Illustration by Ashley Elander
Some kids grew up loving cartoons.
I was not one of them. Okay, maybe a handful, but I couldn’t sit there all day and watch them. Still can’t, and that’s probably why ‘Adult Swim’ holds little appeal to me.
Instead, what fascinated me was the news. Those people were my super heroes. Allison Rosati. Art Norman. Brant Miller. Any of the WMAQ anchors, really. They were also the appetizer for the main course – The “Today” Show.
That’s irregular for an eight year old. As was reading books about the Presidents of the United States. The only real ‘normal’ thing I liked was Power Rangers, and if that wasn’t on, I would focus my attention on the forced camaraderie between the bubbly Katie Couric and the dour Bryant Gumbel. They didn’t seem like they particularly liked to work together, but it was still so inherently watchable. Maybe it was them, or this young news desk anchor – Matt Lauer, or the weather guy, Willard Scott. Instead of talking about the temperature, he seemed to show more and more pictures of centenarians.
My heroes had a lair. It wasn’t secret though. You could see it from the street. Studio 1A, Rockefeller Plaza, New York City. Just peering right in like a fishbowl.
Fishbowl. What was that like? I was already in the bowl, with the anchors, looking out. They’d talk, and I’d listen. But what was it like out there?
I’d been to New York City on several occasions before moving here. I’d visited the studio on several occasions, but never when my totem program was broadcasting. I’d had chances before – but I’d usually be too tired from the day before or plans would run in to each other.
Then I moved here. I willed myself out of bed to get to go a few weeks ago.
It was early when I reached Rockefeller Center that morning, roughly six-thirty. Manhattan was oddly quiet, a few business types shuffling here-and-there, street vendors just setting their carts up, and the Radio City Music Hall neon sign to my left an unfamiliar grey. It was so early that they had yet to turn it on.
Arriving at the studio was disorienting. There weren’t that many people waiting. The square made with barricades was peppered with high school-aged girls on class trips, middle-aged midwestern moms with homemade pastoral prints on their shirts and impossibly upright haircuts – these people, severely midwestern – not like where I’m from, and the older men behind them holding their bags as they scramble to take pictures of some no-name newspeople shuffling in and out of the studio. This seemed a far cry from the show’s Couric-Lauer heyday, or whenever a ‘Summer Concert Series’ event takes place.
This was disappointing. It’s hard to explain what to feel after you’ve been waiting for something so long, and then it suddenly happens. It’s as if every reflex or predetermined decision you’ve made just falls like a Jenga tower, and you’re processing so quick that you completely forgot what made you want to do it in the first place. It’s awkward. You’re hyper aware of your surroundings. Even though you were so excited, you suddenly feel wrong about being there. That was my ‘Today’ experience.
Minutes before the show was about to air, Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira showed up on a live feed doing camera tests. It felt voyeuristic. These were natural movements by people that my brain was not accustomed to seeing in this way. On my television, they move for the benefit for the camera. Here, watching them perform something innocuous, like satisfying an itch, seemed downright strange.
When the show went to air, I was deflated. I’d waited nearly two decades for THIS. Standing out in the heat with a bunch of strangers, hoping to catch a glimpse of these people that inhabited my screen every morning. They finally came out around 8 am – first Al Roker, then Matt and Meredith. Lauer played it cool with the group of high school pixies in front of me, small talking about where they were from (Iowa), and one woman screamed as she had her picture taken with Lauer. Another scrambled to get her camera out and babbled about it being her birthday. He made a show of faux enthusiasm. Then a few minutes later, they were gone.
I made it about an hour before the heat got the best of me, then I tired and returned home. By then, the city had come alive with people. The signs were on, and car horns were honking ad infinitum. As I boarded the subway, I thought, “These people weren’t my heroes. They really were just like everyone else.” What made them special is that they were in that fishbowl, separated from the rest of us. Isolating them from the weirdness outside.
It also made me think: it takes a particular type of person to have that job and then have the energy to give time to people who, like me, just see them as talking heads on a television screen. They don’t consider that these people have lives, families and other things to do outside of a television studio. Instead, they are designers, tailoring a reality for us each morning.
I don’t think I need their services anymore.