Thursday, February 27, 2014

'Til it's gone

I present this design class typography assignment mostly
to pine for the day when color photocopying was a special
service at Kinko's™®, requiring one to stand in a line to
order it from a person standing behind a counter. One had to
hope that the staff beyond the counter wasn't busy producing
some family reunion memory book (comb-bound, 125 copies,
please!) and could produce your color copy within the hour.

I lucked out when I asked this to be photocopied, oh so long
ago. The counterperson could get to it right away. Fifteen
minutes later she came back with the result: The yellow was
blue, the red purple and the black a green slime.

"Is something wrong?" The counterperson had the oblivious
courage to ask. Bottom line: It was a color copy … just not
the colors I wanted.

"Anything else?" the counterperson asked. I miss those days.
Just two photocopy machines remain at my neighborhood Kinko's™®©.

Just like the good old bad days.

It's not Kinko's©™ anymore, but everyone still calls it that. No one calls it FedEx Office®™.

 "I'm going to FedEx Office™®." Who says that? You'd rightly reply, "Whaddya mean, your office! Where are you going, really?! Oh, Kinko's®©! All right."

FedEx©™ bought Kinko's™© stores 10 years ago this month, and turned them into all-in-one shipping centers and office supply boutiques and self-serve computer centers and specialty low-end/high-volume printers.

And if you're really, really patient, you can still get photocopies there.

Really, really … really patient.

The line of people last week tipped me off to the cataclysmic shift.

We stood with our documents in hand, or in manila folders under our arms, or jammed in our purses.

One of the two copiers hummed and burped, churning copy after copy for a man who appeared to be compiling some kind of family history for wide distribution. I could see pages with color photos and another with a hand-drawn family tree, piles neatly arranged on the counter opposite the copier. That's where the big paper cutter is, and at the moment nobody wants to cut paper, so he's safe.

The man churns out a certain number of copies of each page in his master document, then sets the pile on the counter, eventually to collate them.

At the other copier a couple has begun copying each piece of paper from a folder that has exceeded its utility as a folder and must rely on the potential energy of several rubber bands for structural support. The rubber bands are balled up on a little table next to the folder, now flung open like exhausted wings at rest, the papers of all sizes quivering atop a pile.

They are documents for taxes, or for the transaction of some life-altering good like a house, or medical records in a dispute over payment. The quivering pile dwindles glacially. Each time the copier lid rises and falls. Each time the couple discuss and push buttons. Each time is a discussion, each time a succession of buttons. Each paper must be copied.

So it goes. So we wait.

I do not fault them. They need copies. I need copies. They're here first. Today I can wait.

First-world problems.

The next person in line needs help pushing the buttons. I show her. She thanks me. Finally she is done and I can make my two photocopies and go.

Not a month ago, this matter would have been moot. A month ago, Kinko's™® was my Nirvana: Five photocopiers, enough even for the homeless man with his satchel of secret documents to record and still not put pressure on any of the other machines.

Five photocopiers, each capable of black-and-white and color — in one machine! A little machine next to each one; pop in your debit card, make your copies, retrieve your card, pop it into another machine that print out a receipt, and out the door you go. You don't have to talk with anyone, ask anyone for help, even though the staff at my Kinko's®™ is awfully nice.

It was perfect.

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, Joni Mitchell told me.

Now the usefulness of Kinko's®™ is fading, regressing to the days when I first needed the little shop on the corner. And boy, did I need it. Standing in the line last week, I reflected on how important it has been to my work for the last 25 years.

Kinko's©™® was my "Cheers," except without the greeting and beer; the closest I got from the staff was, "Back already?!" I took it as welcome, whether I was in the shop early in the morning or late at night, which I often was.

If I wasn't making multiple collated copies for my students when I taught, I was harnessing Kinko's©™ machines as art tools. Before scanning, I would make copies and carefully cut and paste (with actual glue) to create illustration effects. Or I'd run thick art paper through a special side door on the machine, to copy an illustration over which I could paint watercolor. I knew the special door, knew the sequence of buttons that would produce the copy without jamming the machines. I knew where to get the extra paper and reload the machines without staff help.

Before I had a scanner, I would use the Kinko's™® computers. Each store had one Mac™® beside the bank PCs, so I had little trouble operating them. When one store's Mac©™ was broken, I would race to the next store. I know where all the stores are in Sacramento and Placer counties, because some days I'd have to hit three just to finish one job.

A few years ago the Macs™© disappeared, and I had to learn the PC language. Then I got a scanner and didn't need Kinko's™® for that anymore. I don't use any of the many services FedEx Office™® provides, not even its shipping. And I don't need photocopies as much as I used to.

But I still need them, and my little multi-purpose printer in my office can't do the job. But now Kinko's®™ is slowly closing that down. A display rack of packing tubes and transparent tape sits where one of the missing photocopiers sat in a corner. A large-format printer spans the space that two other machines occupied. I guess what few documents spit out of that printer — blueprints for a harried general contractor, say — more than compensates the loss of photocopy customers.

It's only a short while before one photocopier remains and the line gets longer; one can break down and we'd be in that mire in no time.

I imagine FedEx Office™® will turn the single remaining photocopier into a positive, using its calculated profit-optimizing gesture to commemorate the early days, when a guy named Paul Orfalea created Kinko's™® in 1970 out of a tiny shop space near the University of California, Santa Barbara. The entrepreneurial apocrypha follows that the place was so small, Orfalea had to step outside to give a customer room to use his one photocopy machine.

I will still need photocopies. I will stand in line for the remaining photocopier, until that one is gone too.

Then I don't know what I'll do.

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