Greetings from 1930
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – THE YEAR IS 1930. I AM HEADED OFF to work. The train I am on is clean and right on time. All the men are wearing hats --the same one, actually, a neat, stingy-brimmed fedora that disguises whatever condition one's hair might be in. Very few women are on the car with us, we men who commute to run this iteration of the universe. Those gals who are here are wearing hats too, some with veils, and gloves--little white gloves, neat and pretty. Most are going to shop, I suppose. A few might be secretaries.

I step into the terminal and gaze at the lovely dome above me. What a building Grand Central Station is! The crossroads of the world, everybody going to and fro, aware that we are in the safest country on the globe. Whatever craziness might be going on in Europe, we know nothing can touch us here. This is America! As we walk, just about all of us are smoking--strong, unfiltered cigarettes. A lot of ads tell us they're good for us, but that's kind of hard to believe. There's one for Camel cigarettes I like. "Going places," it says. "Doing things. And smoking Camels. All three are in the modern tempo." I'm that kind of fellow.

I take out my pocket watch and gaze at it lovingly. My, just look at the time! Nearly eight! Better hoof it. It's a short walk to my office. I pass a newsstand and purchase a copy of a new magazine everybody is talking about. It's called FORTUNE, and it's about business. Just a few years ago Mr. Coolidge, that wet noodle, made us all feel pretty good by declaring that the business of America was business. Those were the days. What a party the '20s were! Now I don't know. Last year was the worst ever. A whole bunch of families had to sell their places right in our own neighborhood! Now we have breadlines, and it looks like some kind of socialist Democrat is heading to the White House. Funny time to start a business magazine.

I love my office. Until recently it was just a desk and a phone. The only decoration was a calendar from my insurance company. But I happen to agree with an article I read in FORTUNE. "Particularly if the man be married, his office is more castle than his home," it said. "It is only lately that the American businessman will show you his office with as much pride as he will his house." I waved that under the boss's nose, and he gave each of us on the 35th floor $100 to work with to make some improvements! I got everything I wanted: a lovely new Chippendale chifforobe, or whatever the heck it is. And carpeting!

I wish I could offer you a drink, but that won't be possible for another three years. Which doesn't mean we don't know how to have our fun. If you can stick around for a bit, I'll take you to lunch at this little speakeasy that has the best gin west of London. It's located at 21 West 52nd Street. Food's not bad either. They should turn it into a restaurant one day.

In the meantime, I really ought to get cracking. I have tons of letters to dictate and memos to read. Thank God for Betty. She's a terrific secretary. She'll never see 60 again, but she's not one of those gum-snapping tootsies some of the other guys on the floor favor. (Last year Nofziger went and married his! Man, did people talk!) I prefer Betty. She's really smart, and you should see her shorthand skills. And typing! She can do nearly 100 words a minute with no mistakes. This morning I'll dictate 12 letters to her, and between you and me, there's some kind of rewriting going on that makes me sound a whole lot smarter than I really am. Truth is, she's a lot more capable than most executives I know.

After lunch, I'll get fitted for a new suit right here in my office. Then I guess I'll go to that meeting set up by Purchasing. There will be about 20 staff vice presidents there, and their director-level associates just down the food chain, and perhaps a couple of managers and stenographers. We had to cut a few jobs last year because of the economy and all, but it's a beehive here still--we're so centralized. I pray it always stays that way.

I'll be out of here by five, as always. There isn't much to do by then. The mail has all been read, and everybody is looking forward to that first illegal martini. Thank goodness we don't have some kind of crazy electrical way to communicate written messages to each other immediately over long distances! Boy, would that be a total pain in the neck!

You've got to love this business life. Soon: a trip to Chicago with the chairman, and instead of riding in a luxury rail coach, I believe we'll take our hearts into our mouths and board one of those airplanes! We'll be among the first to try it, and we can't wait. It's a heck of a way to get some quality time with the big guy. I hear they have booze up there. And pretty stewardesses too!

I have no idea what the future will be like--but I sure hope it involves a lot of air travel!

STANLEY BING's latest book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at