Wednesday, October 22, 2008

COLUMN: Gibson v. Mountain

As a creature of habit, I follow some fairly concrete routines on my lunch hours. One's usually spent at the record store. Another in the aisles of a book store. And on one day each week, I meet my friend Linn at the base of the I-74 bridge for lunch at Ross'.

A person needs to have goals in life, and my new goal is to spend enough time at Ross' that one day I'll walk in to find Linn and I painted into their awesomely weird mural of employees, regulars, and, inexplicably, Humphrey Bogart.

Last Friday, though, our routine was anything but. We'd been at Ross' for about five minutes when I saw it.

"Hmm," I nodded towards Linn. "Check out the camera crew."

Sure enough, some dudes were out in the parking lot with some impressive looking television cameras. Suddenly it dawned on me.

"Hey, this isn't the day that what's-his-head's s'posed to..."

Before I could get the sentence out, I saw it. A bus the size of Rhode Island was pulling up to the outside of Ross', and inside that bus was the star of ABC World News Now. Charlie Gibson was swinging in for a Magic Mountain, and the gods of fate had given us front row seats.

This was not your run of the mill mass transit vehicle. No, this was a mobile command center. The irony was NOT lost on me: a Presidential election featuring the hotbed topic of environmental conservation, and here's that election being covered by a metal behemoth that probably averages .1 miles to the gallon while leaving a carbon footprint the size of King Kong.

In the minutes that followed, I learned an important and valuable piece of information about modern news:

Anytime that you see someone on network television appearing to walk into a business spontaneously, it's a load of hooey. On the telecast later that night, it looked as if Chuck was just happily cruising around the QCA and decided on a whim to swing by Ross' for a chat.

In reality, the whole thing was pre-planned and orchestrated to perfection. Camera crews were already in the parking lot just to film the bus rolling up. Once it dropped anchor, a team of producers came in to set the interior scene, up to and including the hanging of temporary blinds for optimal lighting conditions. The owners and staff at Ross' were given their marks where to stand, while the kitchen staff were busily preparing a smorgasboard of specialty dishes to show off.

I'd like to say that, as a semi-professional journalist dude myself, I was beyond the spectacle of the whole thing. Truth be told, I was waaaaay into it. It was kind of like a U2 concert, but instead of Bono, it was a middle-aged paunchy dude. Wait, actually that IS kinda like Bono.

Anyways, in walks Chuck and you can cut the excitement in the place with the same knife I'm using on my ham-n-cheese. Here was an opportunity for me to see a REAL journalist at work. A guy who's surely seen the best and worst of society. A guy who knows the important questions to ask. I tried my best to listen and learn from a master.

His first question was indeed important, pointed, and cut to the chase. I believe, in fact, that it was: "Hi. Do you have a men's room?"

Way to go, Charlie. I knew a professional journalism move when I saw it. He may have been in the Quad Cities under the guise of covering the election, but I bet he was secretly doing an expose on public restroom cleanliness. Or maybe he just had to tinkle.

Either way, it was seriously cool to watch his visit unfold. The owners of Ross' beamed with pride while being interviewed, and yes, The Magic Mountain got some quality national airtime -- though between you and me, I think Charlie might've been a little scared by it. Let's admit it, we Quad Citizens are the secret-keepers that Rossmeat + cheese + hash browns + toast piled on a plate is culinary heaven, but it might take some time for the rest of the world to catch on. That's fine, 'cause it's just more Rossmeat for you and me.

More revealing, though, was just what the presence of journalistic greatness did to me and Linn. We were two professional and intellectual 30-somethings, but as soon as we realized that we were in the background of the shot, we did nothing but awkwardly giggle the whole time. I've never had a more self-conscious lunch in my life. Do I hold my fork weird? Am I eating applesauce believably enough?

Somehow, we soldiered through. And later that night, I was rewarded by seeing my blurry visage on national news for 1.8 seconds. That's right, I'm sure you saw it. That kinda greenish blob? Totally me. Any second now, I'll be getting a call from Hollywood. Somewhere there's a big-shot director right now going, "Who IS this man? I must have him for my large budget picture, 'The Adventures of Blurry Green-Shirted Applesauce-Eating Guy." Don't worry, though, when I make it big, I won't forget about the little people. Or the Rossmeat.

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