Pushing through the swinging doors I was fully prepared for a feeling of familiarity. It was the euphoria that caught me by surprise.
Was it the smell or the sound that conjured up such profoundly happy memories for me? Or was it what I saw as I walked into the cavernous space? I suspect it was a chorus of all three sensory messages whispering ‘you’ve been here before. And it’s good to be back’.
A week ago, I drove across Greater Toronto in search of a nondescript building in an industrial neighbourhood. I was on my way to Scarborough, a thought that didn’t exactly thrill me. I live and work in west Toronto; Scarborough is on the east side of this vast and congested city.
To reach my destination I had to drive on Highway 401, a journey that always leaves me feeling a little apprehensive. It’s a fast and furious highway and you never know what you’ll encounter, even at 10 a.m. on a weekday.
I punched the Scarborough address into my GPS and prepared for a white-knuckle drive. Instead, I sailed easily across the city, encountered no accidents, no road rage, just sunshine and steady traffic.
I was on my way to visit a printing shop, where a colleague and I would be signing off on an important work project, my organization’s annual report. All the writing, editing and designing was complete. Our computerized efforts finished.
Now the report was ready to be mass-produced, to materialize as buckets of ink were pressed into reams of paper. We needed a printing press to finish the project.
I could have simply checked page proofs in the company boardroom, but when our printer invited me to tour the pressroom, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve been near a printing press. I was curious to see how things had changed.
What surprised me was how much has remained the same, or at least, how much familiarity remained, even though printing presses are digitally and technologically advancing, as is the case with so many other things in our world.
It was the smell that first triggered my euphoria. It’s hard to describe the smell of ink on paper, especially when it’s being freshly printed. Lift a newspaper to your nose and you’ll get a whiff of what I’m talking about – hints of softwood fibres overlaid with pungent solvent. It’s not exactly fine wine, but it’s evocative all the same.
When I first began my career as a newspaper reporter, way back in 1981 working summers at the Corner Brook Western Star, I loved an excuse to step into the bowels of the building, the room housing the printing presses.
You could never stay long there, especially if the presses were running. But even a few minutes in that space was exciting, the whirring presses so loud the pressmen always wore industrial earmuffs. And yes, they were always men, usually named Eddie. I have no idea why.
Somehow, being allowed to stand next to the presses told me I’d arrived, that I truly must be a newspaper reporter. Even more, being there told me I belonged. Not just anyone could stand in the presence of the presses as they spit out the daily news. I felt privileged.
Those feelings of privilege, of belonging, of being in exactly the right place, all surfaced for me last week as I inhaled the heady smell of ink; as I listened to the swoosh of paper running through great wheels; as I moved through the maze of paper stacks, rising like columns all over the pressroom floor.
I haven’t worked inside a newspaper office for 10 years. I send this column weekly through the magic of cyberspace, happy that it lives in the digital world but also that it lands in the material one.
I like the idea that these words will flow through a river of ink and eventually be caught on paper. I like the idea of an imprint, of something being pressed into being.
We move on in life, and I doubt I will ever go back to working as a newspaper reporter or editor. But standing in that Scarborough pressroom last week, thousands of miles away from the pressrooms of my newspaper career, I felt profoundly grateful.
I once worked among printing presses. They’ve imprinted themselves on my memory. It was good to go back.
This blog appears in real ink and on real newsprint every Friday as a column in the Moncton Times & Transcript. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.