Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Even Dream Jobs Have Their Challenges

Author’s Note:

I was originally going to write this post last Thursday when these events took place, but I ended up putting it on the backburner because of all the other writing that I had to do. Last night at the softball game I was covering, however, something happened that hammered home that I needed to write this blog.

It was the fourth inning of the game, and the sky had been cloudy all game long. It started raining in the top half of the inning, but by the bottom of the fourth, it was absolutely pouring. As I was standing there under a tree to take shelter from the deluge, the sun came out. The contrast of the rain pouring down on the field with the sun shining onto the players was an incredibly surreal sight, and it really pounded into my head just how lucky I am to be writing professionally, because it means that I am truly doing something that I love. If I wasn’t, then I never would have experienced that moment of raw beauty, and I am better off for having done so.

Anyway, nearly 200 word preface aside, here is the blog that I should have written last week:

The 7:00am wakeup call comes early for a night owl like me, but it rarely feels earlier than it did on this Thursday morning.

The reason for that was that the Chicago Blackhawks had played the previous night, beating the Detroit Red Wings 4-1. In my capacity as the writer of the NBC Chicago blog “Madhouse Enforcer”, I had to pound out a recap of the game in as short a time as possible, which I did while sitting at a friend’s house with a hot tub beckoning unto me like a siren to a sailor.

Then, after several beers and a bit of writing outlines before bed, I fell asleep around 2am. Hence, the 7am wakeup call was a shrill reminder that the world waits for no man, no matter how dreamy his job may be.
My day began like many others do, with a quick breakfast of toast and milk, masticated quickly and done in front of a computer, just like many of my other day-to-day activities. While I was eating, I put the finishing touches on an article about how Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith had shut down Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk, and while it wasn’t my longest article ever at only 317 words, it still took me a bit of effort to get it ready for posting on the web.

After finishing that article, I would normally have dove right into reading the day’s headlines to generate more story ideas, but unfortunately, there was family business to attend to. My wife’s uncle had passed away the previous week, and she and I had to leave for the funeral at 8am.  So after a quick shower and one last perusal of Twitter to see if anything newsworthy had popped up, we headed up to Markham.

As many of you know, funerals  are always emotionally draining experiences, and Ray’s service was no exception. He was a great man with a ton of friends and family who wanted to celebrate his life and to say goodbye, and the service was a poignant reminder of what he held dear in his life. His standing as a pillar in both the Phillips family and the church community in Markham was made abundantly clear by the proceedings, and the whole ceremony really reminded me that what we do on this Earth really does echo beyond our lifespan.

With those kind of mournful feelings and philosophical wonderings clanking around in my head, I unfortunately had to snap back into work mode. That’s because as soon as I left the church, I was due to have a conference call with my web editor Andrew Greiner and the sports executive producer for NBC Chicago, Geoff Glick. Loosening my tie and setting the cruise control on I-57, I waited for the phone call, and eventually it came through.

After a morning of sadness, my spirits were lifted considerably by the call. Glick said that he was very happy with the work I was doing (always a good morale booster, no matter your occupation), and talked to me at length about exploring opportunities to go to Blackhawks practices and games as the playoffs continued. Needless to say, the prospect of doing those things excited me, and I got off the phone with him in just enough time to pull into my driveway.

At 12:30pm, I sat down to lunch and, of course, pulled out the computer and started pounding away at an article for the blog. Patrick Kane had been announced as a nominee for the Lady Byng award, and those types of articles have been generating solid traffic. It also gave me an opportunity to grab a factoid out of my brain about the last Blackhawk to win the award, Stan Mikita. He had promised his daughter that he would start to behave himself on the ice, and a season after racking up a slew of penalty minutes and fighting majors, Mikita won the award, given to the player who best blends sportsmanship with excellent play.

It took me about a half hour to track down citation for the anecdote, but by 1pm, there was no time to be satisfied with the work I had done thus far in the day. I had to start heading towards Heyworth, Illinois, as part of my second job: freelance writing for a newspaper based in Watseka. There was a sectional meet for boys track that afternoon, which meant a hectic afternoon, to say the least.

That’s because I was expected to not only take pictures of as many athletes as possible, but also to write articles about every school from the paper’s coverage area that sent athletes to the state meet the following week. It was a daunting task, but one that my editor seemed convinced that I could handle.
I wasn’t so sure.

Needless to say, I needed a bit of a boost after what had already been a challenging day, so I headed to Dairy Queen for a quick snack. I met one of my friends there, but just like so many other social occasions in my life at this time of year, it was a short meeting. Less than a half hour after I left the house after writing my second blog post, I had already been to DQ and left, starting out on a two and a half hour drive to my destination.

I arrived in Heyworth at around 3:30pm (I sped, but don’t tell my mother). I immediately began scouting out areas of the track for picture taking opportunities, as well as getting acquainted with any coaches that I hadn’t met in previous assignments. I did both of these things for about an hour, then started covering the various events.

I won’t bore you with all of the details, but in the end, 14 athletes from four different schools in the paper’s coverage area had qualified for the state track meet. That meant that I had four articles due, and with a deadline of 11pm, I didn’t have a lot of time to work. Over the course of the final hour I was at the track, I walked briskly from tent to tent, talking to various qualifiers and coaches to get as much audio as I could. Satisfied that I had gotten enough material, I left Heyworth at about 8:15pm.

Obviously, you don’t have to be a math major to see that I wasn’t going to have enough time to get home and write my articles before deadline, so I had to decide on a place to stop, grab dinner, and write. I settled on a McDonald’s in some Podunk town along Interstate 55, and as I started to eat my food, I started to transcribe audio from the 11 different clips I had recorded.

Once that job was complete, I began writing. Feverishly. Ultimately, I was able to transcribe all of the audio and write the articles, all between 300-500 words, in a time span of about 35  minutes. Speed is said to be the biggest ally of a journalist, and I definitely proved that theory true with that performance, and saved that feat in my memory for the next time someone insinuates that I have an easy job.

Then, at 10pm (one hour until deadline), I made a horrifying discovery. The internet at the McDonald’s I was at was not working. After unsuccessfully trying to get someone to restart the connection, I hurriedly packed up my laptop and camera (did I mention I had to identify and caption all of the pictures I had to send in? 
Yeah, that’s not easy at a track meet, considering none of the athletes have numbers on their shirts), and headed out into the night. About 15 minutes later, I pulled into Pontiac, where I went to a Taco Bell to use their internet connection.

This time, the web worked. I was able to email my articles, but when it came to attaching pictures to emails to send in, the wifi stopped cooperating. In a fit of frustration, I texted my editor and told him of my travails. He said that since I had sent him the articles, I could be a touch late with the photos, but “not to make a habit of it in the future.”

Message sent. Message received.

I then drove home and arrived at about 11:05pm. Within 15 minutes, I had attached the pictures to the emails and sent them in, meaning that I ended up about 20 minutes late with the final bits of my work. Then, my attention turned to yet more work: covering the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks game for NBC Los Angeles.

I caught the third period in its entirety, and was able to glean enough from the box score and scoring summary to write a quick recap of the game when it concluded at about 12:15am.

So if you’re counting at home, I wrote seven articles, drove over 300 miles, and dealt with a myriad of other obstacles over the course of the day.

The reason I told this entire story wasn’t because I wanted to complain about my jobs. In fact, the exact opposite is true. I absolutely adore what I do, and even though the knowledge that I spend so much of my waking life attached to a computer screen isn’t one that I find particularly palatable, there is nothing in life that I have found quite so satisfying as interviewing athletes and coaches, and getting paid to do something that I love to do.

What I have also learned, however, is that even if you love your job, it can still try your resolve on even the best of days. If I simply told someone that I had to cover a track meet and watch a hockey game on TV for my jobs, that person would think that I have the easiest job in the world. Obviously, I know the truth, which is that the job is simultaneously rewarding and tough to do, and now hopefully you have an idea of exactly what I mean when I make that claim. 

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