“You know, Baldilocks,” it was a pet name I had for our number two sports guy, “you’re just gonna pull a few more out like that.”
Bump continued checking his ever-thinning mane in the sun visor mirror. “Yeah, and I’m going to take hair advice from a guy wearing a mullet. I pull better looking shit out of my shower drain.”
“Leave my mullet alone.” I flipped my shoulder-length locks at him. It was a little Bald Cop/Hairy Cop game we played every time we worked together, which had been a lot recently. My knack for finding trouble made me an outcast in news circles. Ragging on Bump’s hair was better than talking quarterback ratings, RBI’s, or the sportswriter polls.
“That shit went out with hair bands. When are you going to lose that mop?” Bump complained, eyeing my mullet with contempt.
“At least I’m not counting follicles before every shoot.”
We had just wrapped up a less than riveting interview with the head baseball coach from Alexandria Senior High. I couldn’t help but wonder who Bump had pissed off to win my company for the afternoon. Six months of bone-headed mistakes had put me at the bottom of the photog food chain.
“I’m hungry.” Bump’s three-pack-a-day rasp interrupted my self-doubt. That rasp was amazing, considering he didn’t smoke. “Want some lunch? I’m buying.”
I couldn’t blame Bump or any of the other reporters for wincing when my name appeared next to theirs on the assignment sheet. Tape jams, blue video, broken mic cables, dead batteries, and head clogs stalked me. It was anybody’s guess how much longer Weaver could defend me when the suits in the front office bellowed.
“Yo! Buckwheat, I’m talking to you.” Bump slapped the back of my head. “That hair clogging your ears? I said, ‘I’m hungry.’”
He was always hungry. I turned to see the sun glint off Bump’s namesake, a large hump created by the drastic angle his over-sized nose took as it dove toward his upper lip. I dreaded lunch with Bump. He was a slob. When he offered to buy, it meant only one thing, Sonic Drive-In, big, flat, burgers eaten inside the car. At least it was free. I had been saving money for Susan's her birthday date.
I wheeled the turd-brown-Taurus into an empty stall at the Sonic on Lee Drive, and pressed the call button on the speaker box. Bump yelled our order from across the car. A few minutes later, a babe on roller skates glided our way, sandwiches, fries and drinks planted firmly on a red window tray. She stopped short in front of the car, pirouetted, and gave a deep bow. Not so much as a fry moved out of place. Then she skated to my door and hooked the tray to the window.
“Hi, my name is Sam. Thank you for choosing Sonic!” Her words practically jumped from her lips which she had painted to match our dinner tray. “Two Super Sonics, fries, a Coke and a Dr. Pepper, that’s seven-sixty-eight!”
Sam was way too excited about delivering burgers for a living.
“Hey, Sam.” Bump leaned across the front seat and dropped a twenty on the tray. “Thanks for the show. You still working on that ‘America’s Best Carhop’ routine?”
“Working on it? Won the regionals in Houston last week,” she beamed. “I’m headed to the finals at Sonic headquarters in Oklahoma City.”
“Keep the change,” I volunteered, “help pay for your trip.”
Bump shot me a look, but what could he do?
“Thank you. And thank you for dinning at Sonic!” Sam curtsied, “Ya’ll come back and see us soon.” She spun on one leg and sped back to kitchen.
"Why didn’t you tell me about her, Bump?”
He was already ear-deep in his burger. “Who, Sam?” A hunk of lettuce dangled from his lips. “She’s too young for you.” Bump wiped mayonnaise from his cheek with his sleeve. “Besides, what about Susan?”
“I don’t want to do her, you perv. And nothing happening with Susan.”
“Bullshit. I’ve seen the way she looks at you at the Gin.”
“Too much baggage with Ernie stalking her. We just party together when we bump into each other. Besides, who has time to date in this business.”
Bump gave me a you’re-full-of-shit look and licked ketchup off his fingers. “Then what do you want with Sam?”
“Sam’s got a great story – local carhop skates her way to national fame.” I fanned my hands across the windshield like I was laying out a headline.
“I don’t see it,” Bump gargled through another mouthful of meat and cheese.
“What do you mean you don’t see it? The skates, the tricks, it’s a great story.”
“It’s 1991. People want news, not a car hop contest.” Bump sprayed the dash with runny mayonnaise.
“Granted, it’s not like an intern giving the President a hummer in the oval office, but –”
Bump chuckled and dove into his fries. “Like that’ll ever happen.”
“You gotta admit it’s cute.”
“I don’t gotta do nothing, but finish this burger.”
I punched the button on the speaker box again and pitched my idea to the manager. A few minutes later, Sam was sitting on the hood of the turd-brown-Taurus snaking a clip-on, lavaliere mic under her uniform shirt.
I set my tripod to eye level. “Rock solid and on the sticks.” I repeated one of Weaver’s many mantras to myself. Each week during our tape reviewing sessions, Weaver would shake his head in disbelief at my misfortunes and try to sound positive. Sure, every week it was a different mistake, but with every piece of ruined tape, I could see my career as a news shooter slipping away.
The other photogs made it look so effortless. I, on the other hand, prayed every time I shouldered my big, orange Icky. I fumbled through each shoot and hoped I had flipped all the right switches. My amazing lack of aptitude put me first in line for the assignments no one else wanted.
Sam smiled sympathetically as I untangled myself from the mic cord. I peered through my lens, set the iris and flipped the white balance switch. At least everything would be the right color today. Inside the eye cup I framed a head and shoulders shot with the Sonic sign slightly out of focus behind her, and repeated another of Weaver’s favorites, “Composition, composition, composition”
I took a deep breath and hit record.
Sam answered my first question. I zoomed in for a head-shot and fired another question. She smiled and launched into a few sentences about Sonic’s made-to-order American classic burgers.
When she finished, I slid left – “Stick and move,” – and fought to lower the sticks. One of my tripod legs was stuck, so I bent over to grip the jammed lock mechanism.
“Whoa, whoa, WHOA!” Sam waved her hand in the direction of my lens.
I looked up from the stuck leg just in time to see Icky tilt up on its own.
Damn! Forgot to lock the tripod head.
Icky’s lens continued in its upward arc until it reached its tipping point. The locked tripod leg rose off the ground. There was no way Weaver could protect me if I dribbled Icky.
Icky landed with a dull thud squarely on my chest. Bump screamed with laughter from inside the car while I flailed around on my back like a dying roach and gasped for air.
“Are you okay?” Sam slid off the hood to help me upright my camera.
“Happens all the time.” I wheezed.