Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Escape from Chocowinity

By 1995, I was withered and torn from the mindless grind of making news five nights a week. Recalling fondly my formulative months in of production, I took my TV skills down the hall. What followed was a turbulent two year career in Promotions - that internal department vested with projecting, branding and embellishing the affiliate’s image both on-air and off. I regretted the move almost immediately. Quite frankly, cranking out tripe for the man left me hollow and spent. Eventually I staged a daring escape to a larger market, freeing myself forever the shackles of corporate camera servitude. Since then I’ve worked hard to forget that time, but a few memories of action and angst will always stick with me. Like…

Rolling a big red barrel stuffed with postcards over a warped studio floor so a catatonic weatherman could sleepwalk through one more post-forecast grand prize drawing. Huddling just off-screen with stopwatch and praying he wouldn’t mangle the winner’s name again. Cringing every time he did.

Corralling hundreds of high school seniors together in stifling heat as fellow production grunts struggle to keep antique cameras going for one last wide shot. Cajoling college dean through his six words of on-camera dialogue. Suppressing rage when ass-hat GM repeatedly apologizes to crowd for the fact that I was wearing shorts.

Working for weeks on a campaign to promote GM’s latest slapdash scheme. Nodding emphatically as Pinpoint Mobile Weather van concept was explained. Stifling concern as ballyhooed vehicle arrives at station in the form of stripped Ford Aerostar. Learning the power of hype when the silly thing becomes minor sensation.

Scrambling to produce quick-turn promos on station’s ongoing hurricane coverage. Trying to get used to spacious office as heartless boss dictated latest whim over speakerphone. Watching with envy as old news buddies broadcast live from storm-lashed coast. Realizing I’d made a horrible mistake.

Backpedaling over horseshit as jacked-up cub scout troop showers my lens in fresh taunts and frozen tootsie rolls. Trying not to get run over by Santa’s float as the director in my headset screams for a shot. Wiping out hard when hippie grip girl behind me gets distracted and wraps camera’s cord in a passing elf.

Attempting to ignore jiggling Budweiser girls as local basketball star mumbles incoherently into my lens. Sighing with relief as tuxedo-clad anchor breaks in to mention tote board for the twenty-seventh time that hour. Shifting from foot to foot in hopes of ending fiery lumbar pain. Swearing off telethons forever.

Collapsing in cushy office chair after an extended seafood buffet lunch, happy that boss and chief lackey were out of town. Pushing aside paperwork and gathering shoot tapes. Retreating to soothing confines of dimly-lit edit bay for soul-cleansing edit session. Receiving phone call from receptionist that the platoon of girl scouts I’d forgotten about scheduling had just arrived for their station tour.

Staring at GM’s massive aquarium as he droned on and on about all I didn’t know from the jaunty perch of his in-office dentists chair. Fixating on bosses beloved fish as fellow department heads chuckle and nod at station head‘s smug soliloquy. Digging my nails into my palm as floating menace stared back. Seriously contemplating Piranha-cide.

Okay, so I never did kill that damn fish. Instead I slunk away to the comparative sanctum of midnight murder scenes, county commissioner temper tantrums and flipped-over semi's on the interstate. That’s been ten years ago this September and while my return to news hasn’t been total bliss, it sure has provided better fodder than the tortured sacraments of a junior executive. May I never sell out again.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Kisses and Curses

Danger AheadSpend enough time behind the wheel of a marked news unit and you’ll elicit every type of reaction possible - from the adoring gaze to the pantomimed death threat. I’m not sure which one skeeves me out the most. On second thought, I do. When the driver next to me is thrusting their middle finger upward and mouthing obscenities at 70 miles per hour, I get it: they hate me - or at least what they think my logo represents. Sure I could try to explain how that dreaded ‘F word’ on my hood has little to do with the perceived evil cabal they’ve deleted from their cable line-up, how I’m more likely to profile Easter bunnies than demonize the far left, how I’m probably the most apolitical member of the Fourth Estate they’ll ever meet - but what good would that do? I may as well try to convince a Guilford College student that regular hygiene will still be in style l-o-n-g after the angry shepherd look falls out of fashion. Yep - seething hatred I can handle with great aplomb - though I once did almost cause a VW bug full of hippies to run off of the interstate by returning their vitriolic shrieks with gooey kissy faces.

Wide-eyed adulation however, throws me for a loop. Hey, it’s perfectly normal for a passing motorist to gun the engine to see if the news car up ahead contains that guy with the hair they see in their living rooms every night. But nine times out of ten, all they see is some bearded nobody polishing off the last of his dollar menu cheeseburger while staring holes through his windshield. A look of disappointment I understand; fevered waving and ecstatic shout-outs make me slowly reach for the power-locks. I remember once when I pulled into a corner gas station in a very small town. Lost in thought as always, I proceeded to fill up the tank when that unmistakable sensation of being watched caused me to look over my shoulder. There, standing in a semi-circle around me, was a collection of good ole country folk with wide eyes and scarier grins. Seems they’d never seen an honest to God news car before - let alone some scruffy dude in a wrinkled Hawaiian shirt. By the time my tank was full, I’d signed autographs, kissed a few babies and fondled the 9-1-1 pre-set button on my cell phone. Watching my new best friends grow smaller in my rearview mirror, I made a mental note not to stop there the next time I was blowing through town with an anchor riding shotgun.

Yeah, I’d much rather someone just flip me off…

With Great Dread

While I craft winking features on marathon basketball games, Ken Corn covers the kind of story that keeps you up at night...

You never know what to expect when you're a photographer working the night shift on a Saturday night in a city as large as Charlotte. I've pointed my lens at riots erupting in uptown after a New Year's Eve countdown. I've witnessed the aftermath of a shoot out between two rival gangs at a neighborhood block party. I've seen more twisted metal and broken glass piled high in city streets than your average tow truck driver. Yeah, you just never know what kind of images you will record when covering the news on a Saturday night.

Reporter Frances Kuo and I had just wrapped up an eleven o'clock live shot at a DWI checkpoint when my cell phone started ringing. Our work shift usually ends after the eleven o'clock show. But more often than not, we have to visit another crime scene or two before we can turn in the live truck keys for the night. Knowing the ringing box on my hip probably meant there was a scene somewhere waiting for us, I hesitated to unclip it from my belt.

I did not expect the words that flowed out of the electronic speaker pressed to my ear.

"We have a cop shot, up off of Milton Rd."

News photographer auto pilot kicked in when my brain registered the magnitude of the sentence I just heard. I handed the phone over to Frances so she could write down the details while I looked for the next exit off of the beltline. I could feel adrenalin seeping into my blood stream making my foot heavy on the gas petal. My mind started running scenarios of what we should do when we arrived on scene. We needed to find witnesses to interview. I needed to capture officers and other emergency workers rushing to the scene with my lens. Frances needed to find the public information officer to confirm the information our assignment editor had heard over the scanner. We needed to be on the scene right now instead of twenty minutes away.

Continue reading With Great Dread...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Navel Gazing Ahead...

Viewfinder BLUES Home OfficeIf readers of this blog get the notion I’m one melancholy bastard, they should consider themselves perceptive. Plagued with self-doubt, stricken with introspection, addicted to apathy - I’m guilty of ‘em all. It started in my childhood. Devoid of athleticism and ripe with reticence, I plodded through my youth with the growing knowledge that failure just might be my strong suit. Sure, I could always make the girls laugh, but rarely - if ever - could I make them swoon. My teachers were equally vexed - pulling me aside at regular intervals to remind me I still wasn’t living up to my potential. None of this I blame on my parents. They did the best they could with a kid who never could seem to get very psyched about success. When adolescence hit, I giddily embraced my new excuse for being sullen. Cigarettes, truancy, and a mountain of THC followed. Before I knew it, I’d blossomed into a red-eyed hoodlum wannabe - albeit one with a better vocabulary than the rest of the losers fumbling for ecstasy in the back of a Trans-Am. By all accounts, I should have followed my gifts for indifference into a life of factory work, acid-washed denim and petty crime. But Mama taught me better. On a whim I joined the Navy, met the love of my life and conned my way into the local TV station.

So why am I telling you this? Hell, I don’t know. I merely made a pot of coffee, locked myself in my upper lair and threw myself into a trance. That’s what writing feels like to me - during the good times, anyway...that dreamlike sensation of watching my fingertips dictate my interior voice - the voice that has always been there - even back when I was unsure of everything around, about and inside of me. For the most part, those days are gone. I sit before you a working journalist with a nice house, a fantastic wife and two wonderful daughters who confound and enchant me on a daily basis. Were I struck by a bus tomorrow, I’d breath my last gasps knowing that somehow, I’d won the game of life. But it ain’t that simple. While mildly successful at what I do for a living, I - like everyone else on the planet - yearn for so much more. Not material possessions, mind you. I don’t lay awake at night coveting my neighbor’s new speedboat. Nor do I hunger for any degree of renown. I know way too many marginally famous people to ever think happiness comes with being recognized at the Food Court. No, I ache to simply write. To make love with words and perhaps leave something behind that will better explain my thoughts and actions to any descendants. I'm telling ya, life would be a whole lot simpler if all I wanted was a pair of jet-skis.

‘So, write!’ you say. For the past five years or so I’ve done just that - first with turgid short stories, then serial message-boarding and finally this very blog. It has been my salvation. Always one to marvel over simple written words, I knew from the moment I first learned to read that scribbling my thoughts made me happy. I just wish I’d gotten around to it earlier. At a young age, it occurred to me I expressed myself best on paper - but I thought everyone did. As a boy, my Uncle Jennings - a man of words himself - made a big deal over a letter I’d penned. I doubt he remembers it, but I sure as hell do. In the Navy, I earned the nicknamed ’Poet’ - after foolishly drooling over a particularly eloquent paperback passage to my porno-watching shipmates. As a rookie photog, I jumped at the chance to write my own scripts and not just to get away from vapid reporters. When I first moved to the Piedmont, I began haunting the periphery of local writer groups in hopes I’d learn the secrets of journaling. I didn’t. It took 35 years and one mother of a professional slump to force me to sit down and transcribe my more linear thoughts. I’m so very glad I did, though I foolishly assumed it would only get easier. It hasn’t. I still struggle with what in the hell I’m trying to say and lately, I delete more than I share. But don’t worry. I ain’t depressed; I’m just me. If writing truly is in my blood, it only makes sense that I occasionally have to open a vein. Sorry if I got any on ya.