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Life Health > Life Insurance

On the Third Hand: Hoboken

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Summit Professional Networks, the company that owns and National Underwriter Life & Health, is moving the office I’ve been in, in Hoboken, N.J., into Manhattan, so that it can put all of the New York-area employees in one place.

Many of you out there are corporate warriors who’ve moved from one city to another every two years for 50 years, but I’ve been in the Hoboken office of National Underwriter, and then Summit, since 1996. The only time we moved, we moved from one end of a short block to the other end of the block.

The old office was two very short blocks from the Hudson River, right across from Lower Manhattan.

When I got to Hoboken, I knew about it from “On the Waterfront” and expected to find gangstas who coulda been contendas swinging on meat hooks. What I really found were many yuppie bars and moms pushing expensive strollers.

But Steve Piontek, the editor who hired me, had been with the office since 1980, when it was in New York. We had a giant old dictionary that apparently came from wherever the office was around 1955. We had a hard drinking foreign editor who allegedly kept a bottle of hard liquor in his desk. We had one computer that could connect with the Internet, and hardly anyone understood why it would do such a thing.

Here are three lessons learned from the move.

  • When offices move, many Rubik’s cubes come out of nowhere and end up in the trash bins.
  • If your company has ever given you corporate mugs or drinking glasses, chances are that, when you move, you’ll find you have more of them than you thought.
  • If you’re in New York, and you’re getting rid of insurance-related books and papers, the insurance library at St. John’s University might take them.

Putting what I’ve learned from working in Hoboken for 17 years is more difficult.

Sandy flooded the western part of the city, a few blocks to the west of our office, about a year ago. One week, people were deciding what menu to use to get delicious food delivered. A week later, they were lining up with jerrycans, about two blocks from our office, to get gasoline straight from a fuel tanker that a generous charity had sent in.

In the summer of 2002, we were affected by a blackout that knocked out electricity all over the Eastern half of the country. I was walking down the road with hundreds of other people stranded by the sudden lack of subway service.

And, of course, on Sept. 11, 2001, the Twin Towers fell down. I came up out of the subway, looked briefly at the smoke and fire across the Hudson River, and heard someone in the crowd say that one of the Twin Towers had disappeared. I figured it was there somewhere, behind the smoke, and went to work.

One obvious lesson from my years in Hoboken: You can never have too many flashlights.

Another lesson is that, even after something like the Sept. 11 attacks, the world moves on. I don’t feel as if I’ve been at my job that long, but I looked around one day and realized that only one other person in the Hoboken office had been working there on Sept. 11.

Some children who were too young in 2001 to form any clear memory of what happened are now old enough to drive.

On the one hand, the lesson that the attacks taught is that life is brief. You have to enjoy it while you can.

On the other hand, that’s a lesson any thoughtful person in the life and health insurance communities already knows.

On the third hand, maybe it’s a lesson that bears repeating.

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