virgin Mary, is a sacred day for Catholics
and Orthodox Christians, and it also marks
my oldest son’s name day. So, instead of
touring, I sat. Naturally, I cried.
The service was in French, and it was beautiful, the best I’ve ever witnessed, surely aided by the grand stage that is Notre Dame. When the vocalist added her wondrous voice to the liturgical mix in that airy, 1,000-year-old cathedral, it became beauty multiplied. Awesome.
That day’s bookend was a late visit to
the marvelous Sacré-Coeur Basilica in the
Montmartre District where, again, a religious
service was in progress. Two beautiful services
in one day. I never understood a word
but was moved by the emotion and sincerity
behind them. I felt peaceful. Some people
find a similar spiritual peace on mountaintops,
some find it during stock-market rallies.
Others find peace by praying all night—
like an old girlfriend who prayed about our
relationship. One day, she announced she
had prayed all night and
said the spirit told her I
wasn’t the guy for her.
I asked what it felt like,
and she said, “Well, you
just know when the spirit
enters you.” Until today,
I thought that was local
theological B.S. meant to
soften my broken heart.
Now, I give her the benefit
of the doubt and think,
“Well, if she felt this good
about leaving a slug like
me, more power to her.”
Even if that feeling was
due to sleep deprivation.
The last bookend came this morning.
A couple staying at our cozy Familia Hotel
on Rue des Ecoles in the Latin Quarter
was scrambling to get to the airport, as
were we. There was a cab snafu, and when
they heard us speaking English, the fellow
walked up and asked where we were
from. “Utah? So are we,” he said. Turns
out Sean, who is a physical therapist at
University hospital, and Angie, a pediatrician
at Primary Children’s hospital, had
been on a six-week bicycle tour of Europe.
They read City Weekly, and I promised to
put their names in the paper. Done.
In a month, we’d met just a couple Americans. Upon meeting fellow Utahns, I knew the final chapter of this vacation book was over. Time to come home.