Friday, September 23, 2011

Which Reminds Me Of My First Time....

You know that trip to WTOL-TV that I described in my last entry? Well, that was actually my second time in the building.

My first visit came a few years earlier when I was a junior in high school and my class took a tour of the place. One of my classmates had a part-time job there and he arranged it.

I was duly impressed, this being the local CBS affiliate and all. It was almost like getting to visit the Emerald City.

Of course that analogy seemed uncomfortably apropos after I saw how small and lifeless the news studio was. It felt like visiting the Wizard's Throne Room after he'd been exposed as a fraud.

Fortunately, that wasn't the feeling I left with. The control room turned out to be suitably impressive, and it was fun to learn how the CBS eye logo wasn't just an iconic bit of self-promotion - it served as a signal to the local stations to switch to their local commercials and what-not. Sometimes the switch proceeded less than smoothly and a local commercial paid the price by being truncated or silenced or mucked up altogether. Turns out that every mistake like that has to be logged and the advertiser has to be reimbursed - usually with free air time.

I got to stand next to the machine responsible for making the switch. In fact, we got to watch the switch while it was made. The whole set-up (including monitor) was smaller than the average refrigerator. Now I suppose it's smaller than the average pack of cigarettes (including monitor). So it goes.

While we were there in the control room one of the station's Emmy-winning producers breezed through. He was one of the happiest guys I've ever seen - maybe because it seemed like he got to push any button he wanted, whenever he wanted. He also managed to answer our questions with the sort of competency and fluency that I don't think I've encountered anywhere else except "The West Wing" at its best. I still can't believe he thought us worthy of his time. Maybe he had just finished bonking his secretary and he was still so giddy from the experience that he wouldn't have even noticed a root canal.

I don't know - I'm just guessing. Probably wrongly. Cocaine might be a better bet.

As impressive as both he and the control room were, however, the highlight of the trip for me turned out to be the rather large basement studio. It wasn't anything special - just a big empty space with pale blue walls that made it seem like the back half of a discarded swimming pool - except for the fact that it had a garage door at one end. There was a parking garage to the east of the building and it was through this connecting garage door that they were able to get cars from the garage into position for the taping of local car dealership commercials.

As our guide explained all this to us I suddenly realized that I was in the spot where Phil and Don Brondes had been making their commercials for my entire life. Phil and Don owned one the biggest Ford dealerships in town and for many years the TV ads for their vehicles always seemed to end with one or both of them putting a sledgehammer through the windshield of a car. It was the sort of thing I really enjoyed seeing when I was a child. Standing there in the very spot where hammer had shattered glass was like standing in the Oval Office or Elvis's dressing room. Had I known this was coming, I wouldn't have been able to sleep the night before.

Life being life, things seem to have gone downhill for Phil and Don in the years after my visit. Phil grew old, retired, and moved to Florida while Don ended up using a gun to put two bullets in himself not half a mile from where I once lived. Nobody seems to know why he did it, but I suspect that existence can come to seem pretty empty after you've spent years gleefully smashing car windshields with your brother and then you're not able to do that anymore.

Whatever may have prompted Don's sad final actions, they rather tarnish my memories of him from the 1960s as well as my memory of being in the same studio he once used to create those earlier memories.

And now writing about my memories of these earlier memories is threatening to tarnish my today, so I guess I better stop.

On the bright side, we've owned two Ford Sables that turned out to be great vehicles even though we never put a single sledgehammer through either of their windshields.

In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that's what matters most....

1 comment:

  1. Our teevee station here is just a slab construction flat in the middle of a field.
    It's gotten more visually interesting since the 60s as a grove of satellite dishes sprouted around it.
    I spent many happy hours watching Captain Kangaroo and Mighty Mouse and Dick Van Dyke and Perry Mason on their snowy signal when I was a pre-schooler.
    Dick Van Dyke taught me I was supposed to be a clown when I grew up and Perry Mason taught me to expect to be murdered, because the only dead people I ever heard about were on Perry Mason and they were all murdered. Why else would anybody die? I never heard of diseases or old age or stuff like that. Just murder. I knew about deaht from car accidents, too, probably from AAA commercials about seat belts. I remember pretty clearly thinking those were the main two causes of death. Well, and getting stampeded by cattle on Wagon Train. Or by crossing Luke or the Sheriff on The Rifleman.