#309: The Entrepreneurs

April 18th, 2014

We used to work in newspapers, he and I. We talked about it.

We used to work in newspapers, he and I. We talk about it.

The first he started distributing newspapers in 1981. He was lucky enough to get in on the first wave of USA Today in 1982, when that one launched. He had the whole territory: Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, out into the suburbs. It was where you wanted to be when it launched.

It was big pages, bright colors, he said. Lots of photos. It was exciting, new. People liked it. People bought it. The paper made money. He made money.

Now, he said through the Plexiglas partition between the front and the back of the cab, if it wasn’t for the hotels, the newspaper would be out of business tomorrow. He asked if I wanted to turn left once we got to Chicago Avenue.

The second he is a friend of mine. We work together. We talk about newspapers from the former reporters’ perspective: All that is now lauded is crap and true news died six months before we both left the industry.

It doesn’t matter we left at different times. Every reporter knows the death of news was exactly six months prior to his or her own personal arc.

While I laid fallow in suburban news, my friend lived the dream. From high school to his early 30s, he never had a job that wasn’t at a newspaper. He worked big metros before moving to magazines before getting a job at what I consider the big show, the Chicago Tribune.

He spent five years there. His newspaper story ended. They all do.

Distributorship went well, the cabbie said. It went well until 2005 when business started getting bad. In 2010, they closed shop. He needed a job.

He lived by the lake, but all the Quiznos franchises they offered were in the far ‘burbs. 7-Eleven had too many regulations. Dunkin’ Donuts had no opportunities.

He considered an opportunity to run a store in Gurnee Mills mall, an hour from Chicago. But since he and his family lived near the lake, it would have been too hard. They have regulations about when you can be open. You can’t close if you’re sick. You can’t close if weather keeps you from getting that hour away. You can’t close when the 1.8-million-square-foot mall is open.

I expressed commiseration. He said it’s like a condo agreement. You can own the place, but rules are rules.

My friend and I work in marketing. We market a business school, a good one in case you’re curious.

My old punkers sometimes look askew at me about how much I like the job. And sometimes I groan and grumble about the B-school entitlement I meet. But my job is to promote the good stuff.

I don’t see the grads who work for vulture capitalists or the ones who spend their careers at bland economic jobs. I promote the people who bring to market new treatments for breast cancer. Or who microfinance African farmers. I promote the works of people whose work deserves trumpeting and my biggest shame is that I like it so much.

My 22-year-old self might scream, but at 34, I accept that people need jobs. I might not always like the people who provide those jobs, but I think of the families and the vacations and the lazy Sundays those jobs provide the people who work there.

My friend feels the same. We talk about it. We talked that night at the bar about it, me and him and the postdoc who runs the research magazine. We talked about how to keep our souls while promoting these entrepreneurs.

“It sucks,” I said, my logic wobbly from the Koval and microbrews my friends and I had enjoyed at the bar while shooting 9-ball and dissecting our lot. “It sucks they make it so hard for the people who make this country work -”

“The entrepreneurs,” the man added, nodding along.

I paused. My commie soul screamed.

I still think there’s a role in this world for the lieutenants. I still think anyone who works a day’s work deserves a life he or she can live on. I still think my grandpa was right when he said, “No Republican ever did a thing for the working man.”

I will always be on the side of the servants rather than the served. That’s not a choice. I am one. Always. Proudly.

But the divide is choked.

“Yeah,” I said to the man driving me home. “Can you pull up here?”

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