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Ben Fong-Torres
The Facts on Larry Ching
May 2003

'Better Luck' This Weekend
April 2003

Old Memories, a New Museum
March 2003

'Twixt Teen and Michael Jackson
February 2003

In a Confused State of Mind
January 2003

In the Trenches with Trent, Jon Lovitz, and Johnny Rivers
December 2002

The Pioneering Performers of The Forbidden City
November 2002

A Letter to Writers, and How the Wiest was Won
October 2002

A Singing Career? I Think Not.
September 2002

Sheryl Crow: All She Wants to Do is Have Some Lunch
August 2002

Bruce Springsteen: Still the Boss
July 2002

Commencement Speech at Thurgood Marshall College
July 2002

A Senior Moment and a Reunion with a Pop Star
June 2002

We Love New York, Part 2002
May 2002

A Flick, a Rock Fantasy, and An Alternative to the Laptop
Apr 2002

March Madness, the Musical, and a Joint Effort with Willie Nelson
Mar 2002

Bringing in 4700 with a Parade of Wild Horses
Feb 2002

Taking a Q from Quincy Jones - It's His Party
Feb 2002

Asian American Males on TV: Old News is Bad News
Dec, 2001

Life's Lessons from a DJ and a Songwriter
May 2001

Gawk and Roll at the Hall of Fame
Apr 2001

Shakin' It Up at Harvard
Mar 2001

Creole Ladies and Crazy Times Down in New Orleans
Feb 23, 2001

A Parade of Dragons, Lions, Serpents -- and Strippers?
Feb 5, 2001

Bringing in 4700 with a Parade of Wild Horses
by Ben Fong-Torres

AsianConnections is proud to present the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character in the movie "Almost Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron Crowe.

Ben and Julie Haener on the set [Photo by Kenny Wardell]

We looked good. I sounded smooth, and so did Julie. I was so charming, and she's so warm. I should be on TV all the time. ("Julie" is Julie Haener, who's already on TV all the time, as a news anchor.)

These were some of the reactions to my latest stint co-hosting (or, as I like to say, co-anchoring) the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade broadcast on KTVU.

Well, as smooth as we may have appeared on the screen, things were different behind the scenes. They were, as Tina Turner would say, introducing "Proud Mary," "really ROUGH."

In the six parades I've done, I've never heard more chaos over my headset, as the director and producer, in the mobile truck, dealt with a procession of crises every bit as long as the two-hour, 130-unit parade itself. We were helping to usher in 4700 on the Lunar calendar, the Year of the Horse. And in our case, it was wild horses all the way.

This past year, Union Square, the downtown plaza where our broadcast tent is set up, has been going through a major renovation. The parade route had to be altered. That simple fact was enough to cause unforeseen jams and delays, as lions, dragons, and many, many horses ran into marching bands, stilt-walkers, acrobats, and floats bearing Nancy Kwan and beauty queens. For whatever reason, some units were out of order, making a mess of our schedule and script. One heavily promoted attraction, the Stanford Marching Band, showed up so late they wound up following the grand finale, the 201-foot golden dragon, and missed the broadcast. Other paraders who weren't scheduled to be on the air stopped in front of the cameras-and lingered.

For the quarter-million spectators who lined the 16-block route, this was all just fine. They weren't following any particular program. But for TV, it could've been disastrous. We'd come out of commercial breaks with the next unit missing! "Julie, Ben, talk for awhile!" arching bands who were expected to break into songˇ¦didn't, and we'd have to vamp until they did. Julie and I would hear a barked order to go to a specific page-but without the page number. When Julie got lost, I'd rip a page from my binder and thrust it at her, pointing to where she should be reading. When I was at a loss for words, she'd roll out a cheerful description of the weather, the scenery, the people in the VIP bleachers, until we got back on track.

The Lion roars -- and rolls out good wishes. [Photo by Ben Fong-Torres]

And yes, it came out looking smooth. What it came down to is professionalism-that's the unflappable Julie Haener-and preparation. That's me. I had a stack of cards loaded with facts and trivia about Chinese New Year, rituals, animal signs (did you know that both presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are dogs? Well, we knew one of them was!), parade history, stories about firecrackers, about dragons and lion dancing. When I sensed a lag coming on, I'd pore over the cards and have one or two ready for Julie or me to use. By night's end, we'd wiped out all the cards.

For all that, it was a blast. From our desk, we had the best views of the parade and of sights and sounds I've loved since childhood, especially the St. Mary's Chinese Girls Drum and Bell Corps, and its drill team, dressed in Peking Opera-styled outfits. I never tire of lion dancers, of the Yellow River Drummers, or of Cheer S.F., who, cheerleaders style, create human towers. I dug seeing Martin Yan cruise by in a convertible, talking through his own sound system and drawing cheers from the crowd-even when he spotted me and started shouting "Ben! Ben!" as if I were a long lost ingredient. I appreciated the emotional response to David Lim, the heroic New York City-based policeman who, along with NYC firefighter Zach Vause, marched with local peace officers and firefighters. And I was glad to be able to mention the late Willie Kee, the pioneer camera operator and photojournalist who was part of KTVU for so long, and co-hosted the station's first coverage of the parade some 15 years ago.

At her party, birthday girl Amy Tan poses with Joan Chen, her husband Peter, and stalker Ben.

I also dropped Amy Tan's name. It was her birthday, and, after the parade, crowds willing, I was off to a big bash in her honor. After grabbing my shambles of a script and saying buh-byes, I ran smack into the latecomers, those nuts from Stanford University, escaped the other way, lucked into a cab, and made the party, just in time for dinner. And when the time came for a short program, including a jocular video compiled by her brother, John Tan, it was nice to sit back, warmed by food, wine and my new t-shirt, and just and enjoy.

 

For more insights by Ben, visit his official website at www.benfongtorres.com


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