Monitor writers celebrate ‘unique’ moments
From crawling on the carpet with Ronald Reagan to sipping tea with the Che Guevara of Afghanistan, former staffers recount stories as the Monitor transitions to new formats.
(Page 11 of 13)
– Robert HarbisonSkip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
MISSING THE MARIACHIS
For some reason, a stringer in the Middle East wasn’t able to file via Telex – this was during the Lebanese civil war. Phone connections to him were not reliable at that stage, but the system was that he would call to dictate his story, and someone in the office cradled the telephone receiver on a shoulder and typed it out on a clackety old Underwood as fast as possible.
One day while Bill Blakemore was dictating his story to me, I upset a whole cup of coffee on my desk. I must have yelped, but I didn’t dare stop typing – the phone line would be disconnected if there was a long pause in the conversation. So I inched my typewriter stand and chair away from the desk and just kept typing. We must have had a little time before deadline, otherwise someone would have been standing near me ready to grab each take of the story as soon as they could. No one in my department noticed my predicament, but Peter Tonge, passing on his way to his desk in the next department, came over and slapped some old newsprint on the puddle spreading across my desk.
Then there was the time in the mid-1980s when Dennis Volman was our Latin America correspondent. He was writing a series on Mexican politics and the possibility that the long-dominant PRI might lose its lock on power in the next election. Getting a series together took a lot of time, and one editor stayed late to work through some changes with Dennis. Again this was done by phone. They had made a good start when suddenly the line went blank – not dead – just blank. The editor hadn’t heard a click. There was simply nothing. After shouting, “Dennis, are you there?” for what felt like five minutes, she hung up and waited for him to call me back. No phone call. Finally the editor went home. When he called in the next Sunday or Monday, he explained that he had hung the phone out the window so the editor could hear the mariachi band that was playing in the courtyard.
– Mary (Schaaf) Woolf
Overseas correspondents transmitted stories and accompanying messages by Telex, paying by the word. To economize, notes to the editors were composed in an abbreviated lingua franca known as “cablese,” a forerunner of today’s IMers. Back in Boston, we competed to see who could craft the most descriptive return cables or “frontings” (a synopsis of the main stories appearing in the next day’s paper) in this odd, condensed language, always closing with an “allbest.”
Even personal communications had to be sent via Telex. Thus there were
requests for roach powder from David Willis in Moscow, and never-ending Saab
stories from Gary Thatcher, his replacement there, who frequently drove to Finland for spare automobile parts.