The Thrill of the Road Trip Assignment: Talking WiFi


The goal is to get the article sent as quickly as possible, and inexcusably perfect.

As mentioned in my previous entry, I play the role of long-distance reporter for our newspaper sports staff. All I do is write, and the designing is left to the designers.

I’ve been sent on some far-away assignments that meant filing stories from location.

I use a MacBook Air for writing my stories, and my cell phone is one of those Straight Talk plans from Wal-Mart (it’s cheaper for me personally). I used to use an Apple iPad, complete with folding keyboard, but I’ve grown frustrated with them after a few things went wrong.

I like my MacBook Air much, much better. However, the iPads have LTE — and I have filed from bizarre places such as a cornfield north of Orion, and on my car’s trunk in frigid weather on the parking lot of the old Grubstaker’s north of Rochelle. However, my fingers won’t work on the pad sometimes, and I have even accidentally deleted entire stories before sending them on deadline because the iPad acts up. Thus, I’ll take my MacBook Air any day.

Remember Sod’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will.

NEVER, EVER expect to go somewhere and file a story with the assumption that everything will work to a T. Deadlines are missed this way, and layout desks traffic-jam also. “I’m sure they have WiFi” IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

That’s why I always call the school ahead of time to assure that there will be WiFi in the press box. I never assume that a school does indeed have one, nor do I find myself asking when I arrive.

Then I find the nearest public place with WiFi to sit and file a story. This can be a McDonalds, a Panera Bread, or a hole-in-the-wall bar (like the one in Dunlap). I always try to find a place geographically AWAY from the general direction of where the home crowd lives AND where the visiting team travels. This ensures that I won’t be distracted by a lot of people.

[I also book hotel rooms using this strategy. More on that come state final time.]

I used this strategy this past weekend in Rockford, however it backfired. I forgot Guilford played at Harlem, and I would get their fans coming into the predetermined sit-down place at the McDs on E. Riverside and Perryville — north of Rockford Christian where Rock Falls fans won’t crowd up.

When I determine the WiFi place, I call the place and ask how reliable their WiFi is. If I’m not satisfied, I find the second-closest place. I have this stuff all planned out to assure I’ll have my story in on time. I try to have 2 back-up WiFi places in mind.

If my predetermined public WiFi place is something I an NOT familiar with, I need to go to this place well before my game and test it out. That way, any kinks are worked out ahead of time and I can dash inside after a game and file right away. If it is a bar — and I have filed from many of them — I ask them about how busy it may be, and if there are any bands playing.

Bars can be a hit-or-miss place to file stories from. I have found over the years that a bar with a few obnoxious drunks is more pleasing that a fast-food establishment full of high school kids.

For most small towns, the only place to file a story from location is from a sit-down establishment. I have found that calling ahead most times to most places will assure you of a special place there where you can sit and file a story. Such places I remember for next time because of their cordiality. Now, I don’t drink liquor on the job (or at all, really), but I will buy something to sip on, and tip (got to tip your bartender) extra well. Much of these places are small establishments; and if they know you are a traveling professional, they’ll go the extra mile to make it a place you’ll come back to. Comfort is a needed luxury when you’re frantically filing stories and boxes.

They may also think such a method will work to attract other such professionals.

Knowing a place has WiFi is one thing, knowing the reliability is another. Does it work well with your computer software? Can it be used to connect your computer with your servers? These are all things you should know BEFORE you cover your game in Timbuktu.

I have my designated places throughout northern Illinois figured out.