Monday, October 05, 2009

The Cavalry

They rode up on horseback - and one tractor.

We were in Rockcastle County in March of 1999, during a significantly rainy period of the season. An intern, I tagged along in the back of the beat up Astro - with photog Jason driving and Jeff the reporter riding shotgun.

Two months away from college graduation - this was my first real taste in knowing television news is never glamorous.

Sunday is typically never a busy news day in Central Kentucky, so the producer sent us on a round trip journey to Renfro Valley to follow up on the week's heavy rains, and find tales of destruction, heartache and devastation.

Our determined threesome knew that, at the most, we'd find some swiftly flowing creeks and a few muddy lanes missing their gravel.

For all its toaster-on-wheels appearance, the Astro (loaded with a $15K television camera, a tripod, light kit, extra batteries and other tools) sailed down I-75, headed for a community of camp grounds, Kentucky craft shops and a museum dedicated to the history of Bluegrass music.

Jason pulled us off the the exit, and we headed down into a tree filled valley (in these parts it may have been called a 'holler') with sticky, muddy roads and sparse population.

These two characters, Jason and Jeff, were kind of like my big brothers. A wayward college intern, I'd spend my Sundays with these guys chasing all kinds of random news. We ate MREs at the Blue Grass Army Depot and covered an emotional funeral and procession for a fallen firefighter. Along the way, the guys would give each other dating advice, and simultaneously tease/joke with me.

It was a fun, little dynamic that made me appreciate the camaraderie of television news.

There we were, cruising through God's creation in a crappy minivan, when we finally spied an old, graying church at the top of a hill. Jason decided to drive the Astro up the hill in the hopes we'd find some God fearing people who would want to talk about the week's heavy rains.

There we were, a college intern, a redheaded Texan and a Jew - exploring outside a church in Eastern Kentucky.

Just another day in the Lexington news market.

Jeff approached the door to the church and grabbed the door handle, discovering it was locked. He knocked, and we waited - and nothing. Time to cut bait, or we wouldn't make it home in time with a story.

First, Jason threw the camera on his shoulder and Jeff decided to tape a quick stand-up, describing on tape some of the damp, muddy and wet surroundings.

We piled back in the van, planning to zip back up 50 miles to Lexington, when we discovered the van was stuck in the muck. Jason floored the accelerator, wheels spinning, to no avail. Jeff, a man with model looks and the charm to match, hopped out of the van and tried to use a few sticks to act as a tread to help the van get out.

No luck.

Jason looked over his shoulder and offered me a gruff but joking, "Intern. Push!"

I got out and pushed. Nada.

The spinning tire started smoking, and then all of the air fizzled out like a popped balloon.


We tried using Jeff's circa 1998 Nokia cell phone, it was really of no surprise to anyone that it failed to reach a signal. Jason reached for the two-way radio that directly communicated back to the station in Lexington - it also failed to connect.

It was a fact we were reluctant to admit - it was time to start walking toward something - anywhere. We had no idea how close or far the closest home would be.

Turns out, not that far.

We walked about half a mile down a slippery, rutted road and made it to a home. A nice, gray haired lady told us she'd call the boys across the ridge, and they'd meet us at the church to help us pull out the minivan.

We walked back, thinking maybe she just dispatched a pack of high school kids.

Then they strode up - like something out of a John Wayne movie.

Four strapping men on horses, wearing rain coats that looked a little more like capes and less like trenches, and cowboy hats.

Followed by a guy on a tractor in the same getup.

The cavalry had arrived.

They used a chain to hook the tractor up to the van, the man swiftly shifted gears, and our little toaster van was out of the mud and ready to head home.

These real American heroes even put our doughnut spare tire on for us.

Jeff and Jason shook hands and passed business cards with our Kentucky cowboys, I smiled and said thank you for the help.

We got back in the van, sliding the side door closed and sat silently, save for the running engine.

"What the hell just happened?!" Jeff exclaimed, his perfectly bleached teeth gleaming as he grinned from ear to ear.

It was such a surreal experience, and though the three of us shared it together, we were certain no one else would believe such a far fetched tale.

The cavalry will always come, I've learned, even when you think all is lost and hopeless. The cavalry may be a friend, a stranger - the cavalry may be an ounce of internal strength you didn't realize you could rely on.

Somehow, no matter the crisis, you will survive it.

The cavalry will always come.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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