A climb to the top | AspenTimes.com

A climb to the top

Alison Berkley

“Oh my God, this is so cool,” I said to the security guy behind the desk at The New York Times headquarters.He looked at me over his bifocals and said, “Not really.”I explained to him I’m from Colorado. He said, “Now that’s cool.” Still, for me to be standing in the lobby of a giant office building in Times Square where you have to dial an extension and get clearance from your very own New York Times editor is a really big deal. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but it’s a pretty big leap from The Aspen Times. For a split second, I almost felt like a Real Writer.I took the elevator to the eighth floor, where my editor was waiting. She’s the antithesis of what you would expect from a big-city type. For one, she’s small and a blonde and she doesn’t wear a suit or designer eyeglasses or makeup even. She has freckles and smile lines and warm blue eyes and an ageless look about her, like she probably hasn’t changed much since she was a little girl. Let’s just say she’s a lot less intimidating in person than she has been in some of the straight-to-the-point e-mails she’s sent me in the past that say things like, “Your story better be in by tomorrow. No joke.”I thought we were going to grab a coffee and chat it up about this or that. Little did I know she would lead me right into Big Editor Man’s office for a pitch meeting. Even though BEM’s office is small, it is in the corner and it does have a window. I had to do my best not to look out of it because I hate being in tall buildings the way some people hate to be on a boat. I get a little woozy and have to struggle not to think about the fact that I’m trapped way above ground with nothing but narrow stairways and elevators between me and the street should anything happen. It turns out this is a rational fear after all. Suffice it to say I’m way more comfortable on the exposure of a tall peak than I am in an office building in downtown Manhattan.Divine intervention must have played a role in the fact that I managed to pull like a half dozen decent story ideas out of my ass. Low and behold, they bit on every one of them – hook, line, and sinker. It just goes to show that not being prepared is the best way to go – I do much better under the gun. There’s nothing better than a little pressure to force those ideas up from the recesses of my brain, where they are normally much harder to access. It’s like cooking in a microwave: less messy and much quicker than a conventional oven.During our meeting, Editor Jane walks in. EJ is one of those editors writers dread because she freaks out around deadlines, as if the pressure isn’t bad enough as it is. On a recent story, I had trouble getting a source to go on the record regarding a sensitive subject. “Fine. I’ll just put someone else on the story,” she had said. I had already put about two weeks of research into the piece and done more than a dozen interviews. I thought she might be better in person, but she was about as warm as a New York City cab driver and ignored me completely. The three editors started to dish about a story that had just come in that was the worst they’d ever seen. The writer was terrible. He had done this wrong and that wrong and so on and so forth and what on God’s green earth were they going to do about it.”We never talk about writers like this,” said Big Editor Man. They all cackled in a shrill, high-pitched way that made me feel like they just might throw me into a giant pot of boiling water. “Of course,” I said, not able to come up with a better comeback than that. The window keptsee Princess on page A11jumping into my line of vision. It looked like it was starting to rain. I had worn my only collared shirt, a brown cotton oxford that tends to make me sweat, and I could feel it sticking to my skin. And I could feel my hair frizzing from the humid air coming out of my collar. Just when I began to hyperventilate, the meeting was over, and before I got on the elevator to my beloved ground floor, I had a winter’s worth of work under my belt. I asked for directions to Saks and was on my way.Outside, it started to rain. A ceiling of gray clouds lay low in the sky, eliminating any of the usual cues one might associate with being outdoors. After six blocks, my jeans were starting to stick to my thighs from the damp, heavy rain, my hair smashed to my forehead like glue. My feet were cramped, and my legs ached, which didn’t make sense, since I’ve run 10 times that distance without any problems. I went into Saks, riding from one floor to the next on those big, long escalators but couldn’t wrap my mind around anything I saw there. I realized right there on that electronic stairway that there wasn’t a single thing here I couldn’t find in Aspen. I left without buying anything. For once I realized I already have everything I need. I might not work in downtown Manhattan and will probably never have a corner office in some tall city building (thank God). Maybe I’ve ridden the gondola to get there, but I’m happy with my own version of being on top.The Princess had her nails and toenails painted in the same color and hopes that’s not too tacky. Send your Aspen love to alison@berkleymedia.com

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