How I wasted New Years Eve at work

Showing up at midnight on Dec. 31 always a gamble for editor

By Stu Salkeld The Stettler Independent

I would like to start this opinion column off with a disclaimer: please do not construe this column as any kind of bitter rant. I like my job, have enjoyed my 24 years in journalism and like the fact that journalism itself, writing and photography, is a rewarding job.

Like all jobs though there are always parts that are annoying and apparently unavoidable.

New years Eve coverage seems to be one of them.

Early in my career I worked in B.C. in a small town along the Columbia River. Coming from the flatland Prairies, working near a huge body of water in a tree-covered mountainous valley was pretty interesting. I learned a lot about rivers, trees and mountains. And bears. Note to self: don’t leave garbage outside.

As my tenure there matured, December 31 inevitably approached along with the unavoidable celebration at midnight: New Years. My editor at the time made it clear I had to work New Years Eve and it was also my responsibility to line up something to get photos of at precisely 12 midnight.

So I called the local Legion branch. I’d covered a few stories there, including Remembrance Day, and was familiar with some faces. I asked if they were having a big bash New Years Eve and was told, “Yup, the Legion is the place to be at 12 midnight.” So we made arrangements that at just shortly before 12 midnight, I would attend the Legion and get some photos of the festivities, including balloons, noisemakers, confetti etc. However, Legion staff locked all the doors before midnight. Don’t ask me why, I am sure I have no idea why they locked the entire building up tight. However, I was assured the back entrance would be left unlocked so I could get in.

I showed up about 10 minutes to 12 midnight, walked around back and tried the door. Of course, it was locked. Inside I heard the band, and despite my banging away on the door, no one answered. A few minutes later I heard the countdown…”10, 9, 8…” until they struck midnight and the cheering and Auld Lang Syne could be heard. I got no photos and had my backside chewed out by Mr. Boss on January 2.

Fast-forward a few years to my next port of call, a town in southern Alberta. The year was 1999 and most of North America, if not the world, was deeply concerned with the impending collapse of society through the Y2K issue. I’m sure you remember that one.

It revolved around the fact many computer or automated systems were manufactured with two-digit internal clocks to record date. They omitted the “19-“ digits in, for example, the year “1999.” Some prognosticators predicted that, at the stoke of midnight, 1999, those automated systems, rolling over to “00,” would cease to operate because, for some reason, the computer could no longer tell what year it was.

Anyhoo, a different boss told me I would be working New Years Eve and that I would be going down to the town’s water treatment plant to see if the entire thing shut itself down. There also would be the mayor, town manager, several town staff and a few other people.

So rather than spend New Years Eve living my life, I packed up my camera and headed down to the water treatment plant. Bumping into the mayor as soon as I arrived, I was assured RCMP were patrolling the streets in the event of a total systems collapse. You know, like when the Roman Empire fizzled.

One cool thing happened there: the town sprung for champagne for everyone who attended. That was the first time in my entire life I had champagne. It’s tasty.

Time wound down and everyone stood there in silence staring at the clock. It ticked ever-closer to midnight, with the second-hand seemingly slowing down. But reach midnight it did, and nothing happened. Not even a blown fuse or burned out rubber band.

So I got my photo of the mayor drinking champagne in the waste treatment plant on New Years, realizing every Dec. 31 for the rest of my life, I would be thinking about this moment at 12 midnight.

Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

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