What Goes Around

After a good vacuuming and a bit of ancient nail and screw repair, Shop Boy eased the last heavy wooden tray drawer into the top rack of the mighty oak cabinet. Just like that, one more piece of old-time printing had officially come full circle.

Mary and Shop Boy? We’d already done that earlier in the day. Turnpike pikers, we’d naturally headed in the wrong direction on 695, Baltimore’s beltway. We’d been to the middle of nowhere out southwest of the city. Having picked up a heavy load, we planned to come back via the same fairly leisurely route of MD-97 to I-70 to I-695 to I-83 south. I-95 into the city is just so bouncy, crammed and rough, and a regular exit is now closed for … something or other. Who knows why? Everything’s old and wrecked in Baltimore.

About 45 minutes into the return trip, Shop Boy kind of sensed something was a bit off. I didn’t remember this part on the way out. But what do I know? I’m not the directions guy, and the truck was handling great, traffic wasn’t bad, my fellow drivers were being courteous enough, the load was solid, and …

“Where are we, Shop Boy?” Mary asked at last.

“Not sure … we passed Linthicum a little while back.”

Well, you should have seen the look she gave me.

Humph! Thankfully, in mentally backtracking, we quickly realized that the error — taking the long way around the beltway and adding miles and miles to the journey — had been a group effort. Each of us quickly apologized for not paying attention. Then we backtracked for real. We could still save a little time if we zigged, zagged and connected up with I-95. And what do you know — it wasn’t all that bad as I-95 goes.

Which, for us, was quite a switch. We don’t drive much on the highway. Hey, we were freeway commuters from Brooklyn to the Middle of Long Island for a couple of years. We’ve just sort of had enough of that, you know? And in Baltimore, we don’t need to, mostly. Hence Mary’s theory that the highway misses us and decides that when it does sees us, we ought to hang around a spell. I mean, does anybody else hit a traffic snarl at least one leg of every single road trip and commute?

Which is essentially why we stick with the train and tooling around broken but somehow lovable Baltimore. That is, unless Mary’s found another crazy press or old-and-wrecked must-have printshop thingy “conveniently located” in “nearby” Philly or whatever.

She had, and so we did … eventually get back to Baltimore with a huge cabinet in the back end of Shop Boy’s beloved little pickup.

The cabinet, which once would have supported an imposing stone or similar printshop work table, had ended up in a super scrounge-salvage place called Second Chance hard by Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood. (Honest.) There, it was spotted by a carpenter who admired the old workmanship enough that he got the idea of turning it into a funky kitchen island in his new home. Well, that was cool before the kids came. Then, the romance of the lead residue, splinters and doors and drawers that could trap little people quickly faded. So the cabinet — and the spanking new top he’d built — were on craigslist for a song. Mary’s pal Stacey Mink saw it, and knowing Mary’s penchant for acquiring weird stuff — and Shop Boy’s penchant for reacting poorly to same — sent a link with the message, “I hesitate to send this to you …”

Third chance, anyone? Oh, boy.

Truth is, the cabinet looked pretty boffo in the craigslist ad for it.

And even Shop Boy can feel good doing stuff like this, taking repurposed printing equipment and returning it to the wild of letterpress. Or bringing an old press back into useful service. Or finding old bits of printshop ephemera like a funky die-cutting block or old advertisement for a once famous brand to decorate our place or get put to back work. There’s somebody’s soul in everything you touch.

See, just the day before, in some other far-flung part of Maryland, we’d stood respectfully in the side wing of an old, three-generation printshop, helping to preside over the end of an era. Grandson David had decided to jettison anything just taking up space in favor of adding actual revenue-producing stuff. The old cabinets, turtles, dies and rules served him no useful purpose anymore. But he didn’t want it all to end up in the trash.

When in doubt, call Typecast.

Actually, Kyle from MICA had tipped us off to the stuff, having taken his fill for the burgeoning Corcoran letterpress program and a bit for himself.

Well, we’re as excited as anyone to get cheap or free old stuff, but this kind of operation makes you stop and think. I mean, the guy’s standing there as you pick through his family’s stuff, finding some of it indeed worthless. Ouch.

Mary’s great about insisting that whatever assembled diggers and movers show respect for what has come before us. You’re talking, in this case, about a business that has fed three generations. So respect means chatting up the proprietor, letting him or her know what respect we have for the craft and that the stuff is going to a good home. And it means being fair on pricing, by the way. You going to cheat a guy struggling to keep a printshop alive?

Good. I didn’t think so.

Besides, respect always, always, always pays off in some way. You meet an interesting guy, say. You show appreciation for his life’s work. Later, this guy tells that guy what you’re up to, and pretty soon you’ve got a line on more awesome stuff.

Or even better, you get the most valuable thing in the whole printshop.

David, for instance, has two Heidelberg windmills. Typecast Press has one, a beauty, but it’s been giving Mary fits in a couple of very specific areas that the manual doesn’t address. Real thick coaster stock makes it lose its mind, for instance. Mary asked David what he thought the problem was.

“C’mon, I’ll show you,” David said.

Ka-ching!

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