It’s Thanksgiving morning and the wife and daughters have banished me from the kitchen, lest I further molest the makings of a fine meal. Thus I’m relegated to the den, with only my trusty laptop and slowly-dying big screen TV to keep me company. After a quick trip around the horn, I’ve settled in on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, an annual diversion that I deem fairly acceptable - once you get past Katie Couric and all that credibility-destroying lip synching. But I can’t watch much of it, for it gives me flashbacks...
No, I’ve never belted out show tunes in the streets of New York City. What I have done is stick a lens in many a frostbitten face as yet another papier-mache masterpiece rolled over my foot. Let me explain: Once upon a time I was a beleaguered promotions manager for a small-market television station. Among my many duties was helping coordinate, promote and execute live coverage of local Christm --- er, sorry, Holiday Parades. Greenville, Kinston, Goldsboro - no Downeast town was safe from our ragged band of TV dorks. Our approach was less than scientific. Hours before the parking lot on the edge of downtown filled with beauty queens, fire trucks and marching bands, we’d set up three cameras along the parade route, hook them to our dilapidated production truck, pepper the line-up with our on-air talent and pray for rain.
Rarely did Mother Nature bail us out. Instead, some town father would strike up the band, the first float would lurch forward and an exercise in ugly television would take over our airwaves. I always seemed to ride point, manning a street-level shoulder-cam while a hopped-up colleague wrestled with heavy cables behind me. Inside the viewfinder, it was a blur of smiling faces, jutting instruments and tipsy Shriners. I loved it. Having temporarily sold my soul to the Devil, I was just glad to get away from my sinister General Manager and get back behind the lens. The fact that had to dodge slide-trombones, kamikaze batons and all manners of horseshit along the way didn’t matter, for running a live camera has always been something I’ve enjoyed. Something about the crowd at my back, the director’s voice in my ear and a staggered line of costumed locals always made me feel...well, alive.
Not that our field productions were without its technical glitches. Far from it. No matter what the town, we featured unfocused shots, over modulated band noise and the occasional frat boy F-bomb in our wall-to-wall parade coverage. As for anchor cameos, they rarely went as planned. Just as we’d come back from a commercial break to show our weather bunny on the back of a convertible, a volunteer fire truck would careen into view and render our audio guy sterile with its screeching siren. More than once I stood like a wooden Indian, zoomed in all the way down the street as our wacky morning guy chortled and waved just out of view. As I learned early on, no amount of production truck screaming and desperate arm-waving could make a parade run on time. By the time the dime store Santa brought up the rear, my co-workers and I were exhausted, demoralized and eager to get out of town before the teeming crowds realized what a butt-ugly broadcast we'd smeared their town's good name with.
God, I don't miss those days.