Be it a puffed up rent-a-cop or a pissed-off homeowner, people ain't breakin' out the welcome wagon quite like they used to. Just ask WFTV reporter Leland Vittert, whose sculpted hair-do was recently saturated with tap water in the line of duty. Seems the lady behind the door didn’t wanna play ball with the newsmaker, so she flung a pitcher of water his way and bestowed him with internet immortality in the process. Surely there’s more to the story, but then again, hostile receptions are all part of the gig when you’re (under)paid to pierce the heart of darkness...or stir up some smack for the evening news - whichever be the case. I just hate when my camera and I get dragged into it.
Early in my career, I rushed lens-up into a corner garage with a female reporter who was bent on avenging her roommate’s botched fuel pump replacement. It got dumb quick. As she hissed accusations at the towering mechanic in my viewfinder, I got the distinct feeling my partner didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. What followed was a bowing up of the redneck variety, one in which thick-necked grease monkeys in Nascar t-shirts poured out of the back and into our face. Seconds later, the front door slammed open as the in-house pit crew escorted the little reporter lady and her dopey cameraman out of the garage and across the gravel parking lot. Back in the news car, heated words were exchanged between members of the media. I never did get to the bottom of the whole fuel pump debacle, but I did learn a powerful lesson that day. Only fools rush in.
Then there was the time I was in an outlying county on a drug round-up when the deputies led the scariest hillbilly family by in handcuffs. Most freaky was the family matriarch - a beady-eyed little granny facing crack-trafficking charges, who glared angrily into my lens as she filed past in shackles. Hoping she hadn't already vexed me with some kind of backwoods outhouse voodoo, I positioned myself to get a better shot of her and her clan as they made their return trip. When Grandma CrackPipe saw me lying in wait, she nudged her oversized nephew, a lumbering giant who seemed to be missing a few fairly important chromosomes. Still, he had enough of his D.N.A. strand intact to dig deep and come up with the biggest, nastiest loogie ever captured on videotape. When he passed back by my position he let it fly - and the lethal concoction of snot, Mountain Dew and tobacco juice warbled in slow-motion right for me. Mercifully, the inbred saliva projectile fell just short of full-contact splashdown and only a little spittle struck the very center of my lens. Instinctively, I racked focus to highlight the hillbilly spit running down my camera's eye. Later, we ran that shot on-air so much the machine’s spinning heads stretched the tape.
One of the more memorable front porch encounters happened just a few years ago to a couple of friends of mine. Tara Defrancesco, a tall, well-accessorized reporter who’s since left the business, was turning a story on a local firefighter accused of embezzlement. In what’s become as common practice, photojournalist Kenny D set up his camera on a tripod across the street while Tara climbed the firefighter’s porch, wireless microphone in hand. Sheepishly at first, the firefighter came to the door to see what the familiar face from the evening news could possibly want with an innocent public servant like himself. As Tara explained she was hoping for an interview, the firefighter stepped out onto hs porch. Across the street, Kenny D leaned into his viewfinder and looked for the red light that told him he was indeed recording the still civil scene.
That’s when the firefighter's wife burst out of the front door and in a finishing move worthy of professional wrestler, pushed Tara to the ground. To her credit, Tara regained her high-heel balance, retained her composure and strolled back to Kenny and his camera, half-grinning in bewilderment all the way. Of course we had great fun with that piece of tape back at the shop. It aired repeatedly, made the wife and firefighter look like the white trash they were and prompted me to almost send Jeff Foxworthy an addendum to his trademark schtick:
"If you’ve ever pushed down the nice reporter lady ’cause your husband’s sticky fingers got him on the evening news, you might be a redneck."