Sea story: Live (almost) from Vatican City: this is ABC news (1963).

Among many other things, the 17th Olympiad in Rome in 1960 was remarkable, because it was the first time that the Olympics were broadcast on television worldwide. It took remarkable, active collaboration for the newsreels to be packed up at the end of each day and sent to London, where a jet was waiting to take them to the United States for broadcast throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Three years later, the competition among broadcasters had returned to normal, but the paradigm of airlifting newsreels to waiting aircraft still dominated. When Pope John XXIII convened the Ecumenical Council in Rome in 1962, the major news organizations of the world established almost permanent setups close to the Vatican City to cover the breaking news each day. Each broadcast corporation had its own lab preparing the newsreels from the tapes in the cameras, and its own aircraft waiting at Ciampino International Airport just outside the city.

After the Pope died on 9 June 1963, the competition to cover the papal election was fierce. The daily visual of black smoke coming from the chimney out the Sistine Chapel was unintentionally tailor-made for modern television. Each news organization was hoping to be the first back to the United States with the pictures and the story of white smoke from that chimney.

A key, invisible link in this news communications chain was getting the tapes from the cameras to the lab for development. The cameras were at Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican City. The labs were in a residential neighborhood across Rome. The link between the two was usually a small car or a motor scooter, operated by stringers standing by to grab the tapes, and race the other messengers to the lab.

ABC scooped the white smoke that year. While the other news organizations’ messengers were still trying to push their way out of the Piazza through the press of the crowds and traffic, the ABC messenger, who would turn 16 that summer, was weaving through the traffic on his bicycle, in a breakneck bid to beat the others to the lab.

Fifty-one years later, I can only remember the emotion and the thrill of that race. I remember being extremely proud of the ABC logo that was clipped my handlebars. I know that I was never in any particular danger, because the traffic all the way across town was completely gridlocked.

Today, bicycle messengers are an essential element in delivering urgent courier material in crowded urban areas. Maybe I gave somebody an idea…

2014-07-31 06.39.16

Sunrise over Lake Ontario

Trip update. Baldwinsville is a suburb, north of Syracuse, New York. It is a pleasant town, reminiscent of many of the quiet, tree-lined old towns of Texas or colonial Virginia.

I was almost afraid I would not find a hotel, because there were so little commercial development. However, the Microtel by Wyndham made it worth the trip. I had never stayed in a Microtel before, and I was very pleased with my first impression. Format was developed in the 1990s as a takeoff from European design, with an emphasis on the compact, efficient use of space. The room had everything I needed, nothing that I did not, and plenty of space on the floor for my bicycle.

The next day I rode from Syracuse to Rochester, the longest day in the saddle since I began living and working on my bicycle: 137 km. I had expected to get wet, but the front that came through on Sunday passed by on Sunday night.

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The real for reason for Niagara Falls.

Monday, I was not so lucky. The new front stalled over Rochester, so I spent all day Monday riding errands in the rain. Fortunately, I was also in a Microtel, this just as well equipped as the one in Baldwinsville. There was even room in the tile-floored bathroom for me to put my bicycle, to clean the chain without leaving any kind of mess. That evening I exchanged text messages and telephone calls with Cheryl, who was on her way to Niagara Falls from Vancouver.

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Cheryl at American Falls (Niagara Falls in background).

Tuesday was another long day in the saddle (127 km). To my surprise, I made it all the way to Niagara Falls, New York, at the same time that Cheryl made it to Niagara Falls, Ontario. We met on Wednesday morning when she came across the border, having ridden more than 5,000 km since leaving Vancouver, British Columbia, in mid-June. We began a long swing that is taking us along the southern coast of Lake Ontario, right through the area that I was hoping to travel through last week when the Harbor Fest in Oswego changed my plans. We will cross into Ontario across the St. Lawrence Seaway and continue to the eastern edge of Canada over the coming weeks. I am officially on vacation, and camping more often than not (no Internet). For the first time in my life, I am a true bicycle tourist. I will continue to report on this blog, especially as I notice things relevant to working while living on a bicycle.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


1 thought on “Sea story: Live (almost) from Vatican City: this is ABC news (1963).

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