In the 80s the mailroom was a very happening place. In those days, mail ruled. For a business, the mail was a lifeblood of breaking news and information. Sort of the Internet in slow-mo. With paper.
My sister’s boyfriend, through his good Irish luck and a winning smile, managed to get a contract handling the mail for IBM in downtown Edmonton. This was 1983 and with oil at $28/barrel, local jobs were scarce and decent indoor jobs almost impossible to land.
The summer of ’83 was looking grim for me. I had a couple of gas jockey jobs and those were barely paying the rent. With tech school tuition due in August ($484! Cash money!) I needed to get going. Luckily, my sister convinced this future brother-in-law to take a two month holiday to Europe — and I became the mail room servant for IBM.
The IBM mail room was located in a nice, new downtown office tower and I even had a window. My ‘office’ was a counter stacked with mail, small parts boxes and even the odd heavy crate with the latest IBM tech. I got paid $5.00 an hour.
Each morning the mail would arrive. I’d collect, sort and pile it all into a rickety cart for delivery to individual offices. Rolling along the corridors I must have been quite the sight: bad fitting dress shirt, grey dress pants — topped with a mop of unruly hair and propelled by dirty-white Stan Smiths. The IBM-ers were kind to me though, dropping by my counter to talk shop over bad 80s coffee and even letting me read their discarded Think magazines when they were done…
Every few days I’d help to assemble a mail-out, and what I remember most is stuffing envelopes with brochures, info sheets and specs of all the latest IBM offerings. Displaywriter, System 34, System 36 and the new IBM PC/XT ruled. But Selectric typewriters were still hot items too…
The first computer I ever coded on, a few years earlier, was an IBM 5150 Personal Computer so these shiny booklets were tech porn to my college eyes. By the end of the summer, I’d read everything there was to read on IBM’s 1983 lineup and could have written the Wikipedia entries for this gear from memory (if only the commercial Internet existed…).
I left with a few treasures: copies of Think, an IBM employee handbook and some discarded parts.
But what I left with the most was a love of tech and, true to the IBM motto, an improved ability to think. It may have just been a mail room job but it was my first chance to interact daily with business professionals, talk tech and get immersed in a career IT setting.