Saturday, September 09, 2006

Looking for Lost Boys (part 1)

By the time I got to Danbury, the hunt for the two White boys was four days old. In that time the foothills community of 106 had grown to seven times that number, its thin twisting roads choked with pick-up trucks full of canoes and mountain men. Most nodded at my passing logo as dawn broke over town. Cresting a hill, I saw the upturned satellite dishes in the distance and eased off the gas. The TV truck encampment at the far end of the lot was just a small part of the haphazard fleet surrounding the Danbury Volunteer Fire Department - epicenter of the search. I found a wedge of muddy grass to park in out back and left my gear in the car. Walking up the humble building’s sloped yard, I wove a thread through the emergency vehicles, jeeps and SUV’s. A sleepy bloodhound yawned at me from the bed of an F- 150 as the crusty driver eyed me narrowly over his morning dip. Another clutch of locals with creased faces and camouflage hip waders took in the new TV dude as I made my way up to the broadcast lights. Stationed just a few feet from each other, three separate news crews went live for their respective morning shows. The dimly lit fire station stood in the background as the three attractive females peered into their partner’s lenses, their voices blending into a twisted litany of facts and innuendo.

“Of course four year old J.W. and three year old Jacob White have been missing since Tuesday afternoon when they wandered away from their Grandparent’s homes…”

“More than 700 volunteers have turned out for the search, everyone from police department dive teams to lady auxiliary clubs to cadaver dogs and their handlers…”

“After finding absolutely nothing, searchers are re-focusing on the nearby Dan River, which was swollen with rainwater the day the two boys disappeared.”

As the reporters drone on, I scanned the growing crowd and traded whispers with a bored cameraman. He’d been on scene since the beginning, knew all the players and the best places to eat. To hear him tell it, the story was all but over. ‘Takes three days for bodies to surface,’ the veteran of countless drowning scenes said. “You goin’ to breakfast with us?”


Mercifully, the Toyota turned. It first blew by me five minutes earlier, the three bright kayaks stuffed in the bed catching my attention. Eager to get the day started, I pulled out behind it and gave chase. Back at the fire department, the morning crews were hunched out over take-out plates and chatting up the locals. I meanwhile was on the hunt for fresh video, something to use for the noon update my bosses were already urging viewers not to miss. It had been slim pickings, even after the individual teams began fanning out across the fifteen mile search zone. Thus, the speeding blue Toyota was essential prey. As it shot down a straight stretch of Dodgetown Road, I did my best to keep up, desperate for something, anything to commit to disc. But the blue speck ahead only grew smaller. I was beginning to think the driver was trying to lose me when the truck’s bright red brake lights signaled his intentions.

Ninety seconds later, I threw Unit 4 into park and scrambled to lift the tailgate. As I lifted my camera out of its case, the Toyota’s doors opened and three swarthy locals tumbled out. By the time they lay a hand on the kayaks in the back, I was hovering over them, my giant lens inches from the well-worn life-vests. I remained silent and so did they. When they hoisted their small tapered boats over the shoulders and walked into the woods, I held my camera low and tagged along, abandoning my tripod by the side of the road. The boaters continued to ignore me as I switched up angles, changing the camera’s position every fifteen seconds in a continuous attempt to flesh out the storyboard in my head. I’d bagged about five or so shots when the men slid into their streamlined craft and pushed their weight across the water. Wrapping my arm around a tree, I steadied up my lens and cursed my tripod’s absence as the bright red boats zipped off across the roiling Dan River. Through the viewfinder, the scene looked like the opening of a beer commercial like a beer commercial, not the fourth dismal launch of a grisly expedition. A buzzing sensation on my hip broke me from my lens’s trance.

“Heads-up Stewie,” Joe said from the doorway of our sat truck. “Looks like a bunch of K-9’s are heading your way…”

Fifteen minutes and a few more miles passed before I once again fired up my camera. This time I was high above the river, leaning against my tripod in the narrow shoulder of a rickety bridge. Every time a speeding truck bounded over its concrete expanse, I could feel the pavement subtly sway with the impact of the weight. A strange sensation when your pressed against the eyepiece, staring at a distant spot hundreds of yards away. It was all I could do not to wince with each passing car, but doing so ruined my shot and I hadn’t schlepped my gear all the way uphill just to sightsee. Instead I honed in on a flash of orange down own the riverbank until the cadaver dog in a safety vest drew into view. Behind him, the bloodhound’s handler called his name, prompting the animal to look back in annoyance - or so it looked from my high perch up on the overpass. Either way, the highly compressed vista was just what I needed for the upcoming noon live shot - even if the series of shots signified nothing in the long run. It wasn’t closure I was seeking, but rather, simple exposure. I was wondering what I might bag next when the cell phone beckoned.

“Stew, Kenny. Can you come back and edit for Brent? Some guys just tore out of here with yellow tape and I’m gonna check it out.”

(Tomorrow: Dreaded Resolution)

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