Susan Canfora: ‘A journey from deadlines to dust’

Daily Times

Current and past Daily Times employees gather on the mail dock after a final tour of the Carroll Street facility. From left, Todd Dudek, Gwenn Garland, Frank Gillis, Brian Shane, Liz Holland, Janice Von Paris, Laren Carmean, Erick Sahler, Amy Bush, Ben Penserga, Susan Parker, Carlos Dashiell, Laura Benedict-Sileo, James Fisher, Jessica Lattimore Scott, Kamlesh Desai, Jennifer Morris, Phyllis Maher, Susan Canfora and Norma Elliott. More than 750 million copies of the daily newspaper passed across that dock during the building’s 50 years of operation.

There was quite a reunion on Carroll Street last week.

Many of us who once worked in the old Daily Times building met to walk through the aging structure one last time before it’s razed and rebuilt by the current owner, Peninsula Regional Medical Center

If it was 30 years ago, as it was when Managing Editor Mel Toadvine hired me, and I was covering the gathering, the headline might be, “A sentimental journey from deadlines to dust.”

Deadlines abounded when I was there from 1986 through the 1990s, before being assigned to Ocean City.

Each and every day, paragraph by paragraph, we created a newspaper.

Many times, Mel stood beside me as I rushed to finish an article about a fire, or politician filing at the last minute, his fingers tapping impatiently on my desk. I quickly learned journalism isn’t for sissies.

As I headed for the Composing Room, somebody warned me to watch the soft spots as I walked, probably from the same water damage that loosened ceiling tiles that had fallen. There was Frank Gillis, who worked in advertising nearly 50 years, from the time he was 18, not looking any older, telling me the building was erected in 1958.

We made our way through the now dark rooms, cold and filled with PRMC items from typewriters to hospital beds to nightstands.

In the old Composing Room, the floors rose and rolled in some spots. In others, it nearly buckled under our feet.

Photographers Todd Dudek and Brice Stump, my longtime friends, and now, again, my co-workers at the Salisbury Independent, were there. Brice and I rounded the corner into the nook where we used to take quick breaks. A Diet Coke for him, cheese crackers for me and, always, laughter for us both.

In the Newsroom, there were comments like “I sat right there” and “remember the time when?” I headed to the far wall, near a window where I once sat, and thought about how busy that room once was.

Cubicles didn’t exist and desks were only inches apart. The Associated Press machine dinged and ground out fresh photos and updates, phones rang constantly, voices mixed and lifted into one drone we learned to tune out as we concentrated, typewriters were still in existence, stories written on the fly were banged out on keyboards and salty language flew without apology.

In those days, smokers lit up freely in the newsroom. Legendary editor John Bozman, who died a few years ago, was somewhere inside a cloud of smoke formed by two or three lit cigarettes balancing on the rim of his ashtray.

Several times a day he’d bellow to random reporters, “You ready to give birth to that story yet?”

Desks, some of them rickety, most with a drawer handle or two missing, were covered with narrow notebooks, scattered pens, keys, loose change, film canisters, phone numbers jotted on scraps of paper, half empty cups of stale vending machine coffee, maybe a plant that withered in its pot six months ago.

Neat desks are not the stuff news reporters are made of.

On the door of the Pressroom, I found an old metal sign mandating hearing protection be worn. It’s stained from dirty fingerprints and a splash of ink from the press that printed the millions of carefully chosen words we used to bring the latest news to readers. I pulled the sign off the door and took it home.

The years I spent in that building were happy. It was there that I got to know Greg Bassett, editor of the Independent, where we all worked night side, took holiday shifts, covered fires and accidents, talked to the police every day, wrote Sunday features, learned photography, mixed chemicals for the dark room, rolled film, loaded film, developed film.

The public was free to come in off the street, find a reporter, chat with editors, drop off a press release or wedding picture to be published, share a news tip.

Gains Hawkins, who handled public relations for Salisbury University at the time, brought us bagels once. Most days we grabbed something from a drive-through window or took a few minutes to walk across the street to the Junior Board at the hospital.

On busy days, I depended on my favorite Nekot peanut butter cookies. Somehow they helped me get the story.

Although, somebody from the old gang remembered, we could have missed the story the day former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his entourage arrived. A distracted news clerk Bonnie Kelley was concentrating on writing an obituary and, without really looking up, told the governor, “I’ll be with you in a minute, sir. Have a seat.”

As the tale goes, Schaefer obediently waited until a reporter, probably Brice, realized who it was and rushed to greet him.

The tour ended in the upper parking lot where we posed for pictures, hugged again, promised to stay in touch.

Norma Elliott talked about attending elementary school on that property, before the newspaper building was there. Roger Follebout, director of community relations at PRMC, promised to get us bricks as keepsakes after the building comes down.

In its day, that building was an important component of Downtown Salisbury, a hub of activity, a place everybody knew.

Many of us will always have a little soft spot in our hearts for it. I’ll be sorry to see it go.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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