Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Then there was this -- working away in the background  ...

While en route to the Oakland airport cell phone rings and CNN is on the line from New York wanting to arrange for an interview with Anderson Cooper.  By now nothing seems impossible.  Why not? I explained that I was boarding a plane within minutes and that the immediate future was unknown!   I've walked through the looking glass and was now firmly on the other side.

Having no idea what we're heading into, I could only think to give the caller the name of Producer Bryan Banly with the suggestion that they make contact with the studio staff to see if this was within the realm of possibility.  I'd not yet seen an itinerary for my day in LaLaLand, and had no idea of what to expect beyond the fact that I would be picked up by a limosine at LAX for delivery to the Studio.

Upon landing without a hitch, we found our driver waiting below holding up a REID sign.  Should have guessed that this was the way it was handled.

Shortly after our arrival at the Hollywood studio where we would spend this incredible day, we were greeted by our producer with his clipboard and anxious look (explained earlier) and news that they'd received the call from Anderson Cooper's people and that -- at sometime between makeup, rehearsal, and the actual show, the truck from the Los Angeles Bureau of CNN would arrive to set up the interview.

It was while I was in Make-up that Al Jazzera America called, a call I was never able to return, unfortunately.

After deciding that the studio space they'd been assigned was just too noisy, CNN decided to set up outside where I sat in a tall chair waiting (and waiting, and waiting) to go on -- all wired up with the little receiver tightly set in my left ear -- listening to the end of the interview that preceded mine.  For this they'd sent over a huge satellite truck from the Los Angeles CNN bureau for but a few minutes of the exchange between the coasts via Anderson Cooper and moi.  What on earth could one say in five minutes that would be worth all of this?  The weight, the responsibility of being cogent and significant and not wasting these expensive resources was a thought that rose to the surface but was quickly discarded.  To go there would be to deliver myself into the madness.

Then the real waiting began.  I learned later from David that there were negotiations going on concerning that Arsenio sign that is clearly visible here.  CNN wanted it removed.  Arsenio's people were adamant.  After all they'd bourne the expense to bring me to Los Angeles, and -- at least until my plane lifted off tonight -- I was their property.  They argued while I sat waiting for some resolution.  (Not unlike the insanity going on in Washington, right?)

Suddenly things got resolved, and in the negotiations it was determined that they would remove the sign only if Anderson would give them a mention during the interview.  That happened, if you'll notice.  It had taken about 20 minutes to get through to what ended up a five minute segment on camera.  I will never understand the logic of such things ... .

Only difficulty I found was that I've learned that I'm clearly not a "radio" person.  I need to see to whom I'm speaking.  I hate spotlights since they blind me to an audience.  In this instance I was actually speaking to a little box raised on a tall pole and Anderson was in New York -- out of sight.

When I've watched the interview since returning home, I see my face go blank at the start, and can remember clearly how that felt.  It was uncomfortable.  It was disorienting.  I also realize that I was lucid and after a few wasted simple "yes" answers -- I did share the message that I needed to, and that I didn't look scared -- only not animated.  Not really as interested in the process as I would be once the rehearsal began.

Then it all came alive! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Life is beginning to slow down now ... rumors from Washington are beginning to turn toward some resolution ... .

and maybe we'll be back at work before many more hours have gone by.

I'm still feeling the warmth of Arsenio Hall, now that the dust has settled, and I can finally exhale.

What an adventure!

A more gracious group of young people I've seldom experienced.  I was shown total respect and every wish was granted.  I do hope their show survives what appears to be a troubled re-entry, and that this talented young man can hit his pace and continue his rise to the success he so richly deserves.

For me it was a total success, if I'm to believe the messages received over the past few days.  Though it didn't seem likely at the time, the message of the National Park Service was successfully delivered to a demographic that has been elusive in the past.  There are many comments from African Americans throughout the country -- and of all ages and genders -- who identified with me and who saw my success as partly their own.  The young members of my extended family are ecstatic and affirmed by what's happened.  That was a bonus.  I wasn't reaching quite that far; actually I wasn't reaching at all since the experience could not have been anticipated nor planned for.  It was just one of those serendipitous happenings that resulted from a news story on the AP wire service.  That was probably merciful since -- had I known in advance where it would take me I might have dashed for the nearest bush to hide behind!  One is never ready for such attention, but I'm so happy to have had the experience.

Thank you, World!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Travel itinerary with flourishes ...

Picked David up at his place for the drive to Lionel Wilson Airport in Oakland (Lionel was an old friend who played baseball with my husband, Mel Reid, for the California Eagles of the Black Baseball League back in the day), left at 10:30 and arrived at LAX 15 minutes early to be picked up by a sleek black luxurious limo whose driver was standing below with his printed sign bearing our name.   This is where the dream took wing.

About 40 minutes later we arrived in Hollywood at the studios, were met by a most courteous producer who would escort us through the day.  We were guided to a dressing room bearing my name which was arranged like a small living room with an adjoining private restroom.  A delicious lunch was delivered shortly thereafter (crab, prawns, green salad, garlic bread).

Bryan, our producer and the young man with whom I'd been corresponding over the past 24 hours joined us clutching a clipboard to his chest and a worried look on his face.  "I'm supposed to ask you if you'd be willing to join Arsenio for a couple of jokes during the show,"  and poor Bryan's expectations weren't wrong.  Without hesitation I said a resounding, "No!"  This is what I'd feared.  I did not want to become the foil for a professional comic's schtick.  Nor did I wish to become a 'lil' ole lady cartoon.  If I couldn't do this on my terms, then I'd not do it at all.  I was smiling, but adamant, and Bryan knew it.

He assured me that he could fix it, and that I shouldn't worry.  It was clear that it was Bryan who had discovered me online, and it was he who had sold Arsenio on bringing me to the show -- and that Arsenio didn't have a clue.  I was sure that if Arsenio didn't have any idea of me or my work then we wouldn't get beyond the 92 year-old ranger, and that would be wasteful of my time and their money.

He disappeared for a time and returned with a smile which meant that my message had been delivered and they'd adjusted their expectations.

I would have about 5 minutes with Arsenio on camera, and there would be no time for messaging.
This is where my inexperience was a handicap.  But by then things were moving so fast that there simply was no room for doubts.  I was guided to the make-up artist who made some adjustments to my coloring, but did no major changes.  It was time for rehearsal which is just a walk-through for timing, I suppose, and this revealed the level of humor that reigns on the Arsenio Show.

And, Oh Lordy, the level of humor on this show is surely not that of either Bill Maher or Jon Stewart.  Both specialize in sophisticated political commentary generously laced with obscenity and irreverence, but the edgy message never fails to come through with the laughs.  The style of Arsenio's show is closer to that of a risque Soupy Sales (make no mistakes, I loved Soupy) and greatly dependent upon sexual innuendo enhanced by lots of skin.  I suppose that -- on the spectrum of humor -- many expressions are essential to meet varied tastes,  but oh my!  What could I have been thinking?

It seems that the night before when Tyra Banks was his guest, Arsenio had done the first 20 minutes of the show with his fly zipper down.  Several times members of the crew had tried to call his attention to it during the show, but failed.  Tonight the opening skit was based on "Zip Down Fridays," and everyone, including the star of the show had their flys unzipped.

Backstage I was seated with David and others before a huge monitor watching the rehearsal in horror!  I was to follow this!  I uttered outloud that Arsenio ought to be ashamed of himself for using such material.  That this level of humor was below any standards of decency, and to my surprise his backstage people said, "tell him, Betty!  We think you should tell him on camera."  I was deadly serious.  When I was introduced during the rehearsal the first thing I said was that the skit would never pass the grandmother's test for decency (with a smile, of course).  I was serious, and he knew it.  They decided to drop the stuff they'd prepared for me to say and get it into the script.  His charm over-rode my objections, and my resistance flew out the window.  One would have to go a long way to escape Arsenio's boyish warmth and infectious good nature.  I liked this crazy man!

All-in-all, I figure that they'd flown me down and paid for a limo to pick us up and only for five minutes on camera and no time to learn anything about my work.  Makes no sense to me.  In the aftermath the public response has been purely positive -- which also doesn't make much sense, either.  What are they responding to?   

I was followed by Cedric the Entertainer, but didn't hear his interview due to my own inattention brought on by the relief of having completed my brief public appearance on television.

But it was the CNN Anderson Cooper interview that was something I'm still mulling over in the quiet moments.  That was even more strange, but I'll leave that story for tomorrow.


Dancin' down the Rabbit Hole with Arsenio!

... and Associated Press, CBS Local, CBS National, NBC Local, NBC National, CNN's Anderson Cooper, and along the way I was too swamped to field calls from Diane Sawyer's Good Morning Show and Al Jazeera America's producer and lost them.

I know.  It's crazy.  Weird, but as my grandchildren would say "waaaaay cool"!

I hardly know where to begin.

I suppose it began with the shutdown of the National Park Service along with other federal agencies, and -- along with 800,000 other federal employees, I was furloughed.  On October 1st we arrived at work, worked at our desks for about 4 hours putting our phones on vacation status, our email boxes with "sorry to miss your call, but I will not be available until we return to work at some indefinite time at which I will return your call."  We watered our plants, closed our files, and headed for home until further notice.

For several days I sat around matching socks, tossing accumulated junk mail, made an attempt to organize "the Cave," which is the "everything room" where those things that have no home elsewhere in my apartment find a place to rest.  It's where I'm sitting now at my MAC and where the walls are lined with photos of my life's events that are too numerous and too laudatory to be allowed in the living room lest visitors think me too self-promoting.  But here in the Cave, they serve to provide energy and confidence when those things are lacking -- we all have those days, I'm sure.

Then comes Friday!

Our superintendent called to ask permission to give my phone number to an AP reporter seeking a story.  Being happy to have an assignment, I, of course said "Yes!"

It was obvious that the media was seeking angles to tell the Shutdown story that might be unique, and "the Oldest Ranger in the National Park System" might be just the ticket.

That opened wide the doors and within 24 hours it seemed that every part of the news media was calling for an interview.

I'll continue this when there's time.  Gotta do some call backs now.

Later.. .

Nation's oldest full-time park ranger furloughed | News - KCRA Home

Nation's oldest full-time park ranger furloughed | News - KCRA Home