Saturday, February 5, 2011

Snowed under in so many ways

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining. Well, perhaps I am, actually, but as always, I realize that it could be far worse.

It's just that seeing 18 inches of snow on the ground here this week reminds me that I am feeling a little snowed under myself of late. It's kind of hard for me to understand -- I'd thought that once I'd been laid off, I was going to have far more time on my hands than I'd had since I was a kid in school.

I suppose part of it is the loss of a routine that normally helps keep one organized. That may or may not change in the coming weeks as I continue my search for a new job. And of course that search takes time, as well -- a lot more time than someone who's never been unemployed before would think.

In the meantime, I am enamored of a part-time job as a digital journalist. Still, the hours vary from day to day and it is far too easy to become distracted by the absence of routine.

For the last 20 years of my 27 years as a journalist, I worked as an editor, often longing futilely for the opportunity to write and take photographs as I did when I first started in the profession. It was not until I started this part-time job that I realized once again just what I'd been missing all these years.

This week punctuated my new-found enjoyment with an off-chance shot at non-typical coverage of the massive snowstorm as it blanketed the Midwest before moving on to assault the Northeast.

The storm hit here Tuesday afternoon, but city officials began preparing for it Monday night.

On Tuesday morning, Elgin Public Works Superintendent Dan Rich e-mailed me, asking if I'd like to do a ride-along with a snow plow driver that night. I could not get back in touch with him right away -- I left a message -- because I was on the way out to a job-counseling session at Elgin Community College. A day earlier, I had attended an orientation about training certification offered by a county agency, and ECC is one of the vendors that offer that training.

That was the start of a complicated week. The ECC counselor, Judy Burman, suggested a number of changes to my resume. They were not major, but changing a resume is delicate work, if only because an unemployed editor can't afford to have a misspelling or dangling participle or misplaced modifier as proof that he's not the expert editor he says he is. Couple that with a half-dozen professional networking and job-search accounts, each with its own version of my resume, and even a simple revision becomes cumbersome.

But those changes were going to have to wait.

Shortly after I returned home Tuesday, I received a robo-call from our school district stating that Wednesday classes had been canceled in anticipation of the heavy snowfall. That was the impetus for the first story of the day, which I ended up updating something like 31 times before I called it a night.

But then Dan called back about the plow ride, and I just could not let that pass.

So I updated my storm story for the last time about 10:30, and shortly before 11, a snow plow stopped in front of my house, and I climbed aboard and rode with a guy named Kevin for more than four hours of amazement.

I won't go into detail, but I will offer a link to the story, which I found enjoyable in so many ways. First, building relationships is a key part of gathering information, and the plow driver was a pretty neat guy, working extra hours to help provide for his family. A really big plus for me is that I enjoy meeting people and getting to know them.

Couple that with perhaps the largest blizzard to strike in at least 12 and perhaps as long as 44 years, and you have the stuff of news legends.

People who complain about the jobs plows do really have no clue what these guys are up against. I got to see firsthand why the city was begging residents before the storm hit to avoid parking on the narrow streets in residential neighborhoods. Watching Kevin try to squeeze through some of those streets without doing any damage to the cars parked on either side was pretty intense. Sometimes he had to back out and call it quits because the gap was just too thin.

And he was conscientious -- expressing regret that all he could do on his route that night was to make sure each of the side streets was passable. Because of the storm's intensity, the snow at times actually was coming down faster than the plows could move it. So the drivers had been instructed to keep the streets passable rather than trying to completely clear them.

Still, sometimes complaints stand out more than compliments.

And yet, as I looked back on the Twitter and Facebook postings over the past couple of days, Elgin residents appear to be wildly approving of the city's cleanup effort, and after taking a quick spin around town myself today, I have to agree.

So that is what filled my Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, I actually started the recommended revisions to my resume and began shipping out copies to prospective employers. Along the way, I fielded a short phone interview with one prospective employer and, late in the evening, set up a Facebook account. I'd put if off far too long.

I've long been aware of Facebook's potential as a tool, particularly after having followed Twitter for so long. A rare Midwestern earthquake about a year ago hammered home to me Twitter's potential as a news-gathering tool.

But this week, Elgin City Manager Sean Stegall rode with the snow command crew and posted updates on and photos of the cleanup to the city's Facebook page and Twitter account.

The immediacy of that information -- being posted real-time -- was amazing to me, a former print journalist. I also found the public's engagement via those social media to be incredibly awesome, as well.

So Facebook became my late-Thursday obsession. And Friday I awoke to a glut of tasks -- I still had about four cover letters to write and e-mail out or submit online along with my newly revised resumes. And of course there was the post-Facebook hangover nobody ever warned me about -- something like a gazillion e-mails in my Gmail account when I awoke. And to top it all off, the bathtub drain is clogged again, and this time it's a stubborn clog.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining. Well, perhaps I am, actually. Even so, busy is better than bored.