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Thu, April 25

Middle-aged Musings: Worker bee or honey lover?

I've been in Arizona a year now. Some days I feel like I just landed on this alien planet and other days, I swear I was born here.

It's been a busy year, getting to know the communities our newspapers serve. Each week, I swore I'd sit down and start a column.

Well, here it is. Hopefully, it'll run every Sunday here in the LIFE section. I'll look at life in general, offer some thoughts - for good or bad - and, sometimes, just for my amusement.

Here goes:

Weird thoughts frequently keep my mind from shutting off in bed at night.

Monday night it was an internal discussion on work ethics. Someone in my company questioned me earlier that day why I worked so much. I replied, "That's the only way I know how to do it and I would never ask my staff to work harder than I do."

Influence and surroundings are important in the development of a work ethic. My daughter is a junior workaholic now and she blames me.

I also believe some of us are natural worker bees, others just along for the honey high.

I had fabulously hard-working parents, followed by doubly hard-working coworkers to model myself after in my first jobs. Yes, it's a generational thing, but that's also a cop-out. Here's why:

I started as a paid newspaper employee at 18 when I was in college. (Yes, I've been doing this for 30 years - someone laughed disbelievingly recently when I said that - it's true.) Oh, and feel free to figure out my age now.

The women in the paste-up department of the West Virginia daily where I began were consigned to the dungeon (basement) of an ancient building. They chain smoked, hanging over their light tables, keeping ash from falling on the pages. They made jokes about the college girl working nights with them. But, I fell in love with all of them. They worked hard, played hard at the bars after work, or went onto their second jobs after their evening paste-up shift.

The newsroom was basically the temple, the editor the priest. Whenever the ladies would send me upstairs on an errand, I'd shake just walking in there. That man scared the tar out of me. But I always thought I could do his job someday. (Silly me, huh?).

It wasn't until I graduated college and got a position in the newspaper composing room in Frederick, Md., until I realized I had much more to learn about hard work.

I watched typesetters cranking out copy at 100 words per minute, including coding for boldface and italic, designers creating ads on machines the size of my office today and paste-up artists permanently bent over their hot light tables for 10-hour shifts.

Then, I found the pressroom. It was a love affair that continues to this day, even though I'm seven miles from our print facility and I no longer need to be there to ok a press-run.

Back then, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to tag along with the composing room manager each night when he'd go to the press room to approve the run. As time went on, I was given that responsibility. Imagine, 24 years old and you had the entire press and mailroom staff staring at you for the ok to let the run go. I got very efficient at checking negatives and plates before they hit the press so I could avoid holding up the run to fix a mistake. It was quite a thrill to nod "yes" to the press supervisor and have him signal his guys on the consoles to ramp up the speed. It was deafening. They gave me my own set of earphones one day and I knew I was accepted!

Those pressmen were seriously my heroes. They'd run off 55,000 copies every shift. Never once did they stop climbing the press towers, adding ink to rollers, tweaking the color, repairing web breaks. These guys were from aged 30 to 60. Over my 11 years there, they allowed me to hang out in the camera room and help make plates and negatives. We shared life stories; I knew their children. When I was pregnant with my baby girl, they insisted on cleaning up the platform for me to check the pages from and helped me get up to it each night.

They are all gone now - some forever, some to other jobs like me, some retired.

Those men knew how to work hard. They complained all the time - and I loved it! Because I knew they'd be back the next night and the next.

Work ethic. Yes, it is a generational thing. The cop-out is that people say that and don't believe it can extend to current generations.

Well, it can. Those men gave me that. They also gave me insight on how to treat everyone I work with - no matter their job.

I see new college graduates in the newsroom developing their work ethic and I wonder if they'll write a column about their workplace influences someday.

The thought of being someone's influence in this career field keeps me on my aging toes.

Until next week,



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