Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Grilling the Messenger

'Sir, do you have permission to be up here?"



"Like written permission?"

Rooftop ShannonI was stalling and the rent-a-cop knew it. He'd popped out of the stairwell door and caught me watching the sun rise over the Hollywood hills. A few feet away, Shannon carried on a conversation with my camera. Thanks to the cell-phone suitcase at my feet, her voice and image were appearing on TV screens some three thousand miles away, with only a second or two of delay to confuse the anchors. For half an hour, we'd been joining our North Carolina viewers live from some eight stories above Los Angeles. Now a small Filipino dude in a Smokey Bear hat was threatening to shut my production down.

"You need to come with me." he said. I smiled as if there was nothing I'd rather do than abandon the reporter and gear I'd flown five hours across country with the night before. Which is what I did. Shannon was answering an anchor's question when she noticed me walking toward the elevator with Lil' Smokey. I gave her a look that said, 'Keep talking. We're just gonna go get some ice cream.' She gave me a look that said, 'If anything happens to me up here, I'll haunt your every descendant.' I could only smile weakly as I followed the shopping center security guard into the elevator. The door shut behind us and I visions of Han Solo frozen in Carbonite filled my mind's eye.

As our capsule plummeted down the nine floors, Lil Smokey stared holes into my sternum. Our faces were only a foot or so away and I thought I smelled a distinct lack of coffee on his breath. He looked back up at me as if I'd mooned his Grandmother. I could only stare back and fight the temptation to offer him a Tic-Tac.

After what seemed like a very long time, the elevator reached the basement floor. When the door opened, my uniformed escort motioned for me to follow him.  I did, and walked deep into a dim labyrinth of concrete and steel. Then a door opened and I was suddenly in a very small room. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw a much larger man in the same Smokey Bear hat standing in front of a wall of LG flat-screens. On one of the screens, I could see Shannon standing before my tripod and camera, apparently still making happy talk with our anchor team back home.

That's when the interrogation began.

LA"Who are you? What are you doing up there? Did we know about this?" Big Smokey seemed even less pleased and I again got the distinct impression I was delaying everybody's breakfast. Veins were beginning to appear just above his starched collar and as he demanded answers, I asked myself another question... 'What would Fletch do?'. I didn't really know, so I put on my most unconcerned expression and made sure not to lie.

"We're here for tonight's red carpet. Just doing a few affiliate remotes. You know, like a morning news preview. We'll be done within the hour..."

This only seemed to infuriate Big Smokey and he leaned forward into my personal space.

"Yes, but did you arrange this with us beforehand?"

"Did I arrange this with you beforehand? No, not me personally, but I, uh, can't imagine my bosses back East didn't follow the, um, appropriate protocol..."

With a huff, Big Smokey turned on his polished heel and plopped down at a nearby desk. Grabbing an over-sized binder, he began flipping through the plastic covered pages and asked me my name. I told him my name, utterly certain no such moniker appeared anywhere in that binder. The sound of those plastic pages being flipped with such force drowned out every other sound in that small room and I had to look away. My eyes landed on an endless bank of walkie-talkie chargers, so many I began to question just what kind of fortress we had scaled. So far, neither Big or Lil Smokey had asked me HOW we'd gotten past the parking garage's many stop-arms to get to the top, and in the excitement of the morning I myself had momentarily forgotten. All I knew is I'd been sent cross country to establish an electronic beachhead in semi-friendly soil and we didn't pack like sardines into a pressurized tube for five plus hours just to give up when some traffic arm wouldn't lift on its own.         

Shannon and Stew RooftopI was trying to decide how best to verbalize that when Big Smokey slammed the binder on the desk and reached for what I could only assume was the direct line to Commissioner Gordon. As he punched buttons, I turned toward a nearby the bulletin board to see if they kept track of many camera crews they pepper-sprayed each month. Behind me, Big Smokey spoke into the phone.

"Chief. Real sorry to wake you. We got some  joker on the roof doing live shots. Says he's here with the network promoting that red carpet event tonight...

A great silence followed as the security office's clock hands ground to a halt. I rocked back and forth on my heels and wondered about my new friends' police on Tazers. Up on the flat-screen, I saw Shannon put down her microphone and inch nervously toward our rented red Impala. 'Did I even leave the car unlocked', I asked myself as Shannon walked off screen.  Then Big Smokey's voice snapped me back into the present.

"What's that Chief? Yeah?"  
Here it comes, I thought. Ten more minutes and I'm gonna be a guest of the LAPD... probably say something stupid and spark a beat-down. By lunchtime, I'll be known as the new Reginald Denny. Most likely lose a few teeth, might get lucky though and score my own cable show.... 

I was working out the particulars of my first book deal when Big Smokey grunted into the phone receiver and hung it up hard. I turned toward him and clinched for the thwack of the first baton.

"YOU..... can go."

I did and we went live there on the roof two more times before our morning show signed off for the day. As far as my bosses knew, it was never a problem -- which I'd like to think is why they sent me on such a silly mission in the first place. Now, back to you....


AJW said...

Well handled, sir!

Bill said...

Ah, memories...lol

It's not different out of the news biz. I HAD written permission, they were given it the day before, but I was still made to cool my heels for 45 minutes before they let me in, and then it was a race to set up three mics, cables, mixer, cam/sticks all while things were already underway.

Gotta love the bronze.