“Hello? Daily Planet? I think you should get a photographer over here to North Berkeley because there is a UFO hovering over Solano, and you need to report on it.”
“The city is chopping down this really beautiful tree on my street and the neighbors are all out here in tears, and we want the Planet to stop the buzz saws.”
“There are some really nasty-smelling barrels that someone dumped on the corner and they kind of look toxic, so can you figure out how to get rid of them?”
This last request to the Daily Planet newsroom phone was actually solvable. Nabil Al-Hadithy in the city’s toxics department was able to arrange to have the barrels removed. Some calls resulted in news stories, more often a kind of counseling session ensued, with advice offered on other groups to turn to for help. The calls produced a snapshot of a city and its residents, the fires and accidents, the outrage and, frequently enough, the comic and the absurd.
I have sat at the front desk in the newsroom of the Daily Planet for seven-plus years, often wishing I had kept a record of the phone calls and visitors we had, as it would have been fodder for a great soap opera. But I didn’t—though I did manage to be entertained.
We had some nasty phone calls, too. If you are a regular Planet reader, and seen the vitriol in the letters section, or an advertiser who has been subjected to it, I am sorry. I got the same stuff at the front desk. I wish we could find a way toward peace in the Middle East, but the hate, from one side in particular, that I have listened to, has soured me on the subject.
But within our little space of an office, we had a wonderful life. We made some great friends (we miss the woman who came by with sweet potato pies), and celebrated each other’s achievements, even though Justin won the most. We celebrated marriages. We had children (Production Manager Ken was first with Lauren, then Michael with Daisy). We won awards, we were in the news, we hosted staff from other media (once a local TV crew needed a restroom); we celebrated with another crew when Obama won the election and they interviewed our neighbor Don at the barber shop. We mourned the death of friends: Fred Lupke, Denise Brown, Mr. Sugimoto and his wife Kay, Al Winslow and others.
We had a home. We brought in food for each other, and Joanie, from our circulation department, was especially wonderful for bringing us fresh fruit. We had a note over the sink admonishing folks to wash their own dishes, and we had a particularly difficult time with a mouse that terrorized some of us, but was acceptable to others. Sometimes we didn’t like one other, and sometimes we had major disagreements. We also laughed a lot. We were a family.
The garden flourished under the attentive care of our landlord, Mr. Sugimoto. And after that kind and gentle man passed on, Andy Liu and Mark Lilios helped us continue with the garden, with beans and tomatoes galore, kale (which last summer fed the office in the form of kale quiches for weeks), cabbages and even some weird squashes, which we never actually harvested. We raised three puppies under the front desk. Our children and grandchildren, passed in and out of the office, drawing for us on our endless supply of paper to be recycled, and we always hung their artwork prominently.
We survived the years of Bush and Fox news, and many of their egregious errors ended up on our wall of shame and fame, a partition covered with news clippings, and photographs, in the newsroom, which always entertained our visitors.
We had some great parties, with all the usual suspects in attendance, and several luminaries who graced our doorstep and our pages, and to whom I am so grateful for their friendship, especially Peter Selz, Peter and Annette, and Arthur Blaustein.
I apologize to the many people who called with really serious problems that we were not able to investigate, or to help you with. Unfortunately, this will get worse as community newspapers die off. To whom do you turn to when the city will not respond?
I am very sad to leave this front desk, my colleagues, and my work here. The Planet will continue to publish online, and I hope you continue to send in letters and commentaries. It is only with an informed public that democracy will survive.
Thank you all.