It’ll be a wonder if we’re able to get a paper onto the presses Friday night.
That’s because when Charlotte Observer newsroom staffers reported to work at 600 S. Tryon St. for the last time on Friday morning, we were almost immediately plied with bagels and coffee by our boss, Editor Rick Thames.
That’s because as we munched on that bread and sipped those cups of joe, conversation focused on one and only one topic: The Move; and, as if on cue, representatives from the Cabro moving company began swooping in, awakening long-dormant dust bunnies as computers were disassembled, the various pieces bagged and tagged.
That’s because then came the arrival of our new ID badges – the ones that would give us access to the Observer’s new digs, over at 550 S. Caldwell in the so-called NASCAR tower. Everyone scrambled to see what the photos looked like and... well, if you’ve ever gotten a driver’s license, you can imagine the disappointment.
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And that’s because this – like almost no other day in 45 years in the current Observer building – was a day of distractions.
Quietly, behind the scenes, stories were being reported on and written. More House Bill 2 fallout, the ongoing Duke coal ash fiasco, 250 gallons of spilled paint on the Brookshire Freeway.
But maintaining strict focus on journalism was nearly impossible on Friday.
If we weren’t dodging stacks of red or blue plastic moving crates, or scavenging collections of old coffee mugs and magazines being discarded by co-workers, or choking on the dust bunnies, we were all quite busy trying to decide whether or not we were feeling sentimental about leaving this place.
And this place? It’s pretty depressing, aesthetically. Built in 1971, it’s been outdated since Bill Clinton was in office.
By looking at the building, you’d think there was some sort of massive window shortage in the early ’70s; there are casinos that get more natural light.
Picture-tube televisions that should be in the Smithsonian are still used in this Observer newsroom. The restrooms have periodically had insect issues. The elevators show mystery stains – on the ceilings. And don’t get us started about the escalators.
Meanwhile, when I stepped out onto the 12th floor of the NASCAR tower during a preview visit on Thursday afternoon, it was like seeing your workplace suddenly pop into high-definition.
Floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of uptown! I can see SouthPark! I can see Carowinds! HDTVs around every corner! Motion-activated lighting! Self-flushing toilets! Auto-on/auto-off sinks and soap dispensers! No dust!
And yet a strong sense of nostalgia hung in the air on Friday inside of what will soon be known as the old Charlotte Observer building. (Along with the newsroom, the advertising department said goodbye to it Friday; publisher Ann Caulkins and other divisions will follow later this month.)
It’s like that old jalopy you finally got rid of after putting 200,000 miles on the odometer. The one you couldn’t wait to get rid of because the brakes always shimmied and the glove compartment wouldn’t shut unless you really slammed it and because no matter how many times you got it cleaned it still smelled weirdly like chicken pot pie.
It’s when you go to hand over the keys to the junkyard guy that it hits you: This thing was a part of me.
Well, it’s hitting us now.
One last time taking the stairs because the escalator is broken. One last time walking that stretch of the newsroom that sounds like it’s been hollowed out underneath. One last time drinking from the fountain with such weak water pressure that you have to be really careful not to let your lips touch the stainless steel.
It was a jalopy. But it was our jalopy.
And since we couldn’t express ourselves to the building, we expressed ourselves to each other, taking one last opportunity to poke fun at the old place while still in it; taking one last opportunity to wonder aloud about the new place before it becomes our reality; moving one last thing from our desks into a moving crate and double-tapping it shut.
Then we got right back to work. After all, we had one last newspaper to create at 600 S. Tryon St.