An A.R. Essay: BOOMING IN AMERICA
by Lory Medina
American Reporter Correspondent
Long Beach, Calif.
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- I've just relocated to California, and I'm activel= y watching things.
My first view of Los Angeles, from the Northwest Airlines jet that flew = my husband and I from Seoul to the city, was unremarkable. As the plane dip= ped toward the Los Angeles International Airport, I saw through the window = a stretch of gray, unengaging landscape, broken into monotonous grids with = sparse spots of greenery.
Having seen singularly spectacular aerial views like those of Kathmandu = and Hong Kong, Los Angeles looked dreary from the air. My husband said it s= its on a desert.
At the airport, a friend of an in-law, Stephen, who is a= resident of Long Beach, fetched John and I and drove us to the apartment t= hat he wanted us to see in Lakewood.
A caretaker showed us the place. John and I liked it -- not far from the= main road in a safe neighborhood, quiet, fully furnished, sunny and airy, = with lots of storage space. Stephen had an appointment for us with the owne= r at three.
He then took us to his parents' house, two blocks away from theapartment= we had just seen. Stephen's parents amiably welcomed us, giving us bowls o= f fruit salad to snack on and offering us a room upstairs where we could re= st or take a shower. John and I did both and counted our blessings. We than= ked the family for their generosity and Stephen for having taken time and e= ffort in helping us. He said that our in-law was a special friend of his an= d he would help us the best he could.
A few minutes before three in the afternoon, we proceeded to theLakewood= apartment where we would meet the owner. The woman, her blond hairsecured = by a hairnet, came late, citing her appointment with a dentist. She appear= ed to be in her 70s, slightly bent, but she moved with an air ofstrength an= d dignity. After the introductions, she declared, "I'm a retiredprofessor, = and I know that teachers [which John is] pay on time." Her tonehad a ponde= rous quality to it that reminded me of school mottoes.
After 20 minutes of discussing details with the woman, we thoughtthe ter= ms and conditions were fine, and we told her we were ready to lease the apar= tment. She took out a sheaf of papers from her purse and laid them out on th= e table. As she signed her name in the contract, she emphasized -- again, in= that tone -- that we should pay attention to her name in writing down chec= ks: "It's spelled 'L-a-capital-N-o-r, LaNorWest," she said.
By now, I had identified her tone: it belongs to teachers. I've heardit= so many times before. It is loud, but the loudness is effortless. It hasa = steadiness that can only be gained through years of practice. There is aver= y subtle oratorical edge to it, suggestive of authority.
I also thought here was a woman who knew how to define herself; she has = gone to lengths in making her name different, unique, unrepeatable. Is she = a prototype of the American "individual"? She added -- once more, with a so= lid voice -- that the contract and the house rules were no invention ofhers= ; they were the official documents of a housing group she belongedto: the A= partment Association. The group's name and logo were printed on the applica= tion sheet, contract and accompanying documents. Seeing all these, I was im= pressed by the place's degree of self-organization andself-protection.
After that, we paid the deposit and a month's rent, while she gave us a = receipt, the house rules and regulations, and a sheet stating that the pain= t used in the apartment had no lead. Towards the end, her voice came down, = signaling what seemed to be an afterthought: "Oh, I must tell you, the sink= is clogged up, but one of my sons will come in later in the day to fix it.= " The transaction stalled the sleep crawling up my eyelids. It felt like a = well-choreographed stage play, complete with a denouement.
Stephen then drove us toward the central part of town to locate a local = telephone company. At GTE, the receptionist told us to go to one of several= telephones on the counter to call a number. The paperless transaction, las= ting only 10 minutes, promised us we would have a line that evening. I saw = John's face, earlier shadowed by exhaustion and lack of sleep, light up wit= h the prospect of a phone call to his family. (Back in 1990, when I left my= home country (the Philippines) for the first time, I was convinced South K= orea truly belonged to the Big League when I got my phone line one day afte= r applying.) I thought I must give GTE, the telephone provider, sterling p= oints for speedy, paperless service.
We called it a day at that point. We went home, enfeebled by jet lag, bu= t exhilarated nevertheless -- everything had worked out well so far. Once i= nside the house, John and I jostled for the navy-blue sofa squatting in the= living room. Reclined on the overstuffed three-seater, we sized up the apa= rtment. We realized we got a good deal for our money, and that it was far b= etter than what we had expected. The apartment looked very functional, no f= rills, but we could use our creativity to spruce it up and make it cozy.
= There's no fence in the front lawn, but there's one that separates the row = of apartments from the adjoining compound. I noticed that fences are mostly= between houses. In 1997, when we first came to the U.S. to visit John's fa= mily in Atlanta, I found the unfenced frontage of houses, open front yards = laced with green grass, welcoming and refreshing. I thought that here was = a place where people trusted each other, where people did not worry about t= respassers. Having seen the side fences in our neighborhood, I was about re= ady to change my mind.
I thought that, maybe, in this middle-class neighborhood, the imaginedth= reat does not come from outsiders--robbers and burglars--but neighborsthems= elves. Earlier in the day, I heard over the radio about a child beingwounde= d by gunfire coming from a neighbor who had an argument with one ofthe chil= d's parents. I concluded it was an isolated case, and it was tooearly for m= e to make assumptions.
I was deep in this thought when the landlady's son= came in to fix thesink. He also cleaned out the oven and said the stove w= orked, but not theoven. He said he would send an electrician. In the course= of our briefconversation, he said he was a police officer, doing night pat= rols onelementary school grounds. He said that schools have computers and = TV setswhich tend to magnetize burglars.
I noticed that when the man spok= e, his voice boomed. His mother's voicecarried authority, but it was not as= loud as his. It made me feel that wewere in an auditorium, and he was spea= king to an audience of at least ahundred people. After the man left, I told= John that perhaps one thing Ishould learn this early in America is to spea= k more loudly. It seems to bethe natural order of things.
That is one of = my earliest observations in this place: people speak with the full force of= their voices. I imagined that in the olden days, when everything you saw = was wilderness, when a man's yard stretched to several acres of land, and n= eighbors did not see each other, men and women had touse their voices in or= der to be heard by others. The vast expanse of thefrontier muted the human= voice, and I guess people had to shout to be ableto get past the physical = barrier.
Or, could it be that in a working democracy where self-expressio= n isparamount, people have to literally have a voice, that is, develop thei= rvocal chords, to be able to defend their rights? In a community whereever= ybody wants to assert him/herself, the voice is their first and mostavailab= le resource. I
n Seoul, where crime against persons is low, men argueon t= he streets, shouting on top of their voices, each one trying tooutscream th= e other, but they hardly end in up in a scuffle. In otherplaces, places whe= re democracy is unknown and dialogue is not valued, manypeople find the fis= t or a gun more accessible.
Towards nine in the evening, I tried the tele= phone, and the dial tone came as GTE had promised earlier. I called up my s= ister who lives in Buena Park, northeast of Lakewood and Long Beach. She s= ounded excited, and, yes, loud. She has been in he U.S. for more than ten y= ears.
This early, I like the straightforwardness of people, the efficienc= y and the little acts of generosity. But, at the same time, the loud voices= omewhat bothers me. I imagine that the voice has to do with efficiency.To = achieve efficiency, one needs to be understood, and to be understood onehas= to be straightforward, and to be straightforward one has to be clear,and t= o be clear one has to speak in a loud voice.
This may not explain it at a= ll, but I will observe and listen some more in the next few weeks.The wr= iter, a poet, writer of fiction and essayist, was born andraised in the Phi= lippines and has lived in South Korea and Bangladesh. Her collection of po= etry, Heading Home (Giraffe), was published in 1996.
* * * ON NATIVE GROUND+by Randolph T. HolhutAmerican Reporte= r CorrespondentDummerston, Vt.June 30, 2001
media816/$8.16 On Native Ground: SAYING 'GOOD NIGHT' TO THE EVENING NEWSPAPER
by Randolph T. Holhut American Reporter Correspondent=
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- My newspaper, the Eagle Times, ended nearly 87= years as an afternoon publication on June 29.
The Eagle Times had= been among the last afternoon newspapers in New England, and had stayed an= afternoon newspaper (except for our Sundaymorning edition) long after most= of our competitors had switched tomornings.
Thirty years ago, about 80 p= ercent of the papers in New Englandcame out in the afternoon. In New Haven = and Hartford, Conn., Providence,R.I., and Worcester and Springfield, Mass.= , the afternoon paper in each ofthese cities outsold the morning paper by a= substantial margin. In Vermontand New Hampshire, there were only three mor= ning newspapers -- theBurlington Free Press, the Rutland Herald= i> and the Manchester Union Leader.
There was a strong tradition o= f afternoon newspapering in NewEngland. It was not uncommon for people to = buy a Boston or New York paperin the morning and the local paper in the aft= ernoon. Before radio andtelevision became pervasive, people came home from = work and read the paperin the evening. It fit the lifestyle of the region.=
But that world is gone. People watch television in the evening andread n= ewspapers in the morning before they leave for work. Or they stop atthe sto= re to buy a paper on their way to work in the morning and read it atlunch t= ime. Or they don't bother to buy a paper at all and read the newsonline on = their computer at work.
It's also become tougher to get an afternoon news= paper delivered.As people moved to the suburbs and traffic got worse, it be= came harder andharder to get the paper into the customer's hands. That forc= ed papers tomove up their deadlines earlier and earlier to the point that m= ostafternoon papers today actually publish in the late morning hours.
Tha= t time shift has made a difference in the freshness of the newsin afternoon= papers. Back when newspapers had late afternoon editions thatwent to press= at 4 p.m. or so, you could get today's news into the paper.Now in most cas= es, an event has to happen before 11 a.m. in order to makethe paper. And wi= th few exceptions, most news happens after 12 noon so itcan make the evenin= g TV newscasts.
The combination of demographics and production pressures = has allbut doomed the afternoon paper. The dominance of the PM paper began = to fadein New England by the 1960s. The Boston American (1961) and t= he BostonTraveler (1967) were the first to go, as they were folded i= nto theirmorning siblings to become the Record-American and the H= erald-Traveler(they eventually merged in 1972 and a few years later mor= phed into today'stabloid Boston Herald).
The Hartford Times went out of business in themid-1970s and The Boston Globe ended it= s evening edition in 1978. TheEvening Gazette in Worcester (when I o= nce worked), The Evening Express inPortland, Maine, the New Haven= Register and the Springfield (Mass.) DailyNews all survi= ved into the mid-1980s before they too were absorbed by theirmorning siblin= gs. The Evening Bulletin in Providence made it into the 1990sbefore = it was merged into The Providence Journal.
Most of the smaller dai= lies in New England started switching tomornings by the 1980s. Today in Ver= mont, only the Barre-MontpelierTimes-Argus, the Caledonian-Record= in St. Johnsbury, the St. AlbansMessenger and the Newport Da= ily Express are afternoon papers. In NewHampshire, just The Keene Se= ntinel, The Laconia Citizen and Foster's DailyDemocrat in= Dover remain as the only papers on the PM cycle.
The Eagle Times = had hung on longer than most afternoon papers, but the trend is undeniably = clear that our future depends upon switching tomorning publication. And tha= t's why we finally made the switch. Ourcirculation declined by about 20 per= cent over the past decade, a trend thatis not unusual for evening papers. B= eing a morning paper allows us to be inthe stores 12 hours earlier, which w= ill increase our chances that someonewill pick up a copy.
The conversion = process has been difficult. People who've been usedto working days aren't h= appy about now having to work nights. Many of ourolder readers aren't happy= about the change either. These are the folksthat still cling to the aftern= oon paper habit.
For me, switching to the AM cycle means I no longer have= to wake upat 3 a.m. to go to work. I prefer working nights, and I can't wa= it to beback on the nightside. I hope the folks who have been reading us in= theafternoon will read us in the morning, and maybe we can pick up a few n= ewreaders along the way.
Change can be hard, but it's sometimes is needed= . After years ofdoing things the same way, we needed to change. I just ho= pe my readersagree.
Randolph T. Holhut is managing editor of the Ea= gle Times inClaremont, N.H. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barri=