Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why I Worked Thanksgiving

I’ve mentioned a few times in this blog and elsewhere that despite liking what I do, I do often feel a grind on my job. I won’t belabor that point further. I think you probably get it if you’re one of my faithful blog readers (all four of you).

I worked Thanksgiving this year. When you’re a reporter, you really can’t count on having the day off for every holiday. Since I haven’t put much time in (I’m actually just through my first year at the Mercury, no longer a rookie as of a week ago) I really don’t count on having off for more than half the holidays that a traditional 9-5 guy in an office might expect.

This year, I made sure to volunteer to work over Thanksgiving.

The reason for that was two of my best friends were getting married the weekend of Thanksgiving in their hometown in southern Minnesota. Everyone from our usual crew at the University of Wisconsin was getting back together.

 Sadly, we can never get back together at this bar, though. Why, oh why, did you have to go, Brothers?

I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area my whole life. I’m very tight with my parents and my two sisters. My grandmother lived with us and functioned as an extra mother for the first half of  my life. 

I’ve always had a very strong sense of family.

I chose to go to the University of Wisconsin for many reasons, but two stood out as deciding factors: one was the fact that it has a top-level journalism school and the other was that I wanted to try something different, to try a grand new adventure and see if I could make it starting from scratch.

Heading to Madison was the first time in my life that I was completely alone. I knew no one. After spending approximately 18 years with it, I had distanced myself about 900 miles from my support network that not only included my family but friends I’d known as long as kindergarten in some cases.

As things progressed, the core group of friends I made at Wisconsin became a new family. Of course, we did the things any college kid does: partied together, drank together, took ill-advised photos of each other.

 The night this was taken is also known as "The Night Sondra Can't Be President Anymore" 
because of one or two of those aforementioned pictures.

Really, though, the things that made my close friends in Wisconsin my family were the parts that really seem so insignificant but, looking back, make you smile or laugh or tear up (from laughing or otherwise), just like the family I was raised by and with. 

Those moments were things like watching Sunday football at the girls’ place while I waited for my clothes to finish drying at the laundromat, having a catch on the first, nice days of spring with the guys, helping cook a homemade pizza on a random weeknight, or sitting and smiling at a restaurant long after we’d finished our meals.

They became a group of people I would never have gotten through school without.

For that reason, I volunteered to work Thanksgviing, including the seven straight days that led up to it, including filming a playoff football game in which my hands got so cold I couldn’t feel the iPhone in my hands, including three late meeting nights.

It was a grind. Wednesday night, sitting in a bar, I realized I still had one day left to go after finishing my seventh and literally wimpered over my beer. It was pathetic. You should have heard it.

I was exhausted, spent, as tired as I’ve been in a long time.

But I would have worked 22 days straight, worked Christmas, New Year’s, Easter and the 4th of July because I was going to Greg and Rachel’s wedding so I could see them, Paz, Katie, Sondra, Steph, Maria, Leslie and the Joes. And I was going because they’re my family and it was worth every second I spent on the clock to see them again.

 Thanksgiving 2010. I'm the bald guy.
 Thanks for the break, guys.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Goodbye Babylon

So, this is a post about my colleague, Brandie Kessler, leaving for a new job in the fairytale land of York, Pa.

But I couldn't think of a good title and went with my standby, naming it after a song I like.

If I remember correctly, Brandie was the first reporter I met here at the Mercury (meaning Evan must not have been working that day or was out of the office when I came in). Brandie showed me the basic things you'd need to know in the day to day here: numbers for police departments, how to file the obituaries, what bin has police reports, where the candy is kept when we have it.

For the first four or five months, Brandie would help me out, providing suggestions on how to do something or where I could call to get certain info. But she would always preface or conclude any advice with some variation of: "You don't have to do this, I'm not trying to tell you what to do, you could also just do you own thing."

That has since disappeared (or maybe I've just completely tuned it out).

Something I have not been able to tune out is her enthusiasm for soccer.

For me, soccer has always been to sport what hipsters are to general society: something that thinks of itself as very cool and legitimate but hard to take seriously and thought of as almost a parody of itself by the vast majority of everyone else.

I don't like hipsters. I don't like soccer. 

But Brandie seems to live for the sport and one of my favorite memories was during the U.S.-Japan gold medal game in the Olympics this summer.

Brandie had it on and lived and died with every play, muttering terrible curses most of the time while watching the TV behind my back. I documented her watching through photos I posted to Twitter. (You'll have to dig for them.)

At one point, there was a pretty involved storm outside and she joked about what would happen if the power went out.

Less than five minutes later, boom, everything goes dark.

The whining "No!" from her behind me was somewhere between 6-year-old dropping a lollipop and Luke Skywalker being told his dad is the guy that just cut his hand off.

Going back to cursing: there was a time in this newsroom that, as far as I knew, it was open season to voice your frustration in whatever four-letter word best described your anxiety.

Sometime in the winter/early spring, we got a note saying otherwise. Since then, cursing has been like bootlegging in Prohibition in here. It's done, it's generally known about, but it's frowned upon if you're blatant with it.

Shortly after that note went out, Brandie took great pleasure in reading a quote out of one of the police reports she'd picked up.

"Give me the FUCKING car, motherFUCKER!" she yelled. (It was something to that effect)

Nancy, our editor gave her a pointed look and Brandie looked back.

"I was just quoting something from a story," she said, matter-of-factly.

I'm not sure what Nancy heard, but I definitely heard a six-year-old again, saying, "Nyah-nyah, you can't get me."

The six-year-old quality of Brandie is definitely her appeal, though. She's lost none of the enthusiasm you'd usually associate with a little kid.

She is competitive almost to a fault, and for that reason she dives into stories without reservation. God forbid if TV cameras show up for a story. If they do, she'll hit a source up for all he or she's worth because Brandie wants the story better than anyone else will have it.

That competitiveness jumpstarted our "Fill the Lab" food drive, during which we tried to get as much food and laundry detergent as we could so that we might have been able to fill our media lab.

All throughout that campaign, she said, "We're winning!" or "We're gonna win!"

I never got her to pin down what the hell we were winning or who we were even competing against, but her "winning" attitude fed a lot of people that really needed it this past spring and summer.

As you grow older, especially in a business like this where you encounter or discuss sad or terrible things almost daily, there is a certain jadedness you attain. Some of the comments I make now as a 24-year-old would probably sound pretty harsh to the 21-year-old journalism student I was before I started getting paid to write. But that's just the way things go.

With Brandie, however, her six years here don't seem to make her nearly as jaded as I've become in just one year. She still seems to feel as deeply for everyone she writes about and still feels the vitriol for the criminals.

More than a few times, I've called her "Captain America" for her desire to write about the bad guys and hold them publicly responsible. Just a week ago, I asked her how many times she's cried while on the clock.

Those qualities, to feel so deeply about what you do despite a sensory overload that comes daily, are probably what make her good at what she does and why we're definitely going to be taking a pretty big hit here at The Mercury after Sunday.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rocking in the (More or Less, Depending on Election Results) Free World

I always want to do a blog post about music because I am almost always listening to it while on the job, whether I'm at my desk writing a story, driving out to a school board meeting or a football game to cover, or whistling it to myself while I wait to speak with a fire chief after a house burns down.

This Tuesday will likely be no different.

Election night in a newsroom is hectic. Results come in, you try to reach out to candidates and the newly elected, people don't answer phones because they're angry they lost or drunk because they's a little much.

 Tuesday, 11:21 p.m.

Lucky for me, this time around, we don't have many local races to watch. Last year, I was covering one (particularly nasty) school board race and four local council races. It was slightly difficult figuring out who won, who lost, who was bending the truth, and how to write everything coherently in just a few hours.

But, it got done, as it does every time around in every newsroom in America.

In those newsrooms, election day is marked by two things important things: deadlines are usually a little later and food pizza is always provided.

So as I chomp down on a few slices of pepperoni this year waiting for the results of Dr. Manhattan vs. Hellboy...
...the following is what I'll be listening to.

- "The Time Has Come" by The Chambers Brothers
 If I had succeeded in my dream of becoming the Philadelphia Phillies' closer, this would have been my entrance music. But Tuesday, it will probably be the music I start my shift with.

- "Florida" by Modest Mouse
If you win Florida, you pretty much win the United States. So, you know, if you want to be president, start getting Mickey Mouse's endorsement. He is an influential resident.

- "Electable (Give It Up)" by Jimmy Eat World 
 A lot of the lyrics in this song seem to hold pretty true to the candidates we've been seeing in my lifetime. Probably before, too.

- "Strange Times" by The Black Keys
I think the song title and refrain pretty much describe day-to-day in this election cycle.

- "I Don't Care" by The Roots
Every shift I listen to at least one Roots song. Unless I substitute that out for one...

- "Freaks and Geeks" by Childish Gambino
...Childish Gambino song.

- "This Too Shall Pass" by Ok Go
Like any article or story I work on, whether it goes my way or not, there's always the next day and a different thing to write. Certain days, that's all I have to go on. On an unrelated note, this concert on Halloween my senior year in Madison was the best I've ever been to.

- "Long Drink Blues" by Smooth Streets Project
A tradition at the end of Election Night in most newsrooms is that everyone grabs a drink. This is my latest jam involving alcohol.  

- "Your Hand in Mine" by Explosions in the Sky
As a rule, I try to end any and every night with a post-rock song, and Explosions in the Sky is one of the best post-rock bands out there. As corny and idealistic as it sounds, and as impossible as it will be, you'd hope that everyone could at least put aside most of their differences after the election and move forward together with whoever wins.

But, as has been sadly evidenced, that really only happens when our worlds come crashing down.

To all my journalism friends that I know will be a part of their respective outlets' "All hands on deck" approach to Election Night this year, Godspeed and good drinking.