David Brooks is one of the heavier denizens of the New York Times op-ed pages. And PBS convention coverage. And so forth. Very middle of the road; rightish, but not so that his veins bug out. He wrote an interesting piece on ‘when world’s collide’ On Friday, July 07, 2006, or thereabouts.
Page One’s Missing Characters takes him back to his young career and the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago. “The golden age of Chicago journalism was just then coming to an end” he writes by way of exposition. [If this was still the golden age of the Internet I could link to it and you could see for yourself, but, alas, and, alack, the op-ed page is now premium content.] Different classes met. The reporters spanned all class, and had to misplaced sense of the noble poor. They probably worried about declining circ and agate dollars, but they didn’t blog in response.
The Billy Goad scene described resonates for me because it is something of a world I’ve seen glimpses of …. Ben Hecht, who he mentions, after all, was from my home town Racine. The pubs I’ve frequented where everybody knows your business. The Billy Goat place where journalists went out and found stories about regular people .. they didn’t make heroes of them ..in fact, putting communism aside, they were ready to really see these people as groveling Social Darwinians. A book I cherish is Hecht’s 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, and I surely had it in mind as I worked with Sunnyland to write Sunnyland Blues. When Brooks was in Chicago..there was a dedication still to telling the story. In Chicago it was a story about corruption of the prairie. Hecht, Dreiser, Sandburg told it. And newspapers were lively.
This type of journalism was formative for me. And you can still see it today. But as Brooks says, the Billy Goat has changed. The tone of the town and is representation on pulp has changed. TV and web and cable buzz. Funnily, perhaps the Times on Sunday July 23, 2006 ran a story about how major cities are more than ever becoming places without middle classes. Do the poor read? Do the rich read about the poor? Questions asked now on Traveler St and Morrissey Blvd. in Boston.
Let’s say it’s a summer afternoon, and the beer is cold, the Billy Goat might be the place to be! I have a sense that Dusty Baker has to go.