Here’s what I know about Marysville, Mont.: There’s gold in them thar hills — plus a ton of irritating sound. Who would have thought in the middle of Big Sky Country we’d be battling so much noise pollution?
In the latest American Story with Bob Dotson, we tell you about the modern-day search for gold in Marysville, which is about 30 minutes — and a world away — from the state capital of Helena. Once a bustling gold mine town with a population of 5,000, it’s now a tiny village of fewer than 100 residents, with a ghost-town feel.
That's the story Bob tells. That’s not my story.
For crying out loud
My story is about hills alive with the sound of ... lawn-mowing, weed-whacking, power-sawing, and hammer-pounding. Not to mention a cacophony of screaming Air Force jets, a family van of sightseers with an ear-piercing broken fan belt, and a handful of chatty neighbors yakking at about a bazillion decibels. Not to mention the relentless beep-beep-beep of dump trucks backing up at the mine clear across town. And we hadn’t even gotten to the dynamite explosions.
As a producer, it’s my job to worry about that extraneous stuff: the stuff that can drown out what someone’s saying — or cause you to shift your focus. Like the leafy shrub that looks like it’s a Chia Pet Afro growing out of the reporter’s head, or some nitwit flashing gang signs in the middle of a live shot.
Out there in the middle of rural America, I was having an aural fixation. You could hardly hear yourself think. You expect that kind of stuff in the city — the jackhammer with its bone-cracking staccato, the garbagemen bouncing metal cans like rubber balls on the pavement, or the suburban riding mower that roars to life the second you ask, “Why’d you kill him?”
So my main occupation in Marysville was putting the kibosh on those reverberating conversations, garden implements and mine equipment. (There wasn’t much I could do about the roar of the jets, other than wave at them.)
Playing it safe (sort of)
As a producer, it’s also my job to try to keep the crew from life-threatening situations. It’s simply bad for morale. In the past I’ve used my body to divert speeding traffic because the cameraman had to get the shot from the center lane. I’ve wrapped my arms in a death grip around the waist of a cameraman as we spun around Homestead, Fla., in a helicopter after Hurricane Andrew, wanting to puke my brains out. I snatched a soundwoman from a rapidly deteriorating “peace rally” on the Green Line in Somalia as we ducked a man with an Uzi. Most important, I always buy gallons of water and energy bars, just so the crew won’t die of hunger.
In Marysville, we relied on the mine folks to keep us safe. And they did. Before we made our trek down into the bowels of the earth, we got our hard hats and headlights with battery packs. We got a safety lecture: No smoking. Watch your step. Put on these boots. Stick together.
We also learned the proper use of the emergency respirator: “If you need it, put this mouthpiece in with a good seal. It’ll burn your lips, but don’t take it out or you’ll die.” That’s a safety admonition I can stick with.
Then each one of us got a small brass tag with a number on it. In case our bodies could not be identified, the brass tag would survive.
We signed a logbook with the tag numbers and our names. My tag was No. 1. It made me feel like a winner.
Having a blast
I asked if we could shoot that afternoon’s dynamite blast down in the mine. Sure, they said.
As the time ticked closer, I started getting filled in. We could be down there, but if we stayed with the camera, we would have to bolt like Usain Bolt the minute we heard the explosion; otherwise a choking cloud could trap us. Oh, and by the way, the mine operators weren’t going to let any of their people down there.
So, as much as I would have loved to turn me and my crew (not to mention a very expensive HD camera) into a human lint trap for precious metal dust, I took a pass. We’d use file footage.
At 5:30 that day, when those sticks of dynamite blew a half-mile down in the mine, we were surface-side.
Ironically, we didn’t hear a thing.