Reporters do get to have fun, sometimes
Battle Creek, my home town, hosts an annual air show and hot-air balloon festival called Field of Flight.
It’s a bigger event even than the yearly Cereal Festival and World’s Longest Breakfast Table (Battle Creek is home to the Kellogg Co. and Post Co.).
Every dawn and dusk for five days around the Fourth of July, dozens of hot-air balloons fill the skies, their envelopes done up in bright neon colors, some of them made to look like the heads of cereal mascots, including Sugar Bear and Tony the Tiger. Throughout the day, fighter jets — the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are frequent guests — scream across the sky.
Years ago, when I was the Battle Creek Enquirer’s videographer, I and a still photographer were on a ride-along in one of the balloons. We’d climbed into the gondola and I was shooting closeups of the pilot as he readied the balloon for flight. I was watching intently through my viewfinder, making sure my framing was right.
After about 30 seconds or so, I looked away from my camera and turned to my right, expecting to see the balloon’s ground crew. Instead, I saw nothing but tree tops and blue sky. I peered over the edge of the basket and saw the ground falling away very quickly. We’d already shot more than 100 feet into the air, and I’d never felt the takeoff. Hot-air balloons are smooth that way.
I was so startled, I nearly tumbled out of the basket.
See, journalists get to have fun, sometimes.
Another Field of Flight story: One of my colleagues (who shall remain nameless) had volunteered to ride in the back seat of a private stunt plane (Blue Angels and Thunderbird ride-alongs were prohibited) while the pilot did his show.
A camera mounted on the back of the pilot’s seat filmed the reporter’s face, but none of the footage was usable. About 15 seconds after the first loop-de-loop, she threw up. Big, brightly colored, carnival-food upchuck.
I was a music columnist for the Enquirer for a while, and I’d written a column that mentioned that Everclear was my favorite band. One of the band’s publicists somehow saw my column and reached out to me.
Everclear was playing a show in Mount Clemens that summer, and the publicist wanted to know if I’d like to interview the band’s frontman, Art Alexakis, on the phone.
My favorite part was when I told Art I’d always felt his music said, essentially, that the world sucks, but it’s OK, we’ll make it through. He told me I was exactly right.
Another music story: I got to interview a lot of big rock bands that came to Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
I had a running game with my editor, seeing how many swear words I could get her to publish (remember I was only 20, 21 at the time), because rock musicians, as a people, tend to swear a lot.
But even I had a hard time coming up with useful quotes from my interview with Zakk Wylde, a former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne who was playing the arena with his own band, Black Label Society.
Every other word was an f-bomb.
When I worked at the Lansing State Journal, I sent one of our photographers out to take pictures and video of the tactical drive course at the Michigan State Police academy. They strap you into the back seat and zip around hairpin turns at top speed, ’round and ’round and over and over.
The photographer threw up. He probably still hasn’t forgiven me.
Months later, I went to the same course to shoot video of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ conservation officer academy.
The queasiness hit while I was driving back to the newsroom.
But I didn’t throw up. Wasn’t about to give the photographer that satisfaction.
I have always been a pretty strong swimmer. I have grandparents in South Carolina and most of my summers, from the time I was 3 until I started working at age 15, have been spent paddling around their pool in the back yard.
So I felt pretty confident when I went to that conservation officers school to cover their water rescue exercises. With a GoPro strapped to my head, I intended to swim around underwater and film the cadets free-diving in the State Police pool to “rescue” a diver in scuba gear who was “trapped” in this car frame submerged in the pool.
But those guys and gals are awesome. I ended up with a whole lot of footage of them swimming down and doing their stuff and then suddenly, while they’re still calmly at work, everything in the video starts to shake and the screen fills with bubbles and you can hear me gurgle-screaming my way back up for air.
So it goes.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.