Bookends 

Vacation over, lessons learned, Utah's still home

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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 Cooperstown, N.Y., and as diehard Yankee fans, marveled at every pinstripe display. Today, 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.



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