Finley: Me, ghosts moving on

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Lord willing, I'll sit down to work Monday morning for the first time in nearly four decades at a place other than 615 W. Lafayette Blvd.

The Detroit News is moving to a new home downtown, and for the past several weeks we've been packing a century's worth of history into orange crates.

Every time I've opened a drawer, memories spilled out. Every corner turned, I've bumped into ghosts of the magnificent misfits who shaped my growing up in that building.

I started here on my 21st birthday, and that first day was prescient. I was led into the newsroom, plopped at a desk against a far wall, and given no further instructions. After a couple of hours, something heavy crashed into the back of my chair and hit the floor beside me.

Many journalists have called 615 W. Lafayette home since The News built it in 1917. It is home no longer.

I looked down at a large, red-faced and quite obviously drunken man struggling to climb to his knees. Reaching for the phone on his desk, he dialed a number and promptly began sobbing. "I'm sorry, baby," he wailed into the receiver. "I've been on an undercover assignment for two days and couldn't call home."

Then he hung up, rubbed his eyes dry and broke into a big smile. Sticking out his hand, he said, "Hi, I'm Jim. Welcome to The News."

I called my mother straight off to report, "I think I'm gonna like it here."

And I have. Every single day. My heart always beats a little faster when I round the corner and The News building comes into view. Because I know what's inside. When I started here the newspaper war was still raging. We walked through the doors every day with one mission: beat the Free Press by any means necessary.

That newsroom ran on adrenaline and whiskey. There were cowboys and con men, scholars and scoundrels, lovers and fighters. I shared a desk with a hooker for six months in the '80s, but that's a bar stool story. Giants walked these floors, too. Amidst the carousing and carrying on some great journalism happened on Lafayette, produced by some damn fine newspapermen.

Too many were idiot savants gifted at that one thing, and otherwise emotionally stunted, too willing to sacrifice family and shred personal relationships to break the Big Story. OK, guilty.

But the chase burns like a fever. And it burned a lot of them out. We had a contract back then with Brighton Hospital, and every so often a drunk would be walked out of the newsroom and into a white van waiting out front.

Some never made it back. Even more were lost to the humorless expectations of corporate journalism that seeped in after the armistice. Imagine our reaction when we learned being drunk in the newsroom was a fire-able offense.

I understand an insurance company is taking over The News building, while we're moving into offices better suited to insurance salesmen. Things change, and none more than this business.

But not totally. The last items slipped into my orange crate were a reporter's notebook and a couple of pens, two bourbon glasses and a jug of Makers Mark.

I'm swinging by Lafayette in the morning to see if the ghosts need a lift to the new digs, and I expect they'll be thirsty.


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