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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

A honey-do list awaits, but you aren't rid of me yet

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Steve Otto's column on Sunday, July 13, will be his final offering as a full-time columnist following a remarkable 45-year run at what he calls “Mother Trib.” But Steve won't disappear from these pages. Rather than his current schedule of four columns a week, he will transition into a freelance role in which he will write once or twice weekly. Steve will continue to keep his finger on the pulse of the Big Guava for all of us, and for that we are grateful.

Well, the dog days of summer are here, the Rays are in last place, people are thrilled with the way the government is working and gas is headed to four bucks a gallon, so I suppose it's time to pack up and head off to the old columnist's home next week having solved the problems of the world.

In my case, that's where the Frau and her “honey-do” list is waiting.

It isn't quite the way I imagined it. I figured I would go out with a blaze of Pulitzer prizes and a fireworks show on the Bayshore, but the truth is it's almost certainly time for some fresh blood to fire things up around here.

The editor has asked me to come back after a month or so of thinking about life and do a couple of columns a week, so you're not quite rid of me.

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Midway through my 45th year at the Type and Gripe factory, I've covered about everything I wanted to say and possibly repeated myself a time or two. And I certainly never intended to stay this long. My mom still is waiting for me to get a real job. But you all know how it is.

All around you things are changing, but you pretend not to notice.

One day you're sitting in a newsroom downtown with no carpeting on the floor and a cloud of cigarette smoke hovering beneath the ceiling.

Black portable typewriters are scattered around the room on steel desks. Next to them are big paper reams and glue pots to affix the paper copy as it rolls out of your typewriter. Somewhere nearby is the chatter from the wire service machines. They never stop, endlessly spitting up everything from the world news to the winning horses at the race track.

The newsroom is made up almost exclusively of men, all wearing white shirts and ties, except for the copy boys carrying stories ripped off the wire machines or stuffing papers into pneumatic tubes to shoot down to the composing room, where stories will be set into type on weird-looking linotype machines.

The composing room is a loud, dark, hellish place of grease and hot lead. Men set type into cases backward while I stand there pretending to understand what they're doing. I love this place.

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You almost don't notice as, over time, the typewriters are replaced by electric typewriters, then word processors and finally desktop computers.

The staff changes as well. Women begin taking on positions that are not just supporting “the women's page” and men and women of color join in. The composing room disappears, a victim of technologies that allow half a dozen men to do the work once done by hundreds.

The result, of course, is the articles in the paper begin to reflect a more diverse community and we tell a more complete story of what is happening.

Obviously the changes continue as we try to offer up a continuing cycle of balanced news in a country that appears more divided than ever. We still do this better than anyone else and throw in some comics and even a crossword puzzle.

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I'm going to miss being in the middle of all of this in a world that gets more difficult to comprehend every day.

So I hope you'll understand this week if I ramble on a little bit about these last four decades and dig out a few memories of the people and times we've shared.

You know, one of the great things about Mother Trib is that she always has been a blue-collar paper in a blue-collar town.

It's a city of neighborhoods and a place where the politics are as hot as the buttered Cuban toast and cafe con leche down at the West Tampa Sandwich Shop or two dozen other morning haunts.

We know our neighbors and our politicians. I love going down to Pach's Place on Bay to Bay just off the Bayshore. You've got a better chance of catching a city councilman or a school board candidate at this hole-in-the-wall place than downtown.

We're losing a lot of that as the city and the county continue to spread out and big-money developers move in, swallowing up access to elected leaders.

But I'm rambling, and I'd like to continue on Monday as I'm cleaning out the desk this week, trying to decide which memories to trash and which to lug home.

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