Sunday, October 12, 2014

Zero dark thirty

The scene: It's 2 a.m. and my alarm goes off. Oddly, I'm already awake. I've been staring at my smartphone's clock for the last 15 minutes, waiting for the minutes to tick down. Part of me is afraid to fall back asleep. The other part of me can't wait to get going, because it promises to be an incredible day.

That's because I'm scheduled to be in Waterloo for a live interview just after 6 a.m. CTV's Canada AM has set up shop in the parking lot of the St. Jacob's Farmers Market, its intricately planned road show designed to coincide with the launch of Oktoberfest. The agenda: Tell the story of this remarkable region. My job: Talk about the area's tech economy, explain what sets it apart, and why it's so special no matter where you might live.

But first I have to get there. So I quickly run through my usual morning routine - albeit quietly - and, using my phone's flashlight to light my way through the darkened house (best app ever, btw) I slip out into the crisp, clear and silent morning. I pause in the moonlit shadows of my driveway and breathe in the moment. Every road trip starts with a pause, hand on my car's cold metal, a wish for a safe drive. And this one's no different.

But the clock is ticking. It's 3:45. In I go. Strap in. Cue the tunes, boot the GPS, go handsfree and ease out of the driveway, my headlights sweeping past the house one last time as I pull into the night.


To some, it makes no logical sense to drive 90 or so minutes through unfamiliar landscape, speak on live national television for five minutes, then drive straight back to the office where I'll put in a full day. But some things in life don't line up perfectly on a spreadsheet. And when the opportunity to work with some of the most accomplished folks in the media business presents itself, saying no means you'll always wonder what might have been, what that adventure might have felt like, and what you would have learned in the process.

No wondering for me this morning. I said yes, and I'm glad I did. I've worked with these caring, remarkable people for months and years, yet because I'm always in a remote studio or online, have never met most of them in-person. So here I am, alone, Imogen Heap wailing in my ears as I drive through the farmlands of southern Ontario. Why Imogen Heap? Not entirely sure. But for some reason, the music seems to fit the moment.

I feel alive.

I've entrusted myself to my GPS. I had carefully plotted the route the previous day, and programmed the unit with enough backup destinations and routings that I should easily find my way. But I've never taken the back roads before. Nor have I done so in the dark, on my own: My navigator-extraordinaire wife is deservedly sleeping back home. That Garmin had better know its stuff.

Alas, it doesn't. Somewhere near Stratford, I hit a detour and before I know it, the signs that were supposed to eventually bring me back to the original route seem to have disappeared into the inky blackness. The road I'm on turns from smooth two-lane asphalt to a one-lane-and-a-little-bit gravel-dirt path. The sky seems darker still as I move further away from the atmospheric glow of nearby towns. The GPS unit seems to be pointing me away from where I should have been going, the distance-to-destination counter going up by ominously large chunks with each successive minute. So I ignore it and dead-reckon the navigation like I used to before satellite-driven tech came along.

Back on track

I eventually figure it out. I'm not lost, per se, but I do end up spending more time covering my car in dust I would have liked. After crossing too many intersections to count, where each stretch of road gets narrower and rattier than the last, I follow my instincts, turn back in the direction where I think the road should be, and sure enough I find the original routing - no sign of any construction - and continue on my merry way. The GPS snaps back into compliance - I've even saved some time along the way - and I go back to churning today's talking points in my mind.

In the end, technology wins the day as a final right-left-right-left combination drops me almost directly from endless farmland into the apocalyptic site of a temporary TV studio in the middle of a massive parking lot beside a market that forms the core of a remarkable community. It's surreal, it's magical, and I get to experience it first-hand.

As soon as I park, a producer manages to find me in the corner of the lot, and, cool enough, he knows who I am. He takes me to the central tent where I meet the team, drop my stuff and get ready for a morning I won't soon forget.

Sure, I could have slept in, but where's the fun in that? Life needs a shakeup every now and then - or perhaps more often than that - and unless you're willing to follow your gut, you'll never know whether or not you have what it takes in the first place.

On this day, my gut wins the day. And the surreal life that I lead adds another chapter. If you know me, you know how deeply grateful I am to have been given the chance in the first place.

More to come, as this is a day that almost begs for more...

1 comment:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

One day, I was driving from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Kalispell, Montana.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I ended up on some little road that turned into a dirt road in a corn field (I had taken an exit to get gas, etc.)

Luckily, I figured it out and slowed down from the 40 or so I was doing. I had no GPS, and had to turn around and go back the way I came.

Turned a long drive into a REALLY long drive, though!