10th Anniversary of the CBC 50th Anniversary VIA Rail Train

Ten years ago today, I boarded a shuttle bus from a hotel in Vancouver, and met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure — nay, honour — to know and work with. (Believe me, I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years. This does not come lightly.)

It was a chance of a lifetime — something I knew then, and greatly appreciate now. A chance to connect with thousands of fellow Canadians, and experience our nation in a now-unique way. The memories were fond when it ended, and they’re stronger and more wonderful with every new day.

I’ve had people ask: Would I do it again? Damn right, I would!

That first day was a weird one. I was an outsider. I was brought in as a contractor, helping my friend Brenda (although, let’s be honest, here — she helped me) with a project that was dropped on her lap. She needed someone to spend (at the time) two months on a train, taking pictures, writing journals, and shooting video. Who the hell was she gonna find crazy/dumb enough to do that?!

(I owe Brenda huge, still, to this day. I mean, there’s just no other way to express the debt of gratitude that she would trust me with something such as that.)

So I boarded that bus, knowing no-one, realising very quickly that what was about to unfold was going to be a challenge unlike any I’d seen (and I’ll be damned lucky if I ever see it again). We unloaded at the Pacific Central Station, walked through to the platform, and prepared ourselves for … well, the unknown.

We didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if we’d all get along. But we had to. For over a month, we’d live in cramped quarters (often in the train itself), work under extreme deadlines, learn to love each others habits and quirks, make fun of each other, laugh, cry, tell stories, lend a helping hand, and share some very heavy loads. We had a crash course in friendship.

The thing I find most amazing is that everyone put up with me. First, the outsider — I wasn’t with the CBC. I was an unknown to nearly every group. The teams were fairly set: News, Sports, CBC Kids, the Boutique, and of course the ever-present and highly-awesome technical crew who made sure shit got done. (I was tapped with being responsible for New Media; my “team” was myself and one other, who changed three times during the course of the journey.) I was in everyone’s faces with my camera, and wrote extensively about almost everything we did (the CBC wisely cut down some of my blog posts, which periodically had an air of “Trans-Canada Pub Crawl” about them). Everyone put up with my incessant obsession with trains.

The video, thankfully, was turned over to someone else with considerably more experience.

We survived remnants of tropical storms, killer mosquitoes, diverted trains due to derailments, bears (in the railyards), trains (in the railyards), cold showers, intolerant visitors, periodically hostile local “assistance”, virulent viruses that took out nearly everyone at least once, broken feet, hangovers (see above note about the pub crawl), and lack of sleep. It created the kind ofcamaraderie you can’t explain to anyone who wasn’t there. There’s no analogy, no metaphor that can come close.

At the end, I think we all realised that we were in a mystical fog, a crazy daze that comes only from doing truly wonderful things. And on that fateful night, when the last call bell sounded and the lights came on, we all realised — very horribly — that our near-fantasy was over, and we had to return to a harsh reality that we had conveniently forgotten for a while. It’s a moment that rings as clear today as it did nearly 10 years ago … complete with the tears.

We all met up a year later, at the Elephant and Castle in downtown Toronto. Wereminisced, we laughed, (we drank,) and many of us wished we could do it all over again.

Nine years later, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.