I mean, come on, technically, it’s just an old building and not even that old.
It is also considered somewhat of a rat trap and (oh) it isn’t even being torn down.
So, it’s not like they’re taking a wrecking ball to Ebbets Field.
Yet, I spent many hours getting “lost” in that old haunt on Spring Street, home of the Los Angeles Times for decades, but not the nostalgia-type lost.
I mean lost as in literally lost.
A few excursions through the LAT catacombs were like that scene in “This is Spinal Tap,” where the boys can’t find the stage from the dressing room.
Final visitation services for the L.A. Times building, open to current and former employees, drew 700-plus Thursday night.
I took my 85-year-old father, an L.A. Times truck driver from 1955 through 1993, on a tour of the third-floor editorial department. I wanted to show him the “old” sports department where I used to work.
We got off the elevator, made a wrong turn and suddenly found ourselves locked in a stairwell. I pounded on a door before we were rescued. The look in my dad’s eyes said it all: “You sure you worked here?”
I swear I did.
Dad got here in 1955 and I joined him in 1976 after he got me a job loading papers, three weeks after my high school graduation.
He logged 38 years before retiring in 1993 and I eventually would put in 40 years on the payroll. Five of those years (1976-81) were in the transportation department.
After getting freed from the stairwell, we eventually stood in the boiler room of the old sports department, before they moved us to some antiseptic ward down the hall.
The old department, though, was the real carpet-stained hub, where legends roamed and typewriters clacked. The place where Jim Murray posed with us for pictures after he won the Pulitzer.
I showed dad sports editor Bill Dwyre’s old corner office and pointed to the cubicle where I was sitting, 10 feet outside that office, in October of 1995.
That was the day Gene Wojciechowski, our national college football and basketball writer, abruptly announced he was leaving for the Chicago Tribune.
Dwyre put out a terse statement on the transaction—Dwyre was pissed. I think Geno still keeps a copy of his send-off notice pasted to his mirror: “Gene Wojciechowski has accepted a job with the Chicago Tribune. His last day is Thursday.”
No “thank you,” or “we wish him well.” Dwyre’s note was colder than a Norwegian pickled herring, but then he quickly pivoted to me.
Mr. Dwyre motioned me in his office, told me I was the new college football/basketball writer and promptly redirected my career in ways I would be forever grateful.
My strongest ties to the physical L.A. Times building, however, were not in the third-floor sports department. I spent about three years of my writing career in hotel rooms and made only occasional forays into the office.
My visceral connection to the building will always be two floors down, where a million papers a day once got loaded by guys like me and put into trucks driven by guys like my dad.
For five years, I averaged about three days a week on the docks (plus a Sunday shift at the home shed on Alameda).
Sports writing deadline was nothing compared to getting knocked off the docks by a bundle in the high-whirl middle of a million-paper press run. Dispatchers screaming as papers jammed on conveyor belts and\or tumbled down from the spiraled shoots descending from the mail room.
Never has my heart pounded harder than my first day of work, July of 1976. I was freaking scared to death. I remember thinking I could never learn the formula chart over each chute that explained how to stack a load of 375 papers in eight rows or 475 papers in 11 rows.
The first few days I carpooled into work with my dad, who parked at the home shed on Alameda. One night I was supposed to catch the last shuttle from downtown after my shift ended.
I missed the shuttle. It was about 11 p.m. by then and I panicked then, mindlessly, sprinted down Spring Street, turned left on Fourth and then ran like a bolt (Usain) before crossing the finish line to home shed safety.
But that was nothing compared to my first night as a “Rider,” where they assign a loader to accompany a driver into the more dangerous drop-offs in town.
But I eventually got the hang of it and became, I would say, a pretty good loader with excellent slide technique and a back kick to keep the bundles in place.
The loading dock, not the sports department, was my home in the building. It was where I met friends from all colors and walks of life. I remember one day a loader didn’t show up for work and we were told the guy took PCP, walked into the ocean and disappeared.
One of us morbidly wondered: “What shifts did he have?”
I saw drug deals made in trucks:
“Want to by some hash?”
I did my college homework during press-run lulls. The press guys liked to drink at Anthony’s for a few hours before cranking out a million papers in two hours. That’s how you get knocked off the truck.
I loved my job as a loader even as I studied for a career in journalism.
My memories of the LAT building are me, in a truck, singing Beach Boys songs (Sloop John B) with Jerry Hazuda. Or sneaking out for Tommy’s hamburger runs with Tom Conger, a brilliant guy who really, really loved the band YES. And hearing Mark Kaspar, one of the funniest guys I ever knew, tell a joke. These were my running mates. Raymond Delgado, Dale Hoverman and the Bragg brothers.
My boys protected me, too, always mindful of my career path. After shifts we used to drink a beer or three in Joe’s Parking lot across the street. It’s funny. The post-shift adrenaline rush after loading a million papers is exactly the same as the feeling after filing a sports story on deadline.
The fellas in the parking lot would often pass around a joint but they wouldn’t let me do drugs. Seriously. “You’re going to be somebody,” they’d tell me.
How did they know?
It was fun Thursday night seeing everyone on the fifth and third floors, but my heart will always belong to the first.
What used to be the loading docks is now the cafeteria, which used to be on the 10th floor. That’s where, one day during my dinner break, the friendly Latina girl behind the counter, who always gave me extra mashed potatoes, also asked me to her senior prom at Roosevelt High School.
I reluctantly said yes, and showed up to her house, in the projects of Boyle Heights, wearing a white tuxedo. But that’s another story.
My dad visited the first-floor cafeteria once after he retired and said he sat in a seat that used to be Chute 7.
So, yeah, you know, technically, it was just a building.
And it’s not even being torn down.
So why am I torn up?