I kicked off the year in high style, huddling with the transients at the local shelter, collecting shots and coercing soundbites from a line of diners for a report on North Carolina’s homeless population. As always, my lens and demeanor was met with glee and rancor - depending on the blood alcohol level of the chow-line crowd. But I come in peace, realizing there is no ONE way to ending up in the homeless shelter. A thousand bad decisions and plain dumb luck can get you there. I learned that the first time an old acquaintance called my name from a top cot. Since then, I don't pass judgments; on my deadline I ain't got the time. As matter of personal policy my dealings with the downtrodden is polite, professional and perfunctory.
“Hi, Channel X - wanna talk on camera? No Sir, I don't have a cigarette, just the opportunity to have your opinion heard - What's that? No Sir, you don't HAVE to be on television. Okay Sir, put the fork DOWN...Medic!"Days later I found myself trailing a 12 year old girl scout cookie selling champ as she prowled the selling floors of Greensboro’s much ballyhooed ‘Motor Mile’. With order form and green sash in tow the young lady moved from sales associate to parts manager to the F& I Guy, all with me shadowing her every move. We must have looked pretty silly. Still, the sales weasels we encountered seemed prepared; they coughed up an order or four with a barely a shuck and a grin. I’d have felt better about the whole enterprise had it not been for the dour look on the child’s face and the hovering Stage Mother just out of frame. Of course I couldn’t escape their clutches without puttin’ in for four boxes of Thin Mints. Mmm, Thin Mints.
The latter part of the month found me in Burlington, where I ran around a ‘walking tour’ of a Cold War era missile factory. Now shuttered and chained, the sprawling facility once cranked out miles of missiles and scores of warheads for Uncle Sam. That day a man with the company trying to sell the rundown plant led a roving clutch of journalist, unnamed suits and retirees up and down the factory floor. It was a time capsule of a tour. From the faded shag carpeting in the executive offices to the burnt orange linoleum in the employees lounge, the place screamed Mid Seventies Missile Factory - just don't ask about that weird glow coming from that back hallway.
But my silly trip through the next Austin Powers movie set was a savored stroll through the good ole days for the gentleman at the back of the pack. A trio of Grandfathers clad in ballcaps and Members Only jackets hobbled along slowly, mouthing words to another I could not hear. As soon as I had them in my sights, I grew entranced. My quick sprint through yesterday’s Industrial machine turned into their forced march through history. It explains why they all got misty at the faded letter board behind the lunch counter, I watched it all through the cross hairs and got a little misty too, But my tears could have been from that weird pool of chemicals seeping down that back hallway. Just a guess.
Next time on The Year In E.N.G...what else? February!