**Watch the Moorhead Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, airing on Sunday, Jan. 2 at 7 p.m. Central.
I spent the first week of October volunteering to help Fargo-based Heritage Homes with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” I helped the marketing director with media requests and served as the team’s official blogger, which meant I was the on-site storycatcher who posted the stories online.
That also meant I had hardhat hair for a week. ABC was strict about the hardhat policy and I didn’t want to get kicked off the job site, so once I put it on in the morning, I ate meals wearing it, wrote stories wearing it and I even sported it in the Starbucks drive thru.
Just a day into my nearly 100 hours on site, it became painfully obvious that I wasn’t going to please everyone and when tensions ran high, so did voices.
My favorite verbal smack down came out of the mouth of a 6’ 7” transplant to Hollywood. Maybe the stars went to his head, maybe he wanted to pay his misery forward or maybe he is just a jerk – I only had nine days to figure it out and I minimized our run ins to three. Mr. Hollywood’s smug expression complimented his condescending tone as he criticized my idea to allow some ladies to remove their hardhats for two minutes to be on television.
“Do you see this road right here?” Mr. Hollywood pointed beneath his feet; he slowed his speech, leaned in closer and his eyes widened. “And this road? This is a “construction site” so yes, they need to wear hard hats.”
I understood his point.
However, the reporter conducting the interview didn’t have to wear a hardhat, and believe me, Mr. Hollywood’s perfect curly blond hair had not been touched by the inside of a hardhat all week.
I was speechless. And yes, the ladies wore their hardhats on television.
After enjoying a few hours of sleep at home, I arrived back on site at 4:45 a.m. to help a local TV station with their morning show. The reporter threw a curve ball my way when he told me Elmo was in town for a show and would be coming to the site for an interview. After 30 minutes of phone calls, text messages, getting Elmo and his entourage through security and transporting him to the site, I had to let a project manager know what was going on.
Under bright lights powered by generators, I spotted one of the few people wearing an orange hard hat and walked up to him in front of the house.
“Just so you know, Elmo is going to be on site for an interview with the tv station,” I said. “I just wanted someone to be aware of what’s going on – oh, and he won’t be able to wear a hard hat because his head is too big.”
About 14 hours into a never-ending shift Eric Smith stared at me, with his trigger finger on his radio microphone and his jaw half open.
“Uh…the puppet Elmo?” he asked with a furrowed brow, raising his hand as a ventriloquist would. I watched as his exhausted mind tried to wrap itself around the information I had just delivered.
“No,” I said. “Like…the real Elmo,” as I gestured a giant head above my own.
I realize that was not the best explanation, but I think it was pretty good for 5 o’clock in the morning on day six.
I blurted out my fear, “I just don’t want to get in trouble because he doesn’t have a hard hat,” Eric scanned my face, trying to tell if I was serious. All I could think of was Mr. Hollywood.
With a sigh and a slight shake of his head, he clicked open the radio mic attached to his black polo shirt and tipped his head down to speak, “Uh, just so you guys know, Elmo is going to be on the job site.” Eric continued, “And…his head is too big for a hardhat, so he’s not going to wear one.”
The earpiece that fed him responses was audible only to him, and he nodded.
“It’s fine,” he shrugged and disappeared back into the home that had grown out of the ground in a matter of hours.
It might have been fine, but we pinned a blue hardhat on Elmo that day – partly because he was carrying a hammer and it looked cool and partly because it was a matter of principle.
It looked tiny on top of his huge head. If only Mr. Hollywood was there to see Elmo in his hard hat, he might have cracked a smile.
When I think back to when I signed on for the project, I never imagined my week would be driven by Hollywood attitude, hard hats and Elmo. It was challenging, but worth it and I caught more beautiful stories in a week than I ever thought was possible.