We meet once a month.
I slug the Google calendar with “Ol’ Farts Luncheon” to schedule the event, time, and location. We usually meet at 12:30 pm and wrap maybe two hours later. It’s an event full of old war stories and a few well-worn memories as we eventually go our separate ways.
Our group is mostly retired broadcast news people — predominantly cameramen as well as a reporter or two, and a few newspaper folks. We all used to cover the mean streets of Boston, from the last days of non-electric typewriters and film to current day electronic media. We’ve all been around from old Remingtons to mini-cameras emitting images that air instantly while watching the rise of social media and purported news writers who post stories that are raw. Unchecked for truth or validity.
Our friendships date back half a century or more. Once, we were the young Turks, ambitious and breathing fire to bring fresh air and relevance to television news we thought was maybe too stiff and formal. The old guard regarded us with suspicion, annoyance and I suspect, a little envy because they’d been the same way a mere few decades earlier.
We’ve shared triumphs, tragedies, marriages, divorces, births, and deaths. Lately, we’re bonded by attending too many funerals of people who used to attend our lunches. We know that sense of mortality we so casually dismissed to the old guard in earlier years. Now, we are the old guard.
It’s interesting to follow the thread of how our lives have changed in retirement, away from the daily spotlight of events on the center stage of public life.
A relatively small gathering for our latest luncheon. Nine very mature gents around the big table. Seven of these fellows are retired (or semi-retired) cameramen, video technicians, van maintenance, and uplink pros. All have worked at least 40 years in the TV news biz. That’s at least 280 years which is a pretty a conservative tally — untold days, nights, weeks, months and years. Collectively, we’ve covered just about all the major news events over the past half-century.
Although Boston-based, we’ve followed stories around the world. We were there when the Vietnam War became an awkward part of history, when Watergate brought down a president, and when the Berlin Wall tumbled. We were there when Three Mile Island became a national scare, when sexual abuse scandals ripped through the Catholic Church (including a prominent local Archbishop), and when court-ordered school desegregation put Boston in a very uncomfortable international spotlight.
All of us were there for these events that, like a thousand tiny paper cuts changed our world, our neighborhood, and how we view ourselves. Their cameras delivered images that have become part of history. History not often covered in textbooks — paper or electronic.
Most of these unassuming fellows have taken home multiple Emmys, Pulitzer Prizes, Murrow Awards and other honors recognizing their bodies of work, most of which they have done their work in relative anonymity.
One suit, with typical executive lack of respect, called them “button pushers”. That suit’s tenure was relatively brief. Ironically, we worked for many suits who simply did not respect the quality of the work or dangers faced by pros “just doing their job.”
Preserving anonymity, one of my colleagues dealt appropriately with a suit who endangered all the lives of techs and talent in a TV remote van. The suit, in the middle of a thunderstorm with huge bolts of lightning, insisted the signal rod be kept upright so the van could transmit a news report. If the exec’s order had been followed, there was an excellent chance that lightning would blow up the truck with everyone inside.
So one of these fellas ignored the suit’s order, suggesting that lives were in jeopardy and, perhaps the suit would like to come and put up the rod himself. Newsroom applause drowned out the suit’s expletives as he stomped back to his corner office.
Another of these “gents” braved jail time with his reporter rather than reveal a source for a high-level story. Like some of the Pols on the Impeachment Inquiry, the suit didn’t grasp the meaning of “confidential source’.’ He didn’t comprehend that the source and his family’s lives would be in jeopardy if he was identified.
So “the button pusher” and his reporter opted out for adjoining jail cells rather than yield to high pressure from yet another suit who probably should’ve been working at a car wash. The suits and the company lawyers blinked.
There are multiple, similar stories around this table. I was around for many of them. Often, I hid behind them as they took the brunt of self-serving, second-guessing suits who seemed oblivious to the complicated life on the streets.
It bears repetition that these under-appreciated news people — reporters without microphones — are responsible for most of the hardware I’ve taken home. I’ve always felt obligated amid the warm applause at award ceremonies to thank the folks behind the cameras for cleaning me up, straightening me out, and making sure we always had the full story.
It’s a joy to spend time with them.