Thursday, April 26, 2007

Proofreader

A friend of mine, previously mentioned on this blog here in story about rubbing shoulders with the famous, has gotten a new part-time job that might bring minor fame to her.

At least as much notice as substituting for the TV traffic reporter on one of my local stations gets me, which, if that's the case, won't bring her much notice at all.

(I did get an e-mail from the operations director from our local traffic.com office today thanking me for filling in. He wrote that he gets compliments on my work whenever I'm on, which I take to mean that -- like my occasional colleagues at WTSP -- they're happily surprised that I appear to have worked in front of a TV camera before.)

But enough about me. This is about my perhaps soon-to-be pseudo famous friend, who says she likes to read about herself on my blog so I'm not telling tales out of school here. A month or so ago she told me that she was taking jazz dancing lessons. Interesting hobby, I thought. Then she explained that she intended to audition to become a cheerleader for the Washington Redskins.

I heard nothing more about it for a few weeks. Then a one line e-mail: "My audition is tonight and I am so BLOATED!" I wrote back, assuring her that regardless of her bloatitude she would do fine. A day or so later she replied: "You were right. I got it!" Of course I was right. I usually am when the matter doesn't involve a decision about my own life. Or spelling.

My realm of expertise includes knowing how to use an apostrophe so she calls on me to edit articles she writes as a PR flak for a DC lobby group. The latest call came yesterday. "Your help," the subject line of the e-mail read. The body of the e-mail had one line about how it needs tightening up. She was not talking about a mishap while doing the splits at cheerleading practice. She was talking about the verbiage in the Word document attached to the e-mail.

Lucky for her the grammar surgeon here can do her job and mine at the same time. Glad I didn't wear good clothes, I thought. This could get messy. I performed the required syntactical triage in between tasks someone actually pays me for and returned her article with suggested corrections and re-writes.

Today she writes: "Thanks John, I'll rework your suggestions. That my friend, will get you an autographed photo me in my WRC outfit! Well, you would've gotten one anyway but THANK YOU! :)"

And that brings us to the reason (the reason besides that she's my friend and a total babe to boot) that I do this stuff for her. The thanks? The picture of her in the cheerleading suit? No. The material.

I reply:
Are you going to sign the autograph yourself or will it be an autograph printed on the picture like the ones of President Bush my mother gets when she gives money to the Republicans?

I'm thinking a genuine autograph will bring a lot more on e-Bay when you become a big shot on the Hill.

(What? Didn't like that joke? That was Joke B. Joke A was how your really good friends got the picture of you WITHOUT the WRC outfit on.)

She hasn't written back. She will. At some point she's going to need another article edited.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Traffic Survived


I survived my three day traffic stint. I got out of bed by 3 a.m. each morning, got showered, shaved and to the station by four (here's a tip, travelers: roads are almost always clear at 3:30 in the morning) and got the computers fired up in plenty of time for me to develop an all-consuming fear that I had forgotten something.

I probably had, but I was too blissfully ignorant to realize it.

The people at the station have treated me terrifically. They don't tell me how good a job I'm doing any more like they did when I first filled in, which I take to mean that they're no longer surprised that I don't completely stink.

Not that I'm particularly brilliant. I am not a gifted ad-libber so there's a limit to how smooth I'd be even if I did it regularly. But the lack of practice doesn't help. The reports I have to do from in front of the green screen wall give me the most problems and despite the fact that I now own my own green screen (see previous post) I can't duplicate the conditions of WTSP's studio at home to polish my performance.

But if management at the station and at traffic.com, which provides the traffic service to the station, are happy so am I.

Clip courtesy WTSP-TV

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Green Screen Test

I added something recently to my growing collection of video equipment. It's called a green screen or a chroma key screen. It's used to create virtual backgrounds. Below is the first test of it that will explain more, if you can suffer through my moribund performance. Remember, it's only a test.


Friday, April 20, 2007

More Traffic

You know your job starts early when the toll booth attendant tells you on the way to work, "Have a good night." Honey, this isn't night for me; it's morning.

Not that 3:40 a.m. is a normal morning drive time for me. I had traffic duty at WTSP today. And since I didn't screw it up too badly today, I go back Monday and Tuesday. It actually went quite well after a rough start. It was my first time live on the air since filling in for one day in December. That makes it hard to get into a rhythm.

I have written about my very occasional work filling in for the traffic anchor on "10 News This Morning." I know I have. I even went back to find the entry from last August detailing one of my days on the air there.

The morning show's format has changed since then and it's hectic between 5 and 7 a.m. I appear 24 times in those two hours. Sometimes it's for as few as ten seconds so it's not like I have to prepare a lengthy monologue. But as soon as I finish one "hit" I can barely breathe before my next one comes. In some I begin on camera in the "traffic center," which is just a small area off to the side of the main news desk. Some I do standing front of the same green screen that the weather anchor uses. Instead of weather fronts, I point to traffic back-ups. On the rest, you don't see me at all, just a live shot of a major road or a map.

Clip courtesy WTSP-TV

Then during the CBS Early Show between 7-9 a.m., we have four local news "cut-ins" for which I do reports. But for those I have more than 20 minutes to prepare, which makes them easier. The fact that there are a lot more problems on the roads to talk about makes it harder. There are a lot of bad drivers out there. You ever notice that?

I can't mention all the wrecks. I have to judge which ones impact the most people and talk about those while also showing people the conditions of the major Interstates, which can clog even without a crash to block things. Decisions! Decisions! And so early in the morning!

If the morning show's format changed, my singular goal did not: Stay off of YouTube. It used to be that even the biggest gaffe only landed you on the station's blooper reel. Few people outside the building ever saw it. Not now. Now what used to become a joke among your co-workers can make you a laughing stock across the planet.

Maybe I should have more ambition than that but I don't. I did more than 15 years of full-time television. If a good opportunity arose, I'd consider it but if not I'm satisfied that I've made more of a career from it than most people.

I still do sports stories for that statewide high school show I might have mentioned (and used to post videos from until the show's producer requested me not to) and I recently, through a former WFLA-TV colleague's recommendation, landed another potentially fulfilling freelance gig producing stories for a show called A Gulf Coast Journal. It's a magazine show produced by the local PBS affiliate WEDU.

Goodness, look at the clock! It's after 6 p.m. Friday. That means it's only a few hours before I have to be back at WTSP early Monday morning.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Interesting John McQuiston

My friendly neighborhood Stat Counter tells me that many people find my web site (not my blog here but my actual JohnMcQuiston.com site) from Google searches for -- get this -- "John McQuiston."

That can mean only one thing. Someone out there walking around with my name has become interesting enough to arouse Google-worthy curiosity. I doubt that it is I.

One of the searches did include the title of a page buried somewhere on my site titled So You Want To Be A TV Reporter?. OK, maybe that one was for the same John McQuiston typing the verbiage you're reading right now.

(I wonder if all John McQuistons so love to refer to themselves in the third person.)

The rest? Who might this famous or infamous John McQuiston be? What has he done to make so many wonder? He's made me wonder. I tried the Google search for "John McQuiston" myself.

(Admit it: You've Googled your own name too!)

As you can see, at least today, it doesn't reveal many clues because the top result is my site. Next is the gentleman below:


Not me.

That Jon (no "H) McQuiston is the 1st District Supervisor of Kern County, California. What the 1st District Supervisor of Kern County, California does, exactly, I'm not sure. But could "no H" inspire so much Googling? Especially when many of the searchers, according to the locations of their IP addresses, are on the east coast?

Then there's this fellow:


Definitely not me.

John McQuiston II is a lawyer and an inspirational author in Memphis. Amazon.com calls him a "best-selling author." But if the books were that hot sellers, would they available for as little as $3 -- in hardback?

I could go on but I can bottom line it for you that among John McQuistons on the Internet, there ain't a rock star in the bunch. Who knows? Maybe the same wave of nostalgia that recently washed over me has struck other people, some of whom once knew me at a time long ago in a place far away.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nostalgia Notes

The nostalgia kick continues. Last week I sent letters off to the girl I took to the junior prom and to the girl I dated for a time while working my first TV job out of college.

I also traded e-mail with a former teammate on the Methacton high school swimming team. (I should point out that the guy friends I had in high school I already have e-mail addresses for and I stay in periodic contact with them.) Rich forwarded me a link to the web site of another former classmate. Erik Rex had once taught me a blues scale on guitar and still plays music professionally. Rich saw him play at a bar and bought his CD. He noted that Erik had "a very young, very cute girl" with him.

Punk Rock Day (1982 or 1983): Erik Rex is on
the left. Rich is next to him. I'm on the right.

I checked out Erik's site and was glad to see he still plays but was somewhat surprised by what he's playing. In high school he was matching Alex Lifeson note for note and now he seems content to channel Roger McGuinn. I'm not sure that's progress. But if he tours with very cute, very young girls in tow, maybe I'm measuring progress with the wrong ruler.

I didn't mention that in the e-mail I sent to Erik. He hasn't responded. Other than Rich, neither has anyone else whom I have intruded with correspondence from some long lost classmate.

That's OK. It was fun enough to reminisce as I wrote them and to wonder as I sent them what these people grew into in the intervening decades between then and now.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Happen To You?

OK, did you ever come home, park in front of your townhome and turn off the car's engine but keep the CD player going because you want to keep listening to the song, lose yourself in reverie then watch as your next-door-neighbor pulls her car in next to yours?

Then did you think of how odd it must look, you just sitting there in your car with the lights off and your head bobbing to an invisible beat at 9:15 p.m.? To spare yourself the uncomfortable hello and explanation of what you're doing there, especially since it could look like you were sitting there waiting for someone, you figure you'll just stay in your car until she goes inside? But instead of walking to her front door she goes to the back of her car and starts rooting around in there for what seems like forever so you get out of your car at just the moment she slams the trunk closed and there you are -- standing in awkward city?

Never happen to you? Figures. I always knew I was a mutant.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus In The Mourning

It somehow fits that the great author Kurt Vonnegut would pass away in the midst of the Don Imus flap. I'm not saying that the two were at all comparable. I'm saying that the "freethinking" that Vonnegut championed so well in his work took a blow.

Not Don Imus' freethinking. Our own.

We're losing that. We don't trust people to have the sense to decide for themselves what is suitable for listening, watching or reading. In our rush to stamp out anything that reeks of intolerance, we grow intolerant ourselves. No one says any more, "I disagree with what you say but I'll defend your right to say it."

Nah. Better to shout 'em down so no one hears 'em.

Please understand: I am not defending Imus' comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Nor do I think that MSNBC or CBS Radio should not be allowed to fire him. I am suggesting that in our zeal to topple the giant Imus statue in Baghdad Square, we may be tearing down something we won't be celebrating later.

This is not a First Amendment issue. Freedom of the press belongs to those who own presses and if MSNBC or CBS Radio don't want Don Imus on their airwaves, then they are well within their rights not to have him there. It'd be nice that if they pull the plug on Imus after major advertisers have pulled the plug on him that they don't try to tell me that there was no connection.

I don't listen to Imus. I didn't listen to Howard Stern before he fled the FCC to satellite radio. I rarely hear Rush Limbaugh. I don't listen to stations that play rappers bleating about b*tches and hos. I don't have to; my radio comes equipped with buttons that allow me to switch stations.

But I am comforted knowing that they're there. I like knowing that people can speak freely enough on public airwaves that they're going to say things I find disagreeable, distasteful and sometimes plain disgusting. I don't want to live in a world where people become so afraid of saying something offensive that they never say anything interesting.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why?

The outpouring of emotion and interest in WFLA-TV meteorologist John Winter's death April 5 has even affected traffic to this blog. Dozens of visitors here have arrived through searches for his name since I mentioned my passing acquaintance with him last Friday.

Many of the search strings contain the same word: Why.


It's an even more vexing question when you see his picture, isn't it? I know that even the sunniest disposition can hide a dark side. But what the intellect knows and what the eyes see aren't always the same thing. And what your eyes tell you is that no one with a smile so cheerful could feel so low as to want to end it all.

More than 500 people packed his public memorial service yesterday according to the St. Petersburg Times article recounting the event, which also said that more than 14,000 people had signed the online guestbook the station had set up.

I wonder if Winter could have seen the reaction to his death whether it would have changed his mind about wanting to die. We'll never know. Nor will we know for sure the answer to the question everyone has asked, and continues to ask judging by the web searches, since we first heard how he died: Why?

St. Pete Times media critic Eric Deggans and others have written about the depression that friends say Winter suffered. I link to that particular entry in Deggans' blog because it contains another innocuous-sounding sentence that stood out to me: "Winter’s wife Karen declined to speak with me."

For her to decline, Deggans had to contact her. Calling new widows is one part of reporting that I do not miss. What some people see as the glamour of television came down too often to "bothering people on the worst days of their lives," as a friend still in the business perfectly described it. In a world in which more people can name the father of Anna Nicole's baby than can tell you the names of their representatives in Congress, people are going to want to know what the widow says. As long as they do, someone will be willing to call her and ask.

How can she answer when she's probably still asking the only one that matters -- and one she'll never understand.

Why?



On a lighter note, and perhaps another unsolvable mystery, someone in the last week also landed on my blog after searching for "topless donuts tampa".

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Returned

An envelope came to my mailbox that I had sent to someone else. As I suspected, the letter I wrote to a long lost high school classmate (detailed here and here) never reached her. It took more than a month to come back. I wonder how many places it went before someone slapped the big yellow sticker on it directing its return to me.


For fun I do another zabasearch on her name and this time the results include a different last name for her and a more recent address. I'm surprised. Not that she's apparently married; it would have surprised me more had she never wed. I'm surprised that the zabasearch made the connection between her maiden and married names after failing to do it when I tried only a month or so earlier.

I'm also relieved. I didn't picture her as a perpetual bachelorette. I don't picture most women staying single forever. And if she had stayed solo, part of me wondered what had gone wrong. I know half of marriages end in divorce so it's not crazy to think that some people decide to skip the aggravations of acrimony and alimony not to mention the legal fees and simply stay single. But we were made to mate even if we aren't good at staying mates.

Now I decide whether it's worth another try. I know I have the correct address now because I poke around some more to confirm it. But do I take the letter out of the returned envelope, put it in a new one and send it off again to some uncertain fate?

Self Portrait

I showed you my swollen jaw after my tooth extraction. In the interest of fairness, you should see my face at normal size.


The mirror whose bottom edge you see in the shot may be antique. My father dabbled as an antiques trader for a time after he retired and he believes it is. It belonged to my mother's parents. It sat in a closet at my parents' house until I offered to put it to work adorning my dining room wall. It looks terrific, though probably better without my reflection in it.

Friday, April 06, 2007

John Winter

Thirty-nine, impishly handsome, married and successful, WFLA-TV meteorologist John Winter seemed to have everything to live for when he killed himself yesterday afternoon.

Story in the Tampa Tribune

John and I worked opposite shifts when I worked at WFLA between 1997-1999 so I hardly knew him but he seemed like a decent guy and he did a good job on the air.

I heard about it on the radio while driving home from work yesterday. On a sports talk station of all places. I got home in time to catch the end of WFLA's 6 p.m. news. It has been eight years since I worked there but I still have friends at the station and I knew they were suffering.

When I worked in Lexington our main anchor died. It was cancer so we saw it coming and had time to brace ourselves. Still it hurt. The day of his funeral we devoted the early evening news block to remembering him. Heavy hearts pumped oxygen breathed with great difficulty. In place of the sports segment I told a story about his last birthday, two months before, and how later that night he watched his beloved Green Bay Packers win a Monday Night Football game in miraculous fashion.

Here is the clip (Courtesy WTVQ-TV)


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I managed not to cry at the time but I find myself teary-eyed seeing it now. Did you notice the halting speech? The breathing difficulty I mentioned above was not figurative.

The news of John Winter's sudden death brought to mind all the cliches about how fragile life is. About how our time here is fleeting and temporary and how it can end at any time. And about how being cliches doesn't make them any less true.

May 30 update from the St. Petersburg Times.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Race Day





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