‘Hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror’. I’ve heard variations of this quote used to describe everything from combat to flying to accounting, but it could be equally applied to TV news (though you’d probably have to replace ‘terror’ with adrenaline, frustration or dread, depending on the assignment). Take today, for instance: After cruising the mean streets of Burlington in a live truck, Jeff Varner and I parked our rolling billboard alongside a row of half-finished houses. Given the choice, we would have made a bee-line for the air conditioned confines of the station, but the suits back at the shop wanted our ‘ex-textile employees turned construction worker’ story fronted LIVE(!), so we settled on a burgeoning neighborhood outside the lovely town of Elon as a suitable backdrop.
Of course, show-time was a good four hours away, which was damn convenient since there was an awful lot of work to do before the director could punch up our shot. After polishing off a most delicious milkshake, Jeff crawled in the back of the truck and began reviewing the footage we shot before lunch. As he culled coherence from a disc of jumbled images, I exited the vehicle and ‘got my photog on‘. Triple-checking the airspace above the truck for any potentially deadly power lines, I raised the mast and set up my camera while the telescopic pole slowly inched upward. By the time it reached its full height of fifty-something feet, my mobile studio was ready. After pointing the dish toward the nearest receive site, I called an engineer back at the station and quickly established the shot. With all my immediate duties fulfilled, I did what any self respecting news shooter would do: I crawled back into the A/C and caught some shut-eye.
Utilizing the awesome power-napping skills I once honed in the Navy, I reached a passable state of driver seat slumber within mere moments of settling in. As I dozed, the sound of interviews recorded an hour earlier wafted into the front of the cabin, providing an unlikely soundtrack to my erstwhile dreams. Behind my eyelids a familiar scenario unfurled: A crowded bookstore appears before me, eager patrons fighting for space amid a jumble of folding chairs. Each member of the overly attractive crowd holds a glossy hardback bearing the title ‘Viewfinder BLUES’. Spontaneous applause breaks out as I take the podium. Scanning the crowd, I take special note of the C-Span 2 camera staring back at me. In the lens’ reflection, a version of me stares back, teeth whiter, jaw squarer, clothes better fitting. As I begin speaking in a voice far deeper than my own, the weirdly telegenic crowd leans forward in anticipation of my unquestionable brilliance.
I go on for what feels like hours, but the pretty listeners never seem to tire of my anecdotes. Instead they lean forward in their seats, squirming with satisfaction and unbridled glee. Even the C-Span cameraman at the back of the room appears enthralled, totally immersed in whatever I have to say. As I speak, a scuffle breaks out among a group of Hooters waitresses as they fight to be the first to approach the Q&A microphone. I simply smile, revealing impossibly deep dream-dimples. Sensing the time is right to take a few adoring questions, I defer to the leggy blonde who won the hard-fought battle to be the first to bathe in my puffed-up prose. Tossing her golden mane back, the Jessica Simpson look-alike parts her pouty lips and summons the nerve to address the genius author in her midst...
“Dude, Keith’s on the phone. He wants to know if you can work mornings next week...”
Suddenly the crowded bookstore, the breathy bimbo and the C-Span camera are gone. In their place, the dashboard mast control panel stares back indifferently. Looking to my right, I saw Jeff’s fist thrusting my own battered cell phone in my direction. I took the phone, and listened to my chief photographer’s British accent. As he spoke, I notice the dashboard clock had traveled a full three minutes since I first fell asleep behind the wheel. After hanging up the phone, I leaned back in the seat in hopes the dream I’ve dreamt a thousand times before would once again reappear, but of course it didn’t.
I hate when that happens.