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On the main floor, the waiting continues. TV crews approach crowd management much as the airlines do. When a large group of people is facing an indeterminate waiting period, keeping them fed is a good strategy for keeping the peace. To that end, a table in the holding area has plenty of fruit and Frito-Lay products. Later, a production assistant will watch the crowd at lunch. His job is to make sure everyone gets a sandwich.
The show's participants receive further instructions: Don't look into the camera, stand here, face this way. The show's stars, Curt Doussett (host of the Discovery Channel's Hazard Pay and sometime actor; he did an episode of Touched by an Angel) and Kinga Philipps (Current TV, Austin Powers in Goldmember), are taped as they walk beneath the giant American flag that hangs from the rafters. They feign casual conversation, the kind you might have while waiting on a train platform, and ignore the stares of the few early morning coffee drinkers in the Parisi Café.
Flacks keeps one eye on his hosts and the other on the holding area. "This is our chance to dig deeper and pick one lost treasure from Kansas City," he says. "It's always one of my favorites when I don't have a sense of whether something is valuable. We take it to the experts, and it could go either way."
It takes 22 minutes to get the first shot set up. When the crew is ready, empty coffee cups are taken out of camera range, and someone says four words: "OK, we are rolling."
Doussett listens to a woman in a denim jacket. He's telling her that the item before them is a railroad key. This bit of exposition is for the audience.
"We're here in Union Station. It's one of the oldest and largest in the United States," he says. "It's kind of coming back to the museum. Think they can get you to leave it here?"
The woman demurs, and the segment ends on an up note as Doussett expresses excitement about the piece. The cameras then zoom in for a series of shots known as "pickups," in which Doussett or an artifact owner holds the object up for the lens to inspect. Flacks watches on a wireless monitor as snippets from other conversations echo through the hall.
A woman in a bedazzled jacket points to a clear plastic sleeve that she's holding. Inside, there appears to be a strand of brown human hair. "We can touch that hair," she says. "That's the only part of another human being that is still there."
The reveals have started. People are learning whether their family's heirlooms are worth inheriting. Those finished taping walk back into the hall at Union Station like teens returning home after blowing a driver's-license test. The morning's camaraderie has given way to uncertainty — not many objects are going to make it to National Geographic's planned history-exhibit tour.
"I guess I'm just like everybody else here, just trying out for it," William Win says when asked why he has come to the taping.
The Navy veteran sits with his arm around a stuffed penguin — not some county-fair stuffed toy but an actual Adélie penguin, about 2 feet tall, mounted to a plaster base. The penguin took its last breath in Antarctica, but he has been a resident of the Midwest for the past 54 years. His journey is only slightly less incredible than Win's own.