Tammie and I go way back – well, about three years.
On the first Sunday of our first trip to Phoenix for Spring Training back in 2016, I headed to the Starbucks on Happy Valley Road so I could buy the NY Times, and read it over a vanilla latte (cliche, I know, but I really enjoy them). I arrived at the store and was reaching for the paper just as another woman also came to the newsstand. It became obvious she also wanted the Times, but there was only one left.
“You got the last one,” she said with evident disappointment.
“Oh,” I replied, “you wanted it too?”
“Just the crossword puzzle. I like to work on it all week, but it’s ok, you take the paper.” Well, what else was she going to say? It turned out that her name was Tammie and she was the store manager. It would not do for her to swipe it from me, the customer.
So I bought the paper and a latte, and sat down to enjoy a Sunday morning ritual that I have been unable to pass on to my children or grandchildren. It’s clear that getting news in print will not survive another generation. Here in Phoenix, the Arizona Republic, a once-towering force in Arizona, has become more of a leaflet than a newspaper, and survives almost entirely to support the delivery of ads for groceries, mattresses, hearing aids, and treatments for male…dysfunction.
And what a shame it is. A true loss. Not just for me and my joy in reading the local paper wherever we go, but also for society. While newspapers surely have always had a political point of view, they also employed trained journalists who were committed to journalistic ethics. Reporting required back-up, and errors were acknowledged and published. Political spin was largely reserved for the opinion pages. News analysis was so identified. And most important, we all read the same paper, whether it was the Fresno Bee (which was criticized by liberals as being too conservative and by conservatives as being too liberal), or the LA Times, or the Podunk News-Dispatch. We had a common frame of reference even though we might interpret it in vastly different ways.
Now, many of us get our news largely (or solely) from cable news outlets with a point of view of our own choosing, and from social media with an almost limitless potential for abuse. We start and end in vastly different places, rarely meeting in the middle or even the fringes.
And so, I willingly incur the expense of a Monday – Sunday subscription to the NY Times back home, and STILL spend $6 for a Sunday edition while we are on the road. I consider it my little contribution to the survival of an institution that is vital to our democracy, and that is rapidly taking on water.
As I was reading the paper in the Happy Valley Starbucks three years ago, I carefully cut out the crossword puzzle, took it up to the cashier and asked her to give it to the manager, Tammie. A few minutes later, Tammie came bounding out from her office, thanked me and gave me a big hug. She said she would buy the paper the next Sunday, keep the crossword puzzle, and give me the rest.
So began our tradition. Whenever I am in Phoenix, I buy the Times one Sunday, she the next. When she’s not too busy, we visit. I tell her about our travels. She tells me about her and her husband’s plans for what would to do when they retire.
Until last Sunday.
We had just arrived in Phoenix for our annual Spring Training visit. I went to the Happy Valley Starbucks and asked if Tammie was around. “No,” said Kailee, “she’s not at this store anymore; she’s opening a new one in Dove Valley.” I had no idea where Dove Valley was, so I bought the paper and a latte, sat down and started reading. But it was not the same.
Today, after consulting with Mr. Google Maps, I showed up at the Dove Valley Starbucks, saw Tammie, and said “Hi! Who’s buying the NY Times today?”
“You tracked me down!” she beamed, and gave me a big hug.
And so our tradition continues. I’m buying today, she will buy next week, and I will return to our motorhome in a couple of hours with the Sunday edition, minus the crossword puzzle.