Tuesday, June 24, 2008
News Film Courier
In one of my more interesting employment adventures I worked briefly as a news film courier on a motorcycle (BMW R90/6) for NBC News in Burbank, CA back in 1974-75. Not much video tape on the street then, pretty much everything outside the studio was still shot with 16mm film so NBC had motorcycle couriers like me running hither and yon on company owned motorcycles and we would meet the news crews at a location and run the film back to the studio for processing while the news crew went to the next news scene. A good chunk of what was on the local news I'd already seen in person by the time I got home from work.
Being "inside" the news scene took me past police lines, to assorted phony anti-whatever demonstrations, and even up to the Watergate rascal John Dean's house. I said hi to John. He said Hi back. It wasn't an impressive moment. I did once meet Ronald Reagan who was yet to become President of the United States. That was an impressive moment and I don't believe I've ever met anyone with the sheer force of personality of Reagan . I also wandered into the L.A. office of Gov. "Moonbeam" Gerry Brown one afternoon while looking for someone else. I shook the gov's hand which was a lot like grabbing a fist full of warm linguine.
My particular assigned NBC bike was a nicely outfitted BMW R90/6 with a Vetter fairing, Bates saddle bags, Ez Berg custom seat, and a few other niceties. Always nice when your employer is willing to provide you with a free motorcycle and all the trimmings and then pay you good money to ride it.
I learned a lot about riding in that job and a little bit about the news business. I'll give you a hint about the news business: It's about selling advertising. News is merely the bait used to lure you into watching. If you've fished much you know that bait is often stuff that would otherwise be stinky garbage. You might want to keep that in mind as this election season progresses.
Shagging film, as we called it (no relation to the British concept of shagging), could be dull work except when someone was trying to turn you into the meat in a automobile sandwich. Most of us shagging film were riding about 4,000 miles a month in and around Los Angeles. You learned quickly to ride well and professionally in traffic. At the time I left NBC they'd never had a serious bike courier accident of any kind. The closest was when one of the guys hooked a foot on a curb and broke his ankle. NBC never did figure out that old Bill was blind in one eye. Imagine riding L.A. traffic every day and splitting lanes when you're blind in one eye.
You can ride safely in traffic if you're deadly serious about it and there is a right way and a wrong way to split lanes assuming it's legal where you live. When I moved to Arizona and had to give up lane splitting it was like being sentenced to traffic jail every day on the way to work.
I never crashed or even had a tip-over running film all over Los Angeles but there were plenty of close calls. On the way to the Los Angeles airport (LAX) to pick up a film package I got squeezed splitting lanes on the 405 Freeway (legal in CA) and I got away but felt the chrome saddlebag guards rub on the two cars. Doesn't get much closer than that. In the 33 years since then of doing other stuff for a living I've often wished I'd been able to stay at NBC and just ride bikes. In some ways it was the best job I've ever had and it might have been saner than other things I've found myself doing since then to earn a living.
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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence
An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison