Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obsolete Occupations

This could be a great jumping-off point for a new story, or just for a freewrite: NPR's interactive post on Obsolete Occupations.

It's got interesting info on the obvious ones, like milk man and elevator operator. (For instance, I had no idea elevator operators had to "land" the cab exactly at the right spot to be level with the floor. Or that telephone operators were originally teenage boys, but they played too many pranks and so the companies began hiring women.) And then there are ones you might not think of, like pinsetter: the person who manually reset pins at a bowling alley. Talk about a boring job.

Plus you can listen to clips of people talking about the jobs. Very cool.

Less than 10 years ago, when I was working at my college newspaper, we used to design the newspaper pages on the computer, print them out and tape them onto large lined broadsheets. Sometimes we'd print out individual stories and tape them on as we got them. The ads would be printed out by the business staff and taped onto the broadsheet pages, and then the pages would be driven by our editor to the large local newspaper to be scanned and printed. My senior year, we finally gained the capability of just making PDFs of all the pages and e-mailing them to the printer. Easy peasy.

(not my job but close to it)

But before we belatedly entered the 21st century, I remember having to perform "surgery" on prepress pages all the time. If the copy editor found one tiny mistake, maybe a wrong letter or word, after the articles were already taped to the broadsheets, one of us would carefully cut it out with an exacto-type knife, print out a new word or letter, and tape it on the page in exactly the same spot.

It seems so archaic now, but I swear we were still doing that only about seven years ago. What about you? Ever performed a now-obsolete job? Or written about a character who has?


Dick Hannah said...

What a fabulous post....thanks so much. Along the same lines (if they are diverging lines) I have a series of posts on Great or Intriguing First Lines at my blog about writing and publishing...
I'd love to know what you think.

Dick Hannah said...

oh...whoops, I forgot to answer your question. I was helping my 94 year old grandmother with her memoirs, she has lived in Houston all her life, which makes for some interesting memories. Despite that, I created a character based on her recollections. Kinda prosaic, but Fuller Brush Man detective. She went on to such a degree about trustworthy and open all of the families were to the Fuller Brush Man. The story starts with the man coming over for a sales call and finding the occupant dead. It's his connection to the neighborhood, and the stories he has heard from all of those involved that helps him solve the mystery. Takes place in the South, circa 1930's, natch.

Veronica Barton-Dean said...

I haven't but I've known many people who have.