Monday, May 23, 2005

Leveling a Landmark

I intended to tell you about the scheduled implosion of the Burlington Industries headquarters in Greensboro, but a host of other area bloggers have long since weighed in with impressive pics and commentary. With Cone, Chewie and Wharton filing reports before the dust even settled, at least I know I’m getting beat by the best. But take it from an aging deadline junkie, the local blogosphere is already a highly competitive news market. So stand-by as I drop some first hand knowledge of the incident at hand. Just remember, I had a face full of viewfinder while compiling this report...

Leveling a Landmark’, as my station called it, wasn’t so much a planned structure implosion as it was a cameraman convention. With all four affiliates turning out in force, a silent army of still photogs playing shoulder-hockey and a hyped-up throng of curious onlookers wielding camera phones and digi-lens, you would have thought Osama Bin Laden himself had holed up in the old Burlington Industries building. But who am I to talk? Surfing the crowd with lens at the ready, I was a willing practitioner of the continuing team smotherage. Hey, a man’s gotta eat.

Besides, I love this kind of spectacle. Some lament this loss of living history while others merely marvel at the technology of the take-down. Me - I leave my opinions at home. I bring my wireless microphones, blank discs and extra batteries to every assignment, but my true thoughts on the matter stay in the dresser drawer at home. It’s a little thing I call journalism.

Broadcast journalism, to be exact - the kind using cameras, cables and capable colleagues. I’m lucky in that department, as everywhere I looked this morning, I saw a weathered co-worker on the prowl for highlights. Apex predators all, the veteran news-gatherers with El Ocho logos slunk through the crowd, bagging shots and capturing sound as the demolition experts prepared to turn a piece of Greensboro’s past into the site of yet another upscale strip mall.

As the implosion crew took souvenir snapshots, stooped men in ball caps thumbed through yellowed photos of Textile’s past. Mothers pointed children to the hulking structure in the distance and radio deejays babbled into handheld microphones. Nervous Rent-A-Cops paced about while the real sworn officers gossiped by the barricade. I wandered through the teeming masses with one eye hidden, sizing up shots and hitting ‘Record’. Every couple of minutes I’d glance at Danny Spillane, able captain of the ‘Santa Maria’ - his derisive nickname for our aging satellite truck. The half-worried, fully-annoyed look on his face told me things were right on schedule - at least as on schedule as live TV can be.

With only minutes left until detonation, I closed in on my quarry. David Griffin, vice president of the D.H Griffin Demolition, wore my wireless microphone along with four such others. Framing him up in my one inch screen, I kept worrying he’d sneeze, set off a set off a ripple of RF signal and bring the abandoned landmark down before everyone could get clear. That didn’t happen, thankfully.

Instead, Griffin answered questions and hugged friends, working the crowd like a master politician turned conquering astronaut. I got the impression this particular takedown was something of a victory lap for the local company - a high-profile, relatively easy drop for a homegrown organization gone big-time. Their set-up looked complex to me, but this job had to be a cakewalk for the demolition crew that tore down the ruins of the World Trade Center. At least that’s the impression I got after stalking him all morning. Whatever the case, I have to say the Griffins are awful nice people. Just don’t park a building in their way. They’ll get all Wile E. Coyote on your ass…

Finally, after much double-checking and constant warnings to the eager crowd, the demolition crew was ready to get down to the business of structural takedowns. As warning sirens wailed in the distance I leaned into the eyepiece, filling the screen with Griffin and his mother as they hunched over the detonator. I would hold that position until the countdown ended and wait for the all-important reaction shot. No matter that dynamite and wires were about to erase history just over my shoulder, I was honed in on the candy-like button that would bring it all down.

Such is the life of a lowly camera-slug. You get to go to every show, as long as you watch everything through a glassy tube. At least others had my back; from the roof of the Grande Theater to the corner of Hobbs and Friendly, fellow Fox 8 lenslingers zoomed in, focused and rolled on the skeletal remains of a textile giant. As the sirens faded, the countdown began…

“10, 9,8,7...”

When the numbers ran out, Mrs. Griffin jammed a bejeweled finger into the industrial button. Her son reached over and reinforced her grip, setting off a series of carefully-placed bundles of dynamite. Over my right shoulder, staccato booms rang out from within the distant edifice. I wanted to look toward the sound but held my shot, a tight frame of Mother Griffin’s upturned face. When a boom twice as loud as the proceeding ones caused the back of my shirt to ripple, a smile broke across the matriarch’s countenance. Pumping his fists in the air, her son David whooped and cheered - as did the crush of spectators all around us. As a slow motion cloud of ash and dust rolled toward us, I framed a shot of a female security guard jumping up and down like she’s just scored a new living room on The Price is Right. Glancing over my shoulder, I was mildly surprised the building in question was actually gone, a jumbled stack of concrete girders barely visible in the haze. My eras still ringing, I swept the crowd with my lens. As the hard hats high-fived each other and the preservationists wept, I bagged one surreal image after another, mulling over which ones I might pass on to the masses and wondering if the wife would meet me for lunch.

It’s a paycheck.

UPDATE: Weaver files his own report with pictures and video, while Chewie adds her perspective and even more images. Ooh - the synergy!


maxillae said...

Fox was the clear leader in the coverage. I watched and taped the newscasts at every hour. In addition to the best and most extensive coverage, the quality of video was noticeablly superior.

Thanks for your blog which brings clarity and depth to the process. Well done.

Weaver said...

"David Griffin, vice president of the D.H Griffin Demolition, wore my wireless microphone along with four such others........I kept worrying he’d sneeze, set off a set off a ripple of RF signal and bring the abandoned landmark down before everyone could get clear."

OMG, I had just taken a big ol swig of sweet tea when I came across this line....just about had tea all over my monitor!!!

Once again, fine work Stew...I got way too caught up in shooting today...only shot two pix and the short video clip for my blog-plosion.

HockeyPat said...

Great story. Reading it was a blast!

Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

Great coverage of this event, Lenslinger!

D. Hoggard said...

I was one of the weeping preservationists.

Good work, man - good work.

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