Friday, October 07, 2005

The Caravan Unlocked...The Last Post

New! Click here for Shelagh's thank-yous and good-byes in her last Caravan Unlocked video blog. Windows Media required. [Runs 12:29, 12 MB]

VANCOUVER — Hello, from the West Coast. It's raining here today — quelle surprise. It's hot in Toronto and cool but sunny on the Prairies (my step cousin in Peterson, Saskatchewan, says they still need a good four days to complete the harvest — very late this year with all the rain). There's a chance of flurries in Iqaluit and it's showery and mozzy in St. John's — which is not so far from Corner Brook, where the picture above was taken.

One of the things I actually enjoyed on CBC Radio over the last eight weeks was the national weather forecast. It gave me a sense of the country as the caravan traveled through it.

I got home from St. John's yesterday and had a good sleep in my own bed. Never underestimate the gift that is your own bed. It is heaven. And in my waking hours, I have been trying to sort out what The Caravan meant through this eight weeks of lockout and what it meant...or means to me personally.

Let me go back to the very beginning of The Caravan. I remember talking it over with Sue and really needing some time to think it through. It had its genesis as a way to show people that the real Shelagh wasn't what they were getting on the radio in ad-nauseam repeat form. But it became a way of connecting — with colleagues on the picket line, with listeners, and with what public broadcasting is really about: the public.

The Caravan took on a life of its own. As we traveled from place to place, people were ready to greet us, feed us, sometimes water us and put us up for a night or two. Sometimes those people were complete strangers, like Laurel Walton of Castlegar, B.C., who sent us an email saying why we should stop in Castlegar.

As we made our way east, it was our locked out colleagues who accommodated us. And often, they were strangers, too. In every case, we were walking into other peoples' lives in progress: kids going back to school, elderly parents who needed to be driven somewhere, spouses needing injections of medicine for MS. In every case — no matter what — we were made to feel at home.

Just about every stop came with media appearances, talks about the importance of a strong national public broadcaster to groups in town halls, highschool auditoriums, university classes, public rallies and on broadcasts on campus stations. There were a number of benefits for food banks and, in the case of Stephenville, Nfld., flood relief.

No matter what the event was, the spirit was always the same.

It was about community. Public broadcasting is about building community.

Frequently listeners told me they didn't know what was really going on in their city or their country in the last two months. Often, I heard that the CBC was crucial to their understanding of who we are as a country. One of the things that stays with me was hearing a woman in Bruno, Saskatchewan, say she felt in danger of becoming parochial without the CBC, that she would be restricted in her outlook.

Through the odyssey of The Caravan, I've come to really believe that Canadians want to hear about each other, whether they live in big cities or rural towns. Toronto wants to hear about Stephenville. Castlegar wants to hear about Halifax. They want to hear their stories and the stories of other extraordinary Canadians. I've also learned that they want more of a voice. And maybe with the success of the podcasts and blogs that the indefatigable, irreplaceable Tod Maffin corralled into cbcunplugged we will see more room being made for the listener. As I have said before in a handy phrase, let's put the public in public broadcasting.

As for what The Caravan meant to our fellow locked out colleagues, it's up to them to say.

I can only report from my end it was an honour to walk with them and talk with them. And whenever we pulled in to a new location, the welcome was the same: warm, affectionate, and appreciative. I gathered a lot of strength and energy from speaking with them and hearing first hand the effect of the lockout on their lives and the lives of their families. They are, to a person, remarkable people and they must be cherished and respected.

What can I tell you is what The Caravan meant to me personally? I won't linger on this — if you've been following this blog, you've got a good idea already.

I learned a lot about camaraderie. I observed it on the picket lines, and I experienced it in the van itself. Traveling with Sue and Natasha was a blast and except for the occasional disagreement over music and McDonald's, it was smooth. The undercurrent of constant support we had from Webmaster Sean was amazing. He was our coach. And hasn't he done a wonderful job mounting these dispatches, the podcasts and the slideshows. I owe the three of them and Tod Maffin enormous, inexpressible thanks, bottles of litchi liqueur, scotch, rum and screech.

I took to assigning The Caravan crew roles from the John Sturges movie The Great Escape.

Natasha, in the backseat editing sound was the James Coburn character Sedgwick "The Manufacturer."

Sue, as she called ahead setting up the next location for our visit was Charles Bronson's "The Tunnel King".

Sean, as webmaster and ear-to-the-ground-guy was a combination of Flight Lt. Sandy MacDonald who got all the intelligence, James Garner who played the charming Hendley "The Scrounger" and with Sean's attention to visual detail on the blog space, I'd have to throw in a bit of Donald Pleasence who played Colin Blythe "the Forger".

Tod Maffin made sure it got to the outside world, so he would be David McCallum's Lt. Cmdr. Eric "Dispersal" Ashley-Pitt.

That leaves me — and this is the first and last time I'll ever be able to liken myself to Steve McQueen. So I guess I am Virgil Hilts, "The Cooler King." I am the one with the mouth, the one out in front, and hey, I ride a motorcycle — who knows if these blogs and podcasts will land me in the cooler?

This has been an incredible journey. I have a renewed faith in public broadcasting that came to me in this chain of visits across the country as opposed to one big leap. I believe we can meet all the challenges of new and emerging technology as long as we don't sit on our big, fat complacencies.

This part is really personal: for years, I have been a CBC host without opinions. The lockout unlocked something in me and somewhere along the road, I realized the value of "speaking your truth." Of asking for what you want. Of not being nice all the time. Of being real. Of breaking the mirror. Of taking a stand and standing by it...

I want to thank all the people who put us up and fed us, the people who organized events, who got the word out about The Caravan, campus radio stations across Canada, and especially our colleagues across the land. Wish we could have come to every location. And thanks to the CMG executive who didn't laugh this idea out of their office. We could not have made this trip without you. And you returned all our phonecalls, too.

This idea, by the way, was Sue Campbell's. She didn't know what it would be or become. But she acted on her gutso guts. And she was right.
Speaking for the women of the caravan, thanks also must go to the men in our lives: Charlie, Paolo and Thoby.

Thanks also to the women in Sean's life: Maud, Léa and Zoé.

I want to thank you, too, for the e-mails, phone calls and blog responses and for just reading all this stuff. Thank you for listening.

See you on the radio.

— Shelagh
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shelagh and Sue: Thanks so much for leaving your families and friends behind and heading out on the road. I know your colleagues appreciated all your hard work, and I believe our listeners did as well. It was wonderful to see you both in Saint John, NB. I'm sure we'll meet again - already it's once now in beautiful Holman and twice on the friendly east coast! You certainly do manage to get out there, even when we're at work. I certainly hope you manage to get a little rest before we head back in. Best wishes.

Vanessa in SJ

12:26 PM  
Blogger Draken said...

Shelagh & Company:

A job very well done. Everyone is talking about everything Todd has done, with good reason....however, you folks should get a BIG pat on the back as well. You "put your money where your mouth is" so to speak. What a HUGE contribution you have made, and continued to bring Canada to people even when you were forced off the national airwaves.
Way to go folks.
Oh and Shelagh, any chance you may continue to blog once the show starts again??? Just a thought :-)

A CBC Fan in Saint John N.B.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Eric in Toronto said...

Shelagh and friends: Thank you. You folks gave us a renewed amd stronger sense of how critical it is to us that we know how the "others" in our beloved Canada are doing.

Thank you to all the organizations that suported the locked out CBC employees.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Dwight Williams said...

A blog adjunct to SLC?

Might not be a bad idea...provided Shelagh's not the only one posting to it. :)

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