The Taunting Tower

The tower above the Times-Picayune newspaper offices (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

This is a true story about a New Orleans architectural landmark. It sounds like the kind of tale embellished by age, time, memory loss and nostalgia – or all four. But it is not.

It was late spring, 1984. I was working in a suburban bureau of the Washington Post, which sounds like a dream gig for a guy just out of journalism school – a guy from D.C. no less – but it was actually really boring.

I was on the bottom rung of a very tall ladder. My beat was stuff like new acquisitions at the county zoo, exercise programs at the local nursing home, new computers at the local elementary school, zoning applications in the new subdivisions.

I was hungry. I wanted to write about crime, murder, prostitution, corruption, drugs, gangs, lowlifes and the generally dark side of the human condition. Like any respectable newspaperman. And lo! A job opened up at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. I was on it like, well – shrimp on grits.

I applied and got a job interview. The paper flew me to town and rented me a car and put me up at the Provincial Hotel on Chartres Street. I spent the night before the interview walking around the French Quarter, soaking it all in. The interview was scheduled for 9 a.m., so I returned to the hotel around midnight to hit the sack and be fresh in the morning.

But that wasn’t happening.

I was crazy wired, restless, feeling the rush of a world of possibility ahead of me – as long as I didn’t blow the interview. I couldn’t sleep at all. At all. Hell, I couldn’t even close my eyes.

It was 3 a.m. when I got back out of bed, got dressed and headed back out to the streets of the Quarter again. I figured that, if I didn’t get the job, I might as well have myself a night on the town. And it seduced me, hard. All the faces glowing under neon, hushed people in the shadows, the laughter and click of pool balls coming out of barrooms. The crackle of humidity on the power lines, the Confederate mist coming up over the river, the smell of sweet olive, coffee, fish fry, oyster shells and mule shit.

I really want this job, I kept telling myself.

I walked and walked and walked and drank and drank and drank, trying to make myself tired. To no avail. I was sitting at the bar in Big Daddy’s on Bourbon Street – the old strip club where the fake legs used to swing in and out of a window above the door – doing shots with a barker and some B-girls when the sun came up. (Hey, I was 24; don’t judge!)

When I got back to the hotel, I left two wake up calls at the front desk. One for 8 a.m., one for 8:30. The second one woke me up in a booze-soaked panic, less hungover than still drunk.

I rushed through a shower and brushed my teeth three or four times and sped out of the parking lot. This was long before cell phones and GPS, but I had seen the big tower at the Times-Picayune building from the interstate when I drove into town from the airport the night before. I figured: How hard can it be to find? It’s a big tower, right?

Well.

So I headed for the interstate and looked for an exit near the tower. I drove one direction and then the other, passing the tower over and over but unable to find a way to get to it. I eventually found myself up on the Broad Street overpass, driving back and forth over the interstate – and past that damn tower.

It was right there! Not 300 yards away. How the hell do you get there?

If you ever visited the old Times-Picayune building, back there amid the old warehouses, factories and train yards, you know what I’m talking about.

Eventually, I wound up on Earhart Avenue, driving up and down, back and forth again, with that damn tower to my left, then to my right, then to my left – but I still couldn’t find my way there.

It was 9:30 when I finally pulled over a taxi cab and pointed to that damned tower, shoved a twenty through the window and asked him: “Can you lead me there?” He did, and in a cold, dank sweat, I walked into the lobby and announced that I was there to see Mr. Amoss, then the city editor.

I wiped my sweat with my shirt sleeves and waited for him to come down from the newsroom. I smelled really bad. I smelled like the night before, but without the sweet olive, coffee and fish fry. Just the other two.

When he finally arrived down the escalator, I put out my hand to shake his and I said: “Hi, Mr. Amoss. I’m Chris Rose. I found the building. Do I get the job?”

I really said that.

After three hours of interviews with various editors and managers – to my astonished surprise – I did get the job. But I wouldn’t find that out for another week.

Negotiating my rental car out of that industrial warehouse district, I passed by that tower three or four times before I found the interstate and headed for the airport. I looked out the window and there it was again. Taunting me.

Stupid tower, I thought.

 

 

 

For the rest of this story, check out the November issue of New Orleans Magazine – out Nov. 1.

 

 

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