If you were a reader of the New York Times on May 23rd 1937, you would have come across a short column on the Spanish Civil War by Ernest Hemingway.

I banked on reading this article to put me in touch with Hemingway’s everyday writing style. The discipline required to be a pro writer being so formidable; I thought it would be fascinating to catch the writer expressing himself off the cuff, to get a sense of such a powerful writing engine when it was idling.

Maybe this short piece for the Times was dashed off to make a buck or to serve the role of presentation of the writer as hero. Poor Hemingway, I bet this was as close as he could come to blogging. But if I viewed “The Chauffeurs of Madrid” as a blog post, it would have to be the best blog post that I’d ever read.

The drivers are either competent or schnooks, timid survivors or with balls. What I’ve just said is very Howard Hawks, bravery and competence being the ultimate guy criteria. It’s very Only Angels Have Wings, a movie directed by Hawks that released in 1939.

But in 1937, the year of Hemingway’s column, Clark Gable was crowned King of Hollywood. He’s the idealized role model that I’m thinking of when I read this Hemingway piece.

It’s harder for us to grasp the appeal that Clark Gable had at the time. Of that eras’ actors, we prefer Bogart as the diffident, conflicted hero. Maybe that makes it a bit harder for us to appreciate Hemingway’s prosodic toughness. But Clark Gable is the Hollywood equivalent for the Hemingway image. In 1937, when weekly movie attendance was rising to its historic peak, no one would have had a problem understanding that.

We had a lot of different chauffeurs in Madrid. The we is never specified but you assume it’s a bunch of guys, the press corps. There are no women in this story. Madrid is home base, the perimeter is the battlefield line. The story is serial. It is structured by H’s account of four chauffeurs. I guess gentlemen adventurers don’t drive their own cars in this scenario. So I’m seeing a sort of class distinction here.

The first chauffeur, Tomas, is described and accounted for in great detail. He’s also the big sissy of the lot.

If you have structured a story so that you are serially presenting four characters, then you would want to be heavy on detail for the first who sets up the piece. Also, there’s a moral hierarchy in the presentation of the guys. So it also makes sense that you start with the lowlife. And, sure enough, it’s the last driver depicted who’s the model macho.

Tomas is 4 foot eleven, an unattractive dwarf. Then Hemingway wows me by bringing in the court dwarfs that appear in paintings by Velasquez..only this one’s in jeans, has broken teeth and likes Scotch whisky, which makes me presume that he is drinking Hemingway’s.

Tomas seethed with patriotic sentiments but Tomas is a wimp who is always finding excuses not to drive around dangerous places. I loved the line: Tomas could never start the car in the morning. They ask their Press Department for someone braver.

The second useless chauffeur is David, an Anarchist boy from a small village near Toledo. I loved all this detail about David presented in his introductory sentence. As a reader I’m interested in how storytelling works. These details about David are not relevant to the rest of the story. But they helped anchor David in my mind. I knew his politics and that he was a kid from a small village.

I was wowed again when Hemingway says that David changed his whole conception of profanity while also implying that David made great strides in improving that vocabulary by hanging out with Hemingway. We don’t get to hear any of these dirty words but this is the Times in 1937. Come to think of it, it wouldn’t make any difference if this was the Times in 2011.

I loved the detail that David can’t drive. The big D finally decamps the press crew when he hears a movie is being made in a neighboring town. I liked David a lot. He was my favorite chauffeur. I double-checked this: there is no physical description of David. That’s an interesting writer’s choice. After describing what the first driver looked like in great detail, the second driver’s appearance is not discussed at all. But I hardly noticed. Skill.

So the first driver is a coward, the second driver isn’t competent. Each character has failed one of the Howard Hawks/Clark Gable manhood tests.

The third driver is just a parenthesis. A total washout that sets you up for the paragon, Hipolito. Hemingway even flat out says that Hipolito is the point of the story. That’s putting a heavy burden where it belongs, at the coda. And because I’m a reader who notices these things, I notice that Hipolito’s name starts with an H. Please be subtle about this. I don’t mean that Hipolito is a stand-in for Hemingway. I mean that you may associate their names because of the alliteration. But that’s enough.

Hipolito: He’s not much taller than Tomas. Great to segue to your first driver for comparison. We are back in the world of physical description. Hipolito is carved out of granite. An automatic pistol, strapped to his side, comes halfway down his leg. Between the granite and the pistol, I feel we are in the world before phallic symbols were invented.

Hipolito knows motors. And when he’s given a time to show up, he shows up ten minutes early. And I love the way Hemingway describes a 19-day bombardment of Madrid by saying that it was too awful to talk about.

“The Chauffeurs of Madrid” is in a new anthology of journalism called Deadline Artists from Overlook Press. It’s a magnificent volume.