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Brian Charles: Living vicariously, and newsroom celebrity

Washington Journal: the Inauguration

Posted: January 13, 2009 5:48 p.m.
Updated: January 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.

B.C. goes to D.C.: Signal Staff Writer Brian Charles' Washington Journal continues in The Signal and on Join him on his journey to our nation's capital for the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Editor's note: Sixth in an exclusive series as Signal Staff Writer Brian Charles prepares to travel to Washington, D.C., to cover the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. This story is a Web exclusive.

A strange thing happened on my way to Washington, D.C. - I reluctantly became a newsroom celebrity.

It started with some pictures for what I was told would be a simple banner advertisement. However, The Signal's advertising staff was hatching a far more sinister plan.

I uncovered the plot on Christmas Day when I brought my mother to The Signal to grab a copy of the newspaper with my banner ad on the front page.

Two Signal employees heard the pitter-patter of my mother's feet and the clunk-clunk of my size-14 sneakers lumbering through the office on Christmas Day. I snatched a paper from the rack and handed it to my mother. She beamed when she saw the banner ad on the front page. She nearly passed out when she saw the full-page ad on the back page, which was news to me.

That was it. Christmas was cancelled. My mother called every number in her cell phone and the first thing out of her mouth, before Merry Christmas, was: "Guess what? Brian's trip to Washington has a full page ad in the newspaper!"

My mother stole 10 copies from the office (sorry, Mr. Lamont), and on Christmas Day, she started mailing the copies off to relatives as far away as New York, Virginia and North Carolina. My mother's banquet-sized appetite for The Signal left barely a copy for my wife.

I returned to work Dec. 26 with my belt loosened up one notch and on the wrong end of stares from my coworkers. A sportswriter snidely asked for my autograph. I found a red Sharpie and the copy of The Signal with the full-page ad sitting on my desk.

I refused to sign it. The unnamed sportswriter pushed and prodded until I caved and signed the copy of my advertisement.

The autograph-seeking was a sick joke - sick because I don't even ask for autographs, let alone sign them.

I've tiptoed around the office for weeks. People constantly quiz me about the trip and repeatedly tell me how lucky I am.

I've spent the last month promoting The Signal's inaugural coverage to as many civic organizations as possible. At each stop, more people tell me how lucky I am to cover this event. And I agree. It's just the spotlight is not my favorite place.

However, the awkward attention pales in comparison to what is transpiring across the country.

The newspapers my mother mailed began arriving Jan. 2 after wading through the traffic jam of tardy Christmas cards.

My grandmother in White Plains, N.Y. didn't waste a second once she received her copy. She cut out my ad, taped it to her car window and drove around town. She made extra copies and taped them to the window at a town recreation center.

My father in nearby New Rochelle took copies to all his card-playing buddies and friends at the local NAACP chapter.

Even my high school guidance counselor got in on the act. He called me, asking, "Am I talking to The Signal's top man in Washington?!"

In the midst of the phone calls at home and at work (my sources have taken to interviewing me on the phone, instead of me interviewing them), I got a phone call from a great aunt and uncle in North Carolina that put it all in perspective.

They're in their 90s and don't leave Sharpies on my desk, or post my pictures in weird places. They're just proud.

The phone rang twice with a 252 area code. I knew who it was, but a deadline crunch made the call impossible to answer. I returned the call from The Signal parking lot right after work.

"We are so proud of you," my aunt in North Carolina said. I melted.

Her phone call planted my feet firmly back on the ground. I didn't realize how lucky I really was until this 90-year-old woman told me she was so proud of me. I know her story, and exactly what she and people her age sacrificed to make my world of deadlines and Internet blogs possible.

My city editor, Vince Lovato, convinced me to not get in the way of the important work. I may not like all the attention, he said, but my family worked so hard to get me here. I owe it to them to meet the challenge. I agreed with him, but I really didn't understand what Lovato meant until that phone call.

My family reads my reports on The Signal's Web site every day, and now I understand and appreciate their excitement and love. Lovato was right: They did as much to send me to Washington, D.C., as The Signal, and to them I say, thank you.


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