Newspaper days: San Juan

san juan

A PACK OF mangy dogs always loitered about the front door because a kind-hearted employee threw them scraps of food every day.

That front door took you into the lobby of The San Juan Star where I worked in the early 1970s. The newspaper in that time was like the French Foreign Legion of the newspaper trade, and it was really fun, the only journalism job I ever actually enjoyed.

The small newsroom was up a flight of stairs. It was nothing like the monster newsrooms of Houston and New Orleans, places where I also toiled both before and after San Juan. The Star newsroom was kind of cozy, and the people were very nice.

I worked, as always everywhere, on the copydesk, and my boss at the Star was a handsome coal-black news editor named Teddy who was from the island of St. Kitts. Teddy spoke with a lilting Caribbean accent, and he started out being very suspicious of me since I had arrived from Louisiana, and Teddy knew all Southerners were Klansmen who hang black men from trees.

He’d never been in the United States, and much of the news staff were New Yorkers.

But after a couple of weeks, Teddy realized I did not fit his stereotype, and we got along just great.

Handsome Teddy was a bachelor and a womanizer. He was particularly smitten with the Lifestyle editor, a tall, good-looking black woman with big boobs and behind who sashayed regularly through the newsroom on high heels, leaving Teddy with his eyes open wide and a silly grin on his face.

She was married, but I doubt Teddy cared much about that.

The composing room was just off the newsroom, and they played music there which often seeped out into our space. My favorite was Eres Tu by Mocedades. I still love it.

A pack of proofreaders sat in another adjoining room. Though they spoke little or no English, they were employed to correct errors in the English copy proofs. Made no sense whatsoever.

They were unionized.

The cafeteria downstairs that served lunches and dinners also sold beer, which we could buy to sip at the copydesk while working. Even in New Orleans, the booze capital of the world, the newspaper did not offer that perk, something I only did once in San Juan because it wasn’t smart.

Stepping out the front door, down to the right and just around the corner, you’d find a small establishment where you could sit at an eatery bar in dim light to sip black Cuban coffee almost the consistency of good, watery mud. It was tasty.

The San Juan Star was located in an industrial area off the John F. Kennedy Highway nowhere near downtown where I lived, so I traveled, standing, in a sweltering, jam-packed city bus to work every afternoon and bummed a ride back to Old San Juan at midnight with a coworker, or I took a taxi.

That was the routine on my second stint in Puerto Rico. During my first, briefer, stay, I rode a black BSA motorcycle shipped down from New Orleans in the hold of a Sealand freighter.

There were two midnight options. I could drink in a bar, or I could drink at home. At home, a black-haired, freckle-faced Argentine was waiting for me, so that was the more common destination. I had skin in that game. Home was a small penthouse apartment overlooking the sea.

mdI never got a haircut in Puerto Rico. I only cut my hair once, and I did it in St. Thomas in the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands where I flew on a couple of occasions as a passenger in a Goose seaplane. Mostly, however, I stayed pretty hairy. It was the 1970s.

I doubt The San Juan Star was ever much of a money-maker. It was owned by Scripps Howard, and it had won a Pulitzer. It was the sole English newspaper in Puerto Rico, catering to the American community and, of course, tourists. Union activity was a constant problem that finally ran the publication into the ground in 2008, long after I had departed. Such a shame.

It was reinvented the following year by different owners as the San Juan Daily Star. I don’t know where it’s located now, and I doubt that a pack of homeless dogs sprawls at the front door or that beer is served in the cafeteria. And God knows where Teddy is.

20 thoughts on “Newspaper days: San Juan”

  1. That street scene looks familiar. Def Old San Juan, maybe down the hill from the castillo. The cemetery is adjacent to a neighborhood where bad guys do bad things, or so I was warned AFTER walking all the way through it just to gape at what’s up.

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  2. Reminds me of ´The Rum Diary´ by Hunter S Thompson. I never read the book but I saw the film that came out just a few years ago and loved it although it got panned by the critics. I recommend it! I think Hunter spent some time at the San Juan Star too but maybe a bit before your days. Saludos from the nation´s capital.

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    1. Señor Davies: Down in the linked story about the union breaking the Star (and putting the union members out of work, the fun part), there is a mention of Thompson’s applying for a job as sports editor on the Star, but he was turned down. It also says the Star was the inspiration for the fictionalized newspaper in The Rum Diary.

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  3. I don’t know if it was, but it sure sounds like a romantic story of times past. My dad was a newspaperman for the San Antonio Express and San Antonio Light back in the ’60s and ’70s. It never seemed like he had a lot of fun, unless he was traveling for a story.

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    1. Angeline: I think I have mentioned this to you before, but maybe not. I worked briefly (about four months) for the Express-News in the early 1980s. It was a miserable experience due primarily to the managing editor who was a sumbitch of the highest order. I absolutely could not stand him, even though he was the one who hired me. I didn’t know what a dip he was when he hired me, but I saw it clearly on my first day. On my second day, I was already looking for another job on the QT. His name was Bert Wise. He’s likely dead by now, and the world is a better place for it.

      Was a real pity because San Antonio was a lovely place. I really regretted moving on, which I did. To Houston, working about five months on the now-defunct Houston Post and then 15 years on the Houston Chronicle.

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    1. Ms. Shoes: The language the proofreaders knew was Spanish, of course. Their work consisted of comparing the typed copy that was on paper to the supposedly identical copy on the printed proofs, catching any deviations. Of course, someone who knows English will be far better at that than someone who does not. We had more than our share of errors see the light of day due to the system, which was idiotic.

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  4. Great read and well done. The photos looked a lot like the northern part of our province. The canción is special to be sure. I have heard it many times in Mexico, often beautifully sung at little off-the-beaten-roadside bars by some Mexican songstress who will never be famous. I heard “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” done by a little lady in a small café once. It was amazing. I often wondered where she went and where her life led her. I can imagine, but I’ll never know. Well done, Felipe.

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  5. I await the NOLA stories. I liked your tale. I remember the tails of the stray dogs of Honduras and Mexico when I lived in both places. Good imagery to start a good tale.

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  6. Re your phrase: “good-looking black woman with big boobs” — just a friendly reminder that women have breasts, and it’s men who are the boobs. Heh heh. Christine

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