The other day I wandered into my local watering hole, propped an elbow on the bar and muttered, ‘the usual.’ Moments later I peered down into the depths of my drink, admiring the frothy cream contrasting with the pretty blue of the ceramic cup and knew this wasn’t the bar of my youthful dreams.
Social mores and trends change, and one of the biggest has been the way we approach drinking alcohol. I was brought up on industry tales of hard-drinking newspapermen who could pound down shot after shot, all the while hammering out faultless prose on their old manual typewriters, or focusing their cameras without missing an image. The truth was that the stereotype often held – well, maybe aside from the faultless prose, but that was what editors were for.
My first night at my first newspaper job I was interrupted from my darkroom work by a veteran reporter, who took me for an initiation drink. I ended up crawling back to the darkroom at 6 a.m. to finish my printing before the day shift and the bosses arrived.
I later spent a summer as a darkroom assistant, with unofficial chores that included going up to the cafeteria to pick up extra large cups of ice so the staff photographers working the night shift could cool down their spirits-and-mixer combinations. The empty bottles were tossed behind the drawers under the vast enlarger counters in the darkroom.
Legend has it that when they finally closed the darkrooms and ushered in the digital era, the photographers organized a secret night-time cleanup. Apparently, many, many garbage bags were needed for the empties accumulated over the years.
This was at a time when the Vancouver Press Club thrived. It was located very conveniently across from the Granville Street building that housed not only the Sun and Province newsrooms, but all other aspects of production, including the printing press.
That led to scenes such as one time when two writers, who were not overly fond of each other, wound up in an old-fashioned scrap in the newsroom. One man apparently pinned the other on his back on a desk, whacking him with the receiver from an old (and heavy) rotary phone – meanwhile the other combatant tried to push his rival’s head onto the spike used for message sheets.
I also worked for one Alberta daily where every Monday the publisher would trundle out a drinks cart and serve a beverage or two of your choice to the assembled staff.
Those days are long gone.
The suggestion of alcohol on one’s breath after a midday lunch would raise eyebrows in most newsrooms (and truth be told in most businesses) these days.
Which is why I am surprised to realize that my dream of one day hanging around a dive bar called something like The Gritty Shot and complaining to a bartender named Woody or Peg Leg about my life has come true in a certain way.
It’s just that now my local is a café and the bartender is a barista. I pop into Street Level Espresso where Ken (the owner/coffee master) will cast a speculative eye across the counter before serving up an espresso (to stay) or an Americano (to go). We’ll chat about photography and cameras (Ken’s an accomplished lensman, among other things) or the world in general. It’s what he does with most regulars.
When we leave we’re brighter-eyed than when we entered the drinking establishment which, no matter how fondly we view the past, was not usually the case in the old days.
Don Denton is photo supervisor for Black Press South Island.