Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The story behind the story

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.

ABC News cameramen Mark (l) and Gary (r)

Austin live
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.

The grillings

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.


yellojkt said...

That is really fantastic. And you have it on YouTube for us folks that don't watch the news.

Very kewl.

Jennine said...

I'm not even sure what to say and that almost never happens.

Thank you for sharing this incredible story and for bringing into the world a child who is making it a better place to be.

As a parent there's just nothing better than that.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

yello - Thanks! And you can thank my other son Brandon for the YouTube thing. I had nothing to do with that.

jennine - Thank YOU for the kind comment. Bringing Austin into the world was the easy part - at least for me.

Anonymous said...

uOh man--this is so exciting!!!!I think we had 12 of our neighbors call and congratulate us, and say how much they enjoyed the ABC airing!! I told you--my one claim to fame will be that I'm Aistins grandma!!!!

Anonymous said...

Your mother is so excited she cannot even spell Austin right!!! I just keep thinking that I smell a rink dedication party. We will be there!!!! All bloggers should not be required to bring a skate board to join the fun.

Dave2 said...

Bah! Mainstream media is so 2005!

I read about how cool Austin is WEEKS ago here on "View From the Cloud!" Viva la blog! :-)

But still... well-desserved congratulations all around...

Waya said...

THAT WAS JUST AWESOME!!! I got goosebumps watching that clip. You have one special kid there Dad!! He's more mature and well spoken than a lot of adults that I know.

I'm sure that was the talk at the wedding right?! Way to go Austin!!

Anonymous said...

That is so cool! You have a very fine son who is articulate, poised and you must be so proud. Thanks so much for sharing this swith us, gotta love YouTube.
It made me tear up, as if I knew the kids dad or something.

Heather said...

Wow! Really great clip. Thanks for posting it since I was so mad I missed it on tv!

What a great kid you have...must take after his MOM?

I liked how you just sat there supportively. Sorry you didn't get to talk big guy!

Seriously though, what a great kid. You done good there.

Anonymous said...

I was sitting around after a Board meeting yesterday bs'ing with some people and somebody said, "Did anyone see ABC Person of the Week last Friday? There was this amazing kid who wanted to start a skate park." I'm like YES! I think you have a few more blog readers now!

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

mom - I remember when I used to be your claim to fame :-(

dad - Don't worry, I'll make sure to invite you to the "rink" ;-)

dave - Viva la blog indeed! For example, I wouldn't dream of buying a new video game without first checking for the official "Dave Seal of Approval."

waya - Oh, he was the talk of the wedding allright, but not just because of his story. Just wait for the pics to come.

carla - Isn't that funny? First you blog with someone, then their kid is on national tv. Who'd thunk?

heather - I was talking a'plenty. They just didn't use any of it. I have a feeling it was because of the giant Micky Mouse gloves I was wearing at the time.

linda - Way cool. I welcome all who travel here!

Jess Riley said...

Wow!!!! This is such an exciting story. Congratulations a thousand times over.

Anonymous said...

I yelled, I laughed, I cried, I just cant believe this whole thing. Austin HAS to be affecting the kids at school, too. Showing them what can happen when you go through the channels to get something done. He is touching so many lives, with his example. And, yet, he seems so unaffected. So "himself" when I talked to him about it. It is so cool.VERY impressive--way to go austin!

Anonymous said...

We are also, very proud of Austin and the rest of your family. Thanks for sharing with us and showing me your blog. I look forward to many hours of catching up. We missed you on Sunday!!

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

jess - Thank you - a thousand times over!

sis - Yes, he is getting a lot of props from his classmates. One of his teachers even taught an entire day of "Austin" to all his classes as his lesson plan for the day. The next day they had a test about it. Austin said he got 100%.

ray & dawn - So glad you're reading the "View" these days! Thank you both so much for your generous hospitality and delicious meals last week. We would have loved to stop by on the way home too, but we stayed waaayyy too long at the Louisville skatepark and ended up getting to our motel in WI after midnight the way it was.

Anonymous said...

Heather sent me your way via her blog post about Austin.

What a proud poppa you must be...he sounds like a sensational kid!

Mooselet said...

That is so incredibly cool. I'm going to have to email the one uncle I have in St. Cloud and tell him to watch out cos I have connections to the Parks and Recs board!

You and Mrs. H'Man must be so proud. Thanks for sharing it with us.

but Momma said...

I feel famous, in a six degrees-kind-of-way! Fun to see you guys on tape instead of just still shots!

Three cheers for Austin!!

Karen said...

I came via Heather of Cool Zebras, and I'm so glad I did. Gives me hope for our collective future, to see such young people. I see a future in public service.

Anonymous said...

Nice plug from Australia!

Anonymous said...

Awesome, Austin!!!
I've worked with and mentored teenagers for over 46 years in the Civil Air Patrol. Mooselet and Gabe were two of them I'm proud to say I know.
But, Austin could be on my team any time. Kudos, kid!!!
I am impressed.

Anonymous said...

That was AWESOME! Thanks for sharing this with us! Austin's an amazing young man--way to go!

Jennine said...

Oh! OH!!!

Jeff and Char, be thankful I don't have your phone number because I would so call you with this!


From my blog:

Bill said...
Jennine: You have a sense of humor that I enjoy, but you do not have a grandson building a skate park. Ha, Ha, {I have to use that shot because I don"t get many.--=-H.M."s dad.

So! The brand spaking new Bill-ism is... drum roll please...

"[insert any compliment here] but you don't have a grandson building a skate park!"

And Mr. have a right to be so proud! And thank you for the watered down compliment!

You heard it here first.

Anonymous said...

Wow, super! Congrats guys.

Elizabeth said...

I've seen you comment on FOMA and thought I'd check out your blog. What a great story! How exciting for you and your family!! Congratulations

Bugwit said...

So Cool! You have a great son, there, Jeff. You must be a great dad.