I spent almost 40 years on the typewriter end of the newspaper business, tramping through press boxes, interviewing coaches and players, trying to put words in a straight line that made sense the next morning.
But whether it was a high school game in Goose Creek or a Super Bowl in Miami, I never forgot that nothing I wrote would ever see the light of day without the herculean efforts of the boys in the press room.
These are the guys with ink under their fingernails and that ever-present perfume of newsprint wafting in their wake. And they’ve never been better represented as a group than by the guy we all know as Rock, aka Rick Rockwell, who is winding up 44 years in the bowels of The Post and Courier building where the real magic of newspapering happens.
I used to sit in my office on the second floor at night and hear those massive presses crank up to spit out 100,000 copies of what I’d just conjured up in the quiet spaces between my ears. Then I’d put my hand against the wall and I could feel the vibration as they rolled, faster and faster, until the papers flew off in a steady stream of printed perfection.
When visitors came to the newspaper to see how we do what we do, I would spend a few minutes walking them through the newsroom where quiet people sat in front of flickering computer screens, occasionally clicking a mouse. I would tell them that times had changed from the raucous days when I first entered the business when typewriters clattered and people of dubious distinction were hurling paper and curse words around with equal energy.
They don’t think much of the insurance-office hum that has engulfed the business until I take them downstairs, down a long hall toward the sound of something enormous, the pressroom where the smell and sensation of our humongous presses, lined up like huffing locomotives, are readying for takeoff.
This is the world guys where guys like Rock exist, some since high school, learning the delicate trade of taming a monster and making it sing like a choir boy.
Which is no easy task, nor a clean one, nor one that finds you home for dinner or up for breakfast with the family. It is a place of noise and fury and finesse and gigantic rolls of paper being fed into a machine that coughs and spits and must be trained to run like a thoroughbred.
But it all comes at a cost. For Rock, it was dropping out of high school to learn a much-needed trade. Now, four decades later, he’s finished that degree and plans to attend college in retirement.
What a story. The kind I hoped to write every time I hit the send button, shooting my meager electronic offering through cyberspace to the mothership, always knowing there were guys like Rock at the other end to make sure it found a home in somebody’s driveway.
A special skill performed by special people.
Thanks, Rock, it was a great ride.