Scenes from a reporter's work week

Joel van der Veen
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When I was a student at Ryerson University, I’d frequently hear warnings from instructors about the career path I’d chosen.

We were told that a reporter’s life is hectic with long hours that cut into our social lives and limit our capacity to settle down, raise families and lead lives that were anywhere near normal.

I assumed they were exaggerating and maybe embellishing the truth somewhat. Now that I’m here, it’s clear they weren’t joking — like on Thursday at 11:30 p.m. when I have seven stories due Friday and have made no progress on any of them.

That said, I also realize how unique my job is. I meet and interview fascinating people, ask questions and learn about new things, and then turn my findings into words. Not bad.

Here are some anecdotes from a couple of weeks that held plenty of surprises and memorable moments.

Oct. 4: I drive to a school on South Hill to interview some Grade 1 students about Thanksgiving, what they like about the weekend, how a turkey should be cooked and so forth. The goal is a seasonal feature chockful of Family Circus-esque humour.

I arrive and am sent to the staff room with six talkative kids. We sit around the table and I start asking questions. They’re interested and co-operative, but being kids, their attention starts to wander somewhat, particularly the two boys in the group.

They’re wont to change the subject and start discussing, say, their grandparents’ pets. Sometimes they get up, walk around or leave to get a drink. It isn’t easy, but I have a few chuckles and I get what I need for my story.

I’m no snitch, but I mention casually to their teacher that I have a newfound respect for her ability to control a class of kids day after day, given how hard it was for me to keep six of them entertained for 15 minutes. (Funny aside: as I’m trying to find the exit, a girl from another class stops me and tells me I can’t go outside because “recess is over.”)

The next week, I return to work to find a letter addressed to me, typewritten and supplemented with crayon drawings, signed by the two boys and reading: “Dear Mr. van der Veen, We are sorry for not listening and running out of the room when you were trying to interview us. We made a mistake. Now we are trying to fix it. I hope that next time we will be more polite.”

Don’t fret, lads, all is forgiven.

Oct. 11: I face another daunting interview: Vincent Furnier, the one and only Alice Cooper, who is doing a promotional chat for his Nov. 9 show at Moose Jaw’s Mosaic Place.

The interview was scheduled weeks ago through his promoters; they will call at 2:40 p.m. for a 15-minute talk.

I’ve got my questions ready in front of me. My heart is pounding and I realize just how anxious I am about this. What if I make myself sound like a total idiot? What if Alice sleeps in and misses the interview altogether?

The time arrives and the phone rings. I answer, and within seconds I am talking to a voice I’ve known for years — only now, he’s talking to me and answering my questions.

I’ve read interviews with Alice before, but it strikes me just how calm, thoughtful and intelligent he sounds, far from the asylum-worthy lunatic he portrays on stage.

I ask him about his appearance in Dark Shadows, which I saw this summer, and he laughs at the mention of it. I resist the urge to ask him to add I Love America or The Man with the Golden Gun to his setlist for Moose Jaw.

At one point we’re talking about being on the road. He mentions how he hates being cooped up in his hotel room, so he’ll wander out to the mall, just to get some fresh air. He asks what there is to do there; I respond that some of our tourist attractions will be closed by that time.

“Walgreens?” he asks.

“We have a Zellers,” I say.

“I’m in,” he replies. “I’ll be at Zellers.”

He’s in Phoenix at the time of the interview, and he asks how the weather is in Moose Jaw. I tell him we had snow this week and that people have to scrape their windshields off in the mornings now.

“Unbelievable,” he says. “Unbelievable. I’m looking outside now. I can see the heat fumes coming off the cement.”

"No, shooting the breeze with Alice Cooper," I think to myself, "that's what I'd call unbelievable."

Occasionally, I’ll share moments like these with my friends on Facebook. Last week I’d posted about the letter I received from the Grade 1 students, to which one of my buddies responded: “Wow. You have the best job.”

Yes. Yes, I do.

Joel van der Veen can be reached at 691-1256.

Organizations: Ryerson University, Grade 1, Zellers The Man

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, South Hill, Phoenix

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