Last weekend, the 30th Street train station in Philadelphia sounded a lot like an old-fashioned typing pool from the TV show Mad Men.
Lovers of mechanical typewriters congregated to show off their treasures, and their fingerwork at a Type-In. That’s a social event for luddites and collectors of portable manual typewriters who filled the air with that distinctive clickety-clack.
“It’s the sound of progress,” said Mike McGettigan, a bike shop owner who organized the event. “Whereas the sound of progress on a computer – who knows, you just fill it full of words and then try to re-arrange them into something readable. If you’re going to type something, you have to have a strategy.”
About 20 people came to the Bridgewater Pub inside the train station, some from Central New Jersey, lugging a beloved Hermes Feather or Olivetti Valentine dating back 50, 60, even 70 years. A WWII-era workhorse looked worse for wear, was not currently working, but still attracting respect for showing up.
Jennifer Wuan, a graphic artist who keeps an iPod and two iPhones in her purse at all times, says she learned to touch-type on her parents portable manual.
“I covered the keys with nail polish so I couldn’t see the letters, and forced myself to learn to touch-type. And then when I tried to remove polish, keys were all stained pink for the rest of that typewriter’s days,” said Wuan.
The type-in was an opportunity to hoist a beer with fellow enthusiasts, the most enthused being 16 year-old Matt Cidoni, whose mother drove for an hour to deliver him and four typewriters to the event. He has six more at home.
Many older enthusiasts who grew up with typewriters instead of smartphones had dusted off their old machines to give them a spin. It brought back muscle-memories, but when push came to shove the younger generation won. Cidoni handily beat them all in the speed-typing competition.