For Those Who Loved Typewriters

In the 1990s, when typewriters were still a part of many newsrooms, I took my old Royal to a downtown DC shop, North’s Office Machines, that advertised they sold and repaired typewriters. I asked if they did the repair work themselves.

“Yes, we do it here,” the owner said. He said, “I have two Russian immigrants. They love typewriters, and they can’t bear to see one tossed out. The only problem I have is they won’t give up on an old typewriter. I tell them it’s not worth fixing and they’ll say, ‘I can have it fixed in two days.'”

The owner said Shirley Povich, the legendary Washington Post sports columnist, had been in earlier in the week with just about the oldest, most beat up typewriter he’d ever seen. “I tried to get him to trade for a better manual and he wouldn’t do it.”

For those of us who loved typewriters, fingering the keyboard was a part of writing. As you were thinking about what to say next, you could let your fingers dance around the keys, waiting for the right word. The tactile feel of the keys seemed to tell your brain, “Keep thinking, it’ll come.”

As a magazine editor, I found my old Royal useful even as almost all work was done on Apple computers. When a writer did a really good piece, I often typed a short note, something like, “Great story—thanks for doing it so well,” and hand-delivered or mailed it. Not as easy as e-mail but too much in today’s newsrooms is too damn efficient.

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