We split up as we entered the building. Ditching the sticks by the check-out counter, I headed to the back of the crowded store, leaving Charles to chat up the manager. Only a few shoppers noticed the bearded man with the fancy-cam gliding down aisle five. Most just shuffled behind battered shopping carts, staring fixedly at row after row of hand-me-down clothes and second hand doodads. North Carolina’s annual tax-free weekend was only a few hours old, but the feeding frenzy was well underway. Customers with wildly divergent checking accounts wandered High Point’s newest Goodwill Store, making it fertile waters for our particular mission. As Charles broke away from the manager and pretended to be interested in a wall of used coffee makers, I melted into the background of assorted knit tops and distracted housewives.
Or so I tried. It’s hard to be low key with Sony’s latest battle-axe on your shoulder. Still, I gave it my best 'camera mannequin' there by the pantyhose display, avoiding any real eye-contact with the slow parade of plodding bargain zombies. I was doing pretty well when a gaggle of over-perfumed Soccer Moms came by. Feigning disgust at my logo’d lens, they rolled their eyes in bejeweled repulsion. Apparently horrified at the thought of being filmed in a house of discount, they hurried by, hiding their faces behind designer purses. I let them pass unrecorded but watched them go, committing their forms to memory. As I did, two young girls with w-a-y too much midriff bared sauntered past before bursting into gum-smacking cackles. Next up, a leathery man in an old school pimp hat strutted past, flashing a knowing grin of gold teeth and mumbling something about ’Westside’. I was still processing the man’s intent when Charles’ voice poured out of the headphones permanently wrapped around my neck.
“You must be shopping for school supplies...” he said. Scanning the store, I spotted him across the brightly-lit selling floor, cornering a women and her three kid by a sagging display of faded book bags. Through the tiny speakers, I heard the women giggle like a school girl at the licensed meteorologist’s small talk. Leaving my post by the control-tops. I swam upstream through a stream of golden-hearted grandmothers and aimless miscreants. By the time Charles’ victim began answering his queries regarding her purchases, an unblinking square lens hood appeared over his shoulder. Her eyebrows arched a little but she kept talking as I leaned in on the chit-chat. Glancing down, she noticed the gleaming black microphone in Charles‘ outstretched hand. Without every agreeing to an interview, she chuckled when she found herself in the middle of one. As she expounded on the challenges of fashion on a budget, I watched the red light and thought about free pizza.
And so it went for the next half hour: Charles striking up conversations with those who looked talkative while I ‘moved through the room like an ambulance driver‘. Through-out our many inquisitions, no great camera work was committed and no new journalistic ground uncovered. But we plied our trade handily enough; as we filled my camera’s disc-space with the interviews we needed for the piece that was due to air in a few hours, I found myself admiring Charles Ewing’s patent low-tech approach. Anybody can bag man-on-the street sound, but some correspondents make it a heck of a lot more difficult than it has to be. His utter lack of histrionics made this simple mission as easy as it should always be - which is damn nice when there’s free grub waiting back at the station. After a half dozen more impromptu Q&A’s, Chuck signaled he had enough and turned toward the door. “You go ahead,” I told him as I eyed the clutch of Soccer Moms across the room, sorting through a box of ratty flip-flops and sneering loudly like the well-heeled shrews they were, “I’ll be out in a minute...”