The Last Typewriter Repairman in Tampa

                Finding replacement typewriter ribbon isn’t a problem a lot of 20-somethings experience. Once I started my search, I found it isn’t a problem a lot of any-somethings experience. While the big-box, corporate stores probably phased out typewriters as quickly as office buildings phased-in computers, there surprisingly remain some small-businesses that specialize in them.

            An internet search led me to D&W Typewriter Sales & Service. Amazed that a place only 30 minutes away could cater to my archaic needs, I called ahead to make sure the listing wasn’t itself outdated. A man with a Southern drawl answered the phone. I told him I had a Smith-Corona Skyriter in need of ribbon. He said to come by anytime but to call ahead, as he might be “out of the office.”

            Unfamiliar with the store’s address, I looked up directions online. The map showed what looked to be a residential neighborhood. Were these houses converted into businesses? Would I see signs in yards advertising law firms and masseuses? It turned out to be nothing more than a neighborhood of modest homes without a single business sign. Still skeptical, I stopped at the house with the correct address. With my typewriter cradled carefully in my arms, I knocked on the front door. After a moment, I heard a man’s voice coming from the side of the house.

            “Hello?” I said.

            “Come around to the side.”

            “Oh, is that the entrance?”

            An elderly black gentleman in a plain white shirt and glasses led me to the side entrance.

            “Watch the awning.”

            I followed him into a cramped space, first passing through a laundry room. Shelves neatly packed with computer and typewriter parts lined the walls of the next room. Beyond that, we entered a small workshop. The man, whose name I learned to be the same as mine, placed my typewriter on his workbench and turned on a lamp overheard. He sat down and closely studied the device. He peered through the glasses set at the tip of his nose as he examined the ribbon and explained to me that it was no longer manufactured for that model. Instead, he would remove the ribbon sold for a different typewriter and replace its spools with mine.

            “How much do you think that typewriter is worth?” I asked.

            He studied it a moment and said, “About a hundred and fifty.”

            It was a pleasant surprise, since I only paid thirty for it at an antique store. That’s where a lot of the existing typewriters must end up, I thought. If they weren’t completely discarded, these tools that used to grace the desks of schools, offices, and homes now sat perched on antique end tables with price tags dangling at their side. Soon, if not already, they would be relegated to the annals of bygone curiosities. A no longer functional manual typewriter might sit decoratively on a table in someone’s entryway. Nothing but a decorative novelty, the conversations it would spark would include statements like, “How does it work?” or, “Look how far we’ve come.”

            Newer is not always better. In many ways, the typewriter is more efficient. It’s certainly more “green” with its absence of power cords. Not only that, but it boils the two-step process of typing and printing down to a single, direct act. Depending on what you’re doing, a typewriter can make a lot more sense.

            I mentioned to David how typewriters seemed to be experiencing a resurgence in popularity among a subculture of people clinging to the past while resisting the social effects of newer technologies. These people might not own a TV. They might garden. They might can fruits. They might sew. They might write letters and not emails. They might read books and not ebooks. They might write with fountain pens. They might prefer to listen to music on vinyl. These people are the ones who use typewriters.

            David, however, informed me that there are a lot of kids – around 10 years old – who want typewriters to practice for their fantasy profession of being a writer/journalist. Where were these children getting this impression that a writer must use a typewriter? Not even I grew up using one.

            In search of a job, I asked David if he needed any help.

            “Are you cursing at me?” he asked.

            I froze in fear, thinking I must have made some sort of unintentionally offensive remark.

            “Asking me that is like cursing at me.” He smiled to let me know he wasn’t upset.

            He explained that he used to have three employees working for him in that cramped space back when he had contracts with schools and serviced half of Florida. He used to get fifteen calls a day and now gets about ten a month. He told me how he tried to evolve along with the technology by learning to repair computers. It was a different game.

            “I’d finish learning one machine right as it became obsolete,” he said, “Typewriters are what I know.”

            I felt calm listening to him and watching his fingers elegantly dance over the machine with so much comfort and ease. He put the new ribbon in and fed a sheet of paper through to test the type. Now is the time for all good men to come now is the time for, he typed.

            I never noticed until he pointed it out to me, but my machine had a sticker with his business name, number, and address. He had serviced the same machine before.

            “It used to belong to a policeman,” he recalled.

            And that’s when I knew that the greatest thing that might be lost with his profession is the ability to connect personally with a tradesman. He allowed me inside a wing of his own home, inside his workspace where we made chit-chat. A man who makes the effort to get to know his customers is one I’m rooting for.

Kill Devil Hills, NC

The town of Kill Devil Hills is located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina - a series of barrier islands threatened by erosion and rising sea levels. Some homes have already been destroyed as the coastline shifts inland. I asked the post office about this issue and he wrote back with this note, stressing the possible closure of his post office.

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