Office space

By Dan Dunkle | Oct 04, 2012

This happens about 10 times per day.

From somewhere above my head here on the fourth floor of the Breakwater Marketplace, comes a drumming, sort of like a heavy hail. This moves from behind me to before me. If I run to my office door and peer across to the windows in Ken's office, I can see a phalanx of white gulls launching off the building, over the parking lot and to the harbor.

Off by the back door to the building, white feathers are festooned all over the ground, hugging the walls. It looks exactly as if a white bird just exploded there.

The pitter-patter of webbed feet is one of the only things to remind me most of the time that I'm still in Rockland, Maine and not some big city.

This is the first time in my professional career that I have used an elevator almost daily in the building where I work.

There's a kind of fun sense of danger to elevators. They're always marked with certificates of inspection, strict weight limits. There's that little button that says "alarm" and you just want to push it to see what happens. Under that, a door with phone in it in case you're trapped inside. The message is, "you might get trapped inside."

My kids love to push the buttons and make them light up. That's half the fun of an elevator right there.

Every morning Christine and I get on the elevator with other people. Some of them are going to mysterious third floor offices and I guess about their lives based on their bags of papers and their sneakers. Other times we ride up with the college people headed to URock on the fourth floor.

It's about 50/50 whether I say "hi" to someone on the elevator. I banter at most stores and businesses, with cashiers and wait staff. On the elevator this morning a woman looked very focused as she stared at the numbers of the advancing floors. I decided not to interrupt her thoughts.

Other times I've talked to people all the way up or all the way down. You have to time small talk just right on an elevator. Never start a joke that will take so long the person is obliged to wait for you to finish after reaching his floor. That won't do at all.

I know I should take the stairs. When I first started working in the building I did so more often. However, when I'm dressed for work, I hate arriving at the top stair sweating and wheezing, completely out of breath. It doesn't create much of an impression on anyone I have to talk to for the next few minutes. Every time I ascend the old-fashioned way, I feel like I'm carrying a backpack loaded with every Oreo I have ever eaten.

The view from the newsroom atop Rockland is beautiful. We can see the breakwater with its little lighthouse, the sailboats and the shoreline.

We also can see the poor pitiful smokers huddled in the corner at the very edge of the parking lot. I wonder how far smokers will eventually be forced to withdraw for their indulgence. They stand in the rain and wind and sunshine, alone and in groups, tugging on coffin nails. At least they get some exercise walking out to their little spot.

Once they were the kings, allowed to smoke in their offices, inflicting their fumes on the asthmatics. Now they are the banished, pushed farther and farther out.

Eventually they will be huddled on a float out in the harbor, and then farther out until they are with the gamblers in the free frontier of international waters.

Another building clique has formed around an even more solitary activity. On the fourth floor, people congregate in the hall over the course of the day, trying to have private conversations on their cell phones.

There are a lot of young people from the university, sitting with their feet up on the bench, earbuds perma-bonded to their heads, blocking out any ambassadors from the older generations, thumbs fluttering over their phones like hummingbird wings. Their eyes remain focused on the siren's white glow of their phone screens.

My 11-year-old's face gets a similar distant look when he's watching iCarly or playing "Force Unleashed."

Some of our reporters sit out there too, by the elevator, scribbling notes. Why they don't use their desks is a mystery.

One of the things that's nice about this new big building is that we share it with others, giving a sense of community.

This environment is a far cry from what I was used to before, our little office by the jail and the dump. It used to be fun giving people directions. It differs too from the office I started my career in on the Rockland waterfront, where the chamber of commerce and police station are now. In those days the presses were just downstairs. Out back we used to do paste up on tipped glass light tables. I still have a blue pencil in my desk as a reminder of those times, when we used them to mark corrections that wouldn't show up in the final printed paper.

It differs too from the smaller Republican Journal office I worked in for four years, which became something of a clubhouse for rowdy reporters. Every nook and corner was filled with papers and books and magazines and old paperclips and all manner of office flotsam.

There are some pack rats in the company still (newspapers draw them like moths to the flame) who would make this new office space similarly cluttered, while the clean and neat among us fight valiantly to maintain.

We now work out of the most beautiful newsroom I've ever known with the best view, and bringing my kids up to the office, I feel like this is a big deal.

And when I look out the window and see the gulls perched on the corner of the roof, I always remember we've come a long way, but the job remains the same.

Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife and two children. Email him at ddunkle@courierpublicationsllc.com or follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.

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