Friday, April 8, 2011

Pick-up game

On my final day as a full time radio announcer I was hosting my afternoon talk-show on WCOL and thinking about the night ahead. It was a Friday and I had shown up for work that day nearly unrecognizable to my colleagues at the station.

On the previous day and all of those before it they were used to seeing me as I looked for the past decade and a half. I don't remember what I wore on that Thursday but I know it wasn't a white shirt and tie and I doubt that I even wore socks. Prior to this day I was rarely clean shaven and my hair hadn't been above my collar in years. Before this day few people ever saw my forehead and no one at work ever saw me in a pair of dress slacks.

Cutting more than a dozen inches of my hair and shaving all but a neatly trimmed mustache and dressing in something more appropriate for a funeral instead of my usual attire was not in celebration of my last day on the job it was preparation for starting a new one. And since my show was over at six o'clock and I had to report to my new employer at seven I wouldn't have had time between gigs to rush home and get ready.

Unsure of what I should wear on my first day on the new job I decided to play it safe and show up for it looking better than I had since my mother dressed me for Easter Sundays. I hadn't put on a suit since those days. I did however show up once for a photo session to have my picture taken for a radio station, but even then I didn't wear a suit. I carried a tie and a sport coat in a plastic bag and put it on just long enough for the photographer to snap the picture.

But on this day I was dressed to the nines, even better than all of our sales representatives and our station manager. I took a little ribbing as I said goodbye to the industry that I loved and that had been where I earned my living since I was in my teens. My radio career would have to be placed on hold for awhile as I was about to embark on one that I had never anticipated until a few months earlier. I had been commissioned as a deputy sheriff for Franklin County and my first assignment was to become the department's Public Information Officer.

I had landed that job using a little smoke and a few mirrors while interviewing the county sheriff several weeks previously on my program when he mentioned that he was seeking someone to handle his media affairs. Someone who was willing to go through the training academy and to be his spokesman. Kiddingly he asked me if I might be interested in such an adventure and at first I told him no, but a few days later I began hearing rumors that WCOL was being sold and that the new owners were planning on changing the station's format and letting all of the talk-show hosts go.

I went into survival mode and called the sheriff and asked if he were still looking for a savvy media guy to fill this new position and I told him that I might be interested. He told me that he was and that he had scheduled an interview with a guy over at WTVN radio for that job... one of my competitors. Somewhere in that conversation I told him that the other guy had recently referred to him (on the air) as a black shirted, power hungry Gestapo. It wasn't true but it landed me an interview that went very well.

And now it was time to see what I had gotten myself into. My first assignment was to meet up with the sheriff's undercover unit at their sub-station on West Mound Street, located on the grounds of Cooper Stadium and accompany an army of deputies as they raided a strip club in town. My job as the PIO was to tag along and gather details of the investigation, prepare a press release and meet with the television and newspaper reporters afterward in a press conference to explain all that was happening.

The supervisor on that detail was a sergeant named Dan Casper and I could tell immediately that he and the other deputies didn't care much to have to share sensitive details about their investigation with someone they perceived as just another radio reporter, let alone have one tag along with them. None of them had ever worked with a PIO because there never was one until I showed up. Before I got that job it was the responsibility of the sheriff or a supervisor on the scene to decide what to share with the media. To these guys I was just some hippie with a radio reputation and a short haircut.

When Sergeant Casper asked what the sheriff wanted me to do on this mission I explained that he wanted me to report to him and follow whatever orders he had for me. I could tell by the sudden gleam in his eye and the smirk on his lips that I was about to be initiated into a world I knew less about than what I thought my purpose for being there actually was. Before the end of the night I was handed a brown paper bag and a pair of rubber gloves and told to gather used condoms from under the chairs and couches inside the club.

I must have picked up more than a dozen of them before placing them into the bag and then placing a strip of red tape on it marked evidence. And each time I picked one up another deputy would ask..."How do like the job so far?" I know that sounds disgusting and it was, but in the years that followed I picked up things that made that first assignment seem like an Easter Egg hunt. Things like body parts and bodies covered in blood and maggots.

I also picked up more than most people's share of germs along the way as well as a few murderers, rapist and other felons, not to mention a more hardened outlook on life before my law enforcement career was over.

Oh, that picture shown above? I mentioned that my first assignment at the sheriff's department began at Cooper Stadium. That was also where my office was located for a few years. During that time I could gaze out over the baseball diamond at what was once called Jet Stadium. The Columbus Clippers who played there were once known as the Jets. A few weeks prior to this night I was on that field participating in a media softball game for charity and I wore a hat not unlike this one.

And now, on my first night on the job...I was overdressed. I was working with a lot of long-haired undercover cops with scraggly beards who wore clothing that made some them look like thugs. Even Sergeant Casper was wearing blue jeans and a Cleveland Browns sweat shirt. That's all.

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