It's like back-to-school all over again for this 56-year-old reporter

Last week, for the first time in 1,152 days, Forum columnist and reporter Tammy Swift drove to an office and went to work. And she found that as much things have changed, they have completely stayed the same.

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Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.
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FARGO — Last week, for the first time in 1,152 days, I drove to an office and went to work.

I automatically added 30 minutes to the start of my day to accommodate a commute. I fussed over what to wear the night before. I took a shower and applied makeup. I sandblasted the Cheez Whiz and cracker crumbs off my laptop.

It was not only my first time experiencing an “at work” day, it was my first time doing so at a completely different job.

Sure, one could argue that my "new" job at The Forum wasn’t exactly a plunge into unknown territory. I’ve worked on and off in this newsroom since 1985.

But a lot has changed since I last frequented that newsroom in 2012. There were many faces I didn't recognize and many familiar faces now retired. People who used to do traditional news-gathering are now dedicated to roles like, "audience engagement wizard," or "content and metrics prognosticators," or "lead digital algorithmeticians." (OK, so I exaggerate slightly.)


So it really did feel like my first day of school. Here I was, dressed in a billowing top and cropped sweatpants cleverly designed to look like hard pants. (God bless you, elastic waistbands.) I realize we are past the point where I can blame weight gain on COVID, but I hope to use it as an excuse for at least another three years.

I had my milk money, my planner tucked into my computer case, my slightly-less-Cheez-Whiz-encrusted laptop, my slide rule and my apple for the editor.

It felt like I should pose on the front step of my home for a "first day of school" photo. Except the only living being around to take the photo would be my dog, and he is all thumbless when it comes to that sort of thing.

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I pulled into the parking lot and immediately found a parking spot. That's another thing that has changed in today's working world. There was a time when employees all but mud-wrestled for an opportunity to park in the "good lot," right across from the building.

But now there were parking spaces galore — evidence of the new paradigm of remote and hybrid workers. I parked lengthwise across two different spots just because I could. (I actually wanted to take three spots, but unfortunately I drive a Juke.)

The rest of the day came back to me as easily as riding a bike. The inside of the building even smelled the same, even though the printing presses and giant rolls of newsprint are long gone.

As a young punk with fully functioning knees, I used to scoff at the older editors who took the elevator to the second floor. Now my osteoarthritis understood. I unashamedly hit the Floor No. 2 button on the elevator.

In the newsroom, coffee and doughnuts awaited. That's another new thing too: Employers offering carrots — or rather, carrot doughnuts with cream cheese icing — to get employees to come into work. Some employers have gone so far as to offer four-day workweeks, although I was happy to simply get a cruller.


But once I sat down at our planning meeting, everything seemed completely familiar. The jokes. The laughter. The people (like yours truly) pretending like it wasn't their second trip to the doughnut box.

I no longer had somewhere to sit, as assigned seating is so 2019. My computer station was lacking some sort of widget so I actually walked — WALKED — up to the IT department to have a face-to-face interaction and request help.

They looked at me skeptically and asked me if I had plugged in my computer.

Ahhhh. That's it.

Just like old times.

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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