I was leaning on Unit 4’s back bumper and daydreaming when the blasted cell phone rang.
“Green van, green van!”
The edge to Danny’s voice told me as much as his two repeated words. Instantly awake, I lunged toward my tripod and wrapped myself around it. As I did, the chain link fencing across the street roared to life. By the time it began to lurch leftward, I was at one with the lens, pressing my flesh into the rubber eyepiece and flipping switches by feel. Inside the viewfinder, the tiny blue and white monitor felt like a movie screen as it loomed just inches from my eye. I rode the focal tube until the snowy blue static morphed into a clear picture of the retracting metal gate. As it slid out of frame, the stylized grill of a late-model minivan broke through the shadows, until the shimmering windshield filled the screen. With a surgeon’s touch I widened my shot, steadily tracking the government vehicle as it poked its nose into downtown traffic. When it turned before me, sunlight glinted off the tinted windows just right and I caught the slumped profile of the backseat passenger. Yahtzee! - I thought as the van disappeared into a sea of brake lights and bumper stickers. When it rounded the corner, my cell phone rang.
“You get him?” Danny asked.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “orange jumpsuit and all.” I could hear the satisfaction in his voice as his car’s door alarm pinged in the background. “See ya back at the ranch.”
I thought about The Job all the way back to the station. As cinematic as I like to make it sound, my chosen gig can be most mundane. Just ask my pal Danny, who spent the better part of the day loitering outside the Federal Courthouse, his camera trained on a certain back door. Fully aware of who he was waiting for, the veteran photographer’s initial disgust faded to an echo as the hours slowly passed. By the time the heavy brown door finally opened and detectives ushered out a shackled figure in bright orange, the photog in Danny no longer cared what the bad guy did. The only thing that mattered was keeping the detainee in question crisp and centered as the Federal Agents placed him into the waiting van. Danny did just that and twelve seconds after the men emerged, his all-day photo-op was suddenly over. That’s when he dialed my number to let me know that the police chief accused of distributing child pornography was heading my way.
But that’s what’s so endearingly weird about my craft. The most unlikely of scenarios spools out with alarming regularity, until you promptly stop paying attention. We focus so much on the framing, that the miscreants and grandstanders at center-stage become part of the background. Just when you think you’ve shot it all, a variation on a theme crops up and you find yourself forging new ground in assorted repetition. Today, a career cop facing the most heinous of claims was the image in demand. Tomorrow, it may very well be Chuck E. Cheese.
And you ask why I blog?