I knew I was in for a trip this morning when I found The Suits hunched over a map and muttering my name. Minutes later I was headed West, flipping through my on-board CD stash and trying to remember the quickest way to the Parkway. That’s the Blue Ridge Parkway to the uninitiated - 400 some miles of twisting ridgeline that’s breathtaking any time of year, let alone October, when the autumn palette of a trillion drying leaves will suck the breath out of the average flatlander. That includes me, for back home you can see for m-i-l-e-s from the bed of a pick-up truck - if you can look past all those scraggly pines. Here in the Piedmont however, rolling foothills boast every kind of hardwood tree under the sun. Dash uphill and you’ll find even more stately columns - all individually crowned in their own rippling hue. In case you haven’t guessed yet - I dig me some trees. Had I been a sailor in the Age of Discovery, I would have surely fancied myself a naturalist - though I’d have probably earned my berth by cranking out daguerreotypes of jaunty explorers. But I’m not a turn-of-the-century deckhand, I’m a flustered purveyor of pixilated fluff who specializes in the quick-turn. Who better to send screaming uphill on a dare and a deadline? Sure, you could dispatch Chet Grey-Temples, but is he gonna bring back a few extra impressions for you folks in the cheap seats? I think not.
With more than an hour and a half to drive each way - I only had about ninety minutes on-scene. Thus I wasted no time leaf-gaping - choosing instead to drive with a purpose along the windy mountain passes. I found this makes all those grannies in passing Cadillacs v-e-r-y nervous.
Ten miles into the Parkway, I found what I was hunting for - humans! Sure, I came for the leaves, but it’s awful hard to wring good sound-bites out of molting oaks. Thus, I needed tourists - especially since my story revolved around the Parkway’s latest efforts to attract more rubber-neckers.
The first sentient beings to fall victim to my lens were four young college kids. Sitting cross-legged on the ground outside a rest stop, they barely looked up from their apples and organic peanut butter at the approaching cheese-ball with the oversized fancy cam. God bless the Granolas!
They said they were cycling to Asheville and I was instantly jealous. Then I saw their two-wheeled steeds and did a double-take. These were no designer bikes, but second-hand ten-speeds laden with camping gear. Later when I watched them hurtle past a precipice at breakneck speed, I remembered what it felt like to be immortal.
With the kids quickly shedding altitude, I was left with only the senior citizens to interview. Using my best manners, I cornered a few grandparents in windbreakers and elicited sound. All was going well until an errant grandma broke from the pack and repeatedly asked if ‘I knew Rupert Murtaugh?’ I was halfway down the mountain when I realized she meant ’Rupert Murdoch’. And no, I don’t. Yet.
With six interviews in the can, I threw my gear in the back of Unit 4 and dropped it into Drive. I was free at last from the shackles of interaction, with nothing left to do but assemble the eye-candy I’d need to dress up my facts. Sadly, this is what I live for.
A few minutes later, I perched my sticks on the edge of an overlook and pointed it wherever my fancy demanded. It may sound like random fun, but inside my skull I was assembling segues that didn’t exist yet. Wide, medium, tight…I was repeating my mantra when an old coot in a passing pick-up slowed down and bellowed, “How can I get a job like that?”
‘You might not want it old man’ I thought as I pushed my glass to its limits. Sure it looks simple, but there is a science, art and work ethic involved here, Gramps. Wrapping myself around my sticks, I went back to work - wondering why the old guy thought my gig was so damn great. It wasn’t until I viewed the meager results of all my efforts from the comfort of my laptop, did I figure out he was probably right.