By GORDON GLANTZ
From factory workers to steelworkers to those who worked in big city high rises, the shocking sight of a place where you spent the large part of your work life go from vacant to a state of disrepair to being reduced to rubble is far from unique.
It is an American as Hollywood insulting out intelligence with reboots of old movies and television shows.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have my own rather bittersweet feelings about the old Times Herald building at Main and Markley streets in Norristown suffering the same fate for the alleged sake of gentrification.
The last time I was there, in mid-April of 2013, I was being escorted to my car. Nearly eighteen years of service, and that was that.
The truth was this: I didn’t need an escort. If I believed more strongly in running instead of walking, I would have ran to my car. It was a mercy firing.
It was a Thursday, and my blood pressure had been so dangerously high all that week — from work-related stress — that my doctor had me checking it three times a day and set me up with a counselor to work it out (if it was good enough for Tony Soprano …).
When I woke up Friday, my BP was perfectly normal 117/94. I still went to the counselor, but we talked about my “mother” issues after she pretty much surmised my work scenario was toxic and I needed the change,
Since then, as I’ve gone from seeing my daughter, Sofia, 15 minutes a day to 15 hours a day, I’ve had the happiest years — Kindergarten though 8th grade for her — of my life.
But that is not to downgrade my time at The Times Herald. I made some lifelong friends — Valerie Newitt, Judy Baca, Kelly Devine, Katie O’Conor-Kelly, Jack Kerwin, Bill Schneider and many others (including people in the community I met through being there so long) — and have stories that no one sober would dare believe.
Like I said, bittersweet.
Even while surrounded by co-workers who felt eternally trapped and miserable, there was a point in my tenure there when I would have been wholly satisfied to retire in that place. There were no daggers in my desk drawers to plunge into anyone’s back with the desire to move up some imaginary corporate ladder. In the newsroom, the same newsroom where I had vicious seizure in 2005 and where Sofia took her first steps in 2009, is where I wanted to be.
They say that ignorance is bliss. And I was probably too blissful — and too comfortable — for my own good.
The only thing that changed was the work environment, where it went from feeling like a family akin to the Waltons (I craved that after my unique childhood) to one where a rabid pack of Millennials, some of whom I had brought in as interns and then hired, operated under the misguided belief that they could make their own candle shine brighter by blowing out mine.
I always wanted to be loved. Since that is not an easy juggling act for one in middle management, I would have settled for being liked. Being despised tore at my insides.
Maybe it was just the circumstances of becoming too understaffed to operate seven days a week, and maybe I had just overstayed my welcome in 18 years.
Even though it all left me with a touch of PTSD, I still would not have changed a thing in the big rose-colored picture.
Under the wrecking ball’s wrath, there are no victims except the generation of suddenly homeless rats that have long-since inhabited the place. If they could tell tales, that of Gordon Glantz would be a quite a chapter in and of itself.
It is not an exaggeration that my blood, sweat and tears were left there when I was escorted out.
Maybe only the rats in the dank bowels realized it, but that’s OK. They are more intelligent animals than people know.
Am I making too much out of my impact there? Maybe.
I mean, I was no Red McCarthy, the sports editor for eons, but I likely won more journalism awards than anyone in the history of the joint (I also probably entered more contests, too, but you got to be in it to win it, right?).
I also hosted my own cable access current events show and had 14.5 minutes of fame on the mainstream media circuit after a gruesome homicide in Upper Merion.
Just during my 18-year tenure, there were those who came and went at the speed of a staff of a fast food restaurant and likely barely remember ever even working there on their road to somewhere else.
That wasn’t me, though.
Heck, at places like Eve’s Lunch or the annual Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame banquet, people will come up to me and complain about not getting their paper delivered.
I have to politely tell them I don’t work there anymore, and haven’t since that fateful day in 2013.
When we toured Mount St. Joseph Academy (Sofia got a scholarship, not that I’m bragging), a teacher from the Jeffersonville area said: “Wait, you’re Gordon Glantz? Really? We love Gordon Glantz!”
She, too, didn’t realize I wasn’t there anymore. And this was like a month ago (she politely declined my offer for an autograph).
I remember being at the bank, and also serving a sentence waiting for the wife to shop at the Dollar Store in East Norriton, and having someone ask this question: “Didn’t you used to be Gordon Glantz?”
As I am prone to do, I wrote a dour woe-is-me song about the experiences called “Used To Be Me.”
Actually, as songwriting has morphed into my main thing, one theme has been the wrestling match within American souls between defining themselves by who they are (as parents, citizens and civil human beings) and what they are (based on what war they might have fought in, and for which branch of the military, or what they did for a living and where).
Having served both of those masters in my lifetime, my bittersweet feelings about the building coming down now make sense in context.
It has been a long, strange trip.
When I got there in May of 1995, Scotty had beamed me down to the surface of the planet Utopia. I had spent 7 years at a chain of low-paying weeklies – Montgomery Newspapers – and was already worn to a nub from my sports stories running up to a week after an event.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the opportunity given to me at that first real journalism job, as it gave me a chance to iron out some seriously rough edges to my writing.
Because I was often writing game stories that were running way after the fact, and after they had already been reported in other papers (there used to be healthy amount back then), I developed a way to turn a game story into more of a feature that would be still be an interesting read.
I had put in the work, too, on other levels. Example: I would cover football games on Friday nights and drive all the back to a dark Fort Washington office (also long-since vacant) and put myself on the same deadline that I knew writers at daily papers were on.
When I first got to the Herald, there was a lot of consternation – and turnover – because of a change in ownership about a year before. I was always kind of caught in the middle of all that. It was like being born too late to be a baby boomer but too soon for Generation X.
At the time, all the desks in the newsroom were still filled with reporters and editors. People weren’t happy with their salaries, but we were at full staff. There were multiple reporters at the courthouse, too. In sports, there were seven of us for six desks. As the “rookie,” I sometimes had to get up and move two or three times per shift.
In many ways, the Herald was more antiquated than my previous employer. It didn’t have voice mail – something I had to put atop the bargaining wish list as unit chair when it was clear we weren’t getting more than a pittance of a raise – and I had taken my life in my hands multiple times by trying to enter through the arcane revolving door at the front entrance (it became safer ascending and descending from the steep and rickety side fire escape).
But I covered all the premium scholastic beats – football, boys’ basketball (including PW winning the state title in Hershey), baseball and American Legion baseball in the summer.
I eventually had the chance to cover the 76ers and then college hoops, both of which included going on the road.
Professionally, after seven years of feeling like a second class citizen, I was like Albert in Wonderland.
I got married while I was there, and many of the attendees at my bachelor party – and wedding — were co-workers.
The thing was, turnover was growing at a more rapid rate, too. At one point, the news reporters had already left or had turned in their two-weeks notice. At the same time, my union activities pretty much had me blacklisted from attaining management status, even after serving as interim sports editor – with no raise – for a period of close to a year.
It was time for a change, but we already bought a house in Blue Bell and I couldn’t just up and move (even after being advised that it would be in the best interests of my career).
I had an epiphany, and went into the office of then-editor Mike Morsch (still a good friend to this day). I offered to come over to the dark side – i.e. newsroom – but only as the crime reporter. I wanted no parts of any township/borough meetings, etc.
He was cool with the proposal and, just like that, I had made a sudden gear shift.
A lot was different, obviously. It was real life, with real life consequences, but I had connected with most of the cops the same way I did with coaches.
Once you are on a first-name basis, and can be trusted, you can be a more cerebral cop reporter (you don’t need to be an ambulance-chasing covering accidents and fires catching stories from the scanner). I worked closely with detectives on larger cases and had my share of scoops.
The managing editor, a vastly overqualified dude named Justin Williams, was leaving. I was talking in the newsroom with fellow reporter – and partner in crime – Michelle Mowad about who would replace Justin.
“Whoever it is, I hope they aren’t an asshole,” one of us said, as we watched candidates come and go for interviews.
Hearing us from across the room, Cheryl Rodgers – then the city editor and now still “it” as the paper functions virtually – chimed in.
“Whoever it is better not think they are my boss,” she said.
As soon as we got done laughing, I saw Justin at my desk. He said Stan Huskey, Mike Morsch’s replacement as executive editor, wanted to see me.
I figured someone was in trouble (not naming names, but it was usually the same person) and he wanted to tell me about it, since I was the “union guy.”
Lo and behold, Stan asked if I was interested in the managing editor’s job.
I’m sure he thought I would jump at it, but I needed some time.
We were in the middle of contract talks, and I didn’t want to seem like Benedict Arnold.
However, everyone involved with the Newspaper Guild could not have been more encouraging, if not flat-out happy for me, as it seemed I was suddenly off the blacklist.
I was cleared for takeoff on the home front as well, so I told Stan I was willing to proceed.
What came next was the best run of my work life.
Followed by the worst.
It was like a thrilling roller-coaster ride that, unfortunately, leaves you nauseated at the tail end.
Like I said, bittersweet.
Ask the rats — as they scurry — if you don’t believe me.