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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

First Person: Columbus Day

Let me tell you about my Monday.

I hit the office about 2:20 AM.  As always, there is a discussion of what needs to be covered between producer Kim, anchors Tom and Mindi, and I.

There were two choices:  the Wilkes-Barre homicide and a rash of Scranton water main breaks.  There wasn't much new on the homicide.  Nine water main breaks (the number was eventually adjusted down to seven), in the same city was most unusual, and it was happening NOW.  NOW is a magic word in television.  The story choice became clear.

Second choice:  location.  Again, this one was easy.  We picked the water main break on Mulberry Street because it had the potential to have the biggest impact.  It was near the University of Scranton, the hospitals, and a whole lot of homes and apartments.  We didn't have a lot of information, but we had enough.  Plus, the pictures really told the story.  Photographer Jason hit every place in the city where water was coming out of the ground.  There was a lot of video to play with, and that is a major luxury.  Jason and I conferred in an edit booth.  He told me about the best shots.  I wrote to what he photographed.  The kid hustles, an unsung hero of our morning broadcast.

Once we worked around a glitchy truck, we were on the air.  There was some good news.  Four of the seven water mains were repaired rather quickly.  The finishing touches were put on the Mulberry Street break while we were live on the air.

After the broadcast was over, photographer Jamie and I set out around the city to see some of the other breaks.

Glen Street, near the old Scranton Lace factory, pictured below, was rather striking.
Water gushing from the broken main buckled the pavement.  The road was closed.  The smell of chlorinated water filled the air.

Eventually, the water company was able to tell us what happened:  a problem at a pressure regulating station.    Boy, I would have liked to have been at water company control when the "oops" moment was realized.  I have a feeling "oops" wasn't the word used.  The company told us only about 100 homes and businesses were affected by 9:00 AM.  This wasn't a massive Kingston type break we saw back in August.

It gave photographer Jamie and I some time to do other things.  One of them was the annual Courthouse Square wreath ceremony, at the Columbus statue, sponsored by the Columbus Day Association of Lackawanna County.  It was standard stuff, and that's what bothered me a bit.  It was standard.  Other than a guy in a Columbus costume a few years ago, there isn't much effort toward making this fun and interesting-- a media event.  Get a guy with an accordion to play Italian songs.  Give out little Italian flags, or Italian cookies.  We Italians know our food, especially our pastries.  Bring more people in to the tent.  Save a little Le Festa Italiana magic for Columbus Day.  Think fun.  Think interesting pictures.  Think about what gets people talking.

The Columbus Day Association is a fine organization.  It raises a lot of money for charity.  Good people.

Jamie and I went back to the office to put together some things for our noon broadcast.  Producer Lindsey told us what she wanted, and the slots where they would be placed.  I banged out my scripts at the computer.  Jame matched pictures with words.  But then again, I wrote with his pictures in mind.

While I was back at the office, we all learned Sister Adrian Barrett had passed away.  For years, Sister Adrian ran Friends of the Poor.  She was a spunky woman who made things better for a lot of people.  High on the list was the annual Thanksgiving dinner.  It was for the poor.  It was for the elderly.  It was for the lonely.  I covered dinner preps for many years.  First on radio, then television.  Sister Adrian became the face and voice of Thanksgiving in Lackawanna County.

Sister Adrian was not a one holiday woman.  There was help for those in need at Christmas.

Every summer, she took busloads of kids on vacation to Harrisburg, Annapolis, and Washington.  Again, I was at the starting point for many of those trips.  I remember my dad doing some business with Penndot in Harrisburg, and taking me along for the ride when I was a little boy.  We were walking in the capitol building one morning when we bumped in to Governor Milton Shapp coming out of his office.  He shook our hands, asked where we were from and chatted for a moment.  It was a thrill.  To this day, I still get a tingle when I'm in that building.  I know it had an influence on my career choice.  I'm betting some of Sister Adrian's kids are the journalists or public servants of tomorrow because they got an up close look at government.

Sister Adrian had her detractors.  Some alleged she imported poor people from other areas.  I heard the stories time and again.  I never saw direct evidence.  Was she a soft touch, an easy mark for scammers?  Probably.  As I've said before, I'd rather let some people scam the system than take a chance on denying help to someone truly in need.

Sister Adrian was an advocate for those often forgotten.  I remember radio general managers telling me how Sister Adrian wasn't shy about asking for donations.  She knew how to work the phones.  She knew where to go for help.  There was no shyness on the news side of things.  She was a frequent caller when I was on the radio.  Sister Adrian would call, asking for help with one of her charity efforts.  You couldn't say no.  I'd either do an interview over the phone or drop by her office, or the Masonic Temple, or wherever she happened to be buzzing about.  It was the same when I moved to TV.  Sister Adrian knew the value of publicity.  TV and radio equaled awareness, and awareness equaled donations.  It also served as a beacon for those in need.

There were funny moments.  Sister Adrian had a sense of humor.  I'll never forget the Thanksgiving when she dropped a frozen turkey on her foot and broke her toe.  She laughed through the pain.

I should note Sister Adrian was always appreciative for what in the media did for her organization.

I'm glad I knew her, a little.  Thousands of people are better off because there was a Sister Adrian Barrett.  She made a difference.