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Chapter 3: Lacey

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Gone -- A Novel about the Rapture
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Camp Hill
Thursday, January 2, 6:00 A.M.

The yellow smiley face on the side of a building at Montgomery's Ferry reminded Dan he was now in range of WMOR's 3000 watts of effective radiated power. He switched to the FM band, punched the center button and turned on the radio in time to hear Lacey drawl, "Gotcha wall tuh wall and treetop tall, Good Buddy. Thanks fer the call. What's yer ten-twenty?"

Dan couldn't resist a smile at the thought of the truckers out there in their rigs talking to a Mainline Philadelphia girl with a communications degree, and her sounding like a Nashville truckstop waitress.

The trucker came back over the snore of his diesel. "Thanks fer the break there, Laceybaby. Shore is good tuh hear yer smilin' voice agin. This here's Hog Dog comin' at yuh with a loada live hams 'n chops, straight down the Pike from Phillytown. Right now I'm in the rockin' chair and I shore could do with a lit'la Dolly Parton to help pass the time."

"Hey, you got it there, Hog Dog. You know the mot-toe here on Lacey's All Night Truckstop. 'Ask fer a top-40 and you'll git it in 40'. And that just about gives us time fer 30 secs of good words from all the friendly folks over there at Clark's Ferry Truckstop."

Dan's smile broadened as Lacey hit the cart and his own non-Nashville voice came on with an invitation for all the truckers in the area to tank up on good food and hot coffee. Even after 30 years in the business he still got a kick out of hearing his own voice on the air. The spot ended and Lacey soon had Dolly piping the classic Coat of Many Colors. Although he was not into CB or country music or trucking, Dan realized he had a valuable piece of property in Lacey's truckstop show. It didn't seem possible but it was almost a year old now and had been duplicated in several major markets across the country.

The show had gotten started last January when a jeans and sweater coed with the improbable name of Lavender Bowder applied for an air job. At the time, she was a senior at Shippensburg University and majoring in communications with a minor in languages. Dan probably wouldn't have bothered to interview her if the station's only female announcer hadn't dropped out a month before to be a mother. Experience had made him a little leery of college kids who tended to be long on theory and short on experience. However, he did need a female voice to soften the station's all-male sound.

During the interview Dan had learned that Lacey was a nickname for Lavender which she had picked up in junior high. During her last two years of college, she had worked summers as a dispatcher for a Camden, New Jersey trucking firm. Since she'd had some two-way radio experience with truckers on the road, Dan decided to explore the idea of an all-night show for truckers.

At first, Lacey had misunderstood Dan's thinking and assumed that he wanted her to babysit an automation system all night long. Lacey had a bout of tears before she came to understand that Dan was talking about a live DJ job which would let her express a little creativity.

After Lacey had dried her tears, Dan spent quite a bit of time explaining the way the station operated as far as music was concerned. The station had a dish and all the down-link stuff. They could have pulled anything they needed off one of the satellite syndicated services. But Dan had held out for storing all their music on-site, using a massive hard drive with enough gigs of space to take care of all the songs they cared to put on the air.

All selections were broken down into three categories and recorded on the hard drive. There was a mix of "red" -- up-tempo adult contemporary cuts off recent top-40 lists, "yellow" -- classics and golden oldies. And there was what the twins called the "elevator music". "Blue" was all instrumental and heavy on strings.

The three categories of music were rotated manually in a mix which was pretty much determined by the time of day and the DJ's frame of mind. In the morning, the mix was heavy on red and light on yellow with no blue. In the afternoon, it was heavy on yellow and light on both red and blue. After dinner, the mix was heavy on blue, light on yellow, and no red.

For times the DJ didn't care to pick the songs, there was a library of play lists in the computer, for the times of day.

Suddenly Dan realized he was looking at a yellow light about to turn red. The automatic pilot had been on again and he was in Wormleysburg, ready to turn right toward Camp Hill and the station. He stopped for the light and then made the two consecutive right turns which put him on Greenwood Circle, climbing toward the crest of Greenwood Hill and the WMOR building.

"Not the first time and it won't be the last, huh Old Lady? You and I have this automatic pilot thing down to a pure science." Dan chuckled ruefully as he thought of what Karen would say if she knew he had just driven 17 miles in the snow with no recollection of anything which had happened.

Dan couldn't suppress a surge of boyish excitement at the thought of walking through the door this morning as General Manager. Twenty years on the sign-on shift plus 10 more as a combination program director and morning man. Dan felt he had paid his dues for the job he was stepping into.

As the Bug putted to a stop beside Lacey's Vette he heard her give a live ID and put on the AP network news. Six o'clock straight up. "Sliced that just about as thin as possible, didn't we Old Lady?" Dan grunted as he heaved out of the bucket seat and strode up the snowy walk to the stone building. The door swing wide, framing the entire night shift as a welcoming party.

"Hey, Big Guy, come on in and have a cup of All-Night Truckstop coffee, courtesy of the best waitress to ever fill a mug!" Lacey smiled as she handed Dan a steaming cup. "How are the roads? All night long, the truckers have been telling me all kinds of horror stories about jack-knifed rigs and fender-benders. Sure am glad you made it okay!"

"Thanks for the coffee, Lacey. Mmmmmmm, that sure tastes good. Actually the roads weren't too bad. Thanks to some Amish clown in the middle of the road with his sleigh, I did a little looper and put the Bug's tail in a snow bank. No damage, though. Some guy from New York state pulled me out with his Jeep Grand Cherokee. How was your shift?"

"Pretty routine, except for all the ratchet jawing about the weather. When I heard about those rigs jack-knifing, it made me feel a little down, thinking about that accident Tuesday."

Dan sensed Lacey's pain and changed the subject. "Do me a favor and take off the network when the news is over. Do a forecast and hit a morning play list. By then, I'll have my head screwed on well enough to take it from there."

"Sure, Big Guy," Lacey agreed as she gave Dan a quick, impulsive hug.

Dan pushed through the news room door and grabbed yesterday's local news folder. He hurried back to the control room for the notes on the police calls Lacey had made during the last hour of her shift. He scanned this material and noted that all reported police activities related to fender benders with no fatalities. A few resulted in treated-and-released visits to local hospitals but nothing appeared too serious. Dan decided to type up three of the most local and expensive mishaps for use on the six-thirty local news.

As Dan moved over to the console, Lacey looked up and he could see the pain had crept back into her eyes.

"Ready to take it, Big Guy?" At Dan's nod, she continued soberly. "By the way, Dan, I'm going down to Gettysburg for that funeral tomorrow morning. The service begins at ten so I should have time to finish my shift, go home and change, and still be on time." Two big tear drops spilled down her cheeks as they exchanged places at the console. Dan watched her profile closely as she snuffled in a tissue and then he spoke softly.

"Hey, Lacey, you're not having a guilt thing over that accident, are you?"

"No, I'm not feeling guilty. I know truckers are constantly driving and talking on the CB at the same time. I do feel involved, though. I mean, after all, my voice was the last thing he heard before he died. Dan it was horrible, the most horrible thing that's ever happened to me. I can still remember every word he said. It happened about 3:20 Tuesday morning. I got a CB call from this trucker who said his handle was Hot Lava and that he had a load of steel out of Pittsburgh. He'd just left the Turnpike and was headed south on I-83 for Baltimore. He was telling me how much he liked my show and that he always listened when he was in the Harrisburg Area. He had just asked me to play something for him by the Dixie Chicks when I guess his rig hit a patch of ice caused by runoff that froze on the road during the night." Her shoulders shook with sobs before she could continue.

"And, Dan, the worst part of it was, he had his mike open the whole time the accident was happening. I found out later that he had a mike mounted above the windshield. He had it fixed so he could key his mike open with a foot switch on the floor. When his rig started to skid toward that concrete overpass, I could hear him panting as he fought the wheel to pull it out. I even heard the sound of his last scream all mixed up with this horrible crash. Then there was nothing. I don't know, Dan. It's going to be a long time before I can do my show without hearing the sound of that scream and that crash. I didn't even get to know his real name until I read it in the paper the next night."

Dan said tenderly, "You've got a lot of heart for such a little lady. Just don't go letting yourself get all messed up with guilt over this thing. If he had to get it in his rig, at least he had a friendly voice in his ear just before he went. You know, someone who cared about how guys like him make their living. Why not think about it that way?"

Lacey mopped her face and managed to brighten enough to use her WKRP nickname for Dan. "You're right, Big Guy. I'll try to think about it that way."

"Good. Now, how about cueing up that Penn State farm report cart?" He asked by way of diversion. "I have a couple fender-benders to type up before the 6:30 local news." Dan turned to the computer terminal, conveniently situated on an island to the right of the console, and began typing up the police calls for use on the air.

Dan was proud of his ability to sound good on the air under pressure, both at the mike and at the controls. Now that special skill all really good DJs have came to the fore. The hassle of getting out of the driveway, the tangle with the Amish sleigh, getting in 30 minutes later than he usually did, plus Lacey's state of mind over the accident, to say nothing of the hard knot of excitement at the pit of his stomach at the idea of being, as Lacey put it, the "big guy" now. And yet, the most discriminating regular listener would have had no indication that this wasn't just another ho-hum hour in another routine morning shift.

Lacey said, "Your Penn State farming friends are ready to tell the world how a black cow can chew green grass and give white milk which churns yellow butter. Anything else before I take off."

"Not a thing. Go on home and get some rest. You'll be having a pretty heavy day tomorrow. Sorry I kept you this long."

"Don't mention it, Dan. Nothing Herb Tarlick wouldn't do for his Big Guy!" She laughed almost merrily as she brushed the top of his head with a daughterly kiss and left the studio.

Dan smiled as he turned back to the console, relieved that she was over the worst of her depression. The six-figure digital clock above the console read 6:17:20 and for the next twelve minutes he settled into the routine he knew so well. Start a cut. Check the log to see which spot comes up next. Get the spot from the cart rack to the left of the console. Run the spot at the next music break, along with a live ID, time check, and weather capsule. Back to the next drive-time music cut . . .

The station wasn't big. The salary, even with the raise that went along with the promotion, certainly wasn't impressive. The staff was minimal. In fact, he had never done a show where he had an engineer in another studio handling all the technical things for him. But Dan was satisfied. Deep down, even when nobody else is around, satisfied. Satisfied with the job. With his marriage, with his children. Just plain satisfied.

The clock read 6:29:45 as he faded a yellow cut under and opened the mike.

"More good sounds to help you start the day right coming up after Agri-Digest on WMOR-FM Camp Hill, round the clock stereo music with the latest news and weather for the greater Harrisburg area. Sixteen degrees in Camp Hill at six-thirty and this is Dan Marlow with the local news . . . "


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