Joined: Aug 2008
Location: Charlotte, Y'all
Lights, Camera, Action!
There’s actually a little “prequel” to this installment – when I was 17 and 18, I lived in Montgomery, AL and my only mode of transport was a Suzuki TS185 (I actually have a pic of me on that one - just need to scan it and post it). For fun on weekends I’d explore off-road riding opportunities, and found a GREAT riding place – an old abandoned quarry with trails all around it. LOTS of fun. But, ummm, the only way that I knew to get there was to ride a mile or two down the railroad tracks. And when I say “down the railroad tracks” I mean “DOWN THE RAILROAD TRACKS”. Right down the middle – there was a lot of dense underbrush right close on both sides of the tracks. Bumpity-bumpity-bump-bump-bump.
Ok. Maybe it wasn’t the ONLY way I knew how to get there, but it was certainly the most EFFICIENT way to get there….
Three or four times I did meet a freight train coming the other way, and I would simply swing over to the inside of the right-hand rail and take a hard left, driving over the left-hand rail and wedging myself up against the aforementioned dense brush until the train had passed. Looking back, I am sure I gave more than one Train Engineer a heart attack, and when I think about the possibility of slipping on the rail, taking a spill and laying there while a train bears down on me…. Well anyway I’d like to here and now formally apologize to those Train Engineers. And to my mother, who never knew about it and hopefully won't read this.
Ok. Back to the Courier story……
Post-Newsweek Stations was a group of three TV stations owned by The Washington Post and Newsweek – one in Hartford, one in Miami and the other in Detroit. The Washington DC "bureau" of PNS was a regular customer of the Courier company I worked for and I had made deliveries for them a bunch of times.
In preparation for the Ronald Reagan Inauguration Extravaganza in 1981 (many many parties etc. over a four day period), PNS asked my company if they could hire me on a daily, rather than per trip basis. The money was good and it sounded like fun so we set it up. They had a small studio on South Capital street, and there were two places where they uploaded video via satellite – one in upper Northwest (Connecticut Avenue) and one near the Washington Monument / Smithsonian Institute (L'Enfant Plaza).
The very first order of business was to give me an "all access pass" for my motorcycle – a large plastic card, issued by the Secret Service, that I taped across the front of my gauges. This pass gave me the right to cross police lines, drive on closed roads, and park anywhere I felt like during the four days. Well, I already parked wherever I felt like but for a few days I was OFFICIAL! I was a member of the PRESS!
The routine quickly became pretty clear. The PNS folks, led by a very funny and nice guy named Richard Schlesinger, would do interviews or shoot video of meetings, proclamations, dances, parties, protests, whatever – then they would hand me the video tape, I'd drop it in my saddlebag (actually a Washington Star Newspaper delivery shoulder-bag strapped on the side of my Suzuki) and scoot off to the satellite uplink location. Sometimes I'd zoom to Connecticut Avenue and sometimes I'd zoom to L'Enfant Plaza, depending on where they had satellite time booked. It was always a close call – it seemed like every interview ended ten minutes before their satellite "appointment". I was HUSTLING all day long, but got to stand behind the cameraman during the interview or whatever. By the middle of the second day I was holding lights and pulling cables, then grabbing the video tape and FLYING across town. I could get the video across town in ten or fifteen minutes while the PNS van would take twenty-five, thirty or more.
There's nothing more exciting than speeding through town, approaching a roadblock where the road is closed for some upcoming ceremony, having the cops check out the Secret Service pass, and then move the barriers to wave you through. I got to see our new President and First Lady from less than 50 feet away, I got to shake hands with Wayne Newton, and I got to drive like a friggin’ maniac with the official endorsement (in my mind anyway) of the U.S Government.
The pressure to reduce the delivery time of these video tapes was pretty intense. I really think they must have scheduled the interviews and things for RIGHT before their satellite bookings! Sometimes we would all meet at the studio on South Capital St. while tapes were edited, and then I'd grab them and zip off to the satellite place. On the third day, I came into town extra early and did a little reconnaissance. When we all met at the studio for breakfast I was pleased to tell Richard that "I found a shortcut to L'Enfant Plaza, but if a train comes I'm SCREWED". He laughed until tears came to his eyes, and immediately called three or four people to tell them the story.
Driving down those railroad tracks between South Capital Street and L'Enfant Plaza saved me a ton of time – I could make that trip in 5 minutes flat. And the train never came along while I was on the tracks. These were freight train tracks, not the Metro / Subway, thank goodness. If one HAD come along, I figured I could turn sharp enough to cross one of the rails and get out of the way (now you see why I wrote the “prequel” up above).
A couple of years after the Reagan Inauguration, Richard moved on to other reporting jobs. The PNS Group sold off some stations and bought others, and I think the railroad tracks may have gone away too, taken over by some development company.
Years later, I saw Richard Schlesinger on "60 Minutes", and CBS News, and he can be seen now on CBS' "48 hours". He's won some Emmy awards. I wish I had stayed in touch with him!
JoeyBones screwed with this post 08-23-2008 at 05:56 AM