Life during wartime: How we produced The Big Picture

A reflection on how The Big Picture was produced in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The December issue of FoodService Director is dedicated to employees of the Starbucks at 167 Court Street in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, though they almost blew it with their playlist. When you’re camped in the freezing basement of a hipster hangout for six or seven hours at a stretch, gulping coffee and Cokes while trying to proofread, there’s a limit to how many times you can tolerate what we came to call The Bad Cover Song Collection. Hearing it for three days straight would wring curses out of the Pope.

Not that tempers were exactly cool to start. There we were, trying to complete a milestone issue without the benefits of an office, phone service, our files, a true conference table, or even a butt-friendly chair. Because of Hurricane Sandy, which would keep our southern Manhattan offices shut for roughly another month, the staff had little more than pens, pads and our laptops.

We were nomads with a magazine to produce, and Starbucks was where we decided to make our stand. The one on Court Street was chosen because of its proximity to a Kinko’s and a UPS store. Plus, two of us lived in Brooklyn. Another took a bus to get there, and I relied on a train and a bike. This was not a central location, by any stretch.

We’d arrive every morning at 10 or so, and sit there, bundled in our coats, until anywhere from 4 to 6. We’d immediately snatch the largest table (once from a second-grade reading group that glared with indignation far beyond their age), stake out all the outlets, then get to work.

Phone calls had to be made outside because of reception issues inside, an adventure in the warmest of times because of the sidewalk traffic and street noise that abound in Brooklyn.

One day was penguin-worthy, which made unavoidable conference calls a crash course in frost-bite avoidance.

We didn’t tell the Starbucks employees what we were doing, but, then again, there wasn’t a need. The place was packed with post-Sandy refugees, including other writers and journalists. All of us were left alone by the staff, except for the day the lone bathroom had to be taken out of service. But maybe I only imagined some glee on the part of the workers behind the counter.

And, in their defense, we did push matters. One day, sick of the on-site lunch choices, we brought in lunch from Shake Shack, a competitor of sorts. It’s probably just a coincidence that we had to eat it while listening to the Bad Cover Collection in the background.

I mention this so you’ll realize that our December issue, devoted to The Big Picture research, is extraordinary for reasons beyond the content. Producing it was a time of hardship and adventure, but we felt it was worth it. We hope you’ll agree. 

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