On the Job

Recently I was cast. That is a poor choice of words. I was picked to be an extra in a commercial for a major Atlanta airline. You can decide what company I’m talking about.

I knew there was no glamour in the job, it was just something to do and you got paid. This one was above average because it was paying union scale. A far cry from when Cecil B. DeMille paid five or six thousand people five dollars and a box lunch to sit in the coliseum all day and watch a chariot race.

The famous chariot race of the DeMille 1925 production of "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ"
The famous chariot race of the DeMille 1925 production of “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ”

It’s just the term, “extra” that gives you the overall feeling of unimportance. There was a time when “extra” meant something. Like here’s a gift for “somebody extra special.” Or a breaking major story required an “Extra” edition. Now it’s, “Oh! We have one too many, this is extra.” Really, when you think about it, are you really needed? You are an “extra.”

Now if this isn’t enough to bring your ego down a few notches, one of the important people with some authority will. That’s a person who walks around with a clipboard and wears headsets calls out, “If you are a Skycap or something else interesting, go to wardrobe.” This could have deterred me. It would have been easy to just slip away and go home and avoid this humiliation but, I’m a professional. I could never be responsible for leaving them short an extra.

It was then I thought of the film, “The Poseidon Adventure.” Remember the scene where the ship is upside down (sorry, that was most of the time)? The stars of the film climb on the ballroom Christmas tree to safety. They call down to the crowd of people on the ceiling, that used to be the floor, “Come up here, we can get out this way.” The crowd stayed put. What they should have said was, “We can’t come, we’re the extras, it’s not in the budget to save us.”

I have to be honest here. This whole thing was making me laugh. Here I was getting paid to drag my suitcase back and forth, which required no effort. By the way, since I brought my own suitcase, it was getting paid. I thought to myself, “Well, you don’t travel much anymore so now you can spend the day pretending you are going somewhere.” There was even lunch and it wasn’t in a box, we were doing better than those people in the coliseum. If you were really hungry, you could get “extra.” It was around this time one of the other extras said, “We may be going into overtime, that’s time and a half.” This guy was a real professional extra. I commented, “Oh we’ll be getting extra…” That got a laugh.

My day started in the parking lot and then into the terminal. We also got to take our empty suitcases through security. Back and forth over and over again. There were some who would try to get a little camera time. You know where maybe the director would spot them, pull them out of the crowd and make them a star. Maybe even a Skycap!

It was a long day. Twelve hours of back and forth. When I got home I fell asleep in front of the TV, an old black and white movie was on. I heard voice calling, “Extra, Extra.” It woke up, it was some kid in the movie selling papers, for a brief moment, I thought maybe it was another job.

Bill Tush

Bill Tush

Bill Tush is an American news journalist and humorist.
Bill Tush's career began as a radio DJ in 1965 in Latrobe, PA as a morning host for the Mid Morning Polka Party. His radio career landed him in Atlanta, GA in 1974, where he would eventually join Ted Turner at his struggling local television station, WTCG Channel 17. As WTCG changed to SuperStation WTBS, Bill became a jack of many trades at the station doing everything from commercial spokesman, movie host and reading the news at 3am, about which Turner jokingly commented, "we have a 100% share at this time". Bill would often read the news with his co-anchor Rex, a German Shepherd in shirt and tie.
Bill was given his own show in 1980 by Ted Turner simply called Tush. The cast included such newcomers as SNL's Jan Hooks and Bonnie and Terry Turner (SNL writers and co-creators of 3rd Rock from the Sun and That 70's Show) and was a one hour comedy skit show which aired at 12:05 AM Eastern time on Friday and Saturday nights. The show ceased production one year later but reruns aired thru May 28, 1983. The following week its old timeslot was filled by a six hour music video program called Night Tracks. Later that year he appeared in a Night Tracks sales presentation video playing a investigative reporter. Bill took off to Hollywood to host a new entertainment show, People Now, on the new CNN channel. Bill was made senior entertainment correspondent for CNN in 1993 and relocated to NYC to host Showbiz Today.
Bill retired from Turner Broadcasting System to pursue other interests including writing and producing in 2003.