Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Extreme Home Makeover: Waiting Edition

Extreme Home MakeoverSeveral weeks ago, my officemate got a notice at her house that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition might be doing their thing on a house up her street. The letter was expressly non-commital (your neighbor *may* have been chosen) so as not to give away the surprise, but it warned that her street may be blocked off and filled with construction crews for a week. Well, it turns out her neighbor was indeed chosen, and the Extreme Home crew were coming to Redondo Beach. It's been very fun having this happen so close to the office, and getting the daily updates. They literally work round the clock putting a whole new house together in less than a week, and it's a great feat of logistics to make it happen. They do unusual things like preassemble large sections of the roof in a staging area, and then lift them into place with a crane. I stopped by several days into the construction just to check things out. The street was closed to cars, but you could walk in and look from across the street. There was a small crowd there most of the time, checking out the progress and hoping to catch a glimpse of somebody. I got to see Paige, the blonde who always wears the pink toolbelt, walk by.

So I thought it would be fun to check out the "big reveal", and be there to yell "Move that bus!". We had heard it was going to happen around 2pm today, though we also had heard they were behind schedule. And we'd heard they expected a big crowd and due to limited space, you'd want to get there hours in advance. Well, I couldn’t spring loose from work until 2:30pm, but I figured I just go over there to see if I could get in. I parked a couple of blocks away and tried walking in the bottom of the street, but that was closed off even to pedestrians and I was told to walk around to the top of the street. A 10-minute walk later, and I'd come around the top, and realized it wasn't too late, people were still streaming in. As you got anywhere near the house, there was already quite a crowd sandwiched on the one side of the street between barricades on the street and barricades trying to keep us off of the neighbors' lawns. (I think all of the neighbors in the immediate vicinity were promised new landscaping, since many of them offered their yards as staging areas, and got fairly trashed.) I was able to get a spot about two houses down. The big Extreme bus was parked perfectly blocking our view of the house, and on the other side of the street, a couple hundred volunteers in official blue T-shirts and hard-hats were mostly milling around. And the crowd of spectators was estimated by the local news at 2000. Sure felt like it from all the jostling. We barely had room to raise our hands.

The chosen family is a husband and wife with a baby daughter, both of them LAPD Gang Unit, and the wife had got shot in pursuit of a gang-banger and is now paralyzed from the chest down. Hers was a big story in the local community when it happened earlier this year, and so the community was thrilled to see this family get repaid for their sacrifice in this way. And of course the LAPD turned out in large numbers. (I later heard that Chief Bratton was there too, though I didn't see him.) The uniformed officers lined both sides of the street making an impressive entrance route. And at some point, the big bus pulled away, and they decided instead to use a big black LAPD Bomb Squad truck to hide the house. Fortunately, after the bus pulled away, we had a relatively clear view of the house.

We kept hearing rumors that the family was coming home at 4pm, and then 4:30pm. We got excited at one point when we saw a limo up the street start to come down our way, but then we realized they were just practicing camera shots. We got to watch as the limo pulled up in front of the truck, and Ty Pennington opened up the limo door. And then closed the door again, the limo backed up, and then did it all over again. Countless times, the policemen got called to attention, but then nothing happened. One of the production guys lead the crowd in practicing the "move that bus!" shout, and giving big cheers. (I think they filmed all that for stock footage of cheering crowds to be spliced in later.) At 5pm, somebody who seemed to be in charge told the crowd that the limo had just taken off to get the family, and they'd be here in 15-20 minutes. Then at 5:20pm, we were told they be there in 20 minutes. At some point, Ty came running up and down the street just to wave to everybody, and all the girls screamed and swooned. (Well, some of them may have been close to swooning anyway, as we'd been standing there for hours.)

We thought they would want to film the big reveal while they had sunlight nicely illuminating the west-facing house. It was dark by the time the family finally arrived around 6:15pm, but they had enough flood lights to make it look like daytime. And when the family got out of the limo, we couldn't really see anything from where I was, with all the other people in the way. A woman with a couple young daughters had been standing near me, and I let one of the girls climb up on my shoulders so at least she could see, and we could get a bit of a play-by-play. Eventually, we got to shout our line -- "Move that bus!" (even though it was a truck) -- and the truck pulled away to much cheering. I'm sure the family's reaction was all very dramatic, but I won't get to see that until the show airs (Nov 26).

So was it worth it to stand in a crowd for 4 hours (the last 30 minutes with a 7-year-old on my shoulders), just to catch a sidelong glimpse of TV in the making? Somehow, even though the view will be much better just watching it on TV, it was fun just to be a small part of the experience. And of course, to get to shout 100 times: "Move that bus!"

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