I opened one eye to see my wife standing in our bedroom, hair half done, toothbrush in hand and about 47 times more excited than is appropriate for 7 a.m. on a Tuesday. I propped myself up in bed, pried open the shutters and gradually both of my eyelids to verify that it had, in fact, snowed. My verification wasn't because my wife is a liar - which she isn't, and especially not about meteorological events - but rather because I'd come to understand that winter ended a good month ago, giving way to temperatures in the mid 50s and the thought of snowfall had been shelved deep in my mind until next November. Also, it couldn't be snowing. There was nothing about snow in the forecast. Not on KTVZ, not on the Weather Channel, not on the NOAA website, not on that goddamn Weatherbug that chirps from the corner of my laptop despite repeated uninstallation attempts.
Outside, I saw that it hadn't just "snowed," but the sky had dumped, and was continuing to dump, apocalyptically large snowflakes down upon our unsuspecting town, accumulating northward of 10 inches in my front yard, knocking down my hedge and some Louisville Slugger-sized tree limbs. The four-wheel-drive-aided trip into work yielded an empty office where a heater cranked and a few beeps and blank screens meant the power had gone out at some point overnight. When my computer booted up, it told me our Internet service was out.
Gradually, staffers arrived in the office, each detailing his or her harrowing trek downtown and/or disappointment that newspaper offices, unlike schools, don't close when it snows. The guy who fixes our Internet came in and fixed the Internet, allowing me to send exactly two e-mails... then all the lights went out. Someone gasped, then someone laughed and a couple others said one of the three words we're not allowed to print in this newspaper.
See, here's the problem. This was a Tuesday, which is the day our entire editorial, design and sales staffs scramble to get our newspaper sent to press on time so it can be printed and dropped off into your hands the following afternoon. For the most part, the process is hectic yet somewhat methodical. Controlled chaos, you could call it. Then, on rare occasions, the process, when viewed from the outside, must look very much like someone trying to solve a Rubik's Cube while a pack of wild monkeys try to light his or her hair on fire.
We were now 10 hours from press deadline and had spent a good 45 minutes sitting in our lobby waiting helplessly for the power to come back on, because, apparently, that is what a dozen fully capable adults in the year 2011 do when their power goes out. Also, they apparently make jokes.
"We'll have to make this newspaper just like Abraham Lincoln did. Log cabin style," someone, who was probably me, said.
A joke, yes, but there was some truth to that in the fact that it is wholly impossible to make a newspaper without computers, let alone electricity. Yeah, people did it back in the day, but those skills have been portaged from our workplace DNA over a few decades of web and computer reliance. Also, do you have any idea how heavy a typewriter is? Also, ever picked up a dictionary? We're journalists, not candidates for World's Strongest Man.
Our lifelines were cut. We had no database to know what ads went in the paper and no access to any of the stories that were written for the issue. No way to design the pages or print them out for the final copy edit. On the plus side, it had stopped snowing, but with some 10,000 customers in the region also without power, there was really no indicator that we'd be the chosen few to be granted the gift of electricity.
And thus did we venture to different harbors throughout the city in search of homes equipped with power, Internet connections and, if we were lucky, heat. I had all of those things, thus my basement became a fill-in office with Ryan, our production designer, setting up his monolithic computer tower, monitor and other electronic accoutrements atop a child-sized desk... just in time for my Internet connection to go down. Any hopes we had of gathering materials from our dispatched colleagues faded.
"There are 19 customers ahead of you," said the robot on the end of my call to customer service. Internet connections can't just go down, like that, could they? Were we in Egypt? Did anyone know that it was a Tuesday and we needed the Internet to make our newspaper?
An hour later, nearly all of our staff was huddled around a dining room table at our ad designer's home, willing a small wireless router to give us the sort of juice we needed to piece together this newspaper. Children, having been granted a day off, circulated throughout the room, eating macaroni and cheese and generally enjoying the fact that at no point during their lives would they ever have to assemble a newspaper in such a ramshackle fashion because newspapers will be printed in your mind or something by the time they're adults.
Then came the call. The lights were on at the office. Someone had even shoveled the walk. The storm had knocked us down, but we were back up. We plugged in computers and ignored the scores of e-mails that had piled up during the day as we raced toward deadline. Someone got pizza - the first thing many of us had eaten all day - and it looked like we were going to make this happen, which we did - around 2:30 a.m.
The monkeys had burned off all our hair and were now organizing a rudimentary government with which to rule over us, but we'd completed the damn Rubik's Cube.