This will be one Fourth of July I will always remember. Not because of the rocket’s red glare, but for the beer-bombs bursting in air.
All around me.
On live TV.
It was all sparked by what seemed like a brilliant idea before the crack-of-dawn. That’s when the producers of the KTLA Morning News decided in their infinite wisdom, behind their desks, in a safe, secure newsroom, that it would be a good idea to send one of the morning reporters to Hermosa Beach to cover an ironman competition.
I was that reporter.
When I glanced at my email around 3 AM, I thought, “Cool. An assignment down at the beach.” I did skim something about an ironman competition. Figured it was just your usual run, swim, bike sorta thing for a group of motivated people with low body fat.
Boy, was I wrong.
The Hermosa Beach Ironman motto is: “Run, Paddle, Chug!” That’s right. These “athletes” run a mile, paddle a mile and then chug a six pack of beer. They’ve been doing this for the last 43 years. Ask a local, and they will tell you it started out with just a bunch of guys who wanted to get drunk with friends and check out some pretty girls on the Fourth of July. Four decades later, the premise is still pretty much the same, except thousands now join in the raucous event. (I say thousands, because it’s hard to find anything truly “official” associated with this ironman competition.) There are some judges, and a timer. But it’s mostly just about the beer.
What I didn’t notice until later, is that he had a bullseye drawn on his back with the words ‘puke here’ written in magic marker…
Now, as a veteran reporter in Los Angeles, I have pretty much covered it all. Murders, mayhem, mudslides, movie premieres, you name it. And I can tell you that a few years ago, reporting live from the middle of a mosh-pit, on a beach, with a bunch of beer guzzlers just wouldn’t have been possible. Not because it wouldn’t have made for good TV. It’s just that we would have needed secure parking, away from power lines, about 500 feet of cable and a couple of grips.
But thanks to the advancement of modern technology, we now have these little portable “boxes” that require only one camera guy and a good cell reception. No more being tethered to a news van. All it takes is a fearless photographer and an intrepid reporter to be live, right in the middle of the action.
This can be very good. Take our 8:00 AM live shot, for instance. Exuberant runners charged right towards the camera, enthusiastic about the first leg of the competition. My photographer and I avoided being trampled and viewers felt like they were in the middle of the action.
But by 9:05… We should have been sidelined.
Because that’s about the time when the endurance of these competitors was truly being tested. After all that running and paddling, they huddled up. Groups of men, and yes, a few brave women, formed rings around cases of beer. Cheering each other on as they chugged. Nearby judges, with clip boards in hand, made check marks every time a can was crushed. From my vantage point, the first beer went down easy. That one seemed refreshing and life-affirming for some of the participants. Around that time, the director of our show told me to “stand by.” They would come back out to us in about 10 minutes.
A lot can happen in 10 minutes.
The mosh pit grew and, let’s just say, competitive juiced began to flow. All over the place.
I grabbed a guy who appeared to be a spirited competitor, and from the evidence of his beer belly, had been clearly training for this event for years. My hope was that his broad… ah, erh… shoulders, could shield our morning viewers from the ups — and from what wasn’t staying down — in this competition. What I didn’t notice until later, is that he had a bullseye drawn on his back with the words “puke here” written in magic marker.
And wouldn’t you know it? Someone took him up on the offer right during the middle of my live report, much to the chagrin, of me, our anchors and anyone in Southern California who may have been eating breakfast at that very moment.
The video has now been posted on YouTube dozens of times, under the search title “reporter vomited on.” It shows the video freezing right as the liquid projectile is heading directly my way. One would assume this was the quick action of a thoughtful technical director who wanted to spare the viewing audience of anything offensive.
It was just a technical glitch.
And while the anchors tried to regain their composure and go onto the next story. I assumed I was still live. So, for the better part of the next two minutes, I just kept interviewing drunken people, while sudsy substances flew in in the air and landed in my hair.
Let’s say, after that, it was a wrap.
I drove home, took a hot shower and a long nap.
When I woke, I was greeted by thousands of retweets, links to the YouTube video, and a message from a “New York Times” reporter who wanted to talk about “the incident.”
You know, I once had a nightmare about reporting live, in the middle of a mosh pit, with hundreds of sweaty men throwing up all around me.
To all of you aspiring journalists out there, I’m here to tell you, dreams really do come true ― especially in the age of viral videos.