On the road again

Published 9:51 am Tuesday, November 21, 2017

MURFREESBORO – His voice is recognizable immediately, the cadence of his words rising and falling in a mesmerizing rhythm. He’s surrounded by artwork on the walls and bookshelves while a group of people sit in front listening as he speaks.

This is the “Tar Heel Traveler” himself, otherwise known by his given name Scott Mason, at his book signing hosted by Murfreesboro’s Cultivator Bookstore here Thursday evening.

The WRAL television journalist’s newest book, “Faith and Air: The Miracle List,” came together from stories during his travels across the state—a collection of miracles his interview subjects had shared over the years. These miracles didn’t usually make it on air during his Tar Heel Traveler segments, but they interested Mason enough to return for follow-up interviews to satisfy his own personal curiosity.

“I just thought those stories were really fascinating,” Mason said during his presentation before the book signing got underway. “So I went back and interviewed them. And that’s sort of what the book became. Plus it’s kind of a memoir too. It’s like me covering the story.”

Helen Bridgers of Conway chats with Scott Mason as he signs a copy of his latest book.

Though Mason talked a bit about his new book, as well as his previous two detailing several Tar Heel Traveler trips, he also delighted the crowd by sharing stories of different people and places he’s covered since the popular segment began airing at the end of WRAL’s 5:30 p.m. evening news broadcast 10 years ago.

“When you walk into a place to do a story, you’re never actually quite sure what you’re going to find,” Mason said before showing a brief clip of a lively older lady, part of a quilting group he was featuring, whose every word was “hysterical.”

“Great characters make great stories,” he continued.

Several clips that followed—one on the “Barefoot Man” in Nash County, another featuring two-foot tall artist/motivational speaker Monique Johnson from Greensboro, and yet another on concrete sculptor Emmett Sniff from Pender County—highlighted some of those amazing characters which have made Mason’s short videos so interesting.

Mason also spoke about what goes on behind the scenes to create each video.

He and photographer Robert Meikle interview and shoot footage for several stories over the course of a few days. Though the book signing event was held Thursday evening, Mason and Meikle had already spent the day filming for three upcoming stories. Two of those will feature Northampton County (Claudine’s Restaurant in Rich Square and Dr. John Stanley of Woodland) and the third will cover the Cultivator Bookstore itself. As they make their way back to Raleigh, they’ll film two more in Halifax County.

Once back at the television station, they work to edit the video and audio together, and then cut it down to the finished two-and-a-half-minute long product. Mason estimated between interviewing, writing, and editing, they spend about 10 hours minimum on each story.

Mason said they are now approaching almost 2,000 Tar Heel Traveler stories total.

“I always say stories with layers are the best kind,” Mason explains, “where you think the story is about one thing, and then, all of a sudden, it veers off unexpectedly.”

The clip Mason concluded with was a good example of how unexpected stories sometimes fall into his lap. They had spent a whole day shooting a variety of interviews on Ocracoke Island and were about to head back to the hotel for the night, Mason said, when they stumbled across a crowd of people watching the sunset. He and Meikle pulled out their microphones and camera to capture both the moment and the people as they experienced the beautiful view.

That simple story ended up being the best one of the trip, according to Mason.

After his presentation, Mason sat down to sign books and chat with the people who had come to the bookstore. He didn’t mind taking the time to write a short, personalized note for each person who came through the line.

“I love his books,” said Ruth Anne Flanagan who said she was excited to attend the event. “It’s good to hear from him personally talk about the stories that I’ve seen him cover on WRAL. He’s very inspiring.”

Caroline Stephenson, owner of Cultivator Bookstore, expressed her excitement about hosting the Tar Heel Traveler book signing event.

“We try to offer new, exciting, different things for the public,” she said. “We’re very glad to have Scott Mason here. We’re glad he took time out of his busy schedule to come to Murfreesboro.”

Cultivator Bookstore, located at 301 East Main Street in Murfreesboro, offers an eclectic mix of books—even some written by or about local people—for readers to choose from. They host a variety of events, including 4-H club meetings, ESL classes, workshops for children, yoga, and more. The space also functions as a makeshift art gallery with artwork from local residents on display, adorning the walls of Murfreesboro’s only bookstore.

Mason said the Tar Heel Traveler segment featuring Cultivator Bookstore will most likely air on WRAL sometime in January. Each of his previous videos can be viewed on WRAL.com or at thetarheeltraveler.com.