Friday, January 25, 2013

2000 Memories

In 1953, it was good for a laugh
by Ken Neal
The Tulsa World
January 2, 2000

Early in 1953, I walked into the Tulsa World newsroom to stay, off and on, for 47 years, more or less. It was but an eye-blink ago.

There are many memories of the old newsroom of those days; that is fortunate because it exists today only in memory. Nothing, except the hard walls of the third floor of the World Building, remains of that newsroom.

And what a newsroom it was. For a high school newspaper editor of 17, the World was big time, never mind that the job I sought was the absolute bottom level of the newspaper hierarchy with a starting salary of $27.50 per week.

I was there because my high school journalism teacher and close friend, the late John R. Roberson, was a University of Missouri classmate of the late Ed Johnson, head of the department of journalism at the University of Tulsa and the man who routed TU students into part-time jobs at the World. They wanted to be sure I attended TU the following fall.

I was hired on the spot, not because of any special talent, but because the World was desperate for a copy boy and Ed Johnson had sent me.

I still lay claim to being the best copy boy in Tulsa World history, although there are those who dispute that and still others who would observe that that might have been the last job at which I was the very best. There are not as many of them as there once were, however.

This is not a story of my beginnings on the Tulsa World as such, but about a conversation on that night nearly 47 years ago that I have thought about many times as the end of the century drew near.

Lee Erhard was managing editor. Sid Steen was city editor. Both are gone now. In the cramped little newsroom, they sat at adjoining linoleum-topped desks, only a loud conversation apart in the midst of clacking typewriters, the chatter of teletypes and the cackle of the police radio.
I filled out a small questionnaire at Erhard's desk. I have never known exactly why, but there was a question asking what year I would be 65.

Having learned to cipher at Sand Springs high school, I calculated that year to be 2000.

Erhard looked through the information on the card and honed in on the year 2000.

"Sid, do you know when this boy will be 65? The year 2000."

Sid -- and everyone within earshot -- laughed, probably because I was so young and because 2000 seemed so far off. It certainly seemed a long time away to me.

I was very young. And for many years, I was the youngest ever to hold whatever job I was on at the World. I put this in to remind the young whippersnappers in the newsroom that yes, by gosh, I really was young once.

So 2000 is here and I will indeed celebrate my 65th birthday this year. As anyone of senior years will tell you, it is quite a shock to reach that milestone, particularly when your self-image is of a person much younger.

It is not particularly profound to note that time flies; or that all people ultimately age; that if you are lucky you reach old age. For the record, I plan to some day grow old here at the Tulsa World.

There is a point to this tale, however, and it is both an observation and an admonition. The day that is so far off in the future that it seems it can never arrive does arrive. And the years of individuals are short. When we are young, 20 years seems an eternity; after all, we have an eternity to live. But when we are older, (sounds a lot better than old) 20 years is quite a different period of time.

With aging, perspective changes. That's why planning for 25, even 50 years into the future for Tulsa and Oklahoma does not seem impractical; that's why public leaders who can't see past the next election appear particularly shortsighted.

That's why it is reasonable to set programs and reforms in motion that will be years in bearing fruit. Age knows that the distant future will be here before you know it.

Ah, 2000, the 21st century. Why only yesterday, Lee and Sid and I were laughing because it seemed so far away.

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