Facing a challenge

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Every so often, I like a good challenge. I got one last week.

I drive a six-person van for a day program for people with developmental disabilities. One spot in the van is reserved for a person in a wheelchair.

Our company has a second vehicle, a bus that holds two wheelchairs and up to a dozen other people. I’ve driven it several times around town, mostly to a weekly outing at a bowling alley.

The phone rang about 5 a.m. last Thursday. My supervisor wanted me to drive the bus route that morning, picking up 10 people, including two in wheelchairs, at six homes.

Even though I’d never done that route before – I had never been to five of those six homes – I said, “Sure.”

Both of our vehicles contain a binder that includes detailed instructions on who to pick up each morning, and how to get to his/her/their house. I’m pretty good at following directions, so I spent a half-hour studying the route I would take, then started the engine and away I went.

At the second stop – I got there on time – I picked up our individual. His house is on a corner lot. I pulled into the driveway with the big bus; I was told I should stay on the street. Also, there’s a cul-de-sac I can turn around in, which I didn’t see because it was still dark when I picked him up.

I figured all that out on the afternoon drive home, when I dropped him off.

A couple of other times that morning, I missed a turn. Actually, I turned too soon, fearing that I would miss a turn. I didn’t trust the directions far enough. I know Lorain County well enough to figure out when I made a mistake, and was able to turn the bus around (not always easy) and get back on track.

I arrived at the day program with everyone I was supposed to pick up, a little late – but I got there.

Then, I took a deep breath.

I made it.

At my first stop, I picked up a man in a wheelchair. I pulled into his driveway, then had to do a three-point turn in the driveway to get out. I should have done the three-point turn before I loaded the individual on the bus, but that first time I didn’t – which made it harder for me to lower the wheelchair lift and get him in the bus.

Little tricks like that I learned on the fly. Again, I got it right when I took him home that afternoon.

I did the bus route for two days, while our regular bus driver was off.

Did I mention that the second day it rained? The route takes me on the Ohio Turnpike for a little bit. Rain coming down, water splashing up from passing semi-trucks – what fun! I hung out in the right lane and got to my next stop on time.

I’d be glad to do the bus route again, if ever I’m needed. I was stretched, and I learned. I hope this makes me a good employee.

The experience reminded me of my newspaper copy editor days at The Saginaw (Mich.) News. My favorite days were the mornings after a presidential election. Call me crazy, but those mornings were not normal.

My typical starting time was 6 a.m. each weekday. After a big election – besides the president, the ballot included numerous state and local races and tax requests – I got to the office at, oh, 3 a.m. Several reporters worked all night to get election results. Photographers did their thing. Our graphics guy made the results simple to read by listing candidates and their vote totals in charts, highlighting the winner in bold type.

The metro editors arrived in the wee hours to edit the stories and organize it all. Then, the copy desk came in to lay it all out on the appropriate pages.

The newspaper was much thicker the day after such an election. Most of these mornings were pre-Internet, so we were the best – and often only – source for the election results. (TV and radio covered the presidential and state races, of course, but most did not hit all the local elections that we did.)

I like to be pushed sometimes. I designed twice as many pages those mornings as I did on a regular shift.

When it was over and the paper was in the newsstands and on the way to our subscribers’ doorsteps, all of us in the newsroom took a deep breath and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.

We were a team; each of us did our part, and did it well.

Our readers were the beneficiaries. We knew we had done something that mattered.

Even today, in the Internet age, newspapers are the primary source for local election results. The city where I live now doesn’t even have a local television station, or an all-news radio station.

So, we at the newspaper went beyond our normal job duties to provide that service to our readers. We were good.

Sometimes, life takes us outside our comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to go there. That’s how we learn. That’s when we find what we are truly made of, what we are capable of.

And that’s why it hurt so much when my newspaper job was eliminated, along with many others, and our team was broken up. We had something special, and it’s gone.

Time to make new memories, find new challenges.

When a challenge presents itself, step out in faith and accept it. The result: Everyone wins.

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