There’s a slot open. I’m not just saying that because whatshisface is clearly going through his Thin White Duke phase. I’ve listened to the first five o+> albums in the last five days. So listening to “Dirty Computer reminds me that there’s a space. You can’t listen to just one person all the time. One person can only do so much, even with a cast of hundreds on productions and a talented inner circle on speed-dial and an ego-whisperer like Quincy Jones if you need one. To fill that slot, the taste has got to be exquisite, the song selection has got to be balanced, and the elements can be as synthetic as possible so long as they’re synthesized (and I don’t mean keyboards). So I hit pause halfway through to jot all this down. I’m going to sit with it until I fall asleep. I’ll probably find some way to play it all the way through this weekend.
I set foot out, crossing the street and making it to the sidewalk on the far side, and I was about twenty or thirty feet away from one of the palms when I heard a crackling noise from high above. Two seconds later, a large frond came down and hit the roadway of MacArthur Boulevard. So I didn’t even break stride. I walked over to it, bent down and picked it up, finding it heavier than I expected and dustier against my open palms. All that exhaust and pollen clinging to the leaves got to hang out until gravity got its way. I threw the frond over my shoulder and walked down MacArthur to the bus stop right before Lakeshore Avenue, where I threw the frond down, put my foot against it and broke it into thirds and stuffed its remains in the trashcan. Then I kept going on my way, stopping only to take a picture of this face on a pillar underneath the interstate.
A friend told me it would be there, and it was.
I was driving downhill, westbound with the Bay before me, when I heard about it. Well, not about it as much as the other thing. He’d just been in a ride-sharing vehicle. Someone had gotten out nearby and said something about hearing that people died.
Naturally, he thought of me and texted to ask if I’d gotten to write about it. I hadn’t, but a co-worker had. I told him I’d listened to it the night before as it happened, bits of fact strobing in and out of view through static and signals from other incidents, followed by a tweet not seen in real-time but shared by a different co-worker.
Coming back, I saw there would be just enough time for me to go and see for myself before a newsroom training session on listening to and searching through services that offer archived dispatcher logs. So I went there, parked my car and got out and saw it. I took pictures. Then I left.
A year later, dozens of people are gone. They should still be in the building, arguing about stories and photos, and grumpily wondering where the time to cover meetings and budgets will come from, but they’re not.
The unexpected wonder on the anniversary of this newspaper winning that thing a year ago is having more clarity about why all those people are gone, and seeing what good that clarity does for others in the same situation dozens and hundreds and thousands of miles away.
I wish I could say things were looking up because of this, but all I see are wood beams, metal pipes and the sheet metal that workers have been installing in a far corner of the newsroom to try to slow down a chilly draft that’s been giving us the shivers and creeps for months now.
Nothing about these little ticks of time, these pockets of space, should surprise me. I don’t feel surprised in the moment, only after when I look back and behind me. There is just enough time before my shift, so I call ahead and make an order for pick-up. The person who takes it recognizes me, and I recognize her.
I drive over and find a parking place, get out of my car and walk in, mouth the words to the same early-1980s hit song I remember enjoying years ago and screwing up so badly at karaoke last month. I pay for my order, pick it up and head back out where people with the ability to drink a pint glass of cold beer outside in the early spring midday sunshine do just that.