In retirement, print work is a nightmare


Broadmoor Bureau Chief

I’ve been retired from my Sun Herald newspaper job in Gulfport, Miss., for more than a year, but I have work-related anxiety every night resulting from dreams of things going wrong at press time.

Some have to do with my computer locking up right before deadline in my work as a slot editor. Others are about page design in which I can never find an image to run with a story after hours of wasted searching.

Because of this, my teeth grind and my nerves wrack.  And once I sense calm, the feeling goes away. I hear an uptight editor yell at me to “SEND THE DAMN PAGE,” even though I’m dreaming that we have more than two hours before the presses start.

The bane of a sportswriter's existence in the 1980s. FLICKR
The bane of a sportswriter’s existence in the 1980s. FLICKR

I also have stressful dreams about covering sports, which I did for many years before moving to the editing side, and the sports dreams are about using a second-hand 20th-century Teleram Portabubble to transmit stories from  football, basketball and baseball games to my office during the 21st century.

The Portabubble was a portable computer and it haunts me more than 30 years after I last used one. I’m now jealous of sportswriters who have the pleasure of just emailing their stories.

The keyboard on a Portabubble was used to type a story and once the story was complete, a classic telephone handset was placed into acoustic couplers for delivery to the sports desk.

Sounds easy, but it wasn’t. I once shoved a handset so hard into the couplers that I might have damaged the Portabubble. All but the keys and the tiny screen were useless. The story would not bubble in unless I could reach a Teleram tech.

Good luck with that because it was 10:30 on a Wednesday night  in 1983 in the South Mississippi mini-metroplex of Wade-Hurley.

I ended up having to dictate my story to the frustration of the guy receiving the dictation.

A colleague the previous week also had to dictate because of a technical problem and then faced the embarrassment  of being summoned to the editor’s office two days later for a Portabubble demonstration.  The editor wanted to see what the sportswriter did wrong, but keep in mind the editor himself didn’t know how to use it. His point was to make the sportswriter look bad and feel worse.

Can’t blame the boss for expecting nothing but successful results from his investment, but the thing looked like it came from a pawn shop on Highway 49.

Somebody on eBay is trying to sell a Portabubble print ad right now for the ridiculous price of $14.95 plus shipping, but that may sound like a bargain to you if you’re nostalgic for pieces of crap.

My latest dream was about a night in which I went to distribution, on the first floor in back of the plant, to check the paper in my role as the slot editor. Copies of the paper roll into distribution from the second-floor pressroom starting at midnight and copies are gathered for carriers to bring to readers.

I check the paper for spelling in headlines, captions and other display type, and I end up missing a headline bust.

A pressroom guy ignores me about it, goes right to a distribution guy who knows nothing about editing and the pressroom guy tells the distribution guy, “Hey, there’s a misspelled headline. It’s supposed to be Ohio, not Ohi. Go ahead and fix that.”

Hey! WTH!

I go to the press guy and tell him, “That’s not distribution’s job. That’s my job. If you have any problems with headlines, you come to me and I’ll take care of them. I’m going to fix Ohi right now.”

I go back to my desk in the newsroom and get ready to use my computer to make the fix, but it turns out that my computer is frozen. It stays that way for 30 minutes, which is a lifetime when the pressroom is waiting for a remake.

Once my computer is unlocked, I make the correction and call the pressroom, and the press guy tells me, “We already have it. Distribution took care of it 25 minutes ago.”


There is a bright side to this tale: I don’t have to go to work today, tomorrow, next week or even next year.

The dark side? The next workplace nightmare is coming around 3 a.m.



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