Reporter's Notebook: Underneath Oscar's Red Carpet

The red carpet is maroon! Maybe it's the oil from Hollywood Boulevard that seeps through the rug stretched from one block to the next.

In any case, the red isn't so red.

But then again, sometimes covering Oscar (search) can seem like going to the senior prom as a freshman usher. For hours we climb over the flowerpots, dodge the men and women who have the incredible task of transforming the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, all the while standing outside waiting for the hour to interview the movie elite heading into the Kodak Theater (search).

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For blocks in all directions streets are shut down, barricades staggered at intersections with red flashing stoplights. Even those who come to stand on distant street corners hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite star have to pass through metal detectors.

As one fan from St. Louis gleefully exclaims: "This is what it's all about!" While St. Louis may be a bit cold these days, he may not be so chipper after parking himself on a hard wooden bench for the next eight hours.

"I'm supposed to give Tom Cruise (search) a hug for my friend."

That from a woman who claims she's got enough padding to overcome any discomfort for the long sit in the sun. One other problem for our friend from Sylmar, Calif. — her reach down from the fan stands is about six feet. She claims picking Tom up will be no problem, and I have little reason to doubt her; or for that matter, challenge her to practice.

As for the overall scene around the carpet, it can be as odd, but yet as entertaining as most Tim Burton (search) flicks.

Besides the fans who sign up months in advance and then show up before dawn, there are miles of cable that stretch in gutters, around corners and through nearby windows. There are crews and languages from across the globe, cameras of all types and security personnel everywhere.

The media compound grows out of a pothole-laden parking lot that sits behind one of the many Hollywood buildings that last saw a good day during the Johnson administration.

Fast-food cartons from every known outpost in a five-mile radius are strewn in various piles and growing by the hour. The humor and goodwill extends from sleep-weary face to face as we make the two-block walk back and forth from the carpet to the compounds.

This is the back lot of the Oscars, the unseen pictures, stories and people who spend countless hours bringing you the sights, sounds and feel of the Academy Awards, minus the eight hours on a hard bench.