Views on politics and current events

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Trip To Chicago

Or: Here He Comes! Ever’body Hide And I’ll Ambush Him At The Pass!

Due to popular request from my friends (all three of them) I have written the following trip report. It is the truth (mostly) and covers events before, during and after my trip to Chicago for an interview with Tucker Carlson.

Monday, July 31st, 2006 9:00 AM
- Today is the day the article featuring yours truly was published in the New York Times. The phone rang, the wife answered, said it was for me. A very pleasant female voice answered:
Adrian : Hello, Alan Beggerow?
Me: Yes.
Adrian: This is Adrian from the Tucker Carlson show.
Me: Who?
Adrian: Tucker read the article in the New York Times, and has said get Alan here for an interview!
Me: No kiddin’?
Adrian: Would you be willing to do that?
Me: Sure.
Adrian: Alright! Thank you! We’re gonna make this happen! We’re gonna make this happen! Is there a television station in Rock Falls?
Me: Uh, no.
Adrian: What’s the nearest big city?
Me: Oh, either Rockford or the Quad Cities. Each about an hour’s drive.
Adrian: Good! We’ll get this done today! Alright!

Adrian gave me her number and said she would call me back with all the details. As I hung up the phone, my wife asked me who it was. I told her, it was the Tucker Carlson show requesting an interview.

“Who?” she replied.
“Tucker Carlson.”
“Who’s that?”
“He’s got a show on MSNBC and wants an interview.”
Evidently my propensity for leg-pulling caused her to doubt my sincerity, for she said, “Will you be serious!”

After my assurances that it indeed was the truth, I settled in to wait for the return call in front of the computer. I went to the on-line version of The New York Times and looked at the picture of my wife, me (and our little dog too) on the front page. Is this what Andy Warhol meant when he said, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”?

9:45 AM - Adrian is back on the phone. No mention is made of Rockford or the Quad Cities. Now it’s Madison, Wis. or Chicago. I told her it didn’t matter to me if they were going to drive me either place. She responded with her usual enthusiasm, “We’re gonna make this happen!” and told me she’d call back.

In the meantime, another phone call. This time it was Ron Mott from the NBC Today show. Gosh, by now my normally modest nature was being threatened by thoughts of over-importance. He wanted an interview that same afternoon. I regretfully had to tell him that I was already committed to the Tucker Carlson show, and was not available in the afternoon. After some pleading (at least I took it to be pleading) from the reporter to cancel my previous engagement and take his, I stood firm in my resolve to honor my commitments, no matter how much my fame increased.

Now I’ve always been a daydreamer, even been known to develop some wild fantasies in my vivid imagination. But I never thought that two major television shows would ever be fighting over an interview with me. This is by no means the most desirable fantasy I’ve ever had. My fantasy as a young man that two raving, buxom beauty queens were fighting over my attentions still holds the #1 spot for that. But at my age, two television shows fighting over me will do.

So I sat and waited for the phone to ring. Within the next two hours, it rang incessantly. Adrian called me, someone that works for Adrian called me, and someone that worked for the one that worked for Adrian called me. I had to email them a picture of my wife and myself, the interview would now be held in Chicago, would I agree to have a car pick me up and take me there. As I felt my fame increasing, I suddenly realized that all of the calls and the interview itself weren’t for my benefit. It was all for the benefit of the show and its ratings. I knew of Tucker Carlson’s reputation, and had seen his show before. He’s an ultra-conservative, and I wondered how he would treat me in an interview. The Times article more or less was making the point that for so many men my age to be out of work meant that perhaps, just perhaps the economy wasn’t doing as well as the administration says. Would Tucker roast my butt, or would he be nice?

12:00 NOON- Adrian called and said they couldn’t get a car to take me to Chicago on such short notice. She offered to pay me $200 to drive myself into Chicago to the NBC Tower downtown. I’ve been to downtown Chicago 4 times in my entire life. My driving skills are good, and I’ve driven in big cities before. But call me a coward, I won’t drive in downtown Chicago. Not even for 200 bucks. For me to turn down that kind of money must mean I’m serious. The tones that Adrian had in her voice almost made me change my mind. It sounded like someone just ran over her dog or slapped her mother. It was a terrible sound, unlike the exuberant voice I’d heard before. But it was only momentary. With renewed vigor and a return to her optimistic, get-‘er-done voice she told me she’d call right back. She was going to make this happen! After so many calls and aborted plans, I must admit I was beginning to wonder.

1:45 PM- Adrian called right back. Would I consider driving to Madison Wisconsin to the NBC affiliate there? For $200? I was starting to feel more important by the minute, so I decided to do a little negotiating. Seeings how Madison was further away than Chicago, how ‘bout making it $300? “Yes! Absolutely! We’re gonna make this happen! Yes!”, she said, over and over. By this time, her rah-rah attitude was wearing thin.

I told her I could be on the way within 15 minutes. Didn’t tell her, but I needed a shower. Can’t be going on national TV smelling like a skunk, you know. And 15 minutes, despite the large surface area I have to wash, is sufficient to do a thorough job. I’ve been doing it a long time, and have gotten rather efficient at it. She said ‘Great! Be at the studio by 3:15! Here’s the address…” It was then I realized she actually had no idea where Rock Falls IL is, for it takes at least 2 hours to get to Madison from here. When I told her that, her voice changed again. With regret, she told me it just wasn’t going to work out. But she assured me she wouldn’t give up, and would try again tomorrow.

I thought about calling the Today show reporter, but I was tired of talking on the phone. Besides, I didn’t want to seem like I was over-anxious. That wouldn’t fit my image as a person of fame, now would it? No, by golly! They want me, they can call me! Who do they think they are anyway?

Tuesday, August 1st, 10:00 AM - The phone rings, but instead of Adrian’s voice it is Ron Mott from the Today show. We talked, and arranged for an interview at 2:15 PM, as I had a previous appointment at 1:00. It was nice to talk to someone on the phone that wasn’t so effervescent. So the Tucker Carlson show lost out! Good enough for them! The today show was a lock, didn’t have umpteen phone calls. Good riddance!

12:50 PM – I’m on my way to my appointment and my cell phone rings. It’s the photographer for the Today show. He’s gotten into town early and wanted to come to the house and set up his gear. I assured him that I would be tied up until 2, but that he could go to the house and wait if he liked.

2:05 PM – I turned the corner on the street to my house with visions of an NBC vehicle parked in my driveway. With neighbors standing in their front yards and looking out their windows gawking and wondering what was going on. I got to my house and my vision was shattered. No NBC vehicle, no gawking neighbors. Now what?

My wife was standing by the phone and said, “You’ve got a message.” She played the message back, and it was Ron Mott. The photographer was suddenly reassigned to cover another story, as the head honchos at The Today Show had changed their minds and pulled the story. Oh well, such is the price of fading fame. But I did wonder. Just what story could be more important than an interview with me? Was it the Mel Gibson DUI story? Could it be that The Today Show thought a sordid tale of a raving intoxicated movie star was more newsworthy than an interview with a charismatic guy like myself? I was finding out just how fickle and unpredictable the media can be. And the Tucker Carlson Show didn’t call either. My despondency at the turn of events was overwhelming, so I took a nap.

Wednesday, August 2nd, 10:00 AM - Guess who’s on the phone. “We’re gonna get this done! Yes!” Lucky me. Adrian asked me if I was free today for the interview. I told her to hang on a minute and I’d check my appointment book. I riffled through the phone book to make it sound good. I then answered that by some quirk of fate, my usually full calendar was uncharacteristically void of obligations for the day. Another barrage of rah-rahs, and she told me she’d call me right back.

10:42 AM –
Adrian calls and says there will be a car to pick me up and take me to Chicago at my house by 1:30. I tell her we can’t get there by 3:15 if we leave at 1:30. She assures me the livery service guarantees that they will get me to Chicago in time. Whatever. It’s your money.

10:47 AM - Adrian calls. The livery service has got a vehicle but no driver. Would I be willing to drive to Chicago myself for $200? Hmmm…seems to me we’ve had this conversation before. No, I won’t drive to Chicago. She’ll call me back.

11:07 AM - Adrian calls. Am I sure I won’t drive to Chicago? I reassure her I won’t, but that I’m still open to driving to Madison. For $300 that is. She’ll call me back.

11:15 AM – Guess who? She’d rather I go to Chicago. Madison’s out. She’ll attempt to get a vehicle (and a driver with it). She’ll call me back.

11:25 AM – Got a driver AND a vehicle. They’ll pick me up at 1:30. I don’t even bother to tell her it’s not enough time for the trip.

11:55 AM – All right, here’s the low-down. The livery service thought I lived in Rockford instead of Rock Falls. It is possible to get to Chicago from Rockford if you leave at 1:30, but not if you leave from Rock Falls. How did I know this? Adrian told me. Her voice was full of emotion and pleading as she asked if a vehicle picked me up at 1:00 SHARP, if I would PLEASE consent to the interview. As much as I was enjoying hearing a woman beg, I told her yes. You can imagine her reaction. It was sickening. My reaction by this time could be described as underwhelming. I would believe it when I was in the vehicle on my way to Chicago.

1:00 PM SHARP! – The livery vehicle pulls up to our house. By this time my wife had asked to go along. I made her give a solemn promise that she wouldn’t try to steal my thunder, and she agreed. We were escorted by the driver to a very nice van, and away we went.

2:00 PM – We’re making excellent time, already passed the Dekalb rest stop a while ago. The driver listened to the Chicago traffic reports on the radio and seemed to know what he was doing. Speaking of the driver, I’ve known some name droppers in my day. You know, the people that drop names of other people and expect that you actually know who in the hell they’re talking about. The driver didn’t drop names of people, but names of places he’d worked. He was in his sixties, and had worked for many different companies in many different capacities. He rattled off these names with great pride, but I wasn’t too impressed. I didn’t know most of them, and besides, I had worked for the same company for 30 years (30 years, 4 months and 2 days, to be precise), so it sounded like this guy had trouble holding a job. That, or he had learned the value of being a moving target.

He prattled about all the different companies so fast, that I couldn’t understand him most of the time, but here’s some examples: Rottenblumer Corp. as a salesman; Inkledinkle International as a quality control engineer (I think they make widgets); Taught a Dale Carnegie Course, and a myriad of other jobs. He now is retired and works as a driver for the livery service, between 45-60 hours a week. I suppose the definition of retirement is a personal thing, but those kinds of hours don’t sound like retirement to me. But perhaps, despite his constant changing of jobs, he slowed down with age and couldn’t be as swift of a moving target. The steady drone of the tires on the pavement and Mr. Important’s voice caused me to nod off occasionally. But it didn’t bother him. When I woke up, he was still talking. Perhaps he was used to others doing the same thing.

During his monologue, he was talking about how the economy has changed, how it was getting more difficult for companies to be competitive. I agreed. He then proceeded to lay the lion’s share of the blame onto organized labor. I didn’t agree, and suggested that we change the subject. Evidently the look on my face told the story, for he went back to name dropping.

2:15 PM – Interspersed within his monologue, the driver’s cell phone was constantly ringing, with most calls coming from his wife. I can relate. A cell phone in the hands of a wife can be an annoyance at best and dangerous at worst. As soon as he hung up, I heard it ring again. He fumbled for his phone, but realized it wasn’t his phone ringing.

“Oh, that must be MY cell phone ringing,” I said. It was the reporter from the NY Times. He just wanted to know how things were going. I told him what was up, and he gave me some advice, “Whatever you do, don’t admit to being lazy.” Strange advice, I thought. I was later to find out it was good advice.

2:40 PM – I might as well have country bumpkin stamped on my forehead, because every time I’ve been to downtown Chicago I’m always looking up in the air at the buildings. But it’s a natural reaction for someone from an area where the tallest structure is the city water tower down the road.

The driver, despite his monotony, knew how to drive downtown. Weaving in and out, cutting off buses and taxi cabs, creating his own lane of traffic when necessary. His goal was to get us to the NBC Tower by 3:00. He had gotten 3 phone calls from Adrian (were we really gonna make this happen after all?) checking on his progress. But barring any traffic snarls (which I was confident our driver could handle) we’d be right on schedule.

3:07 PM – The driver pulled up in front of the NBC Tower, and gave me his card with his cell phone number on it so we could call when we were finished. The NBC Tower was impressive. We walked in through a revolving door that was framed in brass, and after walking up some stairs we saw a crowd of people behind brass railings. We found out later that the Jerry Springer Show tapes there. I don’t know if the crowd was waiting to get into that show or not. Didn’t hear anyone chanting “Jerry! Jerry!”

We walked to a large circular desk that I took for the information area. Told the attendant why we were there, he made a phone call and then asked for our picture ID’s. He ran them through a scanner, and out came an NBC ID to put on our person, and LEAVE it on our person at all times. Security was pretty tight, and I could imagine a pot of boiling oil waiting for anyone that wasn’t supposed to be in there that didn’t have an ID.

As we took the IDs the attendant told us to make sure that we turned them in before we left. I heard a voice behind us say, “Yes, please turn them in. You won’t get very far if you don’t. They’ll chase you down.” I turned to see a slightly build, short bald man. He introduced himself and told us he would take us to the studio.

He was very personable as we rode the elevator up to the studio. He had to use a plastic ID card to get into the studio door. I guess I was expecting something different, for the studio consisted of a chair in front of a picture of the Chicago skyline, and what looked like a fancy home video camera on a tripod in front of it. The rest of the ‘studio’ consisted of desks with folks typing away on computers.

We were introduced to the makeup person, a lady by the name of Chiquita. No, she wasn’t a Latino. She was a young black woman, and she escorted us down the hall. Again, I was expecting something different. There wasn’t a big fancy makeup chair, but just a plain chair that she sat me in. She placed a barber bib over me, and proceeded to dab some funky smelling stuff on my face. “This is just a basic, simple makeup,” she said as she proceeded. After she got through dabbing my face, she took a brush and brushed my face with some sort of powder. I told her to make sure and make me look pretty, but she just laughed. Perhaps the task was too great.

After that, she combed my hair. After every hair was in place, she told me to close my eyes. Hairspray! What stinkin’ stuff THAT was. After the makeup ordeal, I asked to use the facilities (the bathroom, silly!) As I washed my hands I looked at my made-up self in the mirror. I actually did look better, but I suppose that’s no big deal. Most anything would be an improvement. The usual dark circles under my eyes were gone, and my skin had a downright healthy glow to it. My double chin was still prominent, but I was born with that. But my hair! The hairspray was like helmet-in-a-can. I could have whacked my head against the door and not felt a thing. But I refrained from testing that theory. I did touch it, and it felt weird. I even sprinkled a little water on it, just call me curious. It beaded up and rolled off. There wasn’t a hair out of place. No rebellious hair had a chance with all that goop on it.

3:27 PM – There I was, all gussied up and waiting my turn before the camera. My wife and I sat on chairs along the wall of the ‘studio’, and I leaned my head back against the wall. Not a smart thing to do. When the cameraman (the same guy that escorted us up to the studio) told me to get in the chair and he’d get me wired up, the back of my head stuck to the wall. I gently pulled my head away, and most likely there still is a spot on that wall with a few of my hairs stuck to it.

They got me wired for sound, got the hot lights focused on me. I was due to go ‘on’ in a few minutes. Chiquita was there waiting with more makeup, and it was a good thing. It’s not that the hot lights caused me to perspire copiously, I was just plain sweating like a hog (even if hogs really don’t sweat. That’s why they roll around in the mud to keep cool). I could feel the sweat rolling out from underneath my hair helmet and down my neck. But a few dabs with the makeup sponge, and I was once again gorgeous.

So I sat with an earpiece jammed in my ear. Turns out the only ones that could hear what was going on and what was going to be said were the cameraman and myself. After a few sound tests (4, 3, 2, 1, over and over again), I heard the voice of Tucker himself:

Tucker: Hello, Mr. Beggerow. Thanks for being on the show.
Me: Thanks for having me.
Tucker: Have you gotten any comments about the Times article from people?
Me: And how. Doesn’t seem to be any half-way opinions about it. Either people think I’m a lazy no good bum, or they give me an atta boy.
Tucker: Interesting…I won’t tell you which camp I’m in.

Like it was a big secret or something. There were two more commercial breaks before I went on, and Tucker’s lead-in to the first break was:

Tucker: Coming up- Isn’t any job better than no job? Later in the show we’ll meet a man that doesn’t think so. He spends all his time with his hobbies, sleeps late, and refuses to work, as he sponges off his wife that has three jobs.

Holy crap! This was going to be nastier than I thought. I looked at the cameraman, and I saw him close his eyes and lower his head. He knew better than me what I was in for. “Hey, we’re gonna have fun with this!”, I said. He perked back up and gave me a big smile. Perhaps he was concerned about how I would take the shellacing I was about to get. Like I said, he was a little guy, and I’m a big lummox. After a few more minutes, Tucker came back on with his intro to my interview :

Tucker: Welcome back. Isn‘t a low-wage job better than no job at all? Well, not if you‘re one of the million of American men who‘ve been laid off and refuse to take jobs they view as demeaning or low paying. My next guest is one those men. He spends his days dabbling at hobbies at home. He stays up late, sleeps until 11:00 in the morning, all while living off his wife. Alan Beggerow lives in Rockfalls, Illinois. He joins me now from Chicago. Mr. Beggerow, thanks for coming on.

And it went downhill from there. I did notice that before the interview started, the others in the office were looking at me and smiling. After it started, all I saw was their backs. But I held my own, I guess. Not much else I could have done. I felt as helpless as a one legged man at an ass-kicking contest, so I just smiled my way through it. There was no way I was going to let that snot-nosed punk piss me off. He sure did try his best though. After the interview and during yet another commercial break, Tucker came back on and talked to me through the earpiece:

Tucker: Thank you again (chuckle) for being on the show (snicker). You’re a (Ha-ha) real good sport!
Me: You’re welcome. Like I had a chance to be anything but a good sport?

3:56 PM - After the interview was over, the cameraman took off his headset and told me how great I was, how well I handled it. No doubt he says something similar to everyone in the same position, but he did show signs of relief that I kept my temper. They unwired me, took me back to the make-up room and as I wiped the glop off my face, Chiquita also told me how well I handled the interview. But the interview had broken the spell. My egotistic flirt with fame had been brought back down to reality.
The cameraman took my wife and I back down stairs. We turned in our ID’s and he walked us out to the back door of the building. We walked by the Jerry Springer studio, and my wife and I both were taken with the fact that just upstairs we had gone through a somewhat similar show, but with one big difference. Jerry Springer makes no bones or excuses about what his show is, and admits it freely. Tucker on the other hand, tries to come across as a legitimate ‘journalist’ when all he really does is pander to his ratings by using his sensational and obnoxious opinion. I’ll take Jerry Springer over Tucker any day. He’s more honest.
The cameraman called the driver to come and get us, and he gave us each a bottle of cold water. That was a nice gesture, as I needed to replenish some fluids due to the hot lights and all, but a couple hundred bucks wouldn’t have been refused. We both wondered why the driver was taking so long getting back.

4:17 PM – The driver finally showed up, and we got in the van. The cameraman waved as we left and entered the traffic of downtown Chicago. It was obvious we weren’t going to get back home in the record time we got to Chicago. But the driver showed his skill once again as he hopped curbs, ran red lights, and barely missed pedestrians as he made his way through the conglomeration of humanity. All the while, he chattered away and continued dropping names as I leaned my head against the window of the van.

4:55 – After nodding off a few times after unsticking my head from the van window, I noticed that traffic was beginning to thin out. The driver suddenly became curious about my retirement and what I do with myself. He found it incredible that I didn’t work. Why, he works 45-60 hours a week! I relayed my good tidings at his ambitious retirement, and tried to change the subject. But he persisted. How did we get by? How can a man only 53 retire in the prime of my working career? I told him that since my working career consisted of 30 years of steel mill work, I had no desire to get back in the rat race. He looked at me incredulously. It was then that I had an idea why the driver took so long getting back. Was he sitting in a tavern someplace in downtown Chicago, watching the interview? Rooting for Tucker? It was not outside the realm of possibility. That could explain the persistent questioning. But I already had enough rocks thrown at me for one day, so I ignored him and fell back asleep.

6:55 PM – It’s been a long day, and home was but a few blocks away. My wife was happy, for she got home in time to see ‘America’s Got Talent’, I’m happy because I’ll not have to listen to the name-dropper any more. Now I know why my gracious offer to my wife to ride in the front seat on the way back was declined. It’s easier to ignore a blow-hard from the distance of a back seat.

Once we were home, my wife settled in front of the TV, and expressed her desire to eat something. So being the dutiful, loving husband that I am, I provided her with sustenance. I went and picked up some sandwiches.

7:17 PM – Most people when they watch TV are sedentary. They sit and watch, sometimes doze off. Not my wife. With the shows that she watches, she always ‘gets into’ them. Wheel of Fortune finds her on the edge of her seat when she’s figured out the answer, telling the contestants what it is. Like they could hear her. America’s Got Talent is the same. When the judges make a negative comment about an act she likes, she expresses her opinion about the judge in no uncertain terms. The same happens when she doesn’t like an act and the judges do. Many times my wife is more entertaining than the show. But I had bigger fish to fry.

I found the Tucker interview online. The website had a picture of me, punkin' head, double chin and all. It was not a good picture. I looked like I had just been wakened after an all-night bender. But I must admit, there was not a hair out of place. I watched the interview and laughed. What a joke it was! I told my wife that she could watch the interview. But she hastily told me not until 9:00 when her show was over. She does have her priorities.

9:15 PM – My wife watched the interview. The first time around, I heard language from her that was less than complimentary about Tucker. So much so that she had to listen to the interview more than once to hear it all. I came to the conclusion that it was just as well that she couldn’t hear Tucker at the actual time of the interview. She might have made a scene, bless her heart, right on national television. Now that would have been cool!

EPILOGUE - So what has been the results of the interview? Not much, really. Had a few phone calls and emails from people, all of them quite supportive, and one call from a guy in Tennessee that said he sent an email to Tucker and “ripped him a new one.”

But the one incident that tops them all is what my wife said to someone on the phone. I wasn’t home, but she told me about it. The call was from a person that was instrumental in getting me involved with the NY Times article in the first place. I will refrain from mentioning his name. Not because he’s innocent or anything. He’s guilty as hell, and I will get even. I have informed this person of my intentions, but not how or when. I am getting a great deal of satisfaction knowing that this person, when he least expects it, will get what’s coming to them. Anyway, my wife told this guy, “What do I think of Tucker? If you drop the first letter from his first name and replace it with an ‘F’, that’s my opinion of Tucker!” Ah, is it any wonder why I love the woman so much?

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