Memory is a strange thing. When we began working on our story about the revived Sinclair Building (Business Press, Aug. 5-11, pg. 18), it triggered a memory that I had put away in that creaky, metal mental file drawer, locked away with a forgotten key sitting at the bottom of some desk drawer among Lincoln pennies and rusting paper clips.
Don’t know why, now, my mind picked up the key, opened the squeaky drawer and began rummaging. I’ve walked by and seen the beautiful art deco building many times with barely a speck of dust ruffled in my mental attic.
Not this time. My memory took me back to the summer of 1968, I was 12, on the cusp of 13, still a kid. My main frame of reference was the southside of Fort Worth, in particular Hemphill Street and the old Texas Steel plant, near my grandparents’ business, Lowe’s Trailers and Wrecking Yard. That was where I worked – and played – amid the broken glass, rusty metal and acetylene torches.
But I had started throwing papers a few years earlier, first for the Fort Worth Press, a fun read with a tabloid mentality, then for the Star-Telegram. There I met a fellow neighborhood paper boy, Alan Beaver, a few years older than I was. Alan was old enough to drive and had a high-powered yellow Ford Fairlane 500 convertible. Having a friend with a car meant I began to see more of the world. We could now head to the northside to catch a movie or play basketball with some kids across town. Or hop in the car and head down to Ashburn’s for an ice cream, or Sandy’s for a hamburger. We had wheels.
Alan was an only child, but he was pretty squared away and responsible for a teenager. He approached his paper route very businesslike. I learned a lot just by trying to imitate him.
I was still working at my grandparents’ business, helping to put on trailer hitches being my main job, along with answering the phone.
One day, Alan dropped by my house seeking my help. One of the route managers had to go out of town suddenly and asked Alan to cover his route. Usually not a problem – drop some papers off for the paper boys to unbundle and deliver. Only this route was in downtown Fort Worth. Alan had to fill racks, deliver papers and drop off bundles near downtown as well as do his regular route. He asked me and my parents if I could help him for a few weeks. I was, of course, eager. Hanging out with Alan, working downtown. It all seemed like a dream. A dream full of milk shakes, hamburgers, playing KFJZ at full volume and games of pickup basketball. I took leave of my Lowe’s Trailers responsibilities for a few weeks. A vacation – a working one.
But if you remember being 12 going on 13, the whole world was an adventure then. Anything new was viewed with wide-open, mouth-agape wonder. Watching clouds change shape on a summer afternoon could still inspire awe.
This was work. No cloud watching allowed. Putting on trailer hitches was hard work, but it usually passed, so you could grab a Dr Pepper. Alan and I had been thrust, perhaps a bit before our time, into the world of real, get-down-to-business, get-it-done however, work. That was one important, sometimes brutal, thing I learned then and I still learn it now on occasion. If you wait for everything to be perfect, you’ll never do anything. You’ve got to get out there in the race, fall, then get up again, over and over until you can finally stand on your own two feet.
This was the era in the newspaper business when they had different editions of the paper. Being as we were downtown, we sometimes had to stop and call the office to see if a new edition was being printed. If so, we had to head back to the Star-Telegram and load up some new papers. We got a workout, grabbing the bundle, then taking a dime, opening the racks and replacing the old editions with the new ones. We sweated it. Filling the racks one minute, delivering newspapers to waiting secretaries with a smile the next, nervously phoning our bosses the next. The idea that we’d be throwing papers, then heading to the malt shop quickly circled the drain.
My memory of the Sinclair Building came from delivering news as we delivered papers there. It was a working building then, full of oil companies. It was – and is – gorgeous, the entrance like a portal to some movie set. It was lively, a busy place. The most beautiful building is hardly worth the trouble if it’s empty and lifeless. If you’ve never been in it, check, it out.
Inside then, real men and women were working. I didn’t know what they were doing, but there was a lot of activity. This was the era of men wearing suits and women wearing dresses, so they seemed important. More than once someone would yell from down the hall: “Do you have the five-star?” They wanted the latest news and they wanted it fast. Now is good. An hour ago is even better.
I longed to know what they did, why they did it and how they did it. There wasn’t much of this world on Hemphill Street, a blue-collar world at the time with the adjacent bars and lunch rooms that catered to that world. The world that the people in the Sinclair Building inhabited was different. I know they wanted their five-star editions of the paper. They wanted the latest news. I sure know that today, too. Now is good. An hour ago is even better.
While “residences downtown” seems like a current concept in Fort Worth, there were several homes in the area Alan and I delivered papers to as well. Some of those homes may have been “businesses,” too, if you get my drift. I know that some of them were still active when we delivered newspapers early, early in the mornings. I never saw anyone I knew leave those “homes,” but every man I saw leave there always lowered his head to avoid eye contact. Alan and I would deliver the papers to the door and sometimes receive a “Thanks, sweetie,” from some unseen voice sitting in the foyer.
The world was a complicated place. We were growing up fast.
Maybe that adventure in the summer of 1968 and my curiosity about the world inside the Sinclair Building set me on the path that sent me to do the job I do today. It seems amazingly similar, like a pattern was set. Deliver the news to downtown business people? Isn’t that what I do today? I loved it then, I love it now.
When I go visit the new Sinclair Building, maybe I’ll hear some ghostly voice murmur, “Do you have the five-star?” I’ll keep a paper handy, just in case.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.