As you can imagine, we've had quite the exciting ride the last few days.
It all started innocently enough Wednesday evening as we were preparing for our little vacation trip to Kentucky to attend my nephew's wedding. It was around 9:30 p.m., my wife was out buying last minute supplies, and I was finishing up my packing so I could go to bed at 10:00 and get enough sleep to begin our 5 a.m. adventure.
The rest of the story goes like this:
9:30 p.m. The phone rings. It's the mayor and he asks for Austin, which isn't unusual these days so I think nothing of it. After about 2 minutes I hear Austin say, "Really? That's pretty cool." - but that we were going to be going on vacation tomorrow morning so he probably wasn't going to be able to do it.
I ask Austin what that was all about and he says, "The mayor said some news people want to do another interview with me. I told him that we weren't going to be around but he said this was pretty important and we should probably consider changing our plans.
Why, is ABC News pretty important?"
After I changed my pants I explained that ABC News was the national news and yes, they were VERY important. "Oh," he said. "Well then you should probably talk to them, because they're going to call here in a few minutes."
9:40 p.m. The phone rings again. This time it's ABC News producer Bob Haberl from New York City. He proceeds to tell me that they are interested in featuring Austin as the "Person of the Week" and would like to send a crew out tomorrow for the interview.
This time I didn't have time to change my pants. After discussing our various options for the next half hour, we finally settled on the plan where ABC would meet us in Chicago at 1:00 p.m. for our segment of the story, and they would send another crew to St. Cloud for the local portion. Bob spoke with me for nearly 45 minutes and then with Austin for about 30 more minutes after that.
One thing Bob wanted to make very clear at the end of our conversation was that these types of stories can sometimes get tossed if there's another more important story in the headlines that day - such as the announcement of a Nobel Peace Prize winner or something. He just wanted to make sure we were completely aware of all the possibilities, so Austin wasn't disappointed if his story didn't air for some reason.
By the time we finished the phone calls, jumping up and down and slapping ourselves to make sure we weren't dreaming - it was midnight. And, because we now had an actual deadline to be in Chicago by 1:00, we decided to move our departure time for our 7-hour trip up to 3 a.m. instead of 5, just to be on the safe side. This would give us a full 2 hours to find the skatepark, have some lunch and let Austin warm up before the camera crew arrived.
Thursday 2:30 a.m. I wake up after a refreshing 2 1/2 hours of sleep, take my shower and load the car with the luggage my wife had been packing until 1:00.
3:00 a.m. Because we're all going to be on national television, we can't just simply crawl into the car with bedhead - so all three kids are woken up and dumped into the showers. Amazingly, no one was killed.
3:30 a.m. As unlikely as it seems, we pull out of the driveway and head for Chicago!
12:00 p.m. After battling snow showers in Rockford, traffic jams in Elgin and bad directions from Yahoo, we find ourselves right smack in the middle of downtown Chicago on Lake and Michigan - when we were actually supposed to be on Lakeshore Drive and Wilson. (Watch for future spin-off story: Minnesota Driver Eaten Alive and Spit Back Out by Local Chicago Drivers)
12:45 p.m. After requesting help and receiving a police escort from one of Chicago's very finest, we finally arrive at the skatepark - a full 15 minutes ahead of our deadline! ABC Sports cameramen Mark and Gary are already waiting for us and begin filming the kids as they skate around the park.
1:30 p.m. Sandy, the ABC News Chicago bureau producer, arrives and begins the interview process. Bob Haberl feeds Sandy the questions over her cell phone. Mark and Gary stop the taping dozens of times because of environmental distractions such as snow, clouds, airplanes, garbage trucks and wayward onlookers.
4:30 p.m. After a full 3 hours in 28-degree temperature, we finally finish taping. Mark and Sandy discuss whether they will overnight the tape or send it over the "bird," which is tech-speak for "transmit it over the satellite." Mark recommends that the tape be sent overnight because footage is usually trimmed for satellite transmission due to the cost, and he would prefer that the editors in New York had all the raw material to work from.
Meanwhile in St. Cloud, camera crews are also interviewing the mayor, filming skateboarders on the street and requesting tapes from City Hall of the last three Park and Rec meetings so they can use footage of Austin from those as well.
Friday, 3:00 p.m. Bob Haberl calls me and asks me to send a fax of Austin's signature to overlay on the final frame of the story. I ask him if it still looks like it's going to air and he says "Yes, it looks promising - unless something more important happens like the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize winner."
5:45 p.m. Arrive in our hotel in Lexington, turn to the television in the lobby and notice that CNN is broadcasting the Nobel Peace Prize winner. My heart sinks for Austin. I call Bob to try to find out if his story will still air at 6:30 but only get voice mail. I assume he's probably doing something more important - like PRODUCING THE NEWS!
6:30 p.m. Turn on ABC News in our hotel room. They lead with the Nobel Prize winner. Still no mention of Austin's story.
6:40 p.m. We see first preview of a kid's feet on a skateboard for a "still to come" story. Our entire room erupts into one giant cheer.
6:56 p.m. Austin is featured as "Person of the Week." Here is the clip thanks to my friend Schnozz:
I am completely blown away by how these people in New York can take 3 hours of footage from Chicago, 2 hours of footage from St. Cloud and several hours of video from the Park and Rec meetings and edit them down to one cohesive and accurate 3-minute story - ALL IN LESS THAN 30 HOURS!!!
To say I am impressed would be an understatement. I now have a new respect for the professionals of the news industry and a deep appreciation for the effort and dedication they apply to their craft. But I like what Bob Haberl had to say about it in his email to me after the story aired:
"I always say there are two things people shouldn't see being made. One is sausage, of course. The other is television."
He's probably right about the sausage thing - but I couldn't be more fascinated by the television process.
So thank you Bob, Mark, Gary, Sandy and all the people in St. Cloud and New York we didn't get the chance to meet, Charles Gibson included. You've made a huge difference to the future of Austin's project and have changed Austin's life forever.