Sunday, May 27, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Mary Alice Powell


Writ­ing a story isn’t what it used to be


Mary Alice Powell

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It seems only appropriate while I am waiting for a computer fix-it person to think about the good old days when typewriters were high tech and knowing how to put a ribbon in one was the main challenge.

I really didn’t need an antique L.C. Smith typewriter to remind me of the early days in the newspaper office. But the gift, presented by my friend R.A., on the last birthday anniversary certainly jarred remembrances, good and bad.

The creative gift, presented as a typical newspaper office setting of a bygone era, provoked tears; first because of the thoughtfulness behind it, and secondly, because I truly cherish all the memories of newspaper life that will, on Sept. 28, be 70 years. Yes, dear readers, that is not a typo. That’s the cold, hard truth admitted warmly.

The birthday staging was accurate. The old L.C. Smith was center stage and close by a cigarette butt and ashes were in an ashtray. A pack of cigarettes was by the ashtray. A cup of coffee completed the scene. How true that was for many years until one by one coworkers wised up, gave up smoking, and company rules banned the nasty habit indoors.

Just seeing the cigarette, ashes, and the pack of cigarettes nearly prompted a coughing jag. The coffee was remindful of the number of cups of coffee that were required to get through a story on a typewriter. We did not require fresh hot coffee to get to the end.

Old, cold coffee pushed us forward.

The only regret of the good old days is the smoking. Not a day passes that I am not sorry I tried the first one and obviously was hooked, but it is as everyone says, “everyone smoked then.” I would add, too many people still do.

I quit cold turkey 35 years ago, and 5 years ago learned that the breathing problem is not weight or age problem. It is indeed COPD.

When typewriters joined the age of electricity they were embraced as a major advancement that were faster, easier to type on, and quieter. Personally, I missed my old manual model when a new electric was delivered at The Blade. I still believe the rhythm of the keys on the early models was a thought incentive.

The first order of business on Blade assignments in New York City and Chicago was to request a typewriter to be delivered to the hotel room by a recommended company.

Looking back it seemed that more rentals were faulty than worked properly. But the difference needing help to fix a problem then and solving a computer issue now, is that the problem contact person was nearby and not in the Philippines.

With the story complete on rented typewriter paper, the next step was to hail a cab and take it to a Western Union office to be sent to The Blade. There was, indeed, a great sense of accomplishment.

Nowadays, most motels and hotels provide computers, if not in a separate room, at least one is provided in the lobby.

Time marches on and it is up to seniors to keep up with high tech or be left behind. This column will be transmitted by email as all of my writing and pictures are, whether I am at home or traveling.

I suppose if you grew up in this age, seeing things happen in split seconds is matter of fact. But those of us who remember what communication was like when electric typewriters were an advancement and Western Union was considered fast, will forever be amazed that an instant after the mouse touches “send” “your mail is sent” confirms it.

That is my next move. Now that I am back online after two house calls I can send this column. It took two repairmen to determine a new modem was needed, which tells me replacing a ribbon on a typewriter years ago was a snap.

Oh, that’s right, correctly repairmen are now called technicians.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at

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