Back in the Saddle Again

It looks like , after an extended hiatus, I am about to plunge back into the wacky world of television production.

Trust me, there will be details to follow.

When you think back over the course of your reporting career the alterations in style and substance become all too apparent. I was always a shameless ham, of course. That part never really changed. I did, however, take fewer risks to life and limb over the succeeding years. I suppose that’s a sign of maturity. It’s certainly an acknowledgement of mortality.

I can’t help but think back on those early years, though. They were pretty much nuts. If you’d like to learn why…read on.

The Plimpton Period

There is a time in every feature reporter’s life when he or she will try anything. I call this the ‘Plimpton Period’, named for the prolific scribe and actor, George Plimpton, who made journalistic forays into the world of professional sports and eventually wrote a book on big league football called Paper Lion.

George set the bar

The late, great Charles Kuralt, another of America’s pre-eminent correspondents, once decried the Plimpton approach to writing, claiming that it made the reporter an unnecessary focal point of the story. Well, Charles, nobody said it was a business without ego.

The thing about placing yourself at the centre of the action is that you assume the audience identifies enough with you to really give a damn. This may be a stretch. I would estimate my Plimpton Period lasted the better part of two years, and, shamefully, Kuralt was right. It was all about me.

I had established nebbish comic personae and was working it to the full extent in stories about every sport and recreational activity I could find. Most of these bits of nonsense were going into local television lifestyle shows which all had, more or less, the same format. The producers didn’t much care what I did, as long as I did something. They needed content and lots of it.

I had no illusions of grandeur. I doubted there’d be Pulitzer, a Peabody, or even a Cracker Jack prize at the end of this, but, as we say in the business, it was certainly ‘better than black’. That is, it was better than a blank screen. Sometimes, though, just barely.

So with modest expectations established, I launched myself into the foreign territory of rampant athletics and firmer muscle tone. I was certainly willing to take a few risks, but at the same time I was not about to put myself in mortal danger. They didn’t pay me enough to sustain serious injury—let alone die—in front of the camera and, frankly, some of these so-called ‘extreme activities’ simply didn’t interest me.

Never did it. Never will.

I wasn’t, for example, going to bungee jump. Not because I didn’t think it could be done safely, but because, by then, bungee jumping had become a recreational cliché. Everyone seemed to be throwing themselves off a parapet with elastics on their legs. People were being married, divorced, perhaps, even circumcised while bungee jumping.

I couldn’t see that there was anything new to be brought to the story. Actually, now that I think of it, a bungee jumping bris would have made the News.

I will have to admit to the slightest hint of fear. After all, I was raised in the heyday of the Chuck Jones Roadrunner cartoon, and the bungee jump looked suspiciously like something the Coyote had already tried.

We all knew how those scenarios played out. The Coyote’s bungee cord would invariably be a foot too long causing him to slam into the ground before it suddenly went taut. Then he would peel himself from the desert floor, wobble about like a flatted hubcap and glance skyward, just in time to see the rock that the cord was tied to hurtling toward him. I recall the Coyote usually held up a little ‘Help’ sign, perhaps a parasol, just before he was crushed. Of course the Coyote always lived to fight another day.

While I did avoid bungee jumping, I dove right into white-water rafting, competitive rowing, cross-country skiing and skateboarding. I climbed into go-karts, Ferraris and army tanks.

With the Canadian army

I was one of the first reporters to enter an Aeroball court. Aeroball was a mixed up variation of basketball, whereby four players tried to shoot a ball into a hoop while simultaneously bouncing on individual trampolines. This enabled one to feel both humiliated and nauseated at the same time.

I tried boxing a round or two with a Canadian featherweight champ. His hands moved so fast they were a blur. I tried both arm wrestling and the full-figured, pile-driving type. I recall my wrestling ring moniker was ‘The Sliver’.

When the Australian football league sent a team of players to Vancouver to promote something called ‘Aussie Rules’ football, I again put myself in the midst of the action. Aussie Rules football looks like a combination of rugby and gladiatorial combat. I’m not sure there were any rules at all. One of the favoured techniques of getting the ball was to actually run up the back of your opponent using his vertebrae as a spinal Stairmaster. Aussie Rules players didn’t just eat runts like me for breakfast they used us to pick their teeth.

I had no desire to ever leap out of an airplane. I had taken enough risks in aircraft over the years. Voluntarily throwing myself into the sky did not need to be on my resume.

It weighs a bit

I did however do a story on a Vancouver shop that sold parachuting equipment. And, for some reason, I ended this feature by leaping off the sales counter wearing all of the gear. I didn’t realize how heavy the equipment was until I hit the floor, and I hit that floor like a gnat on a speeding windshield. The nurse who interviewed me in the emergency ward of a nearby hospital could not believe I had torn a ligament by free-falling in the middle of a retail outlet. Medical staff kept peeking around the corner to get a good look at the idiot in the waiting room.

When I recovered from the twisted knee, I found myself unfettered and unsecured atop a giant revolving wheel at the Pacific National Exhibition, while the acrobats waiting below clutched insurance waivers and shouted words of encouragement.

Bring a big thermos

Though it wasn’t athletic, I found a visit to Vancouver’s only nude beach to be just as intimidating, perhaps more. There was an unofficial Wreck Beach security detail who wanted to make sure the camera crew wasn’t going to be down there for a cheap thrill or to invade anyone’s privacy. Once I assured them that the focus would strictly be on me, they relaxed and let us shoot.

Why are the last people you’d really want to see naked always the ones at the nude beach? Nobody who remotely resembles Halle Berry is ever spiking a volleyball or tossing a Frisbee. I wasn’t actually completely nude, because, frankly, I did not trust the cameraman. I didn’t want any outtakes. If you do something like this you need to ensure that there will never be any naughty images making a surprise showing six months later at the company Christmas party or on YouTube. At the very least it may preclude any efforts to some day run for political office. I wore a Speedo swimsuit, which, trust me, was plenty disturbing enough. I also deployed a large beach ball, picnic hamper and a strategically placed thermos.

Against my better judgement (after the debacle of the 1992 Cattle Drive), I briefly got back on a horse to shoot a spoof of Kevin Costner’s movie Dances with Wolves, which was just hitting the theatres at the time. In my version, entitled Prances with Loaves, I portrayed a frontier baker who was bringing pita to the Pawnee. There’s still a photo on my office wall showing me mounted up in full Cavalry dress, the U.S. period flag in one hand and a big, crusty baguette in the other. My children assumed I knew General Custer.

Pita to the Pawnee

Of all my Plimptonian efforts, I think the one that tickled me most was the opportunity to spin plates. This had been a childhood dream. Oh sure, some of you may laugh. You see yourselves someday scaling mountains or swimming oceans. Clearly you did not watch enough Ed Sullivan as a child. I was mesmerized by the plate-spinners on that Sunday night extravaganza.

Try it with food

How did they do this? The performers were always frantically dashing back and forth keeping a dozen or so platters on the move. They always grabbed them just in the nick of time to keep the dinnerware from crashing to the stage.

We went to a circus in Vancouver to interview a premier plate-spinner who proceeded to stomp all over my naiveté by revealing the trick. He simply took a drill with a ceramic bit and put a small divot in the centre of every plate. With that one small adjustment, you could keep those plates aloft until they almost came to a dead stop.

So, I did it ‘live’ on a show one night, complete with a thrilling audio track of Armenian composer, Aaram Khachaturian’s, Sabre Dance. The Sabre Dance is the mandatory plate-spinning anthem. If you’re having a dinner party don’t even attempt to revolve your dishes without it. And for extra excitement in the studio, I actually added food to all the plates while they were spinning.

Now that’s entertainment!

Write to me if you figure out how to keep rolling peas on a twirling platter.


13 Responses to “Back in the Saddle Again”

  1. Bob Herger Says:

    I am so pleased for you and for us that you will be back in the saddle. It will look good on you and see, talent does rise to the top. Congratulations!
    I was looking at the local morning news today and I was thinking I’m sure I saw this broadcast at six oclock in the evening the day before and thought oh please someone give Dave another spot (I’m not joking) at least on radio. So again congratulations you deserve it.

    Best Wishes

  2. Hey Dave… Great news! It’s been almost a year since our last meeting at Lester’s house… so can’t wait to hear the “details.” Looking forward to seeing you again.

  3. Grant Bowen Says:

    OK, you can go back to TV… as long as you keep up the blog to some degree. 🙂

  4. Eric Stansfield Says:

    This is great news Dave and from someone who goes way back to the old “Vice” days, I sincerely wish you all the best.
    Cheers from the sunny Okanagan.

  5. I echo what Bob said.

    Yeah ! Can’t wait until you are back on TV – now that’s entertainment!

  6. Mike Hutchison Says:

    Excellent, looking forward to seeing you on TV again!

  7. Back to the grind eh? I knew you’d be lured back one day. You’ve got a gift for storytelling and our greed will always make us ask for more. Please do continue the blog as your posts are always a welcomed reprieve from our own daily grinds. A big congrats to Simi too!

    Oh, and bungee jumping is never old if the story is told the right way so you’ve got an advantage. I absolutely love this one Rick Mercer did with Rick Hansen recently:

  8. Close your eyes and imagine me doing Al Pacino…
    “Just when I thought I was OUT…they pull me back in!”
    Congratulations Dave and good luck!

  9. Dave, wonderful news and long overdue.

  10. Way to go Dave,best to you in your new venture!

  11. Congratulations! You have been missed on tv. Hope I can catch it on the internet if possible.

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