We broadcast journalists chase our individual deadlines for starkly different reasons. For some, it’s the chance to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. With others, it’s the glow of the TelePrompter that draws them to the flame. Me, I’m in it for the access - the backstage pass of a life observing others. When I was younger, I filled my lens with the carnage and the struggle of police blotter coverage. But as the years passed, my lust for the lead story waned considerably. Today I’m more than happy to bring up the rear, filing daily reports that end newscasts, not start them.
Which is why I wasn’t the least bit upset when my bosses dispatched me to a gig of seemingly little import. The assignment - hang out with the traffic counters. Perhaps you’ve seen them on the outskirts of High Point, scruffy college kids in low slung beach chairs furiously pushing buttons on strange laptop devices. No they’re not field-testing the latest in Game-Boys; rather, they’re keeping score on the many motorists that pass by their encampment. Every summer, city engineers pay young adults to gather traffic data; and every year about this time some sheltered producer motors by and discovers them for the very first time.
That’s where I come in: wish-actuator for the deskbound and the soft. Not that I’m complaining! I’d much rather loiter with a few calculating collegiate types than cover one more minute of contentious County Commissioner Stand-off. So it was with considerable enthusiasm that I descended on today‘s unlikely subjects. The two dudes-in-waiting bristled a bit at first, but when I explained I came only for close-ups and sound-bites, they relaxed a little more (if that’s possible). Soon I found myself huddling with the dynamic duo as they clicked a button on their counting gizmos every time an Escalade, school bus or Chevy Vega zipped by.
We spoke of much as the exhaust fumes wafted over the underpass: summer jobs, new car models, even the upcoming cinematic bastardization of an H. G. Wells classic. All the while travelers came by at a respectable clip, no doubt wondering why the local TV station was interviewing Beavis and Butthead. But that’s not fair. I found my two gracious hosts to be enlightened and entertaining, brimming with verve and obscure movie trivia. Something about them even reminded me of my own salad days fifteen years back. In fact, there was only one patch of trouble on our roadside perch: One of them was interested in a career in broadcasting.
Rather than crush the young man’s dreams by a bustling interstate, I gently cajoled the youngster for not aiming a little higher on the Life-O-Meter. Sure, it may look fun, but my profession is rife with long hours, lousy conditions and less than stellar pay. Wouldn’t he rather be a baker, a businessman, an Indian Chief? Apparently not, as the young man rivaled my list of interview queries with his own curious questions. Sensing the youth was adamant about pursuing the Fourth Estate, I met his inquisition with serious aplomb.
“Yeah, this job can be a kick, but you’ll work too damn hard for your money and before long your idea of a good day will be loitering with folk half your age at a seedy underpass.”
Judging from the delight in their eyes, I could tell my dissuasion wasn’t working. So I handed them a business card with my blog address on it, told them to check my archives, and made a hasty retreat before I unduly influenced their future career paths any more than I already had. Then I got some lunch.