Sunday, March 27, 2011

Me and Gerry, messin' with the media

The news of Geraldine Ferraro's death should leave a sense of loss for her position as a "first," and, though I don't much care for groundbreaker stories, I certainly talked to her about that one in this story from August, 1990. There are some other things we discussed, too, and I think this was a pretty good story. If you're curious, clicking on the illustration could make it large enough to read; if not, right clicking and saving it to your desktop would give you a legible copy.

But what I remember her for, what makes me chuckle every time, isn't in this article.

Working in Plattsburgh meant working in a competitive media market. It could have been very competitive, given the proximity to a major city, but the international border meant that, rather than being a suburb of Montreal, we were a nearby irrelevance. And, for print purposes, the combination of a state border and Lake Champlain made us of no interest to the Burlington Free Press.

But we did have three radio stations with commitments to local news (two of them commercial, which tells you how long ago this was), and, most of all, there was WPTZ, Channel 5, the NBC affiliate in the Burlington/Plattsburgh market. Although they served both sides of the lake, they were headquartered on the New York side and took their commitment to Plattsburgh seriously.

They were also, I will admit, pretty good at what they did, and one reporter in particular knew the market and went after things with a vengeance. If Carol Monroe was on the story, we'd better be, too, because people would see her reports at 6 and 11 and expect to see something as good, or better, in the Press-Republican the next morning. There were times she had something at 6 that would send us scrambling to keep up, and then there were the times she'd have something only at 11, by which time it was too late for us to make deadline. She'd have us.

The advantage we had was that they had to be visual and we really didn't. So at a news conference, rather than three minutes of talking heads, they would start shooting "reporters watch talking head" video to jazz things up a little, in which they would pan over us as we were writing in our notebooks. And I would write "Hi, Mom!" in my notebook and turn it to the camera to photobomb their shot. It wasn't like we were live, but it would mean a little more time in the editing booth.

In August, 1990, Geraldine Ferraro came to the area and spoke at a gathering in the late morning, then toured a factory or two and headed out on Lake Champlain with some local politicians and some people from the Department of Environmental Conservation. And one reporter, since I had cleared my decks and was dedicating the day to following her around.

There is always a lot of hurry-up-and-wait in these events, as well as transit time, and, when you're the only "Boy on the Bus," you get some substantial facetime. By the time we got into the middle of the afternoon, and into an open boat headed for Crab Island, there were maybe eight of us. I already knew the local pols, and so, by then, we were just a bunch of people going to look around at stuff, and it had become pretty chatty and casual.

As we returned to shore, it was about four in the afternoon, and we'd seen Crab Island and we'd talked about colleges (there was one visible on the hill) and lamprey (I hope you can read the sidebar on that article) and Pat Schroeder's kids (I used to live in Colorado) and now we're coming back to the long dock at the Peru Boat Launch, and, perched on the hill at the top of the long wooden steps, we can see the Channel 5 van, a tripod and a two-person reporter/video team.

They were there to get a few words with Geraldine Ferraro, having missed out on the first six hours of her visit. And I probably made some smartass remark about the necessary establishing shot of Geraldine Ferraro getting out of the boat and then walking up the dock and mounting the steps to the parkinglot. And she must have laughed. I do not remember the exact conversation that took place. Or who contributed what to what followed.

But the result was that Carol's necessary establishing shot turned out to be Geraldine Ferraro stepping out of the open boat onto the dock, then turning around and extending her hand to the reporter from the Press-Republican to help him up onto the dock, and then the two of us walking up that long dock and those long stairs, laughing, talking and all but arm-in-arm.

The only story that the necessary establishing shot could have been used for was "Geraldine Ferraro Comes To The North Country To Hang Out With Her Very Closest Friend, Mike Peterson."

This was not the story Carol had been hoping to file for a newscast that began in less than two hours.

"I'm going to kill you, Peterson," she hissed, as we passed. Her report that evening consisted of shots of her talking to Ferraro in the parking lot, asking a question and getting an answer and moving the handheld mic back and forth.

I still chuckle to myself when I think of it, not so much because of what I did to Carol so much as because I still can't believe a public figure of Geraldine Ferraro's stature would so cheerfully join in pranking the media.

Got a nice note from her a few days later, in which she enclosed Pat Schroeder's Christmas card from the year before, to resolve the issue of how old Schroeder's children were. (She was, of course, right.)

Fun, funny lady. If every day in the newsroom had been like that, I'd still be a reporter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Update on a quiet friend

Awhile ago, I republished here a column I'd written in 1994 about barbershops and, specifically, about Bob Noody, who used to cut my hair, drive my school bus and usher in my church, and who, it turned out, had also been a member of the 101st Airborne and had dropped into Normandy on D-Day. That's him on June 5, 1944, looking at the camera over the pile of gear he was about to jump with.

I mentioned in the piece that he hadn't planned to go back for the 50th anniversary D-Day reunion, but just got a comment on the blog from his niece that he has gone back since, a couple of times, and is worth Googling. And, indeed, a search for him gets a lot of hits, including this one and this one.  In both cases, once you get to the page, you need to scroll down a bit. It's worth it.

Turns out this kind, gentle man who helped me understand the world did a lot more than parachute into Normandy and get wounded. Reading about his record is kind of jaw-dropping, in fact, because he not only was in the thick of things, but he kept going back for more. And learning about what he did reinforces the lesson I originally took away from him: It's not a simple as "some people talk and some people do," but it certainly is that there are people who do great things without letting that moment forever define them.

It reminds me of the time I tracked down Cpl. Rupert Trimingham, the black GI who wrote to Yank magazine during the war about being forced to go to the backdoor of a Jim Crow cafe at a Texas train station while German POWs ate at the counter.

By the time I found him, he was gone, but I spoke with his daughter, who said she had never read the letter and didn't know much about it, just that they used to say he wrote a letter that got published. Yes, and provoked a storm of hundreds of angry letters from black and white GIs around the world who were infuriated with the treatment he and his buddies had received while wearing the uniform of their country, and was turned into a radio program on Mercury Theater and was the basis of a short story in the New Yorker and has been stolen several times since for every story of black GIs in World War II. It was transformative, but he never thought to talk about it, apparently.

There are heroes among us whom we do not know. But here's the real lesson: I already knew that Bob was a good guy, and I'm always happy to see him. I'm hoping to go back to Star Lake for a weekend this summer, and I hope I see him then. And I'd feel that way about him without knowing he'd ever served in the army at all. But I do think that what he did under the circumstances in which he found himself was reflective of the things in his personality and character that make me like him so much.

There are probably people in Detroit who knew Rupert Trimingham and liked him, too, without ever knowing that he wrote that letter. Good people do good things, and the example they set is in their character, not in their deeds.

(Even when their deeds make you say "")

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March 20, 1971
"After all, any given moment has its value; it can be questioned in the light of after events ... but the moment of beauty was there." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald 

This is where I was, 40 years ago, and it was a good place to be. A warm, sunny day in Denver, the first day of spring and it felt like the end of a winter. It was John and Yoko's second anniversary, but we weren't aiming for that. It was simply a Saturday that worked for everyone, but it was a simply beautiful Saturday.

We'd thought about getting married on a mountaintop, specifically, the top of Mount Evans, because that was fashionable, at least in theory, and perhaps practical for marriages that neither family was going to attend anyway. But after driving up there and falling in love with the view, we realized that, given that our families did intend to show up, it would be asking a whole lot of our grandparents and several un-acclimated flatlanders to drag them up to a spot over 14,000 feet above sea level.

Instead, my soon-to-be brother-in-law set us up with a nice Episcopal Church in Denver where the father of his roommate at CU was not only rector, but enough of a social activist and mensch that he was willing to let us use the church and the parish hall, and to even sign the marriage license although the actual marriage was being performed by an ex-priest who had, as I understand it, left the Catholic clergy in a quarrel over his active support of the farmworkers. 

Not that Craig had a lot to do. We had not only written our vows and chosen our readings, but we had written the ceremony itself, and Craig was more of an emcee than a celebrant. But, since he was a friend of Kathy's family, he was able to say some nice things about marriage and drop in a few relevant specifics in his monologue, or preface or whatever it was. As I recall, in the write-up for the ceremony, it just said, "Craig" at that point, which left him a fair amount of latitude.

We wanted something that would express who we were, and that would reflect the culture of Boulder in which we had met, but we wanted something that looked like a wedding, too, and it did. 

Our readings were from Psalms -- I think 128 -- and Kahlil Gibran, and we included a poem that was familiar to all our Boulder friends but new to everyone else, and then we were horrified a few months later when it was set to music, recorded by Les Crane and released in the Top 40, where it became one of the great cringe-inducing cliches of the era. Well, it was fresh when we served it.

We were at the church well before anyone else. Kathy actually got there quite a bit before I did, setting up the reception in the parish hall with her aunt, while I was meeting the band in Boulder and leading them down to Denver and the church. "Magic Music" was a CSN-type group who lived in a pair of school buses up over Ward, which is at about 9,450 feet. I had made the original deal with them at one of their gigs in Boulder but then had to go find them to finalize it, and that involved a lot of driving around and asking people. But it was worth it; they were one of the area's, and the era's, great treasures.

Then, before the wedding, we went out front and greeted people. We all stood and talked until we decided it was time to shoo people in so we could make our entrance and get things rolling. Oh, and while everyone was socializing, we ducked inside with Craig, my older brother Rick, who was my best man, and our ushers, our roommate Dean, and Kathy's little brother Bill, and Kathy's maid of honor, Marcie, so we could have a quick rehearsal. Then my little sisters Lois and Martha handed everyone a carnation as they entered and we got married.

The wedding reception had only the necessary formalities -- the cutting of the cake and the tossing of the bouquet. The rest of the time, people stood around and talked, and it was a great, amicable mingling of people who would have never met in real life. The pictures here, by the way, were a wedding gift by a friend of Kathy's from the Colorado Springs Sun, where she had done two internships and had made friends, and most of what happened that day, except for the band, the cake and the wine, was a gift. That's also how things were, there and then.

It was a beautiful day, and one that went off with no visible hitches, that itself being a tribute to the era, because we all assumed it would work out and we didn't sweat the details. 

We had hidden our car a few blocks away, and Dean gave us a ride over there, whence we left for a one-night honeymoon before returning to Boulder and home.

The rest of the story? Well, we made it for 13 years and we produced a pair of really good kids, and we still get along just fine when fate and family obligations throw us together. 

And we had a great wedding on a beautiful day, 40 years ago. The moment of beauty was there, for sure.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I coulda been a contender

Yesterday, Daryl Cagle posted this cartoon, by the Spanish cartoonist KAP on Facebook calling it a "terrific cartoon about the terrible earthquake and #tsunami that hit Japan this morning." 
I did not feel it was particularly terrific, and, within moments, thought of a cartoon that was equally silly and could rise equally as quickly to the status of "instant regrettable pointless cliche."  

Timing of posts on Facebook after a certain point are by whole hours, so I don't know how many minutes it took to hunt up this artwork and add the haunting bit of glurge to turn it into a really stupid political cartoon. But it was less than an hour and I'd say likely more like 20 minutes, tops. I posted it as a sarcastic commentary on crappy cartooning.

This morning, as I go through the political cartoons of the past 24 hours, I spy this from professional, paid-to-do-this cartoonist Chan Lowe, who, I should note, is not a Facebook friend and would not have seen my rendering. He came up with this on his own. 

And I'm sure it took more than 20 minutes to complete, because, in addition to the 30 seconds spent thinking of it, he had to redraw the whole thing, not just add a tear.

I have missed my calling.