Intro from Jay Allison: Participants come to the Transom Story Workshop with the intention of creating change in their own lives. That makes it exciting for everyone. The class of Spring 2012 came from all over the country and Canada to spend two months here in Woods Hole. They were led by their gifted teacher, Rob Rosenthal, and dedicated teaching associate, Sarah Reynolds, along with a roster of visitors from This American Life, Studio 360, PRX, The Kitchen Sisters, and other Transom friends and staff. Most of the nine students had never made a radio story before. When they left, they had made stories as good or better than those you hear every day on nationally-distributed public radio programs. If you don’t believe me, listen to their work.
About “The Bridge Guy”
I started working on The Bridge Guy in a gravel parking lot next to an old train depot. Two guys working on the tracks there told me the only train that regularly runs on Cape Cod is four cars that carry trash away every day to be burned off Cape. I followed the tracks towards the mainland where they have to cross the Cape Cod Canal and I found the bridge the train uses to get to the other side. It’s tall and the towers on either side of the canal are gray steel X’s crossing over and over into the sky, capped by upside down cones with small steel balls on the end. The span sits at the top of the towers where the wind hits, but it gets lowered twice a day for the train. I wanted to know more about this awesome structure so I drove across the Bourne Bridge and I found the Army Corp of Engineers campus in Buzzards Bay. I left my name and number with the guard, who wouldn’t let me drive past the gate. Two hours later I was called by the public liaison. She told me the guy to talk with is John Mickiewicz. He lowers the bridge for the train and he’s been there for years.
All of that talking to people was pretty fun and easy for me. The hard part was making sure I was recording everything I would need, without knowing what I would need, and then making a story with it all. I really didn’t know what the story would be or what the sounds of the train or bridge would be or when they would happen. There were things I missed. I had the recorder off when John hollered “going up” when the span went back up. I missed getting ambient sound from the top of the tower because I mistakenly thought it was too windy. And then there’s the audible step I took in the middle of the recording of the span coming down and locking into place. All of these mistakes were lessons: Keep the dang mic on. Record ambient or “natural” sounds more than you think you need to. Don’t move while recording natural or ambient sound. However, I have to say, I mic’d John really well, having learned that lesson from my first story.
When I got the tape home I still didn’t know what the story was. The first thing I did was listen to all the tape I had and let my brain do some passive work (thanks, Barrett Golding). I didn’t take notes or cut tape, I just listened, trying to get an overall feel for the story. The next day I listened again and made sticky notes which I posted on my bedroom wall, trying to sort out an order for the story. I started thinking about how to use the cycle of: the train comes, the bridge lowers and raises, then the train leaves as the background that I could weave the narrative in and out of. I used the bridge and train sounds to give the listener a sense of forward motion, and I decided the story to weave was about John’s relationship with the bridge.
At one point, John talked about a suicide he witnessed from his office, but it just didn’t seem like that tale could really flow with the tone I was trying to make, which was more reflective and sound rich. That story would have brought the listener out of the sound coma I was trying to induce. It was sad to let that piece of tape go, but it was right, in the end.
This piece became more experiential than a writhing and twisting story and after listening many people talked about wanting to hear John’s deep voice to relax. I like to think even though there’s no tragedy or intense drama, it still holds up some universal themes. I hope you like it!
We hope so too.
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