When I started working at WXIA, I learned I’d be working alongside a guy called “Commuter Dude.” That would be his on-air name. He’d cover viewer gripes about roads and such. He’d wear a reflective vest on camera.
“Sounds kitschy,” I thought. As a supervisor told me about the Commuter Dude, I fought mightily to suppress a skeptically raised eyebrow.
Now I’m a fan. When the Commuter Dude’s stuff appears on my TV set, I’ll stop and pay attention.
I’m especially a fan of this as an interesting alternative to the drumbeat of mayhem and breaking “news” that remains the common currency of local TV. Maybe the Commuter Dude isn’t covering an issue in my neighborhood. But whatever its location, I can relate. I can’t relate to garden-variety fires and traffic wrecks because they all sound and look the same.
The Commuter Dude is a guy named John Gerard. Gerard is a low-key, self-effacing guy to whom the word “dude” is a natural description (not in the classic Western sense, but in the “hey dude” 2000s sense). Gerard mostly shoots his own video on an eggplant-cam. He has an abundance of material to cherrypick from his inbox / tip jar.
But his job isn’t easy. Covering hiccups in signage, traffic lights, traffic engineering and asphalt can turn quickly into one-note storytelling. Gerard strives mightily to avoid that, and succeeds more often than not.
Gerard does so by exploiting characters who gripe about “craters,” as he typically calls potholes. This guy was amusing because he referred to watching WXIA during the “dark ages” of weatherman Johnny Beckman. (Many would argue that those free-spending years were actually an age of enlightenment, but I’m not going to quibble…)
This woman was amusing because she kept referring to Gerard as the “computer dude.”
And in this piece, Gerard actually went to court with a motorist who’d been ticketed for disregarding a “no left turn” sign that had disappeared from an intersection. The court threw out the case. Gotta like any TV news goon who actually helps right a wrong. Gerard does this stuff all the time.
Gerard’s involvement in fixing trouble spots results in a lot of first-person reporting and writing. This can be an awkward device. It would be obnoxious in a more ego-driven personality. Gerard isn’t much of a chest-thumper, thankfully.
Which is part of the reason why I’m a fan.