Do you still know what this word means? Does anyone still “type” on a typewriter? Some people don’t even use word processors anymore, they are fixated with Blackberries, PDAs and “tablets.” What a generational issue this may be!

So why is the Los Angeles Times writing about typewriters?

See the article to find out more … and, in case you choose to only skim the article (see below), you may be interested to know that the owner/”typist” of the business in the article is a Lawyer. And, in point of fact, his business is just “down the street” from mine.

Still doing it with a clickety-clack. Ding!

James Allan is one of the few who will type your forms. It keeps the bureaucrats happy.

By Robin Abcarian
Times Staff Writer

February 15, 2006

James Allan, whose red neon sign announcing his unusual profession beckons from the second-story window of a modest stucco building in Marina del Rey, is aware that he is one of the few guys left who actually types for a living.

On an actual typewriter. A 14-year-old Panasonic KX-7000. Not that he doesn’t prefer a computer, as he’ll be the first to admit.

“The typewriter’s a nightmare,” he says. “I really hate the thing.”

Sometimes, though, even in a day when everyone seems to have a computer, access to the Internet and email, it’s nice to know that somewhere out there is a guy who sits at a desk, scrolls a piece of paper into the carriage and gets the type to fit just so.

“People cannot go to their neighbor anymore and say, ‘Well, wouldja mind typing this?’ Or ‘Can I borrow your typewriter?’ ‘Cause they don’t have them,” says Allan. All very true, but the world hasn’t changed entirely when it comes to certain things – bureaucracies, for instance, will always require paperwork. Bureaucracies that can’t or won’t figure out how to design computer-friendly forms will still require that they be typed.

“There are all kinds of forms that have to be filled in on the typewriter,” says Allan, the wonder in his voice tinged with irritation. “I don’t know why, but universities are one of the worst for insisting on forms. There is absolutely no sense to it. They insist on putting all the information into a little box.”

Operating on Washington Boulevard, a stone’s throw from the Venice Pier and the high-rise apartments of the marina, Allan saves the day for students applying for graduate school, police and fire department candidates, people filing small claims cases and assorted others who have a form to fill out and a need for neatness.

“There’s a story every day in this place,” says Allan. “Some of them are comical and some of them are tragic. I’ve had producers tell me they could do a sitcom about what goes on in this office.” He’s typed up psychiatric reports for schizophrenic clients, paperwork for divorces, the life story of a closeted gay man who wanted his children to know, finally, what his life had been like.

A few of his clients are very famous, says Allan, but he takes his motto seriously (“Accuracy. Confidentiality. Personal Attention. Reliability.”) and won’t disclose names.

Nor will Allan, nattily clad in a dress shirt, navy sports coat and gray slack, disclose his age. He looks pretty good considering he’s a dying breed.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1996 there were approximately 1.1 million jobs that were classified as “typist” and “word processor.” By 2004, that number had dwindled to 525,000. And it’s only going to get worse: “Employment of word processors and typists is expected to decline because of the proliferation of personal computers,” says the bureau’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.

When he first opened his doors 18 years ago, there were at least three other professional typists in the immediate area, people to whom he would refer work he didn’t have time for. They are all gone now.

Allan started out as an attorney in Mississauga, Canada, a town outside Toronto. He moved to Southern California to work as a franchising company executive. One of his memorable accounts was the Los Angeles fast-food landmark Tail o’ the Pup. The paperwork was ready to go. “And then,” he says, “the person who was gonna take ’em into franchising died of a heart attack. So that was the end of the Tail o’ the Pup franchise.”

Initially he opened his business, Allan’s Secretarial Centers Inc., with the idea of franchising it. But it soon became clear, as Allan puts it, that “it was my own skills that were making it work, not something you can franchise.”

Those skills involve much more than typing. Allan also functions as a kind of home office for business professionals who travel the country and even the world and still want a permanent Los Angeles business address for their correspondence, phone calls, receipts and expenses.

While straight typing brings in only $40 an hour, for these services, Allan charges up to $150 an hour. “You can’t make money at typing,” he says. The other morning, a client called from an airport somewhere, between flights, hoping to dictate a business letter. Allan gently let him know he was occupied and would be available later.

Besides the typewriter, there are a couple of things Allan hates about his business: people who condescend to him because he types for a living, and people who won’t allow him to correct their appalling grammar.

Of the first sort, he says, “When they come in, they talk down to me. They don’t understand the type of business that’s going on here. It’s, ‘Here, boy. Type this. I’ll be back tomorrow to pick it up.’ I called a client at home and the daughter answered, and I said, ‘Oh, hi, is your mother home? Will you tell her Jim Allan is calling?’ The next thing I hear is ‘Hey, Mom! It’s the typist!’ Within a year, I had asked that person to go elsewhere to get her work done.”

Of the second, well, let Allan tell a story about that. It involves a man whose business proposal he’d typed up: “He said to me, ‘Don’t put it in real good English, because that’s not me.’ So I wrote the whole thing in this convoluted English, like, ‘Why you no like me?’ And he came in and he read it and he sat here and cried. He said, ‘That is so perfect. That is so beautiful.’ ”

Although Allan is listed in the phone book under “secretarial services,” very often it is the simple neon sign that draws people in. Typing. It’s actually a word for which people have nostalgia. “I could have put ‘word processing’ in the window,” he says, “but ‘typing’ is one word that everybody understands.”

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