In Vermont, will bike for (print) news
At 8:30 a.m., I mount my rusty Schwinn 7-speed for a month-long morning ritual of “getting the papers.” I pedal the gravel lane from our “camp” near Long Point in Ferrisburgh, rented on Lake Champlain for my son’s Middlebury College quarantine. I pass dairy cows and sunflowers to reach Jolley’s Mobil station on the Ethan Allen Highway. I pile six newspapers on the counter, and a glazed cruller. “You’re gonna need coffee,” jokes Sue, the clerk.
Departing Brooklyn after five pandemic months of sirens, cheers, protests, police helicopters and constant fear, I suspended our papers. I’d manage on the apps. Hadn’t I insisted on a VRBO vacation rental with good WiFi to go with this nature?
But quickly, I miss the order of things, the front page, bylines above the fold, column inches. You don’t get that in the app. Besides, touch the print and hear presses rolling, phones ringing and editors’ doors slamming.
Too “All the President’s Men?” Tell it to the app.
I hardly need so many papers — or doughnuts. But I enjoy them, like my husband relishes morning workouts or my kids crave lattes. I’m no athlete, but turns out I’ll bike for news. It’s 2.4 miles says Strava — an app. I feel vaguely revolutionary pedaling my mechanical steed. Before March, I hadn’t ridden in years, but pandemic CitiBiking on empty city streets primed me for my new Vermont ritual. I greet the Holsteins. One I’ve nicknamed Betsy Ross runs along side. I wave to railroad workers regrading and farmers cutting hay near the trading post. Tar and sweet grass mingle as I weave around squished frogs. Back at camp, I unfurl the news.
I’m grateful for print. I’m feeling more Gutenberg than Gates anyway here in the shadow of Fort Ticonderoga.
Even pre-pandemic, times were tough for newspapers. I surveyed dwindling print editions on the subway in February, when the McClatchy chain went bankrupt. Elsewhere, staffs are feuding. Lois Lane’s newsroom went virtual. Hedge funds are purchasing regionals.
In Brooklyn, during the Before Times, Sam dropped dailies at my apartment door. Others pinged online. I bought one tabloid plus a bowtie from Sunita’s 57th Street coffee cart. Another from Mohammad on the evening downtown train. Suddenly, I worry how these folks have fared during the virus. Now, papers are not allowed to be delivered. They are quarantined in my building lobby. Eavesdropping on neighbors’ reading habits became dreary as the stack dwindled.
Traveling to Vermont for years, for skiing, to visit family in New Haven, when my son taught at Stowe and now as a Middlebury student, I’ve always loved the locals. I read the Valley Reporter, Burlington Free Press and, of course, the Addison County Independent. My new ritual means new players. The fisherman repairing my bike chain warns of blue-green algae. A farmhand advises on local milk. Madeline delivers cinnamon buns on Fridays.
Every time a paper folds, I feel a drop of democracy die with it. When a politician lambasts “the media,” I cringe a little for the First Amendment. Sure, I’m nostalgic for print, but mostly I just like news, narratives and powerful prose. In these pages, I seek analysis and accountability that burnish our republic, not dull it. Local journalists stand in for us at school board meetings, town halls and polling places, so we can do our day jobs. These rides remind me that I also enjoy the people who sell the news, consume it and make it — no matter what my zip code.
And so, I get on my bike and ride. At Jolley’s, I select the New York titles and the Vermont local papers. Nearly $20 with a Boston cream. I groan paying twice for a couple of the newspapers — once for those I subscribed to in New York and a second time when I buy them at the store here in Vermont. “Freedom ain’t free,” I joke to Sue. I chuckle thinking Ethan Allen, whose Green Mountain Boys militia challenged New York interlopers, might have relished this charge.
I pay up and pedal, channeling Paul Revere’s bookish sister. Or Sybil Ludington, the less-heralded female rider.
Growing up, there were newspapers. Flash back to my father, raincoat over plaid pajamas, trudging up our Louisville drive with the Courier-Journal, celebrating basketball scores. There’s my mother, weeping over ghostly wreckage of an American helicopter, a failed rescue attempt of Iranian hostages unfurled in a first edition.
I leave my stack near the water, hoping Generation Z will discover it. Soon, my son and his girlfriend are swapping sections over cold brew.
Now, we have broken camp. College has resumed. Betsy Ross grazes greener pastures. Goodbye to Sue. Be well, Vermont, until we’re back for New Year’s. Time to return to my Midtown office and scout for my own essential newspaper workers and community. My neighbor pitches the last summer tent for his grandchildren. Building a fire, he yells “Hey, Brooklyn, spare some newspaper?” “Of course,” I say, delivering yesterday’s news.
That doesn’t happen on an app.
Caroline Aiken Koster is a New York lawyer. She grew up in Kentucky and also adores Vermont.