Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Legend of 'LIVE 3'

The Lumbering Beast Drove Like a Runaway Stagecoach...

Until a couple of years ago, my station had an old school live truck - a mid-80's Chevrolet Suburban forever designated as "LIVE 3."

LIVE 3 was a beast, one with more than a few battle scars. In some ways it was a rolling history lesson. A quick glance over the bleached-out white paint job revealed at least four generations of faded logos. To open the side doors and peek inside was to look back in time: an outdated tape deck that whizzed and hummed like a printing press, dials and levers from the golden age of radio, ancient cell phones the size of lava lamps.

But to really experience LIVE 3, one had to crawl behind the wheel and crank its sputtering, wheezed-out engine. After a few puffs of black smoke, you were ready to roll, but it could be an awful lonesome ride - for Live 3 offered few amenities. No A/C, no speedometer, no fuel gauge, no power steering...the radio was so ancient it only picked up static and oldies stations.

But that wasn't the worst of it, the great lumbering beast handled like an runaway stagecoach. In fact, one didn't drive Live 3, one held on for dear life and hoped for the best. It had two speeds - stopped and fully floored, touching it's accelerator was like tipping over a brick. The steering wheel shook so violently, photogs couldn't shoot handheld for days after driving it. I'm telling you, it was bad.

Despite it's legendary status among the shooter set as a rolling deathtrap, the suits insisted it remain in service. Once they vowed only to use it in cases of emergencies, or spot news. But soon after, flower-shows and bloodmobiles were considered reason enough to kick-start the sleeping giant. And when we did, it usually kicked back. I'll never forget the time I was breaking down after a crime-tape live shot. When I killed the engine it issued two sharp backfires, sending officers and citizen scrambling for drive-by cover. Making the SWAT team piss themselves is no way to win friends on the force.

As for LIVE 3, it took an army of photogs to kill it. Though it lurched along on it's last legs for far too long, it eventually expired of natural causes: Death by E.N.G. (Electronic News Gathering). Mercifully, a shiny new WolfCoach model rolled in soon after, and the bosses held off on a much discussed engine overhaul exorcism of LIVE 3. A naive production grunt actually bought the damn thing from the station, incurring the ridicule of anyone ever held hostage behind its wheel. Not surprisingly, the grunt's big plans for LIVE 3 didn't pan out and he quickly unloaded it on a local grease-monkey. Occasionally I'll catch sight of it in the overgrown lot, and wonder of the stories it could tell.

Just don't make me drive the bloody thing.

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