When I moved to Orlando in 1981, I got a job as a hardline artist for an ad agency. We represented the Belk Lindsey department store chain and by hardline, I mean I drew items sold in the stores like shoes, stereos and household items. Back then, department stores carried a larger assortment of goods, not just fashion and accessories. I could not draw clothes worth a hoot. Today, what little advertising that's left for dwindling newspapers is predominantly done through photography. Hardly ever do we see hand drawn art. I also designed and built the ads that ran in various newspapers throughout the state. Previous to that job I was mostly in the restaurant business. Soon after I started working there, I saw a sort of fast food place up the street called Beefy King. Since I had come from a background in that industry, I thought it would be nice to meet these people. We soon became good friends.
One of the interesting, if not quirky, aspects of my job was break time. My boss, good old Mr. Stone, insisted that we come in at 8:30 in the morning, but we had to take a break from 9 to 10. Strange, but that was the way it was. Pretty much every morning I would drive up the street to Beefy King, make myself a sandwich and pour a cup of coffee. Sometimes I'd help slice meats or whatever, but most of the time I'd stand at the front counter reading the newspaper. They weren't open that early, so I wasn't getting in the way of customers.
One morning I went in, there was a short, chubby man working on an ice machine that had broken down. Seemed like a really nice fellow. The next morning he was still working on it. On the morning of the third day, as he was finishing up, he and the owner, Roland Smith, were standing in a hallway between the dining area and the back room, probably working out the bill. He whispered to Roland, "Hey, that guy up there. He's been here every morning just standing there reading the newspaper. What's he do for a living?"
Now, the acoustics were just right and I heard every word of it. He didn't know. Roland said, "He's a professional newspaper reader."
The guy said, "No way. There's no such thing."
"Well, if you don't want to take my word for it, go ask him."
I was standing there, seriously reading my paper, acting oblivious, when he sauntered up. He very politely said, "Excuse me."
I looked up and in a face that showed great concentration, as I was very deep in my work, replied, "Yes?"
"Well, I've been here three days now and I see you reading the paper. I was just wondering what kind of job you have. What do you do for a living, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Why of course not. I'm a professional newspaper reader."
"No way. I've never heard of such a job."
"Yup. That's what I do."
"No kidding! Well, I'm from Florida. Born and raised. What's the name of the newspaper in Leesburg?"
"Which one? The Commercial or the Gazette? Plus the Orlando Sentinel has a zoned edition."
"No kidding! Alright. What about St. Augustine?"
"The St. Augustine Record."
And so it went. No matter what location in Florida he asked about, I had an answer. I knew because we advertised all over the state and ad sizes varied from newspaper to newspaper, meaning the designs came in different sizes.
"I can't believe this. No kidding? Well, I'll be. I've heard it all now. I can't wait to tell my wife this." And with that, he hopped in his van and drove off. For at least a week, Roland and I got the biggest chuckle out of it.
With the huge downturn of advertising and subscriptions in today's newspapers, I wonder if that guy ever worries about me. If I ever run into him, I'll have to tell him I'm a professional Internet surfer.