Three newspaper columnists walk into a Starbucks. You haven't heard this one.
In retrospect, it should have had some poignancy attached, although it ended up just being fun. Three of us old guys have gathered from time to time over the past few years at our local coffee shop, which up here is pretty much the most convenient one (these days, they seem to compete with the legal weed stores in terms of being everywhere; we're an odd community). We've all three passed a fair amount of time pushing keys and personal opinions out into the newspaper-reading population, which is itself a little odd now.
One of these is Larry Simoneaux, a Louisiana boy who spent some time in a monastery before heading for Annapolis and then the open water, where he also spent some time. I started reading him 20-odd years ago, and eventually joined him for a while in the pages of a local paper before he moved on.
And through Larry, I met Sid Schwab, a semi-retired general surgeon who writes like the wind. Since Larry lines up with conservative politics, and Sid stands almost directly opposite, it was a dynamic relationship, and always cordial and fascinating. None of us, in fact, end up disagreeing on much of anything when it comes to the way the world works. Maybe a bit when it comes to possible solutions, but we tend to hedge our bets since the other guy always seems to make a lot of sense.
Both Sid and Larry are a bit older than me, and so served in the Armed Forces during Vietnam (while I remained in high school, or, as I can remind them if I'm in the mood, elementary school. It was a long war). Sid went on to the OR and Larry hit the water. Sid has a Tesla. Larry is a firearms expert, a gun owner and user (and instructor), and is the sanest person I know when it comes to that subject. We're different people with different experiences.
But our common cause has always been this peculiar thing we do, in this not-dead-yet industry that feels more and more irrelevant, as happens. Larry was a weekly columnist for The Everett Herald, a local daily, for a few years before downsizing to intermittent. Sid jumped onboard via a recommendation, or at least referral, from Larry, pissing into the wind that blows like crazy, crazy being the operative word.
And I do what I do, 17 years and still clicking. The Herald is a much bigger paper than the Beacon editions, but since I'm in all the Beacon Publishing papers it's probably a wash in terms of readers.
Not so much with the feedback, which they endure with rolling eyes and some commentary on how humans have managed to stay away from extinction given our apparent drive to disconnect our brains.
But we don't really talk about this. It just got the ball rolling, in the beginning. Now we just hang out, talk about grandkids, talk about wives and their stuff, talk about housing prices and trips and did I mention the grandkids? Just cracker-barrel, caffeine-fueled conversations in the mid-morning, when the only non-baristas in the place are rushing or old enough to not need to anymore. That would be us.
Most of these meet-ups go this way. We catch up, we exchange news, we comment and kvetch and just do what old guys do, wonder about the world a lot but generally try to stay positive. We're all accustomed to anonymity, elder status placing our relevancy somewhat south of, I dunno. Everybody else. And this is just fine.
We got surprised, though, yesterday. A guy in Starbucks recognized Sid, and came over to shake his hand, express his fandom, say some nice things. Sid grinned and nodded at Larry, introducing him, and this guy brightened a little and shook his hand, upon which Lar handed him off to me, with the same result.
This guy seemed a little overwhelmed, actually, and of course he was. It wasn't celebrity, just colliding worlds, and there were some jokes about cabals and cells and plotting strategies. Just fun.
We talked about this, a little, about our aging readership. Fifteen years ago, when I was getting letters from actual 15-year-olds, I worried about allusions and references constantly, always searching for ways to explain to a diverse audience without getting didactic.
Now, I don't worry about going into detail about who Adam West was and why I built a little shrine to him in my bedroom. If you didn't watch Batman in 1966 as an 8-year-old, you probably aren't reading newspapers. At least newspapers in which I write.
Unless you were older than 8 in 1966, in which case you probably read newspapers all the time. If you read anything. If I eyeball this, I might think that people who are the age of my kids, around 30 or so, are the remnants of those with a newspaper habit, although they probably don't read, either. They just remember.
I'm talking about two things here, one more than the other. One is simply format; certain age groups are apt to feel more comfortable picking up a stray newspaper and reading for a few minutes than others, more likely to have a subscription and one of those rolled-up dead-tree editions lying on the front porch.
The more important element, though, at least I think, is regular reading. There are major daily newspapers that are doing just fine now, after some adjustment, but their readers are mostly digital. Meh. Reading is reading. Why pick up a copy of the New York Times when I can get it on my phone, scroll through what I want and what I don't. I understand preferences both ways, but this isn't what's killing a lot of newspapers. It's that people don't count on them for their daily dose, since we can always get a dose.
For most of us above, say, 45, we remember when news came on a schedule. We read the paper, morning or evening, and maybe caught the network or local news, and that was it. We muddled through our day. Headlines would wait for morning.
As with a lot of people this age, my feet are firmly planted in both worlds. I read one daily paper from cover to cover, or at least skim cover to cover, every day, plus probably the equivalent of a couple of more. These are all digital reads; I rarely turn a page these days.
But I remember. I appreciate the caress of real paper, the surprising discoveries that sometimes are only possible if your eye wanders down a column on A-18, looking for nothing in particular. I enjoy feeling the heft of remaining pages of a book, their weight reminding me of where I've been and where I expect to end up. I get this completely, even if I rarely indulge.
The habit is dying, then, as are my readers. I won't get new ones, or I don't think I will. I grieve over none of this, as pointless moping has lost its appeal and I'm mostly curious, anyway. Although I wonder if, 40 years from now, some senior citizen will sit, immersed in holographic news, and say, "You know what? I miss swiping." I don't really wonder, in fact.
And the coffee was good, so.