White Van: Tales from a Mobile Newsroom Page 2

March 11, 2010

This piece, however, isn't about that, it's about the public's mythologies--ideas that help them make sense or I'd say not make sense of the mediated world.  An ENG truck isn't Hollywood and the hose-out Ford isn't glamorous.  Holly Hunter, William Hurt and even Jane Fonda after her most strenuous workout wouldn't get near an ENG truck.  It's a video black hole.  In fact, one reporter parked her Acura RL nearby so that she could maintain dignified, decadent decorum--ample heat, leather upholstery and a multi-speaker CD-playing sound system--rather than Ford's faux-perforated vinyl torture chairs and the deafening drone of an Onan generator.

Why Me?

I don't make news policy and certainly don't play god with the network's primetime lineup--which must be a great disappointment for those self-appointed protectors of high-brow culture who feel it's there duty to tell me, "FOX sucks" or scream "You're vultures."  This often unfolds like a scene from Psycho.  For instance, a women shrieked loudly the vulture curse, her arms flailing wildly trying to prevent this EJ from setting up the ENG truck.  Her husband vainly pulled her away.  She escaped, started yelling, "vulture."  Now, I've been called a lot of things, but vulture doesn't strike me as even remotely accurate.  I'm just a tart, high-skill, blue-color stiff.

News Truck Hauls.....

You'd think people would be photogenic near a ENG truck.  And indeed, young and restless drunken lasses will primp and preen; they show more T & A than Aaron Spelling dared reveal on Charlie's Angels.  But in Milwaukee, what I discovered is that people just let it hang out--and how.  Remember those festivals?  This time it was Polishfest and I'm stuck at Maier Festival Park on Milwaukee's Lakefront.  With me is Myra, a reporter, who's turning a quick VO/SOT (voiceover/sound on tape) for five p.m..  Her very Polish photographer, Keith whose last name ends in ‘ski,' is trolling for "B" roll  (video for the voiceover).  Meanwhile, I look outside the van's window and see video paydirt--a man seated at a picnic table, leaning over it with his pants down, mid-point on his lower cheeks.

Like the credit card commercial, this is priceless.  What you should know is that outside the park is Milwaukee's formerly Polish South Side.  On this side-of-town, the electrical firm Allen-Bradley placed their big plant.  It has tower with a stunning private penthouse,  I know; I've done a Super 2 (portable TV microwave transmitter) out of it, and on that tower is the world's largest four-sided illuminated clock.  Those who live on the Germanic North Side jokingly call these the Polish moons,  partly an insult, but also a token of respect.  At night, these large luminous clocks are like giant moons, often shrouded in mysterious lake-effect fog, as deeply noir as Milwaukee gets.  You can guide ocean-going ships with them--really.

But, sorry about the conjunction, I couldn't resist my Peeping Tom moment.  You see, we tucked a cheap security camera inside an aluminum hood on top of the truck's mast near the microwave antenna.  The mast is elevated by compressed air and rises about 56 feet above the ground.  As I sent the it up, (to establish my microwave relay), I just turned on the camera, discretely panned, carefully tilted and zestfully zoomed into the parting shot--this picnic-table guy playing cards while mooning passersby.  I've learned a trick or two about video composition and I just knew this was a winner.  It had Emmy written all over it.  Sure enough, from the bird's-eye perspective what you saw was the man's back, his head blocked by an umbrella, and of course those drooping checks hanging over the bench.  And the piece de resistance:  his T-shirt.  Half-way up his back were two words:  Polish Pride.  Perfecto!

Now, what am I to do?  Keep this a secret or share it with my broadcasting brethren?  The latter of course!  Do you think we do this stuff just for money?  So, via the airwaves this image of shapely de-fright was beamed back to the studios, were an explosion of laughter was heard over the two-way.  Inside the truck, I asked Myra, who was writing her script, to look.  When she removed her reading glasses and her eyes met the screen, she uttered "Oh, My God!  Where is it?"   "Ssshhhh!," I said, "I want this on tape."  I slammed a 90-minute Beta SP cassette into the deck and pressed record.  Then, Keith opened the van's side door, his face elongated, sort of like Edvard Munch's "Scream" and then he did what any smart photojournalist would, picked up his camera and shot my shot of Polish Pride.  Polish Pride now graces or disgraces the station's most sophisticated computer-controlled editing bays.

Show and Tell

Perhaps the worst thing your co-workers can do is show off the truck.  The location:  Another Milwaukee Lakefront festival.  This time, the big gig, Summerfest, which attracts hundreds of thousands of picnic-table dancing maniacs. And we follow them because we know better?  Maybe we do this for the nightly fireworks.  Nonetheless, all-to-often these festivals are merely a license for drunken disorderly conduct.  My co-workers are sometimes faces in the crowd.

One time, a group of FOX news types were having a good time when they saw the van and thought this a perfect opportunity to show several thousand of their closest fest-going fans their workplace runabout.  The spectacle of video displays, which they try their best to explain, but rarely do, baffles onlookers--even sober ones.

This time, however, the apparition a drunk saw was straight of M*A*S*H.  Anyhow, Dave, a PJ, whom we had to prop up at a station party so management wouldn't notice the effect of nine Long Island Ice Teas he consumed,  (Believe me it's bad. Yet, I could have busted a gut.  Our news director walked up to this wobbling guy and said, "You're so nice, my daughter should marry you.")--was itching to impress his Chicago friends via a tour of the big, white van.

One problem.  Where do you put the beers?  Well, Dave, not the sharpest knife-in-the-drawer, simply collected the beverages and placed them inside the truck.  At this point, an alarm went off in my head, I saw the word HARM headed like a Mack toward me.  Two hundred years ago, people did drink beer at work; water was deadly.  Today, media firms have strict policies regarding drinking, driving and personal conduct.

I did what any sober EJ would do--commenced a beer exorcism.  Oh! The Humanity!  And this is Milwaukee?--best described the look on Dave's face.  A drunken onlooker, however, said, "Hey dude, the ambulance is passing out beers."  Now, I've neither been mistaken for a celebrity nor the pope but when you're in a white van and you're passing out beers you--faster than superman in a phonebooth--go from shy geek to Brad Pitt.  Suddenly, a stampede of drinkers surrounded the truck.  I locked the doors.  Someone, who thought free beers was a constitutional right and kicked-in the truck's side.

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