WHEN READERS SAY MUSH, WE MUSH …

I am about to tell you a remarkable story that not only restores my faith in newspapers, newspaper readers and humanity in general, but also makes my dog extremely happy.

Here I was in my house Thursday morning. I had just returned from the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska, a wonderful assignment that, unfortunately, was being cut short so I could get to Florida and write about — ahem — spring training baseball.

“Well, dog,” I said to my golden retriever, as I unpacked the long underwear from my suitcase, “too bad I didn’t get to see the end of that race.”

“Mmmmph,” the dog said.

“I mean, I know baseball is supposedly the national pastime, but all I see is a bunch of players complaining about their ‘measly’ $10-million contracts. Rickey Henderson? Barry Bonds? This is what we need to write about? While all those mushers race through the Alaskan wilderness?”

“Mmmmph,” the dog said.

“I don’t want to complain,” I said. “But between you and me? I’d rather be up north, witnessing the climax to the Last Great Race on Earth.”

“Mmmmph.”

(By the way, the reason the dog kept saying “mmmph” is that I have him tied to a sled, running up and down the stairs. After seeing those mush dogs in Alaska? He’s not sleeping on the couch anymore. I can get a cat to do that.)

Back to the suitcase. I unpacked the sweaters and replaced them with T-shirts. I unpacked the Chapstick and replaced it with cocoa butter.

“North . . . to Alaska,” I sang softly.

“Mmmmph,” the dog said. Callers gave boss a headache

I looked at my watch. Just after 1 o’clock. I flipped on the radio in time to hear Ernie Harwell begin what, sadly, will be his last season broadcasting the Tigers. “Lo, the winter is past. . . .” Well. I had that to look forward to in Lakeland: I would get to see Ernie again.

“You know, dog,” I said, packing my baseball cap, “I wouldn’t mind spring training so much if only I had seen the Iditarod through to the end.”

“Pffff . . . pffff. . . . ” the dog panted.

“I mean, you wouldn’t leave the Indy 500 on the 100th , right? You wouldn’t leave the Masters on Saturday afternoon.”

“Pfffff . . . puuh . . . uhhhhnnn–.”

“You wouldn’t leave the Olympics after the opening ceremony. Am I right? Am I right?”

Unfortunately, the dog had fainted.

I turned up the radio. I heard Harwell call a Dave Bergman sacrifice fly.

I wondered who was winning in Alaska. I thought about Susan Butcher and Rick Swenson and the other top mushers, moving through the frozen night, dragging up mountains and gliding across frozen lakes. . . .

‘=Stop it,” I told myself. “It’s over.” I looked at my dog, who was lying flat on the carpet. “And you — get back to work!”

And then the phone rang. My boss.

“Go back,” he said.

“Go what?” I said.

“Go back. To Alaska. Find a plane. Find a horse. Get up there, before I throw you there myself.”

“But Boss, I just got b–“

“I know that. The whole world knows it — after you wrote it in the newspaper. Do you realize we’ve had more than 300 angry phone calls? They say we’re nuts for pulling you off Iditarod to go to Lakeland. They want to know what happens in Alaska. Some of them even called me a . . . BOZO!”

“No, not you, Boss.”

“OH, YES, ME! Listen to this fax from a woman in Southfield: ‘What is your sports editor thinking about? He sends Albom thousands of miles to Alaska . .
. and when the race reaches halfway, he pulls him out to cover Tiger camp? Who’s crazy there? . . . Has anyone thought that Albom would rather work for a paper where the sports editor is a little brighter?’ “

“Well, Boss, now that she mentions it.”

“GET ON THAT PLANE!” Are you listening, Tigers?

And so, believe it or not, I am returning to The Great White North.

“Hey, dog,” I said. “I’m going back to Alaska.”

His left ear lifted.

“By tomorrow, I’ll be reunited with my trusty pilot, Old Jim Okonek, flying above the mountains.”

His right ear lifted.

“And by Monday’s newspaper, I’ll be back on the trail, hunting down the weird and the wounded, the furry and the dirty, the mushers and the mushees.”

His tail began to wag.

Who says you can’t get things done by complaining? The readers have spoken. The readers have won. Actually, the readers have given my boss a massive headache. But it’s a good headache. At least it’ll seem good compared with the expense account I turn in from this sucker.

But for now, I thank you for your outrage. Our business thanks you. Obviously, my dog thanks you. As I left for the airport, I saw him through the window: He was lying on the couch, with a pizza.

But I’ll mush that mutt later. Alaska calls. I follow. The higher-ups have done the right thing. They have said, “We made a call; the customers didn’t like it.”

And they reversed their decision.

Now, if only the Tigers would take a hint.

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