Each day now as I drive to work, I look at the building I called home for almost the last two decades, being torn down piece by piece. This is a big complex of buildings in DC that used to be home to The Washington Post. Now its quickly becoming a pile of rubble. Don’t get me wrong, the new home of The Washington Post is beautiful, wonderful, temperature controlled and without rats and roaches so far. Really nice digs in other words.
But that doesn’t make it easier. For some reason I am compelled to stop, watch and think. But as I watch it I feel like a part of myself and others are being lost. Life experiences are somehow changed when the physical environment that they happened in no longer exist.
I can go back to the building in Howard County on 8307 Main Street Ellicott City where I started my career in 76 for Stromberg Publications and stand there and think about hearing the noise of the press spinning up or seeing people running about, the smell of chemicals from the engraving room. Looking through a hole in the concrete floor and seeing the Tiber run under the building.
My first job in newspapers fresh out of high school. I was hooked. I was in love with what we did and who I did it with. I have friends still from that first experience. That place gave me a confidence in myself I didn’t have before. I had an opportunity and I stepped up. And its been a great ride from then on.
I can go to Columbia at 10750 Little Patuxent Parkway and see the old Flier Building that I spent 17 years in. So many fond memories just driving by the place sometimes. So many great friendships, accomplishments and growth. Possibly the greatest and most chaotic time in my life. I wish I had appreciated it more while I was there because there were some wonderful things done by some wonderful people.
I can go to the bottom of Main Street in Ellicott City and see and stand in the building where two wonderful partners and myself started a newspaper from scratch. Talk about your life experiences. Wow what a wonderful and also stressful time. Learned a ton about myself that I didn’t know before, with that experience.
But now my home of the last 18 years on 15th street is disappearing before my eyes. A strange feeling indeed. Sometimes I’m sitting on the street trying to figure out whose office now has a floor to ceiling window view that didn’t before. Sometimes I’m in awe of the machines effectiveness in ripping a structure like that to the ground.
Sometimes I think back to events on the exterior of the building. The Limos picking up some old friends retiring after many decades of service who retired together and celebrated on the way out. Talking to the gals and guys outside the L Street Employee and delivery access door while they finished off their cigarettes. I quit smoking there 17 years ago. But there was always some good conversations outside the walls there.
I remember the motorcades and guys in suits/sunglasses and hardware (guns) escorting dignitaries or government officials in and out of the offices. And I’m guess with the occasional sniper team on the roofs of adjoining buildings for the leaders of state/countries. I’m pretty sure I spied one once or twice.
Then there was the anthrax threat with white powder being sent to Editorial. Guys in space suits in the Building checking for contamination. The day and days after the election where people lined up around the block to get extra copies of the paper.
Sad days where the presses on 15th street were stopped and removed. Wonderful days where journalist won many Pulitzer prizes. Great days where my teams were involved in keeping that paper publishing every day without exception and only by remarkable effort did it happen. And all the way to current times where its a 24/7 operation.
The glass on the windows out of the cafeteria were shattered the other day. I spent a number of breakfast, lunches and dinners looking out those very windows. I saw a chair that we probably sat in crushed but the laughter was still coming from it. I’m surprised they actually need to spray the building for dust as they tear it down. There were so many floods in that place I’m surprised it isn’t waterlogged. But again my mind wanders.
Think about all the famous people you have seen coming and going from this place. I Remember the time I walked out the L Street door and was met with secret service guys almost immediately because they had the street sealed off for the President coming into the Capital Hilton service entrance across the street.
The day and night of September 11th. Watching the city evacuate with sidewalks and streets clogged and an hour later the place being a ghost town and just Hummers with men with automatic weapons around. Very surreal image of DC that sticks with me today.
An elevator ride with Ben Bradley, and he spoke to me. And always amazed at how many people Don Graham knew by name. And then there is the symbol of what I held dear as a sign of my industry. The Linotype machine that was at the front entrance on 15th street. A symbol of strength and the power of words on paper. A symbol of a time when newspapers were the main tool in communication in a democracy.
Wow, a growing pile of rubble. This is a new experience for me. At first when I saw it begin, it was a nasty feeling that just hit me wrong to the core. And as the days progressed the emotions expressed above rolled along. Now I’m thinking about what is important about memories and becoming at peace as the demolition continues.
I look at all the wonderful relationships that I had and continue to have from that time there. I think about the gut splitting laughter at times I thought would never end. I think about accomplishments done with others over the years. I think about the loss of some people while there. I reflect on the special opportunity that my first boss gave me there and will ever be in her debt for it.
It was my first BIG company. My first experience with bureaucracy. My first experience with such a diverse set of personalities and egos. My first experience of the pressures of a daily product vs a number of weekly ones. The pressures of being right all the time because everything was critical. But it’s always been exciting and I wouldn’t trade it or the people who are important to me that I’ve met through there for anything else.
For it’s a leader in the industry and draws awe from others. Then again if it’s a person who read an article that the paper published who they seriously disagree with, then it draws ire. Either way its interesting working for an organization that is recognized as it is. In some ways it is amazing. Some of the best teams of people at any newspaper.
But you know, I had the same feeling when I worked at a lot of local papers. Great teams of people with the same dedication, drive and desire to produce the best story, photo, ad each time. To print it beautifully and to get it there on time regardless of mother nature. These institutions are special. They were and are part of the fabric of our nation. Communication, understanding, argument, debate, resolution. From nations leaders to the little league baseball organizations. From photographers on the front lines in wars to here at home covering floods, tornadoes and other disasters or terrors.
I’m so proud to have had a career in newspapers. I think it would have made my parents proud. I think it’s an honest profession. And that is why it bothers me so to watch a physical symbol go as it is. But just as time has changed the newspaper industry. It will change for the current hot digital organizations also. But if you noticed that the journalism leaders before are still at the top of the digital charts also because content is always king.
Quality writing, images and video will always be important as well as being delivered consistently and on time. I just hope the future generation does it with dignity, honest/truthfulness and objectivity that past veterans have. For if they do they will have a place in the publishing world for a long time.
I’ve been working on this off and on for a few weeks coming back and adding or changing a line. Well the old buildings are gone as of about a week ago. So here is to hoping the new building on 13th and K and the new people inside the new one (along with a few old timers) can form many happy memories and experiences also. But the old ones will be hard to top.