The beginning of the end times for me started Monday afternoon with a trip to the liquor store, where I filled my trusty flask to the brim Wild Turkey-style. The official tippling was supposed to begin at 5 at Buckley's, the same spot where we had gathered to joyously celebrate when the JOA dispute with the Times was settled in May 2007. The night anything and everything seemed possible.
But first, I stopped at the rally organized by some folks from the Times. Very nice gesture, though the camera crews outnumbered those in attendance. Passed the flask around as the raw wind pounded me back inside the building where the globe still spins, where journalists were still working hard to put out that last P-I. That's so damn heroic. Yes, there were beers on many desks and gallows humor all around, but it was something of a miracle to watch these good, no, great people do their thing one last time. My husband, John Nelson, is among that crew, volunteering to lay out inside pages of what turned out to be a magnificent paper.
If you haven't already read it, Lewis Kamb exquisitely captures the flavor of that last, bittersweet day. Click here for this poignant piece.
Eventually, after passing around the flaks for a few more swigs and taking a couple snorts myself, we headed over to Buckley's and the drinking began in earnest. At one point, we heard peers from The Miami Herald phoned in to help out with the tab. Can I get a STELLA!!!????
Throughout the evening, one young woman took care of our adult beverage needs with the kind of grace and efficiency I have not seen in some time. We've got to leave her a huge tip, we all agreed.
TV broadcasts of the P-I goodbyes were turned up for all to hear, and the increasingly boisterous crowd cheered when images of their colleagues appeared on screen. Booed when Hearst was mentioned. The image that still haunts me appeared the next morning on the front page of The New York Times, photographed by Dan DeLong, the faces in the photo show naked sorrow.
It is like a death in the family. And that party was like a wake. We had spent the past 60 days worrying and wondering and speculating about what would come next. Some of us hatched Plan Bs. (See blog post below.) There were tears at this rowdy celebration, a sense of loss for the iconic institution and all that it means. But the deepest sense of loss comes from tearing apart this fine group of people, the exceptional talent dispersed like, well, yesterday's news. I still have a hard time accepting that.
My husband -- a 29-year-veteran of newsrooms, from the Bellingham Herald, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Spokane Spokesman-Review, Memphis Commercial Appeal and, finally, the P-I --and I finally stumbled home around midnight, our soon-to-be-college-bound daughter, Claire, came downstairs to check up on us. She has grown up hanging around newsrooms, making her own connections with the special people who habitate in those wonderfully messy, deeply cynical, constantly energizing enviroments. She's been posting P-I stories on her Facebook. She's feeling the loss, too, as I know so many others are in this great big extended, slightly dysfunctional family.
I am taking comfort in the promises pledged on the evening of March 16, the day the P-I died, to stay as connected as we can. I already have two standing dinner dates in the works. But, bottom line: Our lives will never be the same. Oh baby, where's that hair of the damn dog?