“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
— Samuel Johnson
On the day of November 1st, I wake early, shower, and have a cup of cocoa. There are times when only chocolate will do.
I glance through the kitchen window at the drowsy world outside, and at the trees in the backyard, just rousing.
I envy the trees. I envy them because they don’t, I assume, feel dread. Or think about questions such as the one I’ve been asking myself all week:
What am I going to have to tell Nick when this morning’s events are over?
Last night, I emailed a final set of instructions to my team. It contained the sentence below, which, if proof were needed, is a measure of how far gone I am:
On the real D-Day, it was the GIs on Omaha Beach, thinking independently under pressure, who turned the tide.
I juggle life and death at work, literally, and death, when it comes, is a terrible thing. This is just a camping trip. A proposed camping trip to El Capitan state park. Why am I’m more tense now than when I walk into an operating room?
Half an hour before 8:00 am, I sit down at my desk and log into the Reserve America website as myself in one browser, as Nora in another. I go over my check list. Nineteen other team members, I hope, are going over theirs.
It’s pretty weird to have your entire life taken over by military metaphors. But taken over mine is. I check the clock. 7:45. The race begins in fifteen minutes.
A DAD ON THE TEAM
I’m about to log into the conference call with five other parents when the phone rings. It’s Bob, a dad on the team.
“The sites,” he says. “Are available now.”
The room spins. Has the world gone through a worm hole twenty minutes into the future? Have I screwed up and told everyone the wrong time? Are Reserve America and Darko Dejanovic chuckling now over a little practical joke they’ve played?
My fingers freeze on the keyboard. I can’t think.
Someone says, “Get to the Portola and de Anza group sites! Reserve them both! Now!” I think it’s me.
I hear keystrokes on the phone. Silence.
“No good,” Bob says finally. “It won’t let me. It just looks like they’re available. False alarm. Sorry.”
Should I email the team? Warn the GIs on Omaha beach that the terrain will look different from practice? No. They’ll figure it out. Stick to the plan.
One by one, my elite phone team of five parents logs into the conference call. Only five, for now, out of twenty. More would be chaos. The rest of the team, for now, is on their own.
We make small talk. I mention Bob’s call, how the site looks different.
“I noticed that,” says LuAnn.
Mike’s browser is giving him trouble.
“My second browser keeps logging me out,” he says.
“You need to be logged in as your wife on the second browser,” says LuAnn. “Not as yourself.”
“What?” he says.
I’ve told myself the reason for the conference call is that I need real time information from at least a few people. I think the actual reason is I want company.
At five minutes we discover that not all our clocks are in sync. I decide we’ll go with the majority.
Three minutes to eight. Conversation lags.
“Okay, everyone focus now,” I say. “Only say something when you get a site.”
Here is the plan:
8:00 am to 8:03 am—Go after sites. Everyone has two assigned targets, and alternates if the first two are taken. Once a site is reserved, a customer has 15 minutes to complete the purchase. Don’t complete the purchase yet.
8:03 am to 8:05 am—Report results. I opened an account on the Survey Monkey web site and created a simple form. Everyone should have it available in a browser tab. Half a minute to fill the form out.
8:05 am to 8:07 am—Tally. I’m on my own here, the whole team standing by. I have two minutes to assess the survey results, then send final instructions to everyone.
The reason for this wrinkle? It’s just possible that we’ll reserve too many sites. If they were all to be purchased, we’d have to cancel the extra ones. And the cancellation fees would break us financially.
So everyone will wait for my message, and then:
8:07 am to 8:15 am—Complete purchase of authorized sites. Eight minutes should be plenty of time. Then join the conference call.
Have I injected too much complexity? Have I given myself enough time for the tally? Will the whole plan break down in the heat of battle? Is anyone sure of anything in the fog of war?
There’s always Frog Creek, our backup, the park we went to last year. It’s less desirable than El Capitan, but also less competitive.
I can’t think about that now. I have to think about my own part.
I’ve assigned myself to go after the Portola group site first, then an individual site. Two other parents will go after Portola at the same time I do. And three will go after the de Anza group site. We’ll be competing against ourselves. But the group sites are so precious—Portola holds 40 campers, de Anza 32—that the redundancy is worth it.
Fifteen seconds to go.
On the phone, someone starts counting down. Everyone joins in.
Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
Camp director concludes next time with Slingshot. Did I say concludes? Indeed I did.
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Image Credit: “Starting Line” by Jon Marshall
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