Friday, December 31, 2004

The Year in Weird

Dash it all! Aught Four is just about gone and I’ve yet to finish my Year in Review…Trouble is, my yearly day planner is bursting at the seams with more absurdities than I could possibly ever truncate into a single list. Sure, I’ve covered dumpster diving, crazed girl scouts and killer trucks - but we’ve yet to even scratch the surface! Blame it on The Job. Twelve months of squinting through a TV news lens easily provides enough episodes of oddity to make even the numbest among us sit up and take note, especially those of us prone to diarrhea of the keyboard.

So with any further adieu, I give you a half dozen more pit-stops in The Year in Weird.

My heart still goes out to the K-9 officer who plowed his squad car into a tree during a February snowstorm. When I rolled up on scene with camera in tow, he looked like he wanted to climb the highest branch to hide from my lens. I did my best to make it brief, knowing the only people in the world more ruthless on their buddies than wise-ass photogs are the guys and gals behind the badge. I don’t even wanna know that officer’s new nickname, or what kind of payback he might have for me the next time I stumble across him at a crime-scene.

I toured the N.C. State A&T farm in March for a series of photo-ops spotlighting alternative farming. Amid the gourmet mushroom enthusiasts and hippie gardeners were a clutch of ball-cap impresarios boasting of a healthier, tastier hog. Being from DownEast, I took their claims with a grain of salt (and a side of hush-puppies). But true to their word, the bacon they served me there outside the pig-sty were indeed the flanks of dreams. The texture and flavor of the specially-harvested meat filled my senses with carnivorous splendor, despite the overwhelming stench of hog droppings that permeated everything around me. Mmmmm - Bacon.

It was towards the end of May that I found myself swarmed by thousands of rabid Fantasia fans, writhing in wild-eyed abandon as their Queen ascended to the throne of American Idol. A life behind the lens has afforded many front-row seats to spectacle and fervor, but little of it compares to the unbridled euphoria present that night at the Greensboro Coliseum. When Ryan Seachest (finally) did say the F-word, the place erupted with the kind of zeal not found in nine out of ten pulpits. All I can say is, thank God she won.

It was emotion of a slightly different kind at the National Academic League national finals in April. While the brainiest of kids from Kernersville Middle School dueled to the death with a school half a nation away via video teleconference, I huddled with the parents in the other room. As they watched their children answer tough questions on the closed-circuit monitor, I filled my viewfinder with priceless close-ups of soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads hanging on their every word. A proud parent myself, I can relate. But the way one Dad’s forehead veins were bulging, well - it’s enough to make a cameraman wish he wasn’t CPR qualified.

A week or two later intrepid reporter Erik L and I trekked southward to the town of Robbins, to take the community’s pulse on their favorite son. With rumors that Kerry would soon pick John Edwards as a running mate reaching a feverish pitch, we were sure it would be a slam-dunk. It wasn’t. Seems the fine folk of Robbins already had their fill of camera-toting interlopers and didn’t care to comment, thank you very much. Despite loitering outside every town landmark with microphones and smiles, we barely scraped up enough responses to fill a sixty second report. Eventually, we ended up at the post office, where we shot Erik’s on-camera segment in front of a sun-bleached photo of Robbin’s most famous defense attorney. Not wanting to be like every other camera crew that used the familiar backdrop, I forgot to white-balance the camera and the footage came out a painful shade of blue. How’s that for innovation?

In June, a mother of a wash-out flooded homes and businesses just outside the Rockingham city of Eden. Residents wrung out ruined possessions and scraped away the ubiquitous post-flood mud as I dragged around a camera and one monster of a head cold. All the hallmarks were there - destroyed homes, missing pets, talkative victims. But with a head full of antihistamines, I mumbled my way through the proceedings with the air of a bored stereo salesman. Funny thing though, despite having slept-walked the particular flood zone, my report that night sizzled with life and loss. Perhaps I HAVE been doing this too long.

But what ELSE would I do? With a limited attention span, sore shoulder muscles and glaring lack of sheepskin, I’ll probably never be a Giant of Industry. No, it’s probably best I keep chasing deadlines. Besides, what other field would offer such an all-access pass to life as we know it? Auto Repair? PFFFFT - I can’t even change the oil in my wife’s car. But I CAN tell you what the meth labs smell like, who gets to wear the fanciest helmet at your average ground-breaking, where not to park at the midnight homicide. It’ll never make me rich. But who needs money when Bigfoot takes a hostage and no one’s allowed past the barricade except me and a few of my lens-swinging buddies?

I’ll tell him you said hello. For now though, Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Just wondering, what DO meth labs smell like? I have heard "cat pee" or chemical ...

The apartment underneath my daughter's was putting out some ACRID stench and it was coming up through the carpet and floor ... a bunch of guys who only speak spanish lived down there ... illegals ... they said through the maint guy who barely speaks english that they had "burned a pan of beans" but it smelled nothing like burning food or tobacco or weed ... or cat pee ... it just smelled like realy strong chemical (not ammonia either). They were acting freaky about it but my daughter wouldn't let me call the police because she was afraid ... they moved out a few days later and no one else has moved in.

I was just curious what meth labs smell like, and wondering if i should have called the law.

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