2013.09.05 Wondering how those 35 years went by so fast


It occurred to me the other day that I’ve now been in the newspaper business for 35 years. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long—I must have only been seven years old when I started. Well, maybe I was a bit older, but who’s counting at this point? I stopped having birthdays long ago.

During my career, I’ve worked at four papers, lived in five places in four towns, owned 11 vehicles and believe it or not, had the same ruler the whole time. And it was a pre-owned ruler when I got it.

The ruler in question, which I obtained shortly after I got my first job, is made of stainless steel and specially designed for the newspaper industry. One side allows you to measure both in inches and picas, the other side in points.

 Don’t feel bad if you’re unfamiliar with picas and points. I doubt most people at newspapers these days know of them either, unless they took a history of printing class in college. It’s probably in the chapter after Ottmar Mergenthaler invents the Linotype. If the Gaebel company still exists, I’d be happy to endorse the longevity of their rulers. Mine will probably outlive me.

Heck, the ruler even stars in one of the stories I like to tell about my career. Back in the late 1980s, I pulled it out at an advertising account one day to measure an ad. The business owner asked if he could have a closer look at it, and I explained how it was used and mentioned how long I had owned it—more than 10 years at that point.

A year or so later, I needed it while at another account and it was gone. I searched my car, tried to remember when I had used it last, but it was apparently lost forever. That is, until the day when I again stopped in at the business where I had given the demonstration many months before.

“I’ve got something for you,” the owner said when I walked in the door. We went into his office and he pulled the ruler out of a desk drawer. “You left it behind the last time you were here, so I held onto it for you. I know it has a lot of sentimental value.” He was right about that.

At least he had a good memory. The same could be said for Don Copeland, founder and long-time owner of Copeland Furniture in Adrian. One day I went into the store and he was talking about a trip he had made to Australia or some other locale south of the Equator.

I asked him whether it was true that water going down the drain in the Southern Hemisphere goes in the opposite direction of water north of the Equator. It was a story I’d heard many times, but figured I’d never be able to confirm first hand. He thought for a few moments, then said, “I don’t know, the next time I’m down there, I’ll look.” 

I quickly forgot the conversation, but not Don. Nearly three years later, I went to work and found a postcard of a cruise ship, the Island Princess to be precise, in my mail slot. It had been mailed from Suva, Fiji.

The card read: ”Rich—Checked the tub yesterday—was flowing clockwise. Is that ‘the other way?’” It was signed “Don Copeland, en route New Zealand to Fiji.” I didn’t know that Don had gone on vacation. It was nice that he not only remembered my question, but went to all the trouble of answering right away instead of waiting until he returned.

I stopped by the store to show off the postcard and his employees confirmed that all of them had forgotten our conversation as well, but none were surprised that Don had filed away my question until he had an answer.

 I still have the postcard with the colorful stamps, in case I ever need proof of the answer and as a souvenir from a man with a long memory. 

Heck, I’m almost out of room and I’ve only managed to get in two stories. I guess I’ll have to save the rest for my 40th anniversary in the business. In the meantime, I’ll share three of the biggest lessons I’ve learned.

First, don’t ever think you’ve heard or seen everything. There’s always something new out there, maybe just around the next corner. After all, that’s why we have newspapers.

Second, people have long memories. The two previous anecdotes are proof of that, so always be alert.

And finally, the direction water flows down the drain depends on a number of factors, mostly concerning the type and location of your plumbing. Which hemisphere you’re in doesn’t matter.