Monday, May 14, 2007

The One Word

Yellow Tape ShuffleI was just about to bolt from the newsroom for the day when a shadow fell over my cubicle. ‘Hey, on your way home put some eyes on this and call me,’ he said. I didn’t look up. Instead I scoured the Google map the shadow thrust upon for me for any discernable landmarks. Finding a few, I rose from my desk looked at the clock and did the math. 5:10 PM. Not due on my daughter’s soccer field for another ninety-five minutes, I’d have plenty of time to swing by the location before picking up the two dozen juice boxes I’d need to fulfill my duties as ‘Snack Dad’. Besides, I thought as I scanned the address I was suddenly late for, ‘this has to be nothing’.

I was wrong. No less than four police cars blocked the street listed on the crumpled paper now resting in Unit Four’s floorboard. As I drove by, the familiar glint of billowing crime tape told me a prompt u-turn was in order. Two minutes later, I strolled across a busy thoroughfare, my dangling lens and shouldered tripod causing passing commuters to tap their brakes and crane their necks in the direction I was walking. I barely noticed. I was too busy reading the scene before me, comparing its shapes and patterns to the many spot news templates in my head. A clutch of cops gossiping under a tree. Check. Yellow tape strung from street post to mailbox. Check. An ambulance idling with no sign of its driver. Check. Badly-dressed detectives pointing to a ditch-bank. Chiggety-Check. I didn’t need buzzards circling overhead to understand what had happened: someone, had found a body.

The cops looked up in unison as I approached. But when they recognized my silhouette as that of just another news shooter, they resumed their tough-guy banter. Across the street however, another group of people waved me over eager grins. A woman in housecoat, two older men in ballcaps and beard stubble, a boy no more than five years old, clutching a coloring book and crayon box. All stood together on the corner as I joined them, the adults all pointing to a spot in the grass. Following the direction their fingertips, I saw what held their attention so. A crumpled white sheet covered a lump in the grass, the sole of one brown boot visible enough to erase all doubt what lay underneath. One of the men chided me for being late. ‘You been here fifteen minutes ago, you’da seen him without the sheet!’ Looking on, I didn’t regret my tardiness. Besides, even with the body completely covered, my producers wouldn’t put it on the air. I shot it anyway.

After that, I really got busy. From my one tripod spot, I recorded different sectors of the scene in ten second blasts. A detectives straightening his clip on tie as he muttered into a tape recorder, a couple of grannies peering down from a nearby porch, a tow truck driver hooking his chains to a mysterious Town Car. Every scene featured a clue of course, but buried there in my viewfinder, I hadn’t the foggiest what they all added up to. It didn’t matter. All I had to harvest the images, collect shot after shot that together might unravel the mystery and at worst at least prove that I’d been there. That’s when my cell phone began buzzing. First, The Shadow called to tell me he was sending back-up, reinforcements in the way of a night-side crew and their ubiquitous live truck. Next the six o clock producer rang me up, quizzed me for details and asked that I edit something for his newscast that would begin in a scant twenty minutes. Then, a fellow photog called to ask where he should park the live truck when he arrived. As the crisis congealed into commodity, visions of juice-boxes danced in my head.

A few minutes later, it got crowded. A news crew from another station showed up, flipped me a good natured bird and began replicating my steps. There was no sign of my own live truck yet, but colleagues started to materialize on the edges of this small disaster. Behind me, a reporter and a photog who share my logo ambled up with the resigned air of veteran third-responders. Across the way, another El Ocho photog sauntered through the crowd, looking very much like a young Fidel Castro. That vision threw me for a moment, but I shook it off long enough to convince a lady in hair-rollers to tell my camera what she did (or didn’t) see. Fishing my microphone out of a pocket, I stopped long enough to get a shot of the sheeted body, now strapped into a gurney, being placed into the back of a coroner’s van. ‘The canvas is drying’, I thought as I looked around for signs of my live truck. I was just about to call and tell them to step on it, when a uniformed cop mad eye contact with me and mouthed the one and only word that could make me, my colleagues, my cameras and my competitors instantly disappear...



Kenneth said...

Love the story. Tell your POP he is up on my website.

Florian said...

Yep, that one word its just like "Raid" is to roaches... we are outta there..

Another fine job.