Oh my goodness old friend, I haven’t seen you in ages. And then all of a sudden, last week as I was waiting in the service area for my car, there you were. A total chance encounter.
Honestly, I didn’t recognize you. My first thought was I couldn’t believe you were still alive, but then I figured considering how skinny and frail you looked that you overdosed on Ozempic.
I remember the first time we met. It was back in 1982 and even though you were a looker, I barely gave you a passing glance. See, back then I was committed to others. I was living in South Florida and my loyalty was to the Miami Herald, with whom I had gone steady for the previous 12 years. I really didn’t need you. The Herald gave me all the love and support I needed. Or so I thought.
Then things changed when I moved to Tucson, Arizona, in early 1983. I realized I had desires beyond what the Arizona Daily Star or Tucson Citizen could provide. I found myself not really fulfilled. I had a wandering eye. I found you and you gave me what I so badly coveted as an East Coast kid relocated to the desert. I needed the news but most importantly national sports coverage that neither of the locals could provide. It was a budding relationship based upon desire and wants that I couldn’t otherwise find on my driveway every morning.
Another move to Iowa in 1985 really cinched our relationship. I was smitten and I didn’t care who knew. The Des Moines Register and the Dubuque Telegraph Herald were inadequate, so I would spend half a buck every morning at the local Oky Dokie store and take you home with me. For the value, you were a cheap date. I felt guilty for turning my back on the local products but very quickly recovered. You satisfied me and my curiosity.
And how I remember that all-important Friday sports section every week. During the baseball season you gave us complete stats from all major league teams. Today, kids can just push a button and it’s all right there in front of them, but we couldn’t. If you played fantasy baseball or were in a home run pool like us Iowans, having you was a must. Where else could we find that Tom Dodd hit one home run in 13 at-bats for the 1986 Baltimore Orioles?
Same thing in 1991 in Wichita, Kansas, but now you landed safely on the front lawn every morning along with the Wichita Eagle. Most days, after Andi thumbed through, I took you to work with me. She understood. No jealousy. Your circulation numbers were approaching two million. You were fat and your readers were happy.
The game really changed for both of us in the late 90s, early 2000s. I started traveling regularly and not a day passed, Monday through Friday, that you weren’t part of my life. And I wasn’t the only one. Board an airplane and all you saw were faces covered with pictures, pie charts and your overall color and good looks. Everyone was a friend. You were conveniently found in just about every hotel lobby; much more accessible than the disappearing bar of soap in the bathroom shower. Liquid soap? Yuck. Your circulation increased to over 2.2 million daily, I’m guessing about 25-30 of those copies were actually paid for. On September 12, 2001, the Day After, you hit a single day record of 3.6 million copies read. People knew where to turn for easy to read and concise accounts of 9/11.
As the newspaper game began to change dramatically beginning in 2005 and 2006 and people stopped reading and tossed their subscriptions like a rusty old slinky, we road warriors stuck with you like a schmear on our morning poppy seed bagel. As we traveled, you became as important to us as a second cup of coffee. We depended upon you to tell it like it was quickly and concise.
I’m not proud but after all our years together I dumped you sometime around 2015. Then, living in Birmingham, Alabama for 15 years, I found my mornings rounded out by The Wall Street Journal and The Birmingham News, may it rest in peace. The primary reason I moved on was inexplicably you changed your deadlines. You went from USA Today to USA Yesterday. Though I maintained loyalty if I found you while traveling, you were no longer the staple that I once coveted. However, I will admit sometimes on the way to my Medjet office, I would stop at a local Hampton Inn, pretend I was a hotel guest, and walk out with you neatly tucked under my arm. The newspaper police never nabbed me.
Your print circulation numbers today are published at 160,000 daily and honestly I’m not sure where a copy can readily be found other than in the service department of Fletcher Jones Imports on Sahara in Vegas. You have disappeared completely from hotel lobbies. On the average, two and a half newspapers shut down each week, but parent Gannett keeps you and your anorexic looks alive.
I am a devout daily, hard copy newspaper reader and as long as the Las Vegas Review-Journal and The Wall Street Journal continue to publish, I’m theirs. However, I have to admit when I saw a copy of you last week I was excited. No, not that kind of excited especially at my age, but I couldn’t wait to bring you home. It’s probably been two or three years since the last time I ran into you.
In the sports section last week there was a story about salaries of assistant college football coaches, which I think was the same feature I read the last time we were together. I was glad the roundup of news in all 50 states was still there and by and large still trivial. From Iowa: “Des Moines—It is once again illegal for police to search curbside trash without a warrant—at least according to a Polk County judge.” Thank you for that; somehow, The New York Times missed it. Your cover price is $3. A little less than a bottle of water at airport Hudson News stores but honestly, you are no longer as refreshing.
Honestly, I couldn’t get over how emaciated my former good friend has become. Eight pages to the front section, eight more in sports and four each in business and lifestyle made up the 24-page edition, about half of what you used to be. The colorful daily Snapshot chart, lower left on the front page, has gone to the Fourth Estate graveyard.
Frankly, we both have seen better days. I could use to shed a pound or two and gain a hair or three, but you look terrible having lost all that page weight. And we both have health issues. Mine a five artery bypass six years ago; you’ve had your gizzards all but stripped by the downturn of your industry. You’ve lost all your color and most of your charm. I know I’m no matinee idol, but I hope you don’t mind me being honest with you.
Until we meet again, if we meet again, I have to admit how great it was to bump into you. It brought back memories. Fond ones. Not only of the way we used to be, but what we meant to each other. However, like a 50th high school reunion, that’s about all that’s left to tell.
Even though we romanced for over three decades and I broke it off with one call to the circulation desk, I don’t mind saying those 15 minutes we spent together after I brought you home to my kitchen table reminded me of our good old days. You know — like Mary Hopkin recorded in 1969, “…then the busy years went rushing by us, we lost our starry notions on the way. If by chance I’d see you in the tavern (car dealership) we’d smile at one another and we’d say….those were the days my friend.”
Yes, they were. For many things and many memories which you, USA Today, were a big part of for a long time in my life. But now, like old-fashioned newsprint smudging our finger tips, those were indeed the days.
But I gotta say, I never looked so forward to my next oil change.