I'd barely been at the American Idol Atlanta auditions fifteen minutes when Cameraman Calamity struck: a piece of missing equipment. Not just any piece either, but the oh so vital wireless lavalier microphone! Somehow, I dropped the damn thing when I fished a stick mic(rophone) out of my boogie-bag. Realizing it was gone a few minutes later, I re-traced my steps like one of those over-actors on CSI. Alas, I found nothing. What made it all the stranger was the fact that I'd barely moved twenty yards from my news car in the short time that I'd been on-scene. But no matter how many times I scoured the six sun-baked parking spaces, the high-dollar transmitter refused to reappear. %@$#%@#$! By now highly frustrated and dripping in sweat, I popped Unit 4's tailgate and reluctantly ripped through the methodically packed contents. I was halfway through this hard-target search when a representative from the vast homeless community that apparently calls the Georgia Dome home approached from my left. Actually, he'd been trying to get my attention for a few minutes, but I assiduously avoided making eye contact with him as I tore through my gear. What he said next however, brought my foraging to an immediate halt.
"Yo man, whatcha'll do for some lost and found?"
Looking up, I took the man in for the first time. Dressed in dirty blue jeans, he wore a leather bomber's jacket but no shirt. It was a glaring lack of wardrobe choice in the smoldering heat and everything on him seemed to sweat accordingly. "Depends on what ya found..." I said, knowing full well what he'd 'found' - even before he reached into his jacket and produced my missing microphone pack. Ever so gently I reached out and took it from him, pretending to examine it to make sure it in fact was mine. It was, of course. I was delighted to have it back too, but I really wasn't up for exchanging e-mail addresses with this exiled stranger. He, however, had other plans. Sensing my unease he moved in even closer, asking what I had in the truck, how much the microphone was worth and what I might do to alleviate his overall plight. About that time, sat truck operator Joe McCloskey ambled up and spotted the aforementioned gadget in my grip. With a slight grin, he put two and two together and joined in our little parking lot bartering session - a move which didn't deter our new friend one iota.
"Dig deep fellas, ya'll need to hook me up!" The man's voice was as gravelly as the blacktop pavement we all stood on, his patter practiced, his tone only slighly annoyed. "Come on now, scrounge! Ya'll got any juice in dat truck?"
What followed was a friendly yet awkward negotiation between a hapless photog, a savvy transient and a chuckling truck op. While we hammered out the terms of our transaction, I found myself wondering just how long my microphone lay unattended before Leather scooped it up, how much he'd enjoyed watching me frantically search for it, and just what other pieces of television he had in that jacket. I'll give him this, though: dude was shrewd. Despite his vaguely predatory demeanor, he painted himself the Good Samaritan with a flourish that would have made the late Johnny Cochran proud... Some might think me callous when it comes to the homeless. Not true. I've done tons of shelter stories over the years, brought distraught families asked-for publicity and have thus developed real empathy for the truly downtrodden. That said, if all your limbs work and you're still looking for a hand-out - I'm probably not your guy. This case, however, was a little different.
In the end, we parted friends. - I with my wireless microphone, the leather-clad stranger with a dollar eighty-five in pocket change and two glistening cold bottled waters from our sat truck cooler. Tucking the frigid bottles into his jacket, he strutted off - but not before bumping fists with me and Joe while imploring us to give the local homeless folk a shout-out during our upcoming Idol coverage. Consider it done.