Recycling the Rolodex

by admin | September 4, 2015 8:27 am

Thirty-three years ago last July I started writing a weekly column, a habit I have been unable to shake. I had just been hired as managing editor of The Rambler, a weekly newspaper in San Augustine in Deep East Texas. The only person I had to manage was myself, since I was the sole newsroom employee. At 26, that was plenty.

This was my first editor’s job (I would become editor and publisher six months later, with a staff of three — including me), so in order to stay on top of matters I bought a Rolodex with my own money at an office supply store in Nacogdoches. I quickly began filling the blank cards with names and phone numbers of sources — the mayor, county judge, fellow newspaper editors behind the Pine Curtain, suppliers and the new friends I made in that quirky little town.

In 1982, we produced the newspaper using typesetting machines that were sort-of computers. They had memory, though it was very limited. I wrote my stories on an electric typewriter. A part-time typesetter would then retype it. The stories would be outputted through a processor onto long galleys of type. Essentially it was a form of the photographic process. I would then paste up the paper using an Exacto knife and ruler, the galleys adhered to the page with wax.

A lot of funky machines went into putting out a newspaper, before the pages ever got out the door and up the road to Center to be printed. The Compugraphic Editwriter for ads and stories, the 7200 for writing headlines, the waxer, which one fed the galleys through to leave a coat of warm wax on the back side, proportion wheels, pica poles and such. Here is what we did not have in 1982: cell phones, digital cameras, electronic calendars, personal computers or even fax machines. And the Internet? Nope. We had cable television and a new channel — CNN — which brought 24-hour news, a novel concept then.

To some degree, all of these new-fangled items existed then, just not to the average consumer. Cell phones were around. The same with digital cameras and personal computers. But not in San Augustine, Texas. I had a Rolodex and a land line. Calling long distance cost money, so I had to be careful. Running the number-two weekly in a town of 3,000 was not particularly profitable. Not even close, actually.

The Rolodex, for those few readers who might be too young to know, was a plastic device that held removable cards about 3 inches wide and 2 inches deep. Some were on cylinders. Mine didn’t rotate 360 degrees — more like about 90 degrees. Tabs stuck up for the letters of the alphabet. So U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson went under the “W-X-Y-Z” tab, and so forth. The Rolodex was invented by Arnold Neustadter in the 1950s. He also invented the flip-up, spring-mounted personal phone directory. One pulled the tab to the desired letter and pushed the level. The Autodex sprung up like a jack-in-the-box. My mom had one of these for a long time.

Back in the day, having a Rolodex filled with important names and numbers was a status symbol. Not with me, of course, being a newspaper editor at small-town publications. But as the years passed, my Rolodex filled up with cards. I was loath to remove any cards, even if it was highly unlikely I would ever need the name and number again. As I grew older, people in my Rolodex died. Not many, but a few. Others retired, got out of the business. Still, their cards remained. I hauled that Rolodex from San Augustine to Kilgore; to Fort Stockton; then Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Longview; Junction City, Kansas; Cedar Park, Austin and back to Longview. By the time I returned to Longview three-and-half years ago, I had not used my Rolodex in several years. It was just something else on my desk. Now there is Google to find a phone number, my address book is on my iPhone, and the world has forever changed.

The Rolodex was relegated to the study closet, which contains a couple of filing cabinets and boxes of photos. As I was loading up a few weeks back to donate all my photos, negatives, files and research files to SFA, I spied the Rolodex. I flipped through it one more time, then put it outside in the recycling bin. One less thing to haul around when the next move beckons.

I discovered by searching Amazon that Rolodexes are still being manufactured and sold. I, however, have moved on in more ways than one.

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