Friday, January 10, 2014

My Only Starring Role

Early in my professional writing career I was involved in a number of writers’ groups. During the mid-1980s, I served as secretary-treasurer of a worldwide writers’ organization, and it wasn’t long before I was spending my writing time answering phone calls as late as 11 p.m. from novice writers who needed advice as well as non-writers who had bestselling ideas and needed someone to write the book and share the profits. There was even a letter from a fledgling journalist in Zimbabwe who wanted an international press card. That I couldn’t furnish.

Similar phone calls and messages became commonplace and I was often up the proverbial creek, attempting to help callers and lettter writers although a young journeyman writer myself.  My biggest challenge was a call from a German PBS crew filming the U.S. for viewers back home.  The producer called to ask for information about western reenactments and said that actor Glenn Ford was narrating a TV series (I had no idea he spoke German). He also said that Louis L’Amour had agreed to serve as their technical advisor. I had recently interviewed L’Amour for my book, Maverick Writers, and was told he had given them my phone number, so how could I refuse.

The crew of five arrived in Casper in late July, following the filming of Cheyenne’s “Frontier Days.”Among other suggestions, I told them about a 2,000-member buffalo herd located 120 miles from where I lived. Big mistake! They insisted that I lead them there. I regrettted not telling them that I had grown up in Los Angeles and never ventured near a buffalo herd.  But I reluctantly agreed.

The next morning found the crew waiting for me, travel weary and not terribly anxious to leave for the Wyoming outback. Three of the men were past fifty, perhaps even sixty, and spoke English well, although they lapsed into German when not speaking to me, which I thought was rude. A young video grip, whom they had hired in San Jose, agreed and complained whenever they were out of earshot.

The director/script writer decided to ride with me while the equipment  caretaker; cameraman;  and producer followed in a old van and station wagon. Accustomed to driving the German Autobahn, they had acquired a spindle full of speeding tickets.Quite a collection, in fact. I’m sure they were annoyed that I only drove 65 miles an hour on back roads to the buffalo ranch near Reno Junction.

Two and a half hours later, we arrived at the ranch where the foreman had arranged to meet us at noon. Obviously unimpressed with German film crews, he  left earlier that morning to buy tractor parts in distant town, so we never saw him. After an hour's wait, his teenaged son left the ranch house to lead us to the herd. With a contemptuous glance at our motley crew, he led us down a bumpy dirt road in his decrepit pickup truck which appeared to have been held together with bailing wire. The pickup bed flapped like a large bird on takeoff, and I knew why when we followed him through rough, sagebrush-peppered  terrain.

Our first glimpse of the herd came some five minutes later as they grazed peacefully on a hill. We parked nearby and my passenger asked if I would stampede the herd so the cameraman could film them raising clouds of dust. I refused because my Bronco was nearly new  So while they persuaded our guide to do the deed, I drove into the herd and watched as the buffalo showed off by wallowing on their backs with feet in the air several yards away. In order to get some great pictures--that I’m now unable to find--I foolishly left the driver’s seat to get a bettter look, finding the buffao so large that they towered over me. 

I never got around to writing about the experience until now, but was later told that I had appeared on German TV as the crazy woman who stood in the midst of a buffalo herd. I had no idea that the crew, stationed on a hill nearby, had their camera trained on me.

That was my first and last role as a buffalo tour guide and foreign TV reality star. I also quit my advisory job, happy to return to writing fulltime.

~Jean Henry Mead


Morgan Mandel said...

Good idea to quit that post! Too bad you couldn't get a copy of the video from your buffalo herd experience, so you could watch and laugh at it occasionally.

Morgan Mandel

Jean Henry Mead said...

Cringe is more like it, Morgan. I stayed close to the Bronco when I got out, but when I think back on my experience, I consider myself lucky that the herd wasn't stampeded before I got out of there.

Susan Russo Anderson said...

What a wonderful memory and great writing, too. Just what I needed to read after a day of pulling words out of my self letter by letter. (Ugh)

I really like the image of the buffalo wallowing on their backs with their feet in the air. Do you still have the Bronco?

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you for the kind words, Susan. The Bronco was traded in on a Chevy Silverado, which I like much better.