Friday, July 20, 2012


I've been taking a lot of trips down memory lately, which can get tiresome for the people around me (my poor wife). I'm very nostalgic, I admit, and have since I was a boy tried to cling to the slim straws of my experience as I was shuffled off to another new hometown in some other part of the Rust Belt. It's an old habit of spiritual survival.  

For whatever reason — personal milestones, my upcoming birthday — this has happened a lot more in the past two months, but I must say in my defense that I literally walk a memory lane each work day. It's called State Street, and I see at least one co-worker from my past two jobs every morning.

Today it was the nice saleslady who worked one door down from me at Penton, always so dutiful sitting there at 8:45 in her cube. Oftentimes it's my old swing supe from the AP, who greets me in much the same way she did 10 years ago — almost like we're still working a shift together. My old boss, the secret smoker, who saved my magazine job so many times in the dark days of 2009. My favorite grizzled editor, who watches video of '60s baseball games in the dead of winter to prepare himself for the new season.

And there are others. If I can, I like to stop and say hello. In one sense I feel we're both trying to heal something while we chat there on the gray street under the hot sky. Maybe the wounds of work.

The office, with its unrealistic demands and cruel hierarchies, can make people behave in ways they don't want, myself included. If you're reading this and I worked with you, I liked you. It was an honor to serve with you. If I ever said anything sharp or acted strangely, I'm sorry. I want to think the job put words in my mouth (or removed them), but really it was me. My reaction to my situation. 

I've been doing this Chicago office tour of duty for a decade. When I started, I felt so uncool at my news job, though it was greatly exciting and actually interested a lot of the hip people I hung about with when I told them the details. I've since made peace with my livelihood and now wear my Rat Race badge with pride, my CTA Rider badge with pride.

I hope to someday give my kids a different view of how to work to pair with my wife's (the Road Warrior thing). I hope they might even be proud I willfully did this: pack into a glass, steel, concrete megolith with thousands of others to talk on the phone and stare at a computer screen five days a week. The Franz Kafka thing.

But as fun as it's been — layoffs and blizzards and bike messenger curses — I know I won't stay at this forever. I don't feel it's my destiny to be a 40-Year Man like my dad, 25-65 (actually, longer for him). I'm fortunate that my profession potentially offers the chance to freelance, to work from home, to set my own hours. It's now my mission to move toward this sooner than later and be with my kids. Work outside in the yard like Cezanne in Aix-en-Provence. The Logan Square version.

It would be a dream, really, though I know it's hard and requires a different kind of mind-set. Not the clock-punching, sleep-walking one I'm used to. I admire the people who do it. Really, I admire all the editorial warriors, the publishing warriors, the news warriors, wherever they may do their battle. And I wish that their battle is not perpetual. That they may find some respite.

When I see my old comrades, I'm heartened we are at peace in that moment — the burden of the office not yet upon us for the day. We are just people on the street. Regular people. Chicagoland people. People who were born and will die. Trying to remind ourselves we're human. Even if it's just a smile and a hello across the bridge at Wabash.

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