Remembering Owego 20 Years Later: The Office

The paper’s office was situated in a line of buildings called River Row that backed up to the Susquehanna River. The street-level units were mostly shops. On one end, there was a bar. On the other, a huge gift store that was quite cool.

Our space was owned by the Chamber of Commerce, which had the street-level storefront. We were on the third floor (I don’t remember who was on the second). Those steps were my daily cardio.

The office itself was a HUGE empty space flanked by a small office where our advertising sales person worked, supposedly. (I’m pretty sure I could count on two hands the number of times I saw her there and on one the number of times I spoke to her.)

The cavernous space contained two desks, each with a phone and a brick of a computer. In a small adjoining space, we had a microwave and a refrigerator. The room was so big and so empty, in fact, it echoed when anyone was on the phone.

So began my illustrious career as a journalist.

Many days I shared the space with a very bitter human, I’ll call her Sally. She’d kicked around at three or four very small papers in Upstate New York and her career nor her home were what she wanted (or expected) them to be. The out-of-town boyfriend only added to her frustration; she left town every weekend.

With no editors in the room to keep watch, she was more than happy to talk about all of it. To me.

Every day (unless she had a night meeting to cover or was in the other office) she’d walk out the door at 5 p.m. on the dot, muttering something about one of the editors or complaining about a change in one of her stories. Some days, I recall, she was so infuriated she didn’t even say “good night.”

We weren’t close, which made it rather like being assigned a bad roommate in college – you kinda don’t want to go back to the room. I left the office at lunch time as much as possible – even if I had packed a sandwich and it was raining, I’d make it a point to take a walk just to clear my head and get away. I remember having moments when we’d bond about something, but they were few and far between. For me, I was just out of school and wanted very badly to impress my editors, not listen to someone in their 30s vent about how horrible life was.

The equipment we had was just this side of hilarious in today’s terms – an instamatic camera, two old phones and laptops with dial-up modems, which we used to file our stories. Sure, the main office would send a photographer out for big stories, but for the local on-the-street reporting, we did it ourselves and the results were questionable at best. Would have been nice to have a cell phone camera then.

Officemate aside, probably my favorite story came on a snowy February night. I’d covered a local board meeting and returned to the office around 9 p.m. to file my story and meet my dad, who was coming up that night to help me buy a car. I have a vague recollection of him being rather underwhelmed at our working conditions, particularly since at that hour the heat was off.

All in all, it was a good job. I covered everything from a murder trial to meetings to festivals to tree plantings – it was certainly a strong start, even if I did have to wear gloves to file my meeting stories.

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