Sunday, September 20, 2009

What a Discovery!

(Bossier City, LA) - I made my wife get up off the sofa and go hang around the side of a road on a sunny Sunday afternoon and she thanked me for it. In fact, her eyes were dancing with light as she expressed her gratitude, saying "that was so cool!"
What was it? The space shuttle Discovery, riding piggyback on a 747, flew right over our heads.
The shuttle's most recent mission ended with a landing in California. It is based in Florida, so it had to get back. The local Air Force base is just about halfway in between, so it's a logical place for the transport plane to refuel and for the shuttle to spend the night. The arrival was quite a show, complete with fighter escorts. They noisily circled the sky, their pilots no doubt keenly alert for any potential threats. From the ground just outside the perimeter of the base, it was quite a thrill.
As word of the shuttle's imminent arrival spread, people found their way to roadsides and back yards, hoping for a glimpse. It may be the last time we see something like this because the shuttle fleet is soon to be retired.
Strangers became collaborators, as people used their BlackBerries, iPhones and other devices to scan for the latest information about exactly when the shuttle would fly over. The information we assembled proved to be reliable, as indicated by these photos. I debated with myself for about an hour about where to set up because I knew this was a one-shot opportunity. My biggest concern about the location I ultimately chose was the proximity of powerlines. They were an issue, but it turned out there was enough open sky to get the job done.
Living in Louisiana, we love our lagniappe, and we got some on this occasion. The 747's pilot elected not to land on his first approach. So he brought her around one more time! It wasn't a one-shot deal after all. On the second pass, the 747 and its extraterrestrial passenger landed safely. Suddenly, all along the roadside, things were momentarily quiet. Then, the people who were sufficiently motivated to roll out and witness the spectacle were basking in the thrill of it all. I admit it was, to borrow a phrase, "so cool!"

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Many Hats, Many Shirts

Life as an independent broadcast professional can be colorful and confusing. Incredibly, my mug showed up on TV on two stations on the same day in divergent contexts. If against all odds you might have seen parts of both broadcasts and you had the television on "mute," you still could have easily discerned the difference. In the early morning, I was in a suit making my contribution to "Wonderful Day Ark-La-Tex," discussing common illnesses among house pets.
In the evening, I found myself on the sidelines of a football game donned in a sporty white polo shirt with the TV network's logo on the chest. My mission was to report on interesting sidebars during the course of the game and host the halftime festivities.
All of this took place less than 24 hours after juggling the wardrobe between my full-time job and another freelance broadcast assignment. With a late Friday afternoon meeting in a sport coat and tie, I had to hustle home and change into "sponsored" clothing for a radio broadcast of a football game in central Louisiana. Think about that for a second. I have a sponsored garment for a radio broadcast. It may not make sense on its face, but there's a free shirt in the mix, so I'll take it.
As the juggling of these assignments required a certain amount of sartorial dexterity, it also meant spending some quality time with my old friend Interstate 49. Thank God for satellite radio. My SUV is my best friend these days. It has everything I need: leather seats, Bose speakers, Siruis/XM, an iPod dock, air conditioning that blows cold and plenty of room for several changes of clothes.
Naturally, given this brief spike in broadcasting activity, I checked the DVR's. I like the tan suit best. It makes me look skinny. Who knew neutral tones with window pane stitching had a slimming effect? Now, if I can just do something about that old-looking face......

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Smiling Again

(Ruston, LA)- Young love can be cruel. Happy Couple II has been separated by the start of the school year, but there was a blissful reunion this afternoon. He hasn't been gone that long and he's not that far away, but he might as well have been on Mars the way things have been around the house lately.
My daughter's senior year isn't going they way someone in her position might hope. Admirably, she is taking advanced classes and working hard at them, making good grades. She knows that her college options hang in the balance, so she's staying focused. It's difficult, though, when your heart is heavy. Mr. Man, with his tendency to wear silly western-style shirts with snaps instead of buttons, is always on her mind.
Today, his parents were making that short drove over to The Piney Woods to meet their son for lunch and she went along. We are fine with that, happy for her even. We hope the visits picks up her spirits. We also hope he understands the road goes both ways.
And somewhere along the way we hope things lighten up for her so she will have an opportunity to enjoy her last months of high school.

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Toxic Rain on the Bayou

(Baton Rouge)- The last time we saw the Vanderbilt Commodores, were were freezing cold but happy because the football team from my wife's alma mater had just won a bowl game. Fast forward to a rainy south Louisiana Saturday night and you find a woman in conflict.
A lifelong Louisiana resident who loves her Tigers as much as any other non-LSU alum, she found her affection conflicted as the Commodores made a rare trip to Tiger Stadium. She struggled with what to wear to the game, knowing full well she would be in close quarters with Tiger faithful for the first home game of the season. She settled on an LSU polo shirt with a Vanderbilt pin and socks adorned with her school's colors.
We let a select few fans in our proximity in on her conundrum and they seemed comfortable with her as long as LSU had a two-score lead. Unfortunately for her, that circumstance did not prevail for a significant portion of the game. When the Commodores drove into LSU territory with an opportunity to tie the game in the second half, she was just toxic. I just occasionally patted her on the shoulder to let her know I was there for her.
Ultimately, Vanderbilt was Vanderbilt. They turned the ball over at key moments and had a couple of stupid penalties to keep LSU scoring drives alive. The Tigers won and the lone Vandy fan in the section accepted it well, as if it had been preordained.
The LSU people around us were uncharacteristically gracious. but really nobody hates Vanderbilt, not even Tennessee fans. I suspect if she had graduated from Alabama things would have been decidedly different.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Busy Nights, Bored Audiences

Someone who saw me on consecutive nights this week described me as "a man of many talents." While that's flattering, it's also a little off the mark. It might be more accurate to think of me as a guy who works cheap and can't say no.
All false modesty aside, it is nice that people ask me to do things for them. So, I show up "out in the public" a little. I've been doing public address at a local football stadium for three seasons. I've worked side-by-side with a young upstart who happens to be the son of a long-time friend. He works the scoreboard and during down times plays music. My public address technique is some homogenization of John Facenda, Michael Buffer and Foghorn Leghorn, I think. They keep asking me back, though, so not everyone thinks it's preposterous.
The next night I found myself on stage and in the spotlight as the host of a fundraiser for the local university. The theme of the show was based on the legendary musical "Guys and Dolls." So, there I stood in a costume fedora and a pinstripe suit, affecting some kind of accent and trying (unsuccessfully, I suspect) not to embarrass myself.
I got conflicting direction. A couple of the event's organizers wanted the host to present himself as a gangster. Others wanted less goombah, more gentleman gambler. I just tried to find a middle ground somewhere between Marlon Brando, James Caan and James Gandolifini.
The experience was made all the more noteworthy by the fact that the man who signs my paycheck was there, at a table with three other people who could fire me on the spot with no questions asked. Gosh, I hope they were entertained. I wasn't exactly comfortable referring to all the women in the room as "dolls," but that's what my marching orders were.
For now, I'm just lying low for a couple of evenings in the quiet comfort of the family home. I'm planning to sit around in shorts and a tee shirt and just be myself for a while.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Midwest Misadventures

My “Mr. Big Stuff’s Day Off” started beautifully. The plan was elegant: accept the offer of a friend who has a private plane and St. Louis Cardinals’ season tickets. “A day game on Thursday; we’ll take off about 8:30, go to the game and be home in time for dinner.” With vacation time in my pocket and a holiday weekend on the horizon, how could I turn that down? It was irresistibly appealing. The sports fan in me was thrilled by it. My ego liked it. The romantic in me was infatuated with it. My inner cheapskate was screaming “if it’s free, it’s me!
Man, everything was perfect. The flight was uneventful and I had a front-row seat as we approached downtown St. Louis. A car was waiting and we were whisked away to the ballpark, where we arrived minutes before noon. By 12:10, I was sitting in the sun ten rows from the field midway between 3rd base and the warning track. I was having a hot dog and a cold beer. The temperature was in the low 80’s, the sky was blue and I was in arguably the best baseball town in the world. As life’s little moments go, this one was spectacular.
The game was terrific. Some of the sport’s biggest names appeared: John Smoltz, Albert Pujols, Trevor Hoffman. The final score was 4-3, Brewers over Cardinals; but the Redbirds had a chance to go ahead in the 8th or win in the 9th. Wow. Then, it was back to the car, off to the airport and a quick trip home. Or so I thought.
We hopped into the plane, the pilot cranked it up and was doing his pre-flight check when a concerned look crossed his face. Concern became a frown, and then he shut it down. Switches were flipped, Buttons were pushed and he tried again. Then, the dreaded words, “Okay, hop out. We need a mechanic.” It was shortly after five and we were at a municipal airport somewhere in western Illinois just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The mechanic had to be called in, and it seemed he had already started his after-work routine of intoxication. We were not getting home.
This was supposed to be a day trip. I had no change of clothes, no tooth brush, no razor, and no case for my contact lenses. I had no computer, no iPod, no book. Most importantly, we had no hotel reservation. We did have one broken-down airplane.
I made a stab at being spiritual and philosophical about our predicament. We had noted earlier that there were storms in our flight path home, so I actually said “maybe God’s taking care of us.” My friend the flummoxed plane owner replied, “Maybe He is.” I wanted to make the best of things and turn all this into an opportunity to see more of the city, maybe have a nice dinner, and all that. There was, however, a rather strong-willed person in our traveling party who is a more no-nonsense, practical sort of guy. He thought we should stay there in Nowhere, Illinois and get a cheap hotel close to the airport. Guess who didn’t get his way.
So, instead of being home in time for dinner or having an adventure in a Great American City, I sat alone in what amounted to a cheap motel room and just kind of existed. I asked for a “best guess” on the chances that the proper parts could be acquired and the plane could be repaired in a timely fashion. I was told “50-50.” Given the fact that I was supposed to work the next day and had an evening broadcasting obligation on top of that, I didn’t like the odds.
Hastily, my wife and I cobbled together emergency travel plans. Timing and economic considerations led us to a Southwest Airlines flight to Dallas, where I paid a premium price for a one-way car rental to get me the rest of the way home. I don’t remember the flight because I was asleep in the seat before take-off, but I do remember sunrise at the airport. I made it home safely and made it to work, albeit a little late. I made it to my broadcasting obligation in the evening and then finally, about 28 hours later that I expected, I slept in my own bed.
That whole “If it’s free, it’s me” thing was blown to smithereens. Last minute travel arrangements, even one-way, can cost a pretty penny. As for my friend the pilot, he said more than once “I’ll make it up to you.” This is ridiculous, of course, because he was being incredibly generous with his kind favors.
If things had gone as planned, it would have been a fabulous experience. It was great, anyway, because the first two-thirds of the day were magnificent. The rest of it is just details; and that’s what makes a good story, anyway.
Oh, by the way: the plane got fixed. He got home an hour and fifteen minutes after I did.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Those Crazy Kids Blocking the Street

The neighbors have no doubt noticed the number of cars parked in front of our house late into the evening. If they've thought anything about it, they may assume there's some kind of party going on. There are teenagers around, frequently in significant numbers, so this might be a reasonable conclusion.
Yes, the dining room is packed with 17 and 18-year-olds, but as best as we can observe there are no shenanigans involved. Remarkably, this is a study group. These high school seniors are serious about their grade point averages, and an advanced math class has their attention. Pencils are being chewed, calcualtors are being frenetically punched, graphs are being drawn and foreign-sounding phrases like "negative reciprocal" are being bandied about.
As the night wears on, there are expressions of dread as they lament the apparent necessity to stay up late working on this and other academic pursuits. Remarkably, our daughter's year-older boyfriend is hanging in there. An engineering student at a nearby university, he enjoys a reputation as someone well accomplished in matters of mathmatics. He seems to be acting as a tutor to those assembled, and who can argue with that?
It's all very encouraging. It's almost as if they they are beginning to realize that in less than a year as they start college, this kind of thing presumably will be a way of life. It's kind of noisy in here, but we're not complaining. Not long from now, the house will be empty and it just might be eerily quiet around here.
So, as far as I'm concerned, they should go ahead a plan a party for this weekend and really give the neighbors something to talk about.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Happy TV Reunion

Three old codgers got together for lunch over the weekend and had a few laughs. Take a look at this crew.
For many years, we worked together daily in the sports department of a local TV station. We argued a little, laughed a lot and developed deep affection for one another. Photos tell the story of the way we were, back when local sports coverage was consistently fun. Don't get me wrong. There are lots of people still occasionally having a good time covering sports. They don't do it for the money, I can assure you. There are different kinds of rewards, like getting into games for free and having the company pay your travel expenses. The dirty little secret, though, is that the media companies are not nearly as generous as they once were. I can tell you first hand there are local media people paying their own way to sporting events just for the privilege of being allowed to continue covering them.
It can't be a coincidence that the oldest member of the reunion trio was the first to get out of local TV and he has the least grey hair. Here's how he looked in the early 90's.
As you can see, the ravages of time may have cost him part of his hairline, but the remaining follicles are producing a preponderance of brown locks.
The other two can only think about a full head of dark hair, maybe taking an extra beat as we pass the "Just For Men" products in the grocery store aisle.
There were four people in the sports department at the time everyone worked together and none of us continues to work in local TV sports. It was fun while it lasted, even though the nature of our business often drove us out into the elements. We were much younger, a little thinner and certainly hungrier back in the day.
During the course of our reunion lunch, we talked surprisingly little about the events we covered when we were working together, instead focusing on everyone's health, the well-being of families and current careers. That's a healthy thing, the kind of thing old coots are supposed to talk about.

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