All is not well at the new New York Times headquarters. It seems the inmates are not pleased with their new asylum, and thus an "it's not so bad!" feature went up on Ahead of the Times, the in-house party paper of choice, to quell the brewing discontent. A highlight, regarding the sound the toilet makes when flushing: "Some people liken it to a small animal being strangled. Personally, I hear a couple of high, whiny notes from the Sopranos' theme music." Delightful! The article—rather great!—follows.

Greetings From Eighth Avenue!

How's the new building? Lad Paul, executive editor of News Services, has kicked the tires and gives thumbs up to the new digs. It's still a work in progress with "Hardware Enclosed" signs taped to mailslots for name tags in the new mailroom.


When people learn that I have been working in the new building since the News Service and Web group moved in the week of April 23, the first question I invariably get is: "What's it like?"

Here are some answers.

It's open, bright, clean, orderly and quiet. You have a feeling that even the air you're breathing is somehow fresher.

But after the newness of those features wears off (less than the first full day), the irritations and frustrations of a brand new and largely unfinished building begin to set in. And newspeople being what they are, it's not long before kvetching becomes the norm. But that's not fair, because there is much that is surprising, interesting and plain enjoyable about 620 Eighth Avenue.

The first thing you notice is the light. Having windows on all sides is liberating and refreshing. The glass walls live up to Renzo Piano's vision and do make you feel integrated with the external environment. But then the automatic blinds come down and all you can see are fuzzy outlines of what's outside. Eventually the blinds go back up, although probably only part way. Then you have a half-obscured view of what's out there. But it's a view, which is a lot better than many of us had in the old quarters.

The antics of the blinds are amusing. When you first see the entire long wall of them lowering or rising in unison, it's arresting. Then they become a little mysterious. Their position doesn't always seem to correspond to light conditions. Finally, they can become troublesome as people discover how to raise and lower them locally. Some like them down; some like them up. You can anticipate the rest.

Another noticeable feature is the quiet. Nine floors up, we hardly hear any city noise at all. I don't know what the sound will be like on 2, 3 and 4 where the main news and feature departments will be, but it's got to be better than the din of car horns, sirens and street demonstrators on West 43rd, or the shrieks of MTV fans on the 44th street side.

The story you've heard about the lights is true. They are sensitive to movement, and in the first few days when only one late-night person was working in the News Service or the Web newsroom, the lights did not detect them and went off. The intrepid Ray Krueger, late editor in the News Service, found that if he got up and took a lap around the copy desk waving his arms every 20 minutes or so, the lights came on and stayed on. The sensors have now been adjusted so that they can detect fingers moving on a keyboard, and there are no more problems.

For those who work in the cubicle-style workstations, the space is ample and, at least in the units that have the higher walls, quite private. The matte cherry-wood finishes are soothing, and the cubes, combined with banks of filing cabinets, provide ample flat surfaces for people to pile things and abandon them for days, weeks or forever.

For those working at copy-editor style desks, the consensus so far seems to be "not so bad." Some customization will be needed for some people. Handedness turns out to be important, and lefties seem to have the advantage in the initial setups. Editors who need to write on paper as well as work at a keyboard will find it awkward until adjustments can be made.

The chairs seem to receive universal approval. They're sturdy, sleek and cool, both figuratively and literally (stainless steel and black with mesh backs). The adjustments seem to satisfy most needs and body types. There are some reports of neck and shoulder pains, but nobody has yet figured out if these are from the chairs or desk setups.

There is copious filing and storage space — at least on the 9th floor where the News Service and part of the Web empire live: drawers, filing cabinets, closets for both coats and shelves. More than enough. Don't know if that will be the case in the newsroom, but if you run short, our rates are surprisingly affordable.

The bathrooms are all stainless steel and small tiles. Sparkling, shiny, clean, new. Couldn't be nicer.

The automatic faucets take some experimentation. With practice, you can find a sweet spot to hold your hands so that the water will run long enough to soap and rinse. A bonus: individual paper towels. The clunky roll towel dispensers that jam are in the past.

The sound that the automatic toilet flushers make is one of the oddities. Some people liken it to a small animal being strangled. Personally, I hear a couple of high, whiny notes from the Sopranos' theme music.

You heard correctly that the filtered drinking water system was not working for the first few days. It has been on now since the second week of occupancy and works fine, as do the 50-cent coffee-tea-hot chocolate dispensers. The cups are individually brewed from little filter pouches, and as a fairly choosy coffee drinker I will testify that the coffees are surprisingly tolerable. (You may remember the Flavia machines that we had for a while on the 11th floor.)

The elevators are creating culture shifts. It is unclear how many years it will take before we stop reaching to press a button upon entering the car (you push your floor button before you enter). And everybody gets off on the wrong floor at least once in his first couple of days because the display in the elevators doesn't tell you the floor where you just stopped — just the ones that are scheduled for stops. (You have to be watching the lighted numbers and see your floor turn off, or remember to notice the little number signs on the wall outside when the doors open.)

It is folly to rush into an elevator lobby and jump into the first open car. If it is not destined to stop at the floor you want, you can't change it. And another new feature: cell phones now work everywhere, including elevators. Oh, joy.

As for the desk phones, they are a lot different. If you are a heavy phone user — one for whom speed and dexterity are crucial — I recommend that you do not pass the training sessions if they are still being offered. There are a lot of new features and some of the old ones don't work the way we are accustomed to.

Finally, the neighborhood. For people who don't commute from New Jersey and know of the Port Authority Bus Terminal only from its reputation, take heart. That reputation is long out of date, and indeed the Port Authority is an oasis in an area that otherwise retains some of the flavor of the pre-Disney Times Square.

It houses some useful retailing and services (florist, shoe repairer, book stores, cards, Duane Reade, electronics, a postal substation and the always valuable bowling alley and blood bank). Also there is the fairly new restaurant that is getting good word-of-mouth reviews, Metro Marché, of which we said in the paper in December, "The brasserie-style menu includes seared skate wing with marinated beets and horseradish cream; wild mushroom ravioli with porcini cream and shaved parmesan; and steak frites."

Of our two side streets, 40th is the more interesting. It has a fine selection of salad bar-deli-type places, including one directly out lobby door on that side; a place for wraps; a Turkish grill; and enough pizza and fast food joints to keep your waistline and coronary arteries fully stuffed. And if its fabric, fringe, buttons or lace you want, you won't find many better blocks.

On 41st, next door east of the NYT, is a New York Sports Club where you can burn off some of that fast food at a special discount rate for NYT employees.

So, as you hear the grousing and grumbling (or if you read the wiki in which the pioneering residents of the new floors are compiling their frustrations), keep in mind that there is a large other side to the story. And also keep in mind that in four weeks of working here so far, I haven't yet heard anybody say they'd rather move back.