Yellow ribbons suddenly flutter at us like so many hands waving welcome. Tony Orlando's legacy to popular culture is everywhere, tied to trees, stop signs, and light posts. We've been lost on winding roads for over an hour, but it's obvious now that we're getting closer to Oak Harbor, home to the 24 service men and women who've just returned from an involuntary two-week vacation in China.

"Who do you think tied all these things?" I mutter.

"Family, girl scouts, prisoners on work release," my companion mumbles. We'll call her Lipstick. A stunning, fast-talking brunette, Lipstick works as a professional, very-high-end hair and makeup stylist. I didn't know Lipstick before we got in a car and drove to Whidbey Island, but we've been getting acquainted. For some reason or other--I don't want to pry--Lipstick can't rent a car, so a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend gave her my name. That's how I found myself behind the wheel of my battered Toyota van, the official assistant and driver to the woman who will shape and define Diane Sawyer's mouth.

Lipstick's talents were not required when 10,000 cheering patriots gathered at the Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor to watch the hostages--sorry, the "detainees" --stroll out on to the tarmac. The last time these 24 men and women got off a plane, the dreaded Red Chinese were waiting. This time, America's heroes-of-the-moment were met by a vast sea of people waving little American flags. When I agreed to drive Lipstick up to Whidbey Island, I had hoped I would be a part of that spectacle. Alas, it was not to be. Good Morning America did not need Lipstick until the next morning.

When we finally pull into the Countryside Inn, it's late--so late, in fact, that we have to wake up the frazzled hotel clerk.

"We've got ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and the BBC here," the weary clerk informs us, "and a couple guys from The Washington Post. We were supposed to have Mike Wallace, but I guess he decided not to come. Smoking or non-smoking?"

"Non-smoking," Lipstick answers, and begins digging through her chic black bag for her credit card.

Settling into our room, Lipstick and I each light a Dunhill. There is no clock, no radio, no cable, no remote control, and insanely enough, no phone. I have a new respect for what journalists suffer out on the road. I mean, no remote? As the late-night news replays the footage of the heroes walking off the plane, I'm drifting off to sleep. Half awake, I watch a wife run toward her husband, lifting a yellow-romper-clad toddler into his arms. A look of wonder on the father's face pierces my heart. It's touching. Or maybe it's the Xanax and several Dixie cups of red wine.

The next day Lipstick and I and the whole ABC team are upgraded to the nearby Coachman Inn (phones! clocks! cable!), a newer hotel close to the naval base. My new friend Lipstick treats me to a fancy hairdo while we wait in our room (and wait, and wait) for someone to tell us where to go and what to do. Finally we get the skinny: Diane has arrived. Lipstick is instructed to go to Diane's suite at 2:45 a.m. to "touch her up," and then at exactly 3:00 a.m., the ABC crew will caravan to the base to conduct interviews with the crew and their families.

"Fifteen minutes," Lipstick sighs, hanging up the phone. "That's all I get? She better not come to the door with her hair in a towel, that's all I've got to say."

At 2:40 a.m., Lipstick slips out of our room and up to Diane's. I'm not invited, so I go out and wait in the van. When Diane and Lipstick come down to the parking lot, Lipstick looks proud of her work--and rightly so. Diane looks very, very blond and much bigger than life, and flashes me a thousand-watt smile as she passes the van. We line up, my battered van directly behind Diane's immaculate white rental, and tear off for the base.

Checkpoint Charlie waves us in. We park in a spray of gravel, grab the makeup kits, and march toward the scene of yesterday's red-carpet welcoming ceremony. Two giant planes are parked inside the cavernous hangar. In between them is a rat's nest of cables, lights, generators, and cameras. For the next three hours this hangar will be the center of ABC's universe. Diane has an exclusive interview inside the cockpit of one of the enormous planes with the pilot who brought the damaged spy plane down safely. NBC, CBS, and FOX are all here, too, but they've been relegated to the far corners of the hangar, dimmed by Diane's dazzling star.

As we set up, three crew members are sitting on folding chairs, staring into cameras, wires in their ears, talking via satellite with Katie Couric in New York City. Because all three are answering questions that we cannot hear, they seem slightly mad. Before they answer each question, the crew members glance over at a short, bespectacled Asian man in a sharp dress uniform standing just outside the shot. Like show biz dogs glancing off-camera for their master's commands, the crew members are watching for signals. I can't quite crack the code, but I am sure that when the man in the sharp uniform puts his ballpoint pen on his nose, they've hit a trouble spot.

"They could do to me what they like," Lieutenant Shane Osborn says about his Chinese interrogators, "but they were never going to get an apology out of me." Ballpoint Pen Man nods approvingly.

Lipstick tosses a lint brush at me.

"I have to do Shane's parents," says Lipstick. "Could you go de-lint Diane?" Oh, right, I'm here to work. I try to pull two minuscule pieces of lint from the bombshell's black blouse, but succeed only in moving them to more prominent positions. Nonetheless, Diane smiles radiantly at me. It's five in the morning and I'm pawing at Diane Sawyer's breasts. I'm not qualified for this. I slink off.

"Are you someone's dad?" I ask an older man getting his nose powdered.

"Yes," he says, "I'm Shane's father."

By this point I've heard the story over and over again: Shane Osborn steadied the plane after it dropped like a rock. Shane Osborn saved the plane and the lives of his crew. Shane Osborn kept his cool and ordered his crew to destroy sensitive data.

"I've wanted to shake Shane's hand all day," I hear myself say to his father.

Her exclusive interview over, Diane descends from the plane and heads for her car. As Lipstick and I begin packing up, I see Shane Osborn and his father striding toward us. "Shane, there's a young lady here who wants to meet you," says his father. Osborn grins and extends his hand. My heart was pounding long after he left. Two days ago I didn't have the faintest idea who Shane Osborn was. Now I know everything about him. Heck, I've met his dad. But that's not why my heart was pounding. And it wasn't because Shane's handsome, or because he landed a spy plane in China, or because he wouldn't say sorry. No, it was only because all the cameras that day were pointed at him. Shane Osborn, my hero. For the moment.