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March 31, 2020

Swaying with memories

“Would you like to have a look around?” she ventured. “We have to be out by next month.” That large building that had been such a pivotal part of my early years in California; she positively swayed with memories for me. Over time, I had popped in, on occasion, to see what was left of my old crew, always sad to note further decline and staff reduction every time I visited. The advertising department was a shadow of its former self with just a couple of lonely souls hanging out on the spacious retail advertising floor.

Previously, Barbara, Tom, Dave, Vonnie, Dana, Nancy, Bob, Savitri, John and more had occupied that space. There was the marketing department next door, Dispatch through the hatch, then the paste-up guys and dark room in back. With the digital age, the paste-up guys were all forced into retirement and soon replaced by computers. Marketing evaporated, as belts were tightened and ad reps took on different work, as newspapers struggled to stay afloat, budgets were not achieved and lay-offs continued.

The impressive press set-up down below was dismantled and, likely sold for scrap, pushing more able-bodied people out of work. The pre-print department and production likewise. Downstairs in the former Classified, Circulation and Accounting Departments, just a few bodies remained, as everything became centralized in the region and whole departments became redundant. I was so glad not to have been in the industry when the deepest cuts were made; it hurt my heart. I still felt that there was a place in communities for local papers; and I still do.

I stood in the middle of the empty room where my desk had been during the hay-day of Retail Advertising. My friend Barbara had her desk right in front of me and would often swing her chair around and knock all the papers off my desk. I can hear her loud, infectious laugh to this day. She died on Aug. 24, 1995. The last time I saw her alive was leaving the Retail Advertising department on Aug. 23 at 5 p.m. on the dot. I thought about all those things as I stood there in my own personal time warp. The corded phones on our large desks. No computers, of course. We would have plenty of room to do our layouts though. Tape and pens and insertion orders were all vital things.

I never forgot the day that Dave came to work and his entire desk was missing. One by one, we had taken things off his desk until nothing was left. Oh, we died laughing that day. Huge advertising sleeves were set up by dispatch and used for the layouts. We would then put them through Dispatch, where they were logged in and sent on to production. It was a fun world in those days. I remember coming in from visiting customers and finding stacks of ads on my desk that mysteriously appeared while I was gone. All the grocery stores advertised back then — as well as car dealers, national retailers, restaurants and more. There was not much choice for affordable advertising – the days before online anythings and even direct mail. It was us and the Yellow Pages and we were cheaper and more fresh. But our industry was caught napping.

I remember when we started seeing direct mail pieces in our mail boxes and we were quite insulted at the time. They stole our grocery business right from underneath us, then fast food, furniture and a bunch of other things. The Gannett gods, at that time, decided to teach us how to sell against direct mail … (“They will tell your customers that they are targeting people in their homes, but this is UNINVITED advertising messages. Our messages are paid for and welcomed into the home …”) None of our training changed anything, though they, apparently, drummed it into us.

The old building was full of chemicals in the day — what with the paste-up department, print chemicals, photo chemicals and more. I do remember that familiar odor that we were just used to and others would comment on. It had the smell of work and industry.

I remember being really confused by the huge mainframe computer that had its own office off Accounting. “What on earth was that going to do for us? How would that help me call on my customers and do my layouts?” Little did I know, at the time, that computers would be changing the entire world and the way we all do business. They were going to organize and stream-line us in ways we could never imagine. The fax machine arrived and that was very exciting. We no longer had to run proofs out all the time. Some of our old timers insisted they still see our happy, smiling faces, but gradually more and more people owned the fax. They bought us pagers, so that they could reach us more efficiently than us just calling in to check messages. Those were quite annoying. Then came the mobile phone and that was a superb invention. Mine was a large bag phone that I remember thinking was quite groovy.

All these things happened in the world while I was working at the Salinas paper. I remember I was the Classified Advertising Manager in the downstairs back office on Sept. 11, 2001. We watched televisions in horror, as we all wondered if the world was coming to an end. Our nerves were shattered when the court house across the street had a bomb scare. Some people couldn’t handle the stress and went home. Others could not take their eyes off the television screens; the horror and mayhem of that one day and then the crazy days that followed. It is frozen in time in my mind.

Many of us in that old building got some kind of cancer or another. Could have been a coincidence, but I think not. Surely you cannot breathe that kind of air day in and out and not suffer some sort of repercussion. The attorneys said it would be hard to prove, apparently.

Regardless, I felt a deep affection for the old lady, as I walked around her corridors and heard the voices. Many are still good friends to this day. Some still talk to me inside my head. You can always count on change in this life and, often, the change is hard to take. I am still a subscriber to my old newspaper and will be until she closes her doors, or I close my eyes. We are old friends and faithful to one another. She gave me some marvelous years of my life and so many laughs I could fill a book. It is good, sometimes, to walk the memory corridors and be grateful for all the gifts you’ve taken along with you for the ride.

Lucy Jensen is a local Realtor and former employee of the Salinas Californian. Email [email protected]

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