That’s how many Tuesday press days I spent at 720 S. Dillard St., the office of the West Orange Times & Observer. Give or take a few for vacations and maternity leave.
Twenty-eight years in the same office, the same newsroom, the same desk on the south wall.
While I sat in the old newsroom writing my final stories in that space, movers were passing by the office door with the conference room bookshelf, the ad department credenza, boxes of newspapers and media kits, bits and pieces of West Orange County past and present.
As each room was emptied, the light was turned off.
I felt a little like those strong-willed homeowners who refuse to sell their land to the state so the highway is built over and around them.
That place was a home-away-from-home to me for more than half my life, and it was like home to my kids, too. They grew up there: on sick days when I didn’t have a sitter available and on weekends when I had to run in to copy something or work on a story.
It was the first stop for both of them on their way home from the hospital. I still can remember pulling up to the back door and seeing all my coworkers rush excitedly to our car.
So many memories were made with those coworkers and old friends within those walls.
I don’t like change, and it’s hard to leave — even in exchange for a new office in a brand-new building.
We joked that the movers should have loaded my entire corner in one piece — with me sitting in my chair at my desk, fingers on my keyboard, still banging out my stories as we trucked down the road. It certainly would have been easier than sifting through nearly three decades of papers and tchotchkes and memories.
If you're like me, you tend to just poke things in a drawer, to be looked at another day (or week or month or year or decade).
That's a lot of accumulated business cards and phone numbers scrawled on scraps of paper. Most of these people probably aren't even at those same jobs anymore. Some are no longer with us. A few of the short stacks were my own business cards as my title changed and the newspaper owner and name changed.
It’s not unlike a dismantling of your life; certainly an assessment, most definitely a scrapbook of my career.
I have unearthed a random assortment of pieces of my career. A photo I took 18 years ago of Jenna Cross, Mark Daugherty and Thomas Giallella, three small children battling leukemia. A sleeve of film negatives from when Nick Asma built Noah's Ark on his church playground for an Eagle Scout project. Notes from interviews with Jean Grafton during her cancer battle and the late Mark Parker a decade after he was shot and paralyzed.
I have hung onto my interview notes from many of the WWII veterans I’ve interviewed, including Dal Duppenthaler, Albert Gleason, Jerry Carris and Honor Flight companions Bill Hancock and Mel Jenner.
There are printouts of the war's timeline and an index of pertinent war-related cities and countries and military titles and types of 1940s planes and ships.
There’s a list of all the World War II veterans who participated in the Honor Flight when I served as a guardian for a local participant.
There are notepads of story ideas. And several unused packages of Post-It notes, undoubtedly from when I pilfered them from the supply closet so no one else could have the good colors.
Birthday cards and Christmas cards. Thank-you cards for stories I wrote, invitations, assorted CDs given to me after interviews with singers and songwriters.
Jump drives. A 3M double-density formatted IBM disk with the following note in my handwriting: “Important Files! Hard-drive backups.”
A handmade ribbon, complete with a photo, announcing Mike Hubis Day, when our beloved advertising salesperson decided it was time to retire.
A red, white and blue paper fan. A glow-in-the-dark, wind-up, plastic angel. A tiny snowman snow globe promoting ICE! at Gaylord Palms.
Pink stamp pad and two stamps — smiley face and frowny face — so I could let others know if their stories were good or bad after I proofread them in the days before DropBox. I’m seriously considering taking those out of retirement.
A really old pack of Orbit gum. Fancy rocks that, I assume, were given to me by someone cool or came from someplace cool.
Dove chocolate wrappers telling me to “Get out there and make your dreams happen” and “Keep believing in yourself and your dreams.” A Baci Perugina candy or gum wrapper announcing “Laughter makes you young. Love makes you beautiful.”
A folder of resumes given to the newsroom by hopeful journalists.
Drawings and notes and other busywork my children gave me when they had to come to my office for an hour or an afternoon.
Ink pens promoting local businesses and pencils handed out by co-workers when they returned from a trip.
Relics and tools from newsroom days gone by: photo percentage wheel, one-point line tape, pica ruler, X-Acto knives, a fancy letter opener, an ink stamp with “CTR. SPREAD.”
Old photos of former staff members, of Christmas parties and Halloween costumes and bowling parties.
My first few canceled paychecks from May and June 1990. Old press passes. Cut-out cartoon strips, such as Dilbert, that joked about to writing or editing.
A bookmark for the Nov. 20, 2010, grand opening of one of my favorite former stores, Here Be Dragons Bookshoppe, in downtown Winter Garden.
Two heart-shaped “I Love Ocoee” buttons.
A list of local schools and their addresses, phone numbers and principals; and my phone directory of local contacts.
I should probably take this time to apologize to whoever asked me through the years if I had any spare paper clips and I told them no. I lied, big time. The farthest nooks and crannies of my drawers were crammed with them, numbering in the hundreds.
Each room in that old building conjures up different memories, too — of John Maloney shooting rubber bands and hollering at everyone through the old intercom system, of making another newspaper week after week on the layout boards, of my sick kids curled up on the sofa watching a movie if it was a Tuesday and I had to be in the office to help get the paper out, of office parties and good-bye parties, of potlucks and chili contests.
Memories I can’t physically pack up but will remain with me wherever I go.
The last item to leave the office was my overloaded bulletin board. It’s full of even more memories: photo strips of coworkers and me in silly hats and glasses, random notes from my kids, name badges from media events, cards, congratulations. Treasures, every one of them.
And there’s always room for more.
I was given a new desk for the new office, and since I recycled more than half of the stuff that was in my old drawers, that leaves me with so much space. What should I put in them?