So I flew McGruff the Crime Dog around all this past week while the Boss was out of town. I got roped into it last year when the Boss generously donated the use of the helicopter to the local county Sheriff’s Department while he was also out of town. They were doing an anti-drug presentation at various local elementary schools and thought it would be neat if McGruff could arrive by helicopter. My boss thought it would be neat too.
The police do this in conjunction with “Red Ribbon Week.” They've been using a helicopter to transport McGruff for three years now. Escambia County (Alabama) Sheriff Grover Smith puts the show on, and it is emceed by the capable, enthusiastic Chief Deputy Mike Lambert who does a great job. Basically, they give a couple of short anti-drug speeches, a drug-dog demo, then show a video of an exciting local police car chase filmed by one of the dash-cams.
The kids either got to see McGruff arrive or leave the school (sometimes both). I gave them a demonstration of how the helicopter can hover in one spot, then move sideways and backwards. No airshow, no funny stuff. The last thing in the world I want is to have a couple of hundred kids seeing McGruff die in the flaming wreckage of a helicopter. Oh, the headlines...
The first year, they used a local operator who is no longer around. The second year, they came to us. And when the police ask for a favor, whaddya gonna say, no?
So this year, no decals and no jumpsuit. I wore a polo shirt with the company logo so there was no confusion that I was a civilian. In their speeches the cops gave us props for our part in making it all happen, which was nice. I thought I could weasel my way out of giving the kids the police-aviation talk, but no such luck.
When you stand up in front of a roomful of hundred kids or so, it’s short-attention-span theatre, baby. The first year I was pretty nervous, and from their blank stares I realized that some of the things I was telling them were way over their heads, so to speak. During the course of that week I tailored and refined (and shortened) the talk. But it was hardly riveting.
This year I decided to try comedy. I’m a frustrated stand-up comic anyway, and here was a perfect opportunity. I started off making jokes about McGruff, and what he was like as a puppy…e.g. chasing his tail instead of bad guys, “taking a bite out of…” the cat, and solving the mystery of my missing goldfish by pointing out to me the tiny paw prints of the cat on the side of the fishbowl. The teachers were all laughing, but the kids still looked back at me with that now-familiar blank stare.
Finally, at the last school I decided to speak their language. “My name is Bob Barbanes,” I announced. “But my friends all call me Sponge Bob.” (Uproariously laughter.)
Ah, well. So I’m no Mr. Rogers or Captain Kangaroo. But I'll do better next year, you just wait! I'm working on new material, and I'll have those little bastards laughing or my name aint Sponge Bob.