I used to work in a place that… ‘doesn’t even exist anymore’


In a comment way back the middle of last month, Bryan linked to one of my favorite bits in “The Right Stuff” (which is saying something, since I love all of that film). It’s the scene in which The Media (portrayed throughout the film as an overexcited colonial animal constantly emitting motor-drive sounds like the ever-present background noise of crickets in the night) ask Dennis Quaid’s Gordon Cooper, “Who was the best pilot you ever saw?”

Cooper beams, and the viewer smiles with him, because we know the character loves to pose that question rhetorically, and answer it himself with, “You’re lookin’ at him.”

But then he gets serious, and says thoughtfully, hesitantly, in a low voice:

Who is the best pilot I ever saw? I’ll tell you. I’ve seen a lot of them, and most of them were pictures on a wall… back at some place that… doesn’t even exist anymore….

That’s a reference to Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club, a run-down, low-rent bar and grill (as portrayed in the film, anyway) in the desert outside Edwards Air Force Base, where test pilots who had been killed in the line of duty were honored by having their pictures nailed up behind the bar. Pancho’s had burned down a number of years before Cooper became an astronaut.

Well, I just had a moment of wistful remembrance like that of Cooper’s.

I was on my way to an appointment on Market Street, which runs between Bluff Road and Key Road just south of Williams-Brice Stadium. And as I turned off George Rogers onto Key, I was shocked to see that the building housing The State‘s (and The Columbia Record‘s) former offices, there in the shadow of the stadium, was just gone, and something else was being built in its place. Even the little parking lot in front had been dug up.

That was where I worked for the first year I was at The State. We moved to the new building in 1988, and SC ETV bought the building. I knew that ETV had stopped using it, and had seen it looking rather derelict lately.

And most of my memories of The State were down the road in the new building. And I was pretty stressed that one year in the old building, trying to get acclimated to a new paper after my years in Tennessee and Kansas. I didn’t really settle in and start to enjoy myself until after we moved.

Still, it was a bit of a shock.

So I guess I’ll recover the way Gordo did when the journalists were too thick to follow his humble, honest effort to answer the question.

I’ll just give a cocky grin and say, “Who’s the best editor you ever saw? You’re lookin’ at him!”

15 thoughts on “I used to work in a place that… ‘doesn’t even exist anymore’

  1. Doug Ross

    “I was on my way to an appointment”…

    Inquiring minds want to know: Were you on time?


    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      If I had given in to the temptation to stop and take that picture when I first saw it, though, I’d have been slightly late. So I came back and shot it afterward…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, about that. I’m guessing that’s what it took coming back. I had to pull into the ETV parking lot, park, walk out to the corner to get a good angle, switch my phone to the camera app, shoot, walk back to the car, get back on the road.

      I could have just stopped for a few seconds as I turned onto Key Road and shot through the window, but it would have been very unsafe to stop that close to the corner. And the angle wouldn’t have been as good.

      It’s not a work of art or anything, but I wanted to frame it right…

      1. Doug Ross

        “It’s not a work of art or anything, but I wanted to frame it right…”

        You do have a very good eye for framing photos. I see that in the family/travel photos you have posted on Facebook. So I guess that balances out your lateness. 🙂

  2. Jeff Morrell

    My father began his newspaper career at the Columbia Record. Quite sad how much the business has changed since then.

  3. Dave Crockett

    “The place that doesn’t even exist, anymore” could sum up the impression I had of the United States after traveling in Europe a few years ago. Here, with precious few exceptions (mostly historical landmarks), most of the places I have revisited in the States over the years have changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable.

    In 1990, when I traveled back to the London suburb of Golders Green where I lived back in the late 1950s, I was struck by how it really hadn’t changed much in 40+ years. Sure, the butcher’s shop now housed a Radio Shack, but it still LOOKED the same. As I wandered from the Tube station toward the house we’d lived in on Corringham Road, the red post box for outgoing mail still sat on the corner, Hampstead Heath still was visible in the distance, and even the house looked the same (except that the owner had plowed up the postage stamp-sized front yard to make off-street parking).

    Traveling through Italy five years ago, I saw so many homes that families have lived in for generations, despite two world wars.

    The sense of permanence was comforting.

    When I recently returned to Rock Hill where I lived though my teen years, I didn’t have that feeling. Even Clemson University, where I worked for nearly 30 years, has changed so much physically in the four years since I retired that it no longer feels like home. I can’t help but feel that this lack of permanence makes it harder for Americans to take the long view both personally and culturally, compared to Europeans.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Golders Green! I’ve been there, by accident. We were staying at Swiss Cottage, and for some reason (perhaps for the scenery) we were taking the double-decker bus rather than the Tube. We missed our stop, or something, and ended up passing by Hampstead Heath, which looked exactly like I expected it to (as the site of General Vladimir’s murder in Smiley’s People), all misty and rainy, and then had to get OFF the bus at Golders Green and look around for another that would take us back to Finchley Road…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I just tried to retrace that on Google Maps, and now I’m all confused. It looks like, on the way to Golders Green, the Heath should have been on our right — but I distinctly remember it being on my left…

  4. Doug Ross

    Completely off topic but is the term “used to” correct English? It always sounds odd to me.. almost like “ain’t”.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It does sound odd, whether you use it to mean something you did in the past, or something you’re accustomed to.

      I think that’s because it’s based in an archaic sense of the word “use,” meaning custom or habit. You become accustomed to a thing “by use.” Anyway, that’s my guess…

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