Jane Baldwin

Jane Baldwin was the Chit Chat editor of the Venice Gondolier in the 1980s and early 1990s — one of many area residents who have worked for this community paper the past 75 years.

Such a year it has been.

At the height of the pandemic, I was at work every day with my cloistered fellow workers. Only employees were allowed in the building. Hand sanitizer was readily available for our use and we all wore masks while in the building.

We were offered the choice of working at home but that seemed to add a layer of complexity to news gathering. Meetings were covered online and Zoom became the norm for social gatherings, classes and such as all sorts of businesses were closed for health reasons as the coronavirus spread across the land.

It was unknown territory. The Spanish flu outbreak in 1918-19 was used as a measure because it too spread across the country and caused millions of deaths as people were packed into hospitals side by side on cots, judging by old photos that surfaced from those days. There were a few survivors but that was 100 years ago and the survivors would have been babies in 1918 and 19 and centenarians in the 21st century.

Fortunately medicine has come a long way and while there were many deaths, “Big Pharm” quickly came out with vaccines which the government was able to quickly test and approve. Within months, rather than years, three vaccines were available and the challenge was to make it available as soon as possible to the most people.

Somehow the government also was able to print millions of dollars to assist all the people thrown out of work overnight as certain businesses were forced to close because they were likely to be the places where the virus would spread the most easily. Everyone was being affected one way or another.

While lucky enough to be employed and with a safe place at which to work, nearly everything I would normally cover was suddenly closed, including all the theme parks, most restaurants, all the theaters, many stores, beauty salons and barber shops, spas and fitness centers, museums and more. Social distancing was the new norm.

Travel was out as cruise ships were docked for what might become years and airline flights were all but canceled. As soon as the last guest had left for the airport, theme park hotels were shuttered and soon, the mighty company built by “the mouse” had shuttered every one of its theme parks all around the world.

When would they reopen? When would it be safe to travel again.

How long would my hair be when I could finally have it cut again? Houses of worship switched to Zoom and people who had loved ones in hospitals of eldercare centers could not see their relatives.

Doctors and nurses were working overtime and in the dangerous position of being exposed to people with the virus daily.

While stores ran out of some supplies thanks to hoarders, online shopping kept food and more on the table and also kept the economy in fairly decent shape.

Stimulus checks from the government helped and so did government loans and unemployment benefits. We would have to pay the price for all that in the future but it kept the wolves away from the door during the crisis.

Live theater, movies and concerts were replaced with television shows, board games and jigsaw puzzles. I planned to use all that time usually spent covering plays and such to finally make some photo books of trips that my daughter and I had taken over the years. At least I had separate boxes for each adventure, filled with photos, cruise or other documents and brochures from places we had visited. I selected the Galapagos islands, my first trip to Norway, Heidi’s first trip to Sydney and what I hoped would not be out “last trip,” our visit to the Keukenhoff gardens at tulip time in 2019. That was actually the last biggie on my personal bucket list.

A friend gave me three puzzles to work and I completed those in the summer of 2020. As for the photo books, they are right where I put them on the kitchen counter close to where my lap top gives me a good view of the back yard.

One more delay cropped up because of the Gondolier.

I still have every intent of doing those books but my knees had other ideas and so I went first for therapy and then finally when I deemed surgery would finally be fairly safe because so many of us had received the vaccines, I headed for Doctor’s Hospital and robotic and arthroscopic surgery on my right knee by Dr. Jeffery Silverstein. He fixed my hips about five years earlier and had become known for what he and his robot were doing for aging knees.

So at the end of April, I met the robot, and began weeks of post-surgery therapy and finally working at home in preparation for similar work on my left knee.

With help from fellow workers, I have set up shop at my dining room table where I can watch what little action takes place on my quiet street, see my resident bunny rabbits and write about things I never thought I would write about — like my knees, therapy, projects undone and even Gondolier employees that I never knew as well as some that I did know in my early years at the paper which is now about 25 years ago.

“They say” that most everyone in Venice works for the Gondolier at some time, or volunteers at Venice Theatre. I do have an amazing list of friends and acquaintances who have in fact worked at this paper over the years. Laurel O’Connors, for one, was the social columnist before Fran Valencic although for not nearly as many years as Fran has covered the social scene in Venice. Laurel also served many years as head of the blood bank at what was then called Venice Hospital and also was active in Venice Theatre, Laurel was president of its board many years ago.

Longtime Sunday breakfast buddy Pam Johnson even had my present job at the Gondolier but also several other positions here before leaving to become the first information officer for the city of Venice, the job now held by Lorraine Anderson who came from our paper in North Port.

Via the U.S. Postal Service, I heard from and/or about some people I never knew who had worked in the Gondolier and also one who had worked as an actress at the then Venice Little Theater, and one as a co-worker with the late Dorothy Lippstreuer who was the travel/leisure editor when I was hired as a stringer in 1995.

Beverly Biziewski sent me an aged photo of the theater in its first home in an old building at the former Venice Army Air Base, plus photos and clippings of her part as Claudia in the February 1952 production of “Claudia” in that old long-gone building. Patrons sat on folding chairs from the local funeral home and everyone (including cast members, shared the use of a 1950s vintage port-a-potty outside the “theater.”

She now lives in the Virgin Islands. The other person who shared some old clippings, is Jane Baldwin, who was Lippstreuer’s Chit Chat editor in the 1980s and early 1990s. I must have just missed her but she even covered a story that was very similar to one of my earliest travel stories. In 1980 she covered an event that featured some of the most famous cartoonists of the day, people like Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), Mike Peters (Mother Goose and Grimm), Jim Davis (Garfield), Dik Browne (Hagar the Horrible) and several others.

In March 1996, I was with most of the same people but over in Boca Raton at Mizner Park for the opening of the Cartoon Museum that had been the dream of Mort Walker. One of my prized possessions from that event at Boca’s Mizner Park was Poster No. 2 of the opening of the museum and a personalized cartoon by Mike Peters of me.

I was there as a guest of my friend, Mary Abbott who was the head of docents for the museum and also to cover the event for the Gondolier. As a guest I had access to more events than other members of the press, including the opening night dinner and several chances to meet and mingle with some of my favorite cartoonists.

Sadly Boca Raton proved to be the wrong place for that museum which closed within two years. I think the museum would have succeeded in Sarasota which is and was home to several of the major cartoonists but instead it was soon boxed up and sent to New York City. After a few more attempts, the collection was sent to Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. The poster has a place of honor in my home office.

Pam Johnson now enjoys her grandchildren and has been my occasional chauffeur as I deal with the knees. As you read this I may know when the left knee will be repaired as I had an appointment with the doctor July 16. The sooner the better so I can return to my desk at the paper and all the theaters, art shows and special events and places I have missed while the pandemic raged on.

The biggest part of my job was covering the arts and entertainment. Suddenly museums, theaters, the opera, the symphony, bands, barber shops, beauty salons, theme parks and so much more were closed

My economics degree was coming in handy as I began to cover stories about all the closures.

Bob Mudge was still covering town meetings but online. He quickly became somewhat of a pandemic expert as he read reports issued by area hospitals and various health agencies. Deaths began to add up as the virus spread.

My knees were suffering from too many years of hard use but I was not about to go to a doctor nor hospital when that virus was showing up in too many places. For a few weeks, no one I knew had been infected but that did not last long as the virus spread and suddenly, a few friends were infected. Fortunately, they survived. As more and more vaccines were administered, things improved. Yet, just as suddenly, numbers climbed again. Too many self-appointed experts decided to go their own way with neither shots nor masks.

That seems to be where we are now. I wear my mask when out and about which remains limited as the knee recovers. I appreciate when others care enough to wear their masks and, much as I love to travel, I am not booking anything for the near future.

After all, I still have those photo books to design so I have plenty of places to revisit — withing for a plane to get me there.

Perhaps, I will hear from a few more folks with ties to the Venice Gondolier, Venice Theatre or some other important Venice entity. I wish time had been kinder to the photos and clippings sent by the actress now living in the Virgin Islands. I would have liked to use the one of the beginning of Venice Theatre.


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