Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Blast of Calendars Past

I use to keep up with an organizer, a leather-encased zippered grid of numbered days that held dreams, ideas and a slew of scribbled digits. Over time, this calendar served as a repository of story 'slugs', three-worded phrases that told the documented drama of the day. From Stokes Tornado to Parrot Surgery to Prostitute Round-up, the curt descriptions made for quick, if not colorful referencing. This helps when you're desperately searching for say footage of unfocused kids on far away playgrounds, heavily-cropped beer guts and cigarette smoker close-ups. You know, the kind of stuff you shot on that Tuesday ... three years ago.

Never one to lay down anything as logical as a plan, it never occured to me to jot own any upcoming appointments in my battered organizer. Mine was a private stash of recently recorded history, crude doodles and scribbled show notes - not a scratchpad for upcoming plumber visits. But as meticulous as I was about my data mining, the entries' brevity began to bother me. Surely there was more to say than the three slurred words I used to encapsulate all those eight hour shifts. Perhaps I could allow my daily downloads a bit more space, room to grow and flourish... A BOOK! Yeah, that's it - a biting, blustery tome about my life behind the lens. I'd call it 'Viewfinder BLUES' and sell a million copies, never wondering why people everywhere were clamoring for the yammerings of a camera toting nobody.

No bother. Before I could dominate the best sellers list, I had to learn to write. Not just stare out the window and think about writing, but actually put ass in chair and line up words in interesting formations. Bereft of any formal training, I took solace in the knowledge that if nothing else, I had the fodder. All I had to do is flip through several years' accumulation of torturous news shifts, inherently weird real-life descriptors that caffeine-addled screenwriting wannabes would sell their Starbucks card for. Sequestering myself in my inner sanctum, I eeked out a few epistles, stuck 'em on my hard drive and waited for greatness to arrive.

While I was waiting, Al Gore and a team of chimpanzees invented the internet. Suddenly, there was a place to ply my lies, if not for a paycheck, at least for chance to actually be read. Heady stuff for a closet memoirist like myself; the very idea of disseminating my thoughts through a technology I didn't stand a chance of understanding rendered me giddy and led me to a place in space called There, the good folk celebrated my exposition and praised my prose, all of which convinced me to keep on writing, even when I didn't particularly want to. I grew to treasure the response I garnered from the on-line readers who sampled my work. I thought launching my own blog might attract even more eyeballs. For once, I was right.

Throughout the year of 2005, I thought about this silly website every freakin' day. And that's great! Writing about my life - something I always knew I'd get around to eventually, has proved most therapuetic. The perspective gained and comments received have done wonders for my pockmarked psyche, granting me the intermittent wisdom to cope with a job that's more than a little thankless. When I began posting my stories on-line, it was an act of near desperation. Emotionally estranged from a job I use to love, ths burnout needed a shoulder to cry on. Through the isolation of my late night keyboarding, I've discovered new friends, grown closer to old ones and acquired a slew of mentors. Consider this New Year's Eve post a personal thank you to all who have given my drivel a moment or two over the past twelve months. If you think this year packed a punch, wait until you see what I have planned for 2006: The Year of Fruition.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to flip through some old calendar pages for story ideas. I remember this one time, a hot summer night crackling with frantic scanner traffic...

Friday, December 30, 2005

Sat Truck Spam Shot

We TV types are insatiable communicators. Whether covering a fevered manhunt or enjoying the finest in potted meat, we simply want to tell you about it. Thus, the above shot from the camera phone of one Joe McCloskey, in which intrepid reporter Chad Tucker goes where too many newsmen have gone before. Seems the part of Stokes County he and Brad Ingram found themselves temporarily stranded in last night was a bit lacking in the culinary department. So they did what any good journalist would do, they raided the dusty aisles of the nearest general store and got about the business of deadline making. Back in the sat truck, Operator McCloskey took exception to Chad's choice of entree, deciding to document the nightside reporter devouring what Joe insisted 'smelled like Alpo'. I'd ask Chad himself how he enjoyed his tin-can dinner, but last time I saw him, he was still chewing...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Super Trooper

Meet Sargeant. A.W. Waddell, one man you don't want to see walking up in your rearview mirror. Actually, this seasoned state trooper is a teddy bear ... a hulking, armed teddy bear who can outdrive most of those Nascar guys, spot a drunk driver from three miles away and recite a list of good places to eat from Murphy to Manteo. These days Sargeant Waddell spends much of his time clipping on microphones and answering silly questions, as any Piedmont news crew who's huddled with him in the breakdown lane can attest. I've quizzed many a law enforcer. This friendly giant is as good as they get.

But I guess that goes with the award-winning uniform. As long as I've been chasing carwrecks (far, far too long), I've been most impressed with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. And I'm not just saying that because they've humored me on so many ride-alongs. I especially enjoy the Public Information Officers, charming, avuncular types who can answer your every question or put you in a crushing headlock, whichever way you direct the conversation. As for Sargeant Waddell, you won't meet a nicer guy - though if he told me to hand him my license, registration and spleen, I'd politely comply.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

2005 in Review - March

Milking the past for a few more posts...

As February turned to March, I got to the business of photog blogging, explaining how happy accidents abound once you simply get In The Groove. Long before Katrina altered our perception of modern hurricanes, I wrote about the swirling maelstrom's star power in The Lure of the Lumbering Cyclops. From there we stepped out back for the staggered backpedaling of a hundred Brown Building Walk-Downs. In Logos in the Wind, I unfurled my collection of high-dollar speeding tickets as a lesson to others (and a reminder to myself to slow down). That's when that New Car Smell invaded my senses and the summer of 1989 washed over my windshield.

By the time I snapped out of that flashback, the police scanners were going crazy. Soon after I found myself loitering by the fire trucks and dodging dirty looks. Again. It was One of Those Days, and writing about it made me feel better. So I jotted down a few notes about the next day's dumb truck wreck in Bent Sheet Metal, described the joy of shooting Easter egg hunts in The Exhaustive Dichotomy. But then the Spot News Gods hurled thunderbolts my way and I once again found myself a Street Corner Specter. An unsavory enough assignment; enough to make me rethink my career path in A Photog Looks at Forty.

Through my stout shot glass, deep reflection and half baked prose, I found a way to deal with the vagaries of the chase. Snapping photos and riffing on them brought many a misadventure into focus, whether I was writing Of Leprechauns and Lounge Lizards, explaining The Politics of Pressers, or admitting that the heavier than ever tripod in my grasp was simply My Cross to Bear. About that time, a tiny but growing readership began to develop around my drivel. Comments, e-mail and increasing linkage fed my ego and engorged my muse. I got so excited at one point I proclaimed 2005 Year of the Blog. Thank God I was right...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tomorrow Doesn't Exist

Here's a tip. If a local TV news reporter calls you to set up an interview, chances are he wants to come over RIGHT NOW. Why so soon? Because news crews don't get their story assignments until around mid-morning on the day they're due. Ideas that begin as three word descriptions on a dry erase board at 9 am regularly air that afternoon as heavily-edited ninety second epics of sight, narration an sound. This quick turnaround is a surprise to much of the general public, though I'm sure most of them have watched TV news sometime in their past. Of course the 'day-of turn' model limits the storytelling possibilities somewhat; it's pretty impossible to replicate what your boss saw on Dateline last night when given only a few hours to do so. Still, my colleagues and I pride ourselves on delivering as sophisticated a vista as possible, given the sometimes unthinkable pace of our production.

All of which makes my class of newsgatherer a rather fractic cat. Continually on the move, we race about in our logo'd chariots at breakneck pace, parking where we shouldn't and often barging in at the last moment, lights-n-lens a blazin'. It's not that we're rude, we're just accustomed to people making way for the almighty press, for it's the rare citizen that will not promptly stop and drop when the big shiny Tee-Vee cameras wanna come over. Something about the thought of invading the region's collective living room 'round dinnertime makes both politician and punk-ass rethink their schedule. Whatever that says about society could be the subject of another post; I'm just documenting what went through my head yesterday when a certain electronics store manager brought a halt to my day before it ever started.

It was one o clock, five full hours before was slotted to air. But having yet to pull the trigger, my reporter and I rolled into the big-box gadget store ready to turn a quick story on iPod security. So you can imagine our surprise when the nice-enough lady behind the counter hit us with the ever dreaded:

"Oh - you're here. I thought you were gonna call. We can't do it today. How 'bout tomorrow?"

After recoiling from the hit, my reporter leaned in firm but polite, reminding the manager she had called several times to confirm the appointment. An slightly annoyed sales assistant piped up from behind a cash register to verify she'd taken our messages. What followed was a tempered debate in the politics of phone tag, whereupon I scanned the laptop aisle while the ladies hashed it out. All remained calm but the store manager didn't seem to understand that the story we had yet to shoot was already being promoted on-air and that we would make it happen with or without her. The manager, whose problem this was not, smiled and shook her head slowly as she repeatedly suggested we just do the whole thing tomorrow.

'Tomorrow doesn't exist' I thought as we gathered our gear and skulked toward the door. In the 24 hour news cycle, what happens the following day couldn't be more irrelevant. The manager, however, moved at the speed of retail; the plight of the local news crew that had banked on her midday commitment was equally unimportant in her overly-lit flourescent world. For what it's worth we found a sister store twelve miles away that was happy to have us. All the countertop kerfluffle really did was rob me of about forty five minutes in the edit suite, time that's priceless to a broadcast burnout like myself.

Speaking of time, I'm out if it. -- Seeya!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Live Truck For Sale

FOR SALE: The one invention most responsible for the slow demise of local TV news. And you can get it on eBay! That's right, with just a click and a drag you can be the first on your block to own your very own live truck! This 2001 diesel-powered ENG Broadcast Van can be yours for a mere $29,999.00 (disgruntled photog NOT included). In all honestly, it sounds like a very good deal ... 42 foot pneumatic mast, remote control pan-tilt unit, rear hydraulic outrigger system ... I just can't figure out how the station that's selling it only put 8700 miles on it. We do that in a single ratings month!

(Special thanks to fellow live truck lover Joe McCloskey for alerting me to this bargain ...)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Return of American Idol

Were it not for my professional relationship with the FOX juggernaut, I probably wouldn't hold much of an opinion on American Idol. But as it is, I'm constantly exposed to the machinations of the globe's most successful talent show. Clay, Fantasia, Randy, Simon, Paula and Ryan ... I've shared air with them all and for the most part come away less than repulsed. Of course the last AI function covered in these hallowed web-pages was the five day Greensboro Audition, a precursor to the upcoming season. During that delirious stretch of late October, I was struck by how the celebrity judges and executive producers raved about the local talent lined up outside the hotel doors. 'Pillow-talk,' I said to myself - but once I removed my lens of cynicism, I had to admit some of the gathered masses had the kind of soaring vocal talent that simply couldn't be denied. (To be fair, there was also a large contingency of people whose lack of singing ability was outmatched only be their delusions of certain stardom, but that was just proof I was indeed on the set of 'American Idol'.)

Now, with the season premiere less than a month away, Idol promos are dotting the programming landscape. Imagine my surprise and delight when I caught a few yesterday during the Panthers' heartbreaking loss to Dallas. Three separate times I spotted Greensboro citizens belting out the requisite show-tunes, some astonishingly good, others delightfully bad. Most promising, one extended cut featured a local guy I met (named Chris ... something) who could very easily Go. All. The. Way. So, should you clear your January calendar as not to miss a single frame of this highly manufactured pablum? My bosses sure would dig it, but I'll be happy if you quietly abide my coverage of said phenomenon - as, like it or not, this promises to be a very 'Greensboro-centric' season of American Idol. Remember where you heard it first...

2005 in Review - February

We now return to our thoroughly predictable look at the year that was...

February kicked off with all the excitement of a moon landing as High Point’s favorite homegirl blew through the city she would so openly disparage in her upcoming book. Heck, if I grew up on the wrong side of Montlieu Avenue, I’d bash it too. But Fantasia remained ever the sweetheart as she made whirlwind rounds from radio station to TV affiliate, all under the watchful eye of my camera. Along the way, it occurred to me that I could turn these daily photo safaris into blog-fodder, as well as material for the evening news. ‘Wait until Greensboro 101 gets a hold of this‘, I thought. Or as Fantasia put it, “yeah-yeaH-yeAH-yEAH-YEAH-YEAH Y-E-E-E-A-A-H-H-H...”

But the second month of the year wasn’t all breathy dispatches from the celebrity front. I tried to explain why photogs are so damn grumpy with Ride-alongs, Ribbon-Cuttings and Rage. In My Time on the Dark Side, I recounted the misery of being a promo hack. I also covered one of my most meaningful assignments with the quiet tale of She Were Soldiers. After offering a few Real World Award Categories, I confessed how sucking at baseball led to a mostly rewarding career behind the lens in Birth of a Photog. If that weren’t enough I outlined my findings in a tersely worded The Extraordinary Madness of Crowds. All that for the price of a click and a drag...

As February progressed, I grew a good deal bolder with my digital camera and turned picture-heavy posts on the many incongruent vistas I encountered on the daily news hunt. One of those that I’m still kinda proud of is From Crisis to Commodity, perhaps because it was an overdue articulation of long-held thoughts. Another such typical gig resulted in Press Conference Zombies. By the time a homely mutt named Bam saved his owner, I was on fire with the blogabilities of my daily gig. But all that self-satisfaction faded away when I woke up in the middle of the night, clicked on-line and discovered one of my biggest literary heroes had put a gun in his mouth and ended and added to his legend by pulling the trigger. I’m still trying to figure that one out...