Friday afternoon live shots are rarely a choice assignment, but when it’s Ribfest, it ain’t so bad. So after a full day of processing reality into bite size chunks of sight and sound, Charles Ewing and I made our way over to the Jaycees parking lot on Greene Street. On the way over I phoned the wife to apprise her of my delayed ETA.
“Don’t eat! I’m cooking!” she said in a gleeful, slightly threatening tone.
No problem, I thought as I searched for a spot to set up the live truck. A few laps and a pissy rent-a-cop later, I squeezed in to the make shift media lot behind the cooking tents. Pulling in behind a competitor’s live truck, I waved to a familiar face through the windshield. That’s when Charles opened the door and the most savory aroma known to Southern Man wafted into the cabin: the smell of pork on fire. The scent overwhelmed us, halting our Beavis and Butthead impersonation in mid-chuckle. Suddenly it was game time.
Tumbling out of the live truck, Charles and I performed the acquired tasks with rigid precision. Hitting switches, pulling cable, dialing a signal and erecting the tripod - by the time the truck’s mast extended to it’s full height of fifty feet, a primitive TV studio stood in it’s shadow. Charles fished an earpiece out of a pocket as I connected coaxial cables to patch panels with lightning speed. If our exact plan was yet unspoken, our motive was understood: set this puppy up as quick as safe as possible, saving ample time to troll for hand-outs. Neither of us were about to beg for food, but if some friendly grill-master wanted hook up a silly grinning news crew - well then, who were we to turn down such charity. Besides, you can’t fully explore your research subjects without collecting a few field samples. This is science, after all.
A few minutes later, we found our mark. Huddling by the tent’s edge, I stared at a mouth-watering slab of ribs through the chilling blue of the camera’s viewfinder. But the lack of chroma couldn’t stop the technorama orgy of culinary lust going on in my mouth nose and sinuses. Just before a pendulum of drool could make break from my lip, sounds in my earpiece broke my stupor. “Go!”, the tinny voice inside my head commanded. Charles must have heard it too, because he started chatting with an unseen anchor about the crowd gathering in downtown Greensboro. Panning off the rack of ribs, I focused on our smiling weekend weather man and tried not to think about the cornbread cooking in a deep fryer to my immediate right. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a tent full of festival goers biting into ribs with wanton fervor, the bar-be-cue sauce dripping from their forks in delicious slow-motion. When it hit the tabletop and held its shape, my knees almost buckled.
Still, we labored on without so much as a hushpuppy offered our way. After half an hour of deliberate loitering by a grill full of ribs, we were beginning to wrestle with questions of principle. Maybe we’re wrong to expect freebies, we said, even something as innocuous as a heaping paper plate of expertly bar-be-cued spare ribs. Call it an epiphany or just sour grapes, but when the director in the earpiece cleared our shot, we didn’t want any stinkin’ ribs - we had our integrity! Gathering our tools, we began walking back to the live truck, our heads just a little higher than before. That’s when we saw her - esteemed colleague Tera Williams, tearing off a shred of tender rib meat between her perfect teeth and rolling her eyes in ecstasy for the lens. After a few seconds of frozen silence, Charles and I picked up our jaws and shuffled off to the idlling live truck, an important truth hanging in the warm evening air: sweaty news crews may have to beg, but pretty reporter ladies will never starve.
I guess that's the way it should be.