Ever been to LAX at 3:30 in the morning? Nice. I'm videotaping it in my head to comfort me the next time I'm here and it's a total zoo — late on a Sunday, for example, amid the graveyard stares of travelers awaiting the shuttle bus to nowhere. "Welcome to our fair city," I want to say. "Trust me, it gets better from here."
I am on my way to St. Petersburg, Fla., for a quick convention, and in one of those whacked out vectors of modern life, have to go through Miami first to change planes. That's like going from New York to Las Vegas via Burbank.
But I'm never one to complain.
By the way, does humidity have a color? In Miami, it does — as if you're gazing at the world through a screen door. South Florida might be the only place where the land is more amorphous than the sky. It is coifed by those big substantial Caribbean clouds, the land itself a bedpan.
Though I am not its biggest fan, I am always entertained by Florida — like L.A., a human crossroads. Different accents, interesting foods, a sense of impending doom.
On the flight here, I enjoy the chirpy self-promotion of one of my absolute favorite airlines. On the screen, it's promoting this "Oneworld Alliance."
Then it strikes me: Oneworld Alliance? Is American Airlines taking over?
In my book, it's a more secure world when we're not forming all these alliances. Look how alliances worked out for the Holy Roman Empire. Look what it did for the Confederacy.
So, enough with alliances. I say every entity for itself — except for those balmy Caribbean places that we've co-opted. Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, etc.
Here's another thing about flying: When we hit a rough patch, I don't need the pilot to come over the PA and tell us it's getting bumpy. Know what I need Tex to do? Steer the bleepin' plane.
That off my chest, I have to confess that this is the most buoyant of seasons for travel and people-watching, everyone dressed in summer tans and sandals. I keep thinking about what an expert recently suggested about passengers' casual footwear, essentially: "Is that the sort of thing you want to be wearing when you're fleeing a burning plane?"
Good point, if you stop to consider such things, which most of us don't. Still, I'll never wear flip-flops on a flight again.
I am stuck here in the tropics for two days — which is like two months anywhere else. Between flights, I gravitate to airport bars, those merry-go-rounds of modern travel. I like to go into them and order nonexistent drinks. "Absinthe on the rocks," I'll say straight-faced, or "Gimme a Sex on the Prairie."
The airport bartender, already bummed at having to wear a polyester vest for a living, looks at me blankly, then dies a little.
But I tip well, so we wind up friends.
Meanwhile, I am on my third newspaper of this trip: first The Times, then USA Today, then the Miami Herald, one of my many alma maters.
Now, I may be deeply romantic, but I love newspapers. I love the way they smudge. I love the way they blot up spilled coffee.
I read a paper every day of the year — side to side, top to bottom. And you know what? The smaller the type, the more likely I am to read it. I love to read what the attendance was at the Royals game, or that the Tigers optioned Charlie Furbush to Toledo.
I love the quirky news briefs about three-headed alligators in Atlanta sewers. Serious stuff too, like knowing how my senator voted on stem cell research and what kind of hurricane season lies ahead.
I love the fact that some editor — actually many editors — has rank-ordered the day's events from Page 1 on back, giving me what I need rather than what I'm looking for.
I love the sports page in October, the comics at Christmas and the front page every day of my nerdy little life since I was 12 nerdy years old.
So, don't tell me newspapers are dead, because I love them too much.
Finally, this profound example of how a newspaper gets to you, pulled from the paid obits of the St. Pete Times, a small story in the back that stayed with me for days:
Lilly Christine Mills, 5, died Saturday, July 2, 2011, killed by a drunk driver. Lilly was born in a Tampa hospital but lived her too short life in Riverview.
She was, from the moment she was born, a gift: one that you could never quite believe, or feel worthy of, she seemed too good to be true.
If asked what her favorite thing was in any situation, she always answered "everything." No words could convey how desperately she will be missed or how much she is loved. …
The family will receive friends one hour prior to the service. All are welcome in wearing Lilly's favorite color, pink.
It carried a little photo. That's why we need newspapers.