SCHENECTADY -- Liquid courage is a wonderful thing, in moderation.
Twenty years ago, my place of employment was a pile of rubble and twisted steel on the corner of State Street and Broadway.
Must've been around midnight when I slid off the barstool into the frigid winter air and walked a few blocks to that spot, ducked under the police tape surrounding the active demolition site and plucked a beat-up red brick out of the pile.
Downtown was deserted, but a flashy car rolled up to the stoplight on Broadway, the window came down and Huggy Bear from "Starsky and Hutch" exercised his civic duty by inquiring, "You the po-lice?"
He went on his way, and I went on mine, social distancing before there was such a thing.
I still have that brick.
It's at the office -- aka my kitchen.
When you're a reporter at a newspaper, you get used to working in every environment imaginable: A, the field; B, the newsroom; and sometimes C, at home, when it's called for. News can break at any time, even when you're still in your skivvies and just poured the milk over your Cheerios.
Choice A, at least for sportswriters, is currently on the sidelines, since the coronavirus has canceled everything except further cancellations.
I'm among the many Daily Gazette employees who have been told to make Choice B out of Choice C these days, which isn't difficult in 2020 considering the technology, information and connectivity that is readily available.
You need tools, like a laptop and a phone, but a workshop can pretty much be anywhere these days.
Even back in the day, well before the internet, I remember getting kicked out of a gym they were locking up in Utica before I was ready to file my high school basketball gamer, and hooking up couplers from a RadioShack Tandy 200 to a gas station payphone. The fact that the station was closed and I was doing this in a nighttime snowstorm by the light of my headlight beams in the parking lot was a minor detail. When I finally heard the telltale raspy connection tone, I wanted to kiss that payphone.
So we're adaptable, and working from home -- as millions of people are finding out -- is the new reality for the indefinite future.
But my salvaged brick serves as a reminder of a time when Choice B was not only much different than my current station sitting in my small apartment, but different even from the "new" Gazette on Maxon Road. We moved into that much bigger space in 1990 for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to house an expanded staff that started cranking out a Sunday edition along with the traditional Monday-through-Saturday papers.
"Social distancing" was impossible in the old Gazette building on State Street, and that was part of the appeal of that newsroom.
The sports department alone totaled double-digits in full-time writers and editors, and not all of us had a desk to call our own, since some of those were the province of daytime workers who produced a section known as the "Women's Pages." Occasionally you would come to work at your appointed hour and have to cool your heels for someone to go home so you'd have a place to work.
There was a familiar scruffiness to that place and a bustle of activity that was infectious, even as it made you sweat.
Long gone are the days when you'd be answering the phones on a busy Friday night of high school basketball and would spend the peak hour hearing it ring as soon as you put the receiver down from a previous game report.
As a measure of the difference in scale from State Street to Maxon Road, I once killed a mouse with a rolled-up magazine within the tight confines of the old building.
On a Saturday morning at Maxon Road, when nobody was around, I spent the better part of a half-hour chasing a sparrow all over the empty first floor, trying to trap it with a trash can and a big calendar off somebody's desk, to no avail. I gave up, and heard later that it had been found under a hiding spot, having "joined the bleedin' choir invisible," to quote the Monty Python dead parrot sketch.
And not everybody got along, at least not all the time, which had nothing to do with us being on top of one another by today's standards.
And there were boring lulls in the old building.
And at least one earthquake. The downtown railroad tracks to and from the station on Erie Boulevard were right next to us, and one day the sound of a train rumbling by was not accompanied by the sight of a train rumbling by. A potted tree on the desk of one of the Women's Pages ladies started wobbling.
I went outside, where the annual Christmas parade was in full swing and the sidewalks were jammed. I asked the first person I ran into if he had just felt that earthquake, and he looked at me like I was from Mars.
Oh, State Street.
Papa Cicco's was right around the corner on Broadway, Jay Street was a block away, and across the street was Capital OTB's glorious Imperial Racing Center, a two-story palace with a buffet, a decapitated bobblehead of jockey Jerry Bailey hanging behind the bar and $5 buckets of OV splits on the second floor; and a thin carpet of losing tickets on the first.
Our backshop foreman walked in one day and announced, "The cops are busting some guy in front of OTB for exposing his gentiles," to which a news editor dryly noted, "That actually is illegal in some countries."
A dark little hole-in-the-wall bar called the Press Box was right next door to us.
All of these are long gone.
Of course, we were moved into Maxon Road by the time the machines came to tear down the old building on State Street, where the state Department of Transportation building has stood now for many years. On one brutally cold and brilliantly sunny afternoon busy with destruction, people stopped on the sidewalks to watch, and some of us in the crowd had a more personal investment in the event than others did.
I live alone, don't have any pets, and for the time being perform the bulk of my workload sitting in sweatpants, a T-shirt and flipflops, with REM, Radiohead, etc. providing the soundtrack.
I rarely talk to anybody, except out of necessity, for now.
Many of us are in an open-ended period of detachment and isolation in pursuit of the common good, and it seems inevitable that many people who have been forced to work at home will continue to do so by choice once we get through all this.
Because you can, nowadays.
Me? The brick-and-mortar experience will always be an important part of my job that I hope to return to sooner than later. Our line of work is about and for the community, and that includes the physical workplace, no matter how expansive remote communication methods and social media are now.
That casual conversation could be nothing and everything at the same time.
You'll never know, if you don't have it.