First, apologies for taking so long to post again. I can hardly believe it’s been nearly two weeks. Obviously, taking on the 30 posts in 30 days challenge was unwise.
My excuse? Each time I had the couple of hours I like to give myself to write a decent post of decent length, my muse exited stage left. Vamoosed. Did a powder. The result was a pitiful mishmash of words tending toward the maudlin. Certainly not post-worthy.
I’m not sure this one will be any better, but since tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I find myself with an afternoon on my own and without distractions, I’ll give it another try. And this time, I’m writing the post within the WordPress app rather than using Word. I’m much more likely to click “publish” in this format.
First, I’ll finally fess up to the lie in the 3 truths, 1 lie post of Nov. 8 (gads, that was a long time ago!). Here were the possibilities:
1st : I had breakfast with Sir Peter Ustinov in front of the Cologne cathedral; 2nd: I once chased four tigers around a shipping harbor; 3rd: I skied the Alps with a bad RA flare in my right large toe; and 4th: I landed a two-seater Cessna on my first try.
The lie was that I once chased four tigers around a shipping harbor. They were actually elephants. The shipping harbor was in Bremerhaven, Germany, and I was there with an Armed Forces Network TV news crew consisting of two young soldiers, one with a camera and the other with good-looks, a microphone and the ability to turn breaking stories into complete 60-second newscasts in the blink of an eye. I, on the other hand, had at least a week to write up the story, so my goal was to take good notes, shoot a couple rolls of film and stay out of videotape range. Elephants at the harbor wasn’t something that happened every day, that’s for sure.
We’d been told the approximate location of the elephants, which were about to be put aboard a container ship bound for the U.S.A. The pachyderms were members of the European arm of the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus. We arrived at the specified spot after parking our Army van and walking about a quarter mile into the harbor–cars were not allowed near the docks–but saw no elephants anywhere. Hmmm. They really couldn’t be hard to miss, could they? Elephants, after all, are not small. We stood around for a while, hoping they’d materialize. Remember, now, this was in the late ’80s. We didn’t have cellphones, the Internet or GPS. We had to rely on our source for the time, location and directions, and in this case, we’d only found out about this momentous occasion a couple of hours before.
Suddenly, the sharp-eyed cameraman said, pointing, “There they are!” Sure enough, there were several elephants ambling along in a line, way off in the distance. They disappeared behind a two-storey stack of shipping containers. We took off at a sprint. Or rather, the soldiers did. I followed along gamely, sort of jog-trotting, supported by my cane. I was wearing a skirt and blouse, a wool coat and my two-inch pumps, and my left knee had been flaring since I’d left for work that morning. It never occurred to me not to go out on the story–my Army Public Affairs colleague, Sgt. D, was out on another story. If I didn’t go, we wouldn’t get the elephants. At least, not first-hand.
Besides, it sounded like fun and I didn’t want to miss it.
I caught up with the AFN crew when they stopped to catch their breath and regroup. The elephants had disappeared. We discussed splitting up, but decided we’d better stick together.
There was a shout from behind us. We turned, and several hundred yards away was a bundled-up man shouting and waving at us, his breath rising in puffs of steam on the frigid air. Did I mention it was February? About 42 degrees? We trotted over to him.
He was with the shipping company, and said that to get the best pictures of the elephants, we should go to another part of the shipping harbor, because it was there the ship was docked that the elephants would be loaded onto. We took off again. The cameraman slowed down long enough to ask me, solicitously, “You all right?” as I limped along, fast as I could. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. I always said that when someone asked. I didn’t want anyone to think I couldn’t do my job just because I had arthritis. In truth, I was always a little fearful that no one really believed me, and it was embarrassing. Arthritis, at least in the form that the vast majority of people were familiar with, was not a disease that struck 34-year-olds.
What followed could be best described as a Keystone Kops-style chase. We kept seeing the elephants, briefly, as they trotted toward the part of the harbor the ship was docked, but then they’d disappear again. It happened at least three times, and we were starting to get a little spooked and a lot frustrated. It seemed like they were always headed in a different direction, and always a fair distance away from us. There wasn’t time to shoot pictures of any sort.
Finally, we decided to stop trying to chase our way to the ship. Instead, we’d just walk straight to it and hope we got there before the elephants. We were almost there when the handsome soldier looked over his shoulder. “They’re right behind us!” he shouted, and sure enough they were. Four elephants and their handlers were trotting toward us, fast, big gray ears flopping. I shot several photos, but frankly was concentrating moreon getting out of their way–elephants, my friends, are not just big, they’re huge–without tripping over guy wires or tracks or running off the edge of the dock to fall into the dark, green, oil-sheened water of the harbor. Elephants trot fast.
I got more photos when the beasts were loaded onto the ship, via a wide ramp into the the ship’s belly. And it was there that my AFN colleagues filmed their story for the following evening’s news. We talked for a while with one of the handlers, but he didn’t have much time. Apparently, the elephants were nervous and a little uppity, given the temperature and the unfamiliar surroundings. He was needed aboard the ship. The journey, he said, would take them approximately four weeks, as there would be several stops along the way. They would offload the elephants in New York City, and from there they’d travel to Minnesota.
By the time I got back to the office I was a popsicle, my knee felt like it had dull knives stuck through it, and I was dog-tired, but I was pleased and triumphant. I’d gotten my story, flare and all. Now I only had to write it, and hope that a couple of my black-and-white photos would turn out well enough to publish.
I’ll tell the stories behind Sir Peter Ustinov, the alps and the Cessna another time. Happy Thanksgiving!