With the November Ratings War raging, it was only a matter of time before I got temporarily re-assigned to Dawn Patrol. Blame it on my mastery of the Dark Arts, a groggy broadcast discipline involving endless live shots, half-mile cable-pulls and forever-dying camera batteries. Like the Marines, early morning photogs do more before breakfast than most people do all day. It’s one of the reasons I steadfastly avoid the shift, that and my overall disdain for sleep deprivation. But sometimes a four hour morning show needs more than one live remote. Foul weather, midnight drive-by, hastily-planned protest; infinite factors can cause a second live truck to roll out before dawn. Far too often, I’m the schlub behind the wheel. Take today, for instance:
Try as I might, I could not understand why the alarm clock was screaming its head off at four a.m. But scream it did, until a well placed swipe silenced it for twenty-four hours more. Lying back in bed, I almost shrugged it off, until a certain synapses fired in my head and I realized I was due on the interstate lickety split. With a grumble and a sigh I arose, causing the wrapped-up lump that was my wife to utter those five words every husband loves to hear...Don’t let the cat out... No problem, I thought, rubbing sleep from my eyes and stumbling to my lair. With only minutes allotted for pre-news preparation, I had neither the time or desire to engage the object of my bride’s affection. Of course I did take a moment to check my e-mail. There’s always time for THAT.
Ninety minutes later, all vestiges of sleep left my body. That’ll happen when you drive the wrong way down the interstate. Sure it was closed to traffic, but it still feels wrong nonetheless. Tom Britt and I giggled like nervous schoolgirls as we followed the D.O.T. truck through a concrete corridor flanked by screaming traffic. When the hardhat in front slowed to a stop, I parked my lumbering news beast beside is bright yellow truck. When we hopped out, a dry, cold wind caught us both by surprise. Tom hunched his shoulders and buried his nose in the upturned collar of his heavily-logo’d coat. The scene brought feelings of déjà vu, but that’s to be expected as we’ve both logged serious time in the breakdown lane together. More than anything, the sight of Tom Britt bracing from the cold reminds of wet feet - an ingrained sensation borne of too many long mornings on the icy overpass of life.
But if you have to loiter around frozen roadways, there’s no better partner than ole Tom. A journeyman broadcaster, fellow Down Easter and traffic aficionado, the vaguely avuncular and acutely affable Mr. Britt is as easy to get along with as anyone can be at such ungodly hours. Actually, today wasn’t so bad. Once we got used to the seasonably(?) cold weather, we passed the time between live shots with the usual chitchat, stopping in mid conversation to cock our heads to the side and listen to the crackling voices in our earpieces. All around our pocket of small talk, roaring rivers of motor and metal flowed East and West. Day laborers, vice presidents and housewives leaned into their steering wheels, looking away from the license plates in front of them to steal a glance at the news crew playing grab-ass on the other side of the Jersey wall. Most quickly returned to their windshields, but a surprisingly number took the time to blow their horns, or even shout. And I think I know why...
They’re punishing me. Whether they know it or not, they’re paying back some sort of cosmic debt I incurred twenty five years back... Goldsboro, 1980. Minutes after watching the credits roll on ’The Empire Strikes Back’, my older brother and I piled into his car, double-pumped at having just watched the best installment of the Star Wars saga. If that weren’t exciting enough, I spotted my first real life news crew setting up on the edge of the parking lot. Momentarily mind-boggled by the logo sighting, my brother and I bounced off the Chevy Nova’s interior as he floored it toward the news team. The Photog never looked up, instead focusing on the Reporter as she tried to finish her stand-up. At the last possible moment, my brother threw the car into a hard left turn as I leaned out of the window and expressed my admiration with a blood curdling hillbilly scream, “YEEEEEEE” ---
--- “HAAAAAAW!” As the SUV raced past and the screams died away, Tom continued his on-camera summary, never once acknowledging the sound. I, however winced a little inside the viewfinder, knowing that right or wrong, East or West, a.m. or p.m., I probably had that coming.
Next Time: Pep Rally!