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Planning not to plan

Up until about 9 p.m. Monday I had a pretty good idea what this column was going to be about. I was going to write about being unusually tall. And about buying a new bike. And about the challenges that arise when those two things come together. It was going to be funny and observant and, had circumstances allowed, it would have included a brief but tasteful nude scene.

But if there's one thing I've learned in the nearly 13 years I've been doing this job, it's that things don't always go the way you planned. You can take whatever steps you'd like to get ready for each week's paper, but just when you think you've got everything figured out a man will get trapped in a corn silo in Farmington, or a co-worker will inform you Rose-mount police are in the process of investigating a fatal shooting at a car wash.

I was about five miles from home when I got that news, having stayed late to attend a school board meeting. I had driven home pondering all the jokes I could make about top tube lengths, and weeding out anything inappropriate. But when I got the news I did a U-turn from exit ramp to entrance ramp to head back south. It didn't do much good. Nobody who would have been able to tell me anything was either available or willing to talk. I knew something awful had happened. I knew somebody's parents were morning a lost son. I knew my disrupted evening was nothing compared to that. But there were few details to gather. I took some notes about what I could observe of the crime scene and headed back home, secure in the knowledge another co-worker had already posted what information she could gather to our web page.

It wasn't the way I intended to spend my night, but that's the way thing go sometimes when you work for a newspaper. Things happen, and they have to be covered. Only once in the years I've been here have we had a genuine stop-the-presses moment, but we've had to make plenty of last-minute adjustments to stories and layouts.

News doesn't concern itself with deadlines, and no paper is really finished until the ink is dry on the page. With web pages available to update stories around the clock the reporting cycle isn't finished even then. Even a weekly paper can publish daily.

It's a reality that can make this job simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. There's a thrill involved in chasing down the details of a big story on a tight schedule, but breaking news rarely breaks when it's convenient. It can throw even the best of plans into disarray. A really big story can be great for readership, bad for sleep schedules.

And in this case, at least, it can keep you from hearing a perfectly good bike story.

Let's plan on next week, OK?