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True to type

india Updated: Nov 01, 2006 00:14 IST

Walking through the plush office of the 90-year-old Scripps Howard News Agency in the heart of Washington DC, my heart missed a beat when I heard a familiar sound — tick-tick-tick. I followed the sound, and to my astonishment, saw a gentleman using a typewriter.

Obviously disturbed, he gave me a ‘Yes, what can I do for you?’ look. I had no intention to answer him as I myself had tonnes of questions: what are you doing with a typewriter? Why are you not using a computer? Where do you get the ribbons? Is yours the only typewriter in DC, if not in the US?

The bespectacled Dale, who has been writing two edits a day for over 10 years for about 355-odd newspapers, sardonically replied: “I don’t write edits, just some confidential notes.” To my question why he used typewriter, he said with a smile: “Obviously, to maintain secrecy.”

Though the good old days are gone, Dale said, he wouldn’t mind writing edits on the typewriter. But only if he really wanted some secrecy before it went to print.

Otherwise, he said, he used his typewriter, his companion of several decades, to dress up his envelopes and fill out tedious forms. “My handwriting is bad,” he explained. His office somehow managed to get him the ribbons though they have been out of stock for over a decade.

Dale had surprised me, but Lisa at USA Today shocked me when she simply said, “I think we, too, have a typewriter in our office.”

My curiosity was beyond bounds. I needed to know if the US still had typewriters in various offices. The answer was a big ‘no’. The office downtown issuing driver’s licences certainly did not have one. So I decided to check on the internet, and found interesting entries on ‘antique typewriters’.

A man from Toronto had a collection of typewriters, from the very beginning of the typewriter industry — the 1880s and 1890s. He has hundreds, and is always looking out for more. I wondered when Dale’s would find a place there. I checked with Dale, and he answered: “Not in my lifetime.”