Monday, March 29, 2021

Office sings its siren song as vaccine spreads


     On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, workers pouring out of the Sears Tower looked up as they cleared the building. The World Trade Center had come down about an hour before, and nobody knew what might happen next. Hurrying away, carrying laptops, they scanned the skies.
     I know that because I saw it. As employees streamed out of their offices, I was heading toward mine, the Sun-Times newsroom at 401 N. Wabash. I was going into work because that’s what people did in the morning. You went to work.
     Not for the past year, of course. COVID-19, a far more deadly disaster — in the United States, closing in on 200 times the toll of 9/11 — creating a chasm between those who could work at home and those who had to risk their lives to draw a paycheck.
     I’ve gone into the office three times over the past year, always because I was downtown anyway, going to the library or conducting an interview. Each time, the newsroom was silent and empty. It was grim, unnatural.
     When will that change? With millions of doses of vaccine being pumped into millions of arms every day, society is pondering a return to work.
     On March 29, Microsoft and Uber are welcoming employees back into their West Coast headquarters.
     Not everyone will be going back. A big British paper, the Daily Mirror, is closing its London office. Reporters can work out of their cars or homes.
     I can provide some insight of what that’s like. For most of my career, going in to the office was a choice. As a columnist I could work at home and usually did. But I routinely prodded myself to go in, for a variety of reasons. Usually because something specific was happening downtown, an event, interview, meeting, lunch, opera rehearsal. I was hoofing into the paper in 2001 because I joined the editorial board, a five-year detour into being a serious person.

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  1. My guess is, that most of the older office buildings in the Loop & nearby are going to be turned into condos or rental apartments, due to businesses cutting back on office space.
    Many have interior light courts or are built in wings, because they were built before air conditioning.

  2. Wow...your newsroom looks nothing at all like 401 N. Wabash did in the late Seventies. No cigarette butts on the floor, or sticky spots from spilled coffee, and sometimes something stronger. And is that CARPETING? In WHITE? Seriously? Sure doesn't look like a newsroom. No grime, no grunginess. All slick and spiffy. It looks more office. Any office in the Twenties,I'm guessing. I wouldn't know. Haven't been in one in nearly a decade.

    Forty-five years ago, desktop units were either non-existent or still in their infancy. Those big clunky units that looked like the old TV sets, before the era of flat screeens. They were known as VDTs--Video Display Terminals. Some had green characters, some had white, and some had orange. Reporters often "lost" a half-finished story. There was a LOT of swearing.

    I'm such an old geezer. I'm mystified by all the screens hanging from the ceiling. Are they just TV screens? Looks like a sports bar...a BIG sports bar. In the new Marquee era, can they still pick up Cub games?

    1. Grizz - you forgot to mention the piles of newspapers on the desks, random piles of paper floating about, the lockers along the walls.... we could go on.

    2. Oh, yeah...what you made me that the office is just...too CLEAN. The 70s newsroom was many shades of gray.There was trash and other detritus on desktops and on the floors. Papers, old coffee cups, overflowing wastebaskets and ashtrays--ASHTRAYS! Butts on the floor, too.

      For lack of a better word, what is missing is the quality of general "pigginess." After a while, one ceased to notice it, or to care. Too busy.

  3. Replies
    1. When David Radler was publisher, he had a jet. I know because I rode on it.


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