Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Freep at Fair

15 years ago, I stopped home delivery of the beloved Detroit Free Press in protest of management tactics in the writer’s strike there. Then, the Freep (as it is affectionately known) entered into a Joint Operating Agreement with the Detroit News, known as the "Snooze," the conservative competition for the Freep in Detroit. I was part of a group of volunteer lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild who represented some of the strikers as they fought back against thug tactics with various acts of civil disobedience, like trespassing, lying down in front of delivery trucks. I never went back.

At the Art Fair I signed up for a contest to win a grocery shopping spree before I realized it was the Freep and Snooze booth. The guy hawking subscriptions engaged me with his spiel. Holding up my hand and shaking my head, I said, “No thank you. I quit home delivery 15 years ago, over the strike.”

The young man widened his eyes. “Wow,” he said incredulously, "that was FIFTEEN years ago!” Maybe he celebrated his tenth birthday during the strike.

“Yes, I know,” I said, “I'm a dinosaur. But I am a committed dinosaur.” I know two other Guild lawyers who have held to their boycott over the years, so I'm not the only one.

The truth is I miss it. The Freep was a great paper. I was a fan, bigtime. When I first moved to Detroit to do law school, I would buy the paper every day. I would bring it to Contracts so my pal Sue Shernit could read it too. We’d talk about the stuff in the paper, read the comics. My favorite strip was Brenda Starr, and I still have in my office a panel from that strip: sexy Brenda saying “Justice works out a payment plan for everyone,” her head tipped back and her eyes half closed.

My favorite Freep columnist was Jim Fitzgerald. When I graduated from Law School, what I really wanted was to have lunch with Jim Fitzgerald. Suzy set it up for me, and I ate burgers and drank beer with Jim Fitzgerald at the Lindell AC, a downtown bar known for its burgers and local sports mementoes. (Suzy wanted to have coffee with Robert Jones, a local public radio blues DJ, and I set that up for her.)

All these memories flashed through my mind in a moment standing there at the counter. I love reading papers, and as Benjamin gets older, I have more time for it. I loved the Freep. It’s not the same, but maybe it was time to begin again the civilized practice of reading two papers a day: the Ann Arbor News and the Freep, and on Sunday, the NYT makes it three. My parents always read papers each day, it's always been a part of my life.

The sales guy was going on and on about how there are four unions at the Freep, there’s no more JOA, things are different now.

“And, real newspapers are becoming a thing of the past. I miss the feel of newsprint from Detroit in my hands,” I said. I signed up.

And he gave me $20 in gift cards from a grocery store.

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