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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Signing Off from the New York Bureau

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National Public Radio is moving into new studio space in New York City. But the closing of the old bureau — scene of many characters and not a few adventures — offers a time for reflection.


NPR is moving its bureau in New York. It's moved just a few blocks, but the new space on 42nd Street will be larger, neater and have a gorgeous view of Bryant Park. People are already complaining: the new place is too clean, posh and professional. And this week emails of recollection of the old bureau have been flying back and forth.

When I first worked there in the 1980s, the bureau seemed to reflect the character of New York at the time: disordered, gritty, congested, and charming. It had the feel of a permanent sitcom. It was on the same floor as the office of Tibet, which made the Dalai Lama a fairly regular sight, and a publisher of pornographic magazines. We all signed for each other's packages. I still wonder if the porn people ever saw the Dalai Lama's signature and vise versa.

When we thought that NPR headquarters in Washington was being stuffy and uncooperative, someone would say D.C. to NPR, New York, drop dead. For years, there was no receptionist. The door was answered by the first person irritated enough by the bell ringing to finally get up and fling it open. When you did, it could be Henry Kissinger, Richard Avedon, Pierce Brosnan, Al Sharpton, or Susan Sontag. Liberace once sat on the small, peeling old bureau couch in an ermine coat. Jerry Orbach, then on Broadway, put my cat in his lap - who was at the bureau for a few days because the place I rented was being fumigated. Manoli Wetherell, a longtime engineer, kept a collection of snow globes from around the world - London Bridge, the Golden Gate, the Wisconsin Dells, Mounties, dolphins, and innumerable pink flamingos along the ledges of the studio window.

Another engineer, Neal Rauch, says that if there were ever an earthquake, it would be worth pausing for a moment before bolting - to see snow shaking in all those globes. Alex Chadwick interviewed Hunter Thompson in that studio. Mr. Thompson then relieved himself in the stairwell; we showed people that spot for weeks. Vladimir Putin's security guards once showed up before the Russian president was interviewed and declared the men's room at the end of the hall inadequate for his purposes.

The Dalai Lama, by the way, never complained. And the Russians asked about the office upstairs. Jay Kernis, NPR's vice president, explained that it was rented by an adult magazine. They went up to check - they didn't return for a while.

Paul McCartney came to watch his wife Linda Eastman be interviewed. Everyone was unruffled and poised until the door closed, then Manoli and another engineer began to bounce up and down like teeny bopping circus bears to squeal: Paul McCartney, Paul McCartney. Then they remembered he was just on the other side of the door.

On September 11, 2001 our colleagues from WNYC had to evacuate their studios near Ground Zero and move into the bureau. The place became as cramped as the kitchen of a New York studio apartment. But everyone reported those wrenching events with impeccable professionalism and palpable human feeling.

It's the comings and goings of life in New York. You pack up and move on, but you reach the street and look back at your old window, and hope you've packed your memories.

(Soundbite of song, "Another Hundred People")

Ms. PAMELA MYERS (Singer): (Singing) Another hundred people just got off of the train and came up through the ground while another hundred people just got off of the bus and are looking around at another hundred people who got off of the plane and are looking at us who got off of the train and the plane and the bus maybe yesterday. It's a city of strangers, some come to work, some to play. A city of strangers, some come to stare, some to stay. And every day, the ones who stay can find each other in the crowded streets and the guarded parks, by the rusty fountains and the dusty trees with the battered bark. And they walk together past the postered walls with the crude remarks. And they meet at parties through the friends of friends who they never know.

SIMON: Pamela Myers, "Company," this is NPR News.

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small