Before dawn, I awoke like a kid on Christmas morning. For 10 days, our newspaper had been a well-organized but intangible collection of pixels orbiting somewhere in cyberspace. You could summon it to your screen, an electronic shadow that served its purpose of delivering a message in real-time, but not really yours. Today, we printed a real, honest-to-God paper-paper again. And today, I wanted to load up my car with as many as I could, and hand them directly to readers wherever I could find them.
That's why I stayed. To tell the story. Handing somebody a paper they can smell and feel and share around the breakfast table and take to bed at night ... well, that's all I know how to do really well.
Just after daybreak, I pulled up to the curb where an elderly man was standing in his yard. I snatched an Enterprise from the stack and handed it to him. "COMEBACK TIME" was the main headline, big and bold for everybody to see.
"We're giving these away today," I told him. "Enjoy it, and stay safe."
He asked how big my route was. "Oh, I'm not a route driver," I said. "I'm just an editor and I only wanted to give some papers away today. It feels good to be a delivery boy again."
His name was Frank Rojas, he told me, and he worked at The Enterprise for 32 years as a Linotype operator. Those were the guys who set type in hot lead, denizens of a distant era in our now-computerized craft.
Only a handful of working newspapermen and -women today have worked in hot lead. By contrast, today's paper was a remarkable example of the power of computers: Most of our news and photos were collected in power-crippled Southeast Texas, dictated or e-mailed via wireless technology or jerry-rigged landlines to hastily set-up computers in Houston, where they were paginated and eventually e-mailed to San Antonio, where they were printed last night and delivered here this morning. In less than 24 hours, an entire newspaper had been written, photographed, laid out, beamed up, inked, and trucked more than 570 miles
Thirty years ago, that (and this blog) would have been literally impossible. There was no Internet, no satellite phone, no digital cameras. Today, such magic is as common as dirt, and only slightly harder under catastrophic conditions.
Frank Rojas, the old newspaperman, clutched his paper tightly. He wanted to talk about how we did it, and he could barely keep himself from spreading out on the grass to see what was there. He was as proud of this particular paper as I am. It is not only a fat package of useful information, it's a historical record of the past 10 days and a symbol that we've survived. All of us.
Already, some self-congratulatory morning deejays, whose job is to talk smack and slap a station bumper-sticker on anything that moves, are dissing the notion that a handful of these papers are being sold at newsracks and convenience stores, but the vast bulk of them are simply being given away to anybody we see moving around. That's as it should be.
I handed out a hundred newspapers in my neighborhood this morning, and I'll hand out another hundred tonight. Everyone seemed grateful to see this one bit of their old life coming back. But the most important paper I gave away was the one I gave Frank Rojas because, in the end, it was probably more important to him to know we had protected the newspaper -- and maybe the whole idea of a newspaper -- to which he'd given much of his life.
That one paper was worth delivering.