Thursday, July 26, 2007

"If you build it, THEY will come"

A conversation in our newsroom today brought up a story from 8 or 9 years ago that's worth telling. Here's the short version:

A report came in to the newsroom that a small plane had crashed in an adjacent county, and senior videographer Larry Baker and I were told to get there as quick as we could. We traced the plane's path to a country road and eventually saw the plane about a quarter mile away in the middle of a cornfield. I could see the pilot talking to the state troopers so it looked like the pilot made a pretty good emergency landing in a field of maze and was fine to fly another day.

Larry -- God Bless his heart -- didn't really feel like dragging all of his heavy gear all the way out across the field to get 20 seconds of video for the evening news. He opted instead to turn right and drive across the cornfield. Up and Down and Up and Down we went over the mounds of young corn stalks. I couldn't believe what Larry was doing. Larry eventually came to stop about 15 feet from the plane. He popped the hatch on the back of our WKYC vehicle and got his camera out to start shooting.

At this point, a pickup truck driving at a high rate of speed came cruising up the tracks that Larry's vehicle had just created. The driver slid in behind our vehicle, and a couple of "good ol' boys" in overalls jumped out. I won't say that these guys were big, but even at 6'3" I was still looking up at these trees.

The shorter of the two Einsteins looked at me and said, "Boss says you gotta pay for the damage you did to our corn."

After digesting the words that just came out of his mouth (for a moment, I thought we were in an episode of Dukes of Hazzard) I tried to play peacemaker and tell him that we had attempted to avoid the larger corn stalks and really only followed the same trail as that of the state trooper.

The man got a bit louder and told me, "Boss says YOU gotta PAY."

Larry -- God Bless his heart -- looked up from his camera and told the guy, "Why don't you bill Katie Couric and call me when the corn don't come up." Larry always has a way of taking a wild fire and adding gasoline. At this point, I was wondering if the plane still worked so we could fly out of there quickly ... or maybe Kevin Costner would show up and start talking to the corn. Anything to help us out of a jam.

The two geniuses looked at each other, and then one began talking gibberish into a walkie-talkie, presumably to the "boss." When he was done chatting, he walked up to me slowly, leaned down to my face, and whispered "Boss says, if you don't PAY, you AIN'T leaving."

Seeing that his pickup truck was blocking us in between his vehicle and the plane, I realized that we were boxed in and wouldn't be able to get out without help.

I started to wonder what the headline would be. "TV News crew disappears following emergency plane landing." "News vehicle found abandoned near crash scene." "Only Shoeless Joe Jackson knows what happened to Eric Mansfield in the cornfield."

Fortunately, a local police officer saw the tensions rising and came out from the road to keep Larry and me from ending up permanently sleeping in a hay barn somewhere. The officer ordered the farm hands to move the truck, and Larry and I made a run for it.

The officer gave Larry a lashing before we left about driving across the corn. Larry -- God Bless his heart -- told the officer, "You know ... I wanted to stop, but Eric made me drive out here."

Yeah, it's funny ... now!


laurac19 said...

Thanks for sharing the story and making me giggle!


Anonymous said...


Christina D said...

I laughed the entire way through this story. Knowing you both makes it even funnier because I can imagine the looks on your faces.

I really enjoy your blog and hope you plan to continue it. It is so informative and often quite entertaining. It almost makes me miss being a reporter!

Anonymous said...

Back in the mid-60's, I was working my first paying broadcast job at WCUE-1150 (back in the days when they had a news department, helicopter traffic reports, Chick Watkins, Joel Rose, and Ted Wesley, the night mayor.) It was a summer job between my sophomore and junior years in college. I was doing a story about changing neighborhoods, going door-to-door and asking questions. One gentleman answered the door and said to come in. I walked into the living room and could smell the alcohol. He sat down and took another swig. I started to ask my first question and, as I looked around, I saw a "huge" revolver sitting on the table next to him. He was starting to get loud and upset and kept looking a that gun. It was a short interview as you can imagine! Also, when I was shooting news video (OK 16 mm film) I had to keep reminding myself that I was on the scene...I tended to get focused on the viewfinder and that's not good when you have belligerent subjects.

sab said...

You do realize that you guys probably put a big dent in someone's annual income (you can only plant corn once a year) just to get a story about some little airplane landing. Just saying. If you'd been smashing windows of a business to get a better photo, everyone would be outraged. This probably had the same economic impact on this farmer, but so what.

sab said...

My comment at 2 a.m. was nasty and undeserved. I would like to apologize.

Eric Mansfield said...

Sab, no problem.

Your thoughts are well-received. The day of the "incident" was pretty early in the season so there wasn't much to actually run over. That's why Larry was sarcastic in saying "call me when the corn doesn't come up." In the end, the TV station ended up paying a small amount to the "boss" to cover his cost.

Glad you felt passionate enough about it to comment. I'll try to deliver stuff that's worth your time. Stay in touch .. Eric

who could it be? said...

this larry fellow sounds like quite a character...and i'll be that he's had some other interesting comments in the past. you might want to think about creating something to capture the essence of this great man. off the top of my head...a commemorative time-piece seems like it would do the trick.