Wanted: Dead or Alive

I’m filing this missive from the road, where I’m at a national college media convention. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who asked how things were going. I answered almost without thinking, “I never end up sleeping at these things. I eat too much, I drink too much, I laugh too much, I see people I never see and I love every minute of it.” It’s a weird deal when it took me an hour to walk about 30 feet from the elevators to the main convention floor because I kept seeing people who wanted to talk. I spend time with people who are Red Staters and Blue Staters. I spend time with people who are 70 years old, have been in the business of advising for 40 years and still want to know what I think about something or ask if I’ll talk to their students. I learn from kids who are 19 years old and can tell me that a Flip isn’t a dance, but a“frickin’ sweet” camera that allows them to “jack into YouTube and shit.” I’m amazed by it all.

I usually end up tired on the last day, dying to go home, simply because the adrenaline has worn off and all of my friends have gone home by that point. I crash out the next week, die of some miserable cold/flu/death spray thing and limp along until Thanksgiving break. It’s totally worth it.

A friend of mine lost his mother just before the convention. (Prior to another one of these, his dad died.) He came anyway. We spent all of last night together at a fried chicken restaurant where we ate for about three hours, told stories of the time I tried to go drink-for-drink with him (him- 6-foot-7, 420; me- 5-foot-9, 165) and laughed until we cried. He told me about his son’s experiences with martial arts and I told him about The Midget and her love of Elmo. We drove back to the hotel with about a dozen of his students who kept randomly breaking into song, screaming out an off-key version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” We’re like his family and I guess that’s how I feel when I’m at one of these things.

For all the talk of “dying” media, you’ve got a boatload of kids out here, all trying to learn how to do what they do better. They embrace the Internet and video and convergence, but the biggest crowd is always around the paper-exchange table. They gather as many copies of other dead-tree versions as they can carry and then squat near a post in the lobby with several other folks and look for ideas, seek stories and compare their work to others. They go home energized, excitedly spurring on those students who stayed behind to put out the paper. They remind those of us who love the business why we still have a future.

I guess in many ways, I hope that everyone, regardless of what they do or where they do it, can have an experience like this. A special place that allows us to feel like we are among our people is so important to that sense of self we all strive for.

The convention is home to me for a few days. What I do here stays with me for a lifetime.