Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Career Day at The Roanoke Times – an adventure story



 I was so excited to be getting out of the slumlord crap hole building I was working in on 9th street Southeast. Heck I just took the first job offered to me so I could get a jumpstart on my future in the big city to the North named Roanoke. That’s north of High Point NC. Let me refer you back to my “Welcome to Roanoke” experience: On the lighter side: Unzip your pants welcome to Roanoke 

Yes siree bob it didn’t take long for my application to The Roanoke Times & World News to float to the top of the pile as the “shining light of excellence” that it was. I had experience on the newfangled photo typesetting machines. 

I had experience at the daily newspaper in High Point amazingly named the High Point Enterprise. Newspapers must collude when setting their work hours because the RT had the same crappy shift as the HPE – 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM. 

At the High Point Enterprise I quickly rose from a lowly advertising paste-up “artist” to a full-fledged number one Photon typesetter. My rise from waxing to darkroom was at a pace never before equaled. 

Some “pasty girl” artists preferred wax to rubber. I was easy to please – hot wax or rubber cement – either one I could handle. The hot-wax machine clogged; the rubber cement gets gummy. There were disadvantages to both. 

Printing was all mechanical in the early 1970s but was evolving from “hot type” (hot metal lead letters) to “cold type” or photographing letters onto paper which you then had to develop in a dark room. Unless the typesetter was a “Photon whiz” (like I was) the paper had to be cut and “pasted” to fit the layout of the newspaper ad. This is as simple a description as I can explain. 

The Photon machine was huge – it wrapped around the typesetter like a big “U” and the large drum that sat behind held a flashing light photographing each letter. It was loud – very loud because it was all mechanical and the HPE had two of them that took up half the room. I can still hear it as I try to describe it. It had “gearshift” type knobs, buttons and switches that blinked and groaned to the touch. 

Picture this – shifting gears for type size with one hand and pushing type face buttons with another and then there was the leading (space between lines) and bold or italic switches and buttons. Watching a typesetter in those days was poetry in motion. Then came the darkroom development and hanging the paper to dry. There was a lot more to it but let’s get to my one-day (night) working at the RT&WN. 

This was I’d guess in 1972 and I certainly don’t remember the name of the man who hired me at the RT but I either misunderstood what I would be doing or he needed a woman to fill some EEOC mandate or something. He was really nice and welcomed me aboard but then CAME MY NIGHT OF LIVING HELL! 

I dressed fairly nice on my first evening. I wore a dress and low heel shoes, as I’d be sitting at a Photon machine most of the night – right? WRONG, wrong and wrong. 

My first awareness that something was amiss came with a “locker assignment” and “stiff dingy bibbed apron.” I walked into a dimly lit dungeon-like room with another glass-enclosed room in the center. The men glumly toiled away in aprons assembling the “hot lead” into trays ready for the printing press. This was the same-type room (though cleaner and brighter at the HPE) I walked through to get to the modern Photon machine in HPE’s advertising department. 

Every man looked up at the same time and gawked. I felt as out-of place as I looked in my dress, heels and platinum blond hair. My annoying presence was made clear in short order. 

As I fumbled with some meager instructions a stern annoyed man came over and let me know just how unwelcome I was. He said something about gender diversity that I have chosen to forget. Then it was made clear to me that I was expected to join the union. He was the shop steward I later learned. 

Joining a union was not the problem it was the six-months I was expected to work in the hole. I never saw anything resembling a Photon machine. It either didn’t exist or it was held in some undisclosed location. 

Just let me get through the shift I prayed and get me the hell out of here. For safety a few women from another area assembled at 2:00 am to walk to the parking garage together. They tried to convince me to give it some time before I quit because that is what “those men” wanted me to do. 

On my drive to my apartment another vehicle closely followed and scared the wits out of me. That sealed it. The next morning I crawled back to the slumlord of the crap building and begged for my job back. My wish was granted and I went in person and said my good-bye. He tried to explain about the union process but I didn’t want to hear it or endure it. 

I had worked for the Teamsters Union Local 391 in Greensboro so I understood what a union was all about. 

My past with the Teamsters Union lead to my print career. What an exciting job that was organizing and striking – all those slashed tires of union reps. Another adventure story here but then I’d have to tell you where Jimmy Hoffa was buried and that would not be too healthy for any of us. Hoffa’s picture hung in the reception area … that is all I’m allowed to say about the Godfather.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Commentary



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