Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Monkey's Paw: Radio Rulz

Studying broadcasting, radio specifically, I never had a yearning to working in the print media but that's exactly where I began my career.

My final semester of undergrad was spent taking finals, preparing a halfway decent resume and looking for post college employment. As a thank you for all those resumes and audition tapes I sent out I received just as many rejection letters and kindly worded "get lost" correspondences in the form of postcards. I felt as if I were being laughed at by potential employers as the postcards came complete with displays of smiling employed workers who receive a weekly pay check while conducting business in their state of the art facilities.

This comes as I'm living in a concrete-walled four person dorm suite, conducting business on a personal computer that has trouble running Atari games and keeping myself afloat with the token $60 every two weeks from my campus internship.

The only two potential employers who showed interest were a public radio station in Evansville, Indiana and a small newspaper in Eastern Kentucky which was about 30 to 40 minutes from where I was going to school. The Grayson-Journal Enquirer & Olive Hill Times were not huge publications, but it was an opportunity.

Following interviews at both places which took place a week after graduation, the paper called back a short time later. I accepted the position of staff writer/photographer and began that June.

The Journal-Enquirer & Times cover all of Carter County and its 27,000 residents (according to the all-knowing Wikipedia). Grayson sits just off I-64, but you'll have to fight your way through the abundance of fast food establishments and truck stops to find the actual "town". Olive Hill, a smaller more quaint village, is the hometown of country music singer/songwriter Tom T. Hall (remember Harper Valley PTA) and romance novelist Stephanie Bond.

Being very rural, it is as country as you can get with plenty forest land and scenic rolling terrain that makes it a great place to watch the seasons change.

My first day on the job I manned the Olive Hill office which was slightly more than a broom closet with a pair of desks butting up against one another in a spare room in the post office. You can imagine that, being the small town it was, things were a bit slow. My early entertainment was having the phone ring once or twice an hour and having people stare at me like I had something to hide and say, "Yer not from 'round here are ya?"

When my lunch break rolled around I figured I'd just head home (all of five miles or so down U.S. 60). That home was a modest apartment located on, get this, Paradise Hill. No, I'm not kidding. Being the summer of 1998 this June 10th afternoon was bright & warm. A short cruise to my place seemed ideal. Just before reaching Olive Hill city limits I find myself behind a pickup hauling a trailer with a load. That description is kind. It was WAS a pickup, but its "LOAD" was a potpourri of trash, recyclables (which would never make it to any recycling bin) and a rusted out home water heater.

This mass of mangled metal and such rocked back & forth in synchronized motion with the two-lane curvy road that traversed the rolling hills of Eastern Kentucky. And the load isn't on an actual trailer. Its on what USED to be the back end of a pickup. Apparently someone had a pickup which, overtime, had deteriorated to the point that it was no longer in working order. Thus, being the resourceful person they were, decided to continue utilizing the part of the truck that is most useful. The bed of that former motorized vehicle.

In this position most of us would do one of the following: 1. Get another truck (hmm..logical) 2. Sell the non-working truck for parts (ooh...profitable) 3. Use the piece of crap on wheels as a unique lawn ornament (You know, the Smith's always have such NICE yard).

On this day my road mate is pulling an unsecured load on what used to be the bed of another pickup. And no, it has not been modified for its new use...officially. The so-called "trailer" swayed like a kite lost in a hurricane as it was being pulled along.

Leery of this haphazard attempt to transfer items from one location to another - I kept my distance. The driver, who was at least alert to the troublesome possibilities this exercise could bring, was moving slowly. Unfortunately I was behind him with little to no opportunity to pass. Reaching the summit of a rather large hill (which might as well have been Mount Everest) this amateur inventor in front of me struggles to keep his belongings secure once the decent begins.

The "trailer" is bouncing back & forth and I'm staring down this episode like a predator zeros in on its prey. I'm prepared for the worse and begin searching for those foggy Drivers Ed. defensive driving skills in my head. Damn, why didn't I pay more attention in class!! "Attacked by Runaway ...Tailgate?", were the headlines I could see in tomorrow's paper. Written, ironically, firsthand from my hospital bed.

The trailer swerves far enough to the right that a tire leaves the road, but the amount of gravel on the berm kick it back onto the roadway and into the opposite lane. The oncoming traffic is able to avoid the rogue, rolling pile of crap as I breathe a sigh of relief. Just then, as another curve approaches, the trailer - apparently on a path of destruction - has no other way to go but back onto the gravel covered berm.

I'm far enough behind to avoid a catastrophe & save myself, but I notice the truck pulling the trailer seems to be distancing itself. The trailer, which was so obviously secure before, has become unhitched from the truck! The driver is flooring it as he is being chased by what used to be a pickup (As the truck gods say, "Pay back is a bitch!").

At this point I've lost all sense of reality. And the runaway tailgate, to my amazement, continues along the roadway - as if it had eyes - picking up momentum and rocking like the Mayflower searching for any sign of land in the midst of the deep blue sea.

With another small curve ahead I'm thinking this nightmare is about to end. The trailer leaves the road and crashes into a guardrail. All of its contents are catapulted into flight. I come to a dead stop to avoid being pelted by the junkyard raining down from the sky.

The major piece of this virtual Armageddon, the water heater, lands in the roadway and continues rolling & thumping down the same path as the runaway tailgate. I'm creeping along through the field of debris and the water heater's escape attempt ends as it too finds the sinister guardrail. The creator of this mess is standing next to the truck he pulled into a random driveway and is looking back at what took place with the same look I know I must of had."How could have this happen?!", I imagine him saying. A quick glance in my rear view mirror showed a minefield of casualties.

I continue on to my apartment at a snail's pace and a little more paranoid than I was before. Once there I have no desire to eat lunch. I just sit at the kitchen table replaying the disturbing drive in my head. Thirty minutes later I get back into my car, gingerly, and make my way back to work. On my slow return, I notice the mess has been cleaned up. The only sign of what took place is the huge dent in the guardrail from the initial impact of the trailer/tailgate.

I make it back to the office unscathed and the day finishes as slowly as it began in tiny, scenic Olive Hill. The drive home was perfect.

My first day of work as a "professional' results in my being scarred for life. I spent all of three months at that job before moving on and into the area of my expertise as local morning host & reporter at WNIN Public Radio in Evansville, Indiana. Yes, this was the second of the two interviews I had the week after graduation.

I believe that summer, those first four hours, at the Grayson Journal-Enquirer & Olive Hill Times was broadcasting's revenge against me for taking a job in the print media. I have nothing against the newspaper business, but have since stayed in radio and have never again ventured into the print media. Forth coming jobs in Texas, Kentucky (again) and Ohio have been as eventful, but not as ludicrous as my experience in Carter County - deep in the eastern portion of the Bluegrass State.

The lesson learned: Hell hath no fury like that of a news medium scorned.

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