Saturday, June 14, 2008


Mini-MeAs grateful as I am for each and every visit, I write this blog for me. Helps me sleep, you see - knowing I’ve mined the day’s chase for any trickle of wit or glimmer of wisdom. Even when I come up empty, I’m happy to have strapped on the helmet, for far too long I dawdled topside, curious to know what lay beneath, but too distracted to ever start diggin'. Now, after tunneling in a time or ten, this is where I wallow. Hopefully, you've been able to use the ore I've extracted for what fun’s a gusher if you can’t share it with your friends? That’s what I consider you, kind reader - and one can never have too many friends. Let's face it: were my dance card a littlefuller, I wouldn't hole up in my tome-strewn home each evening, staring at a blinking cursor and trying to make it twitch. No - I’d be down at the Elk‘s Club, trying to impress some exec in a fez with talk of yellow crime tape, weather bunnies and bent sheet metal. That ain’t me. I’d much rather loiter in my little lab, wrestle perspective from the daily grind, maybe play a little Tetris. Someday perhaps I’ll monetize these lies; for now it’s awfully inexpensive therapy, discounting all the man-hours involved. God only knows what I could have accomplished down at the lodge in this time. I coulda been Grand Poobah by now!

So here I stew, an aging word nerd, resigned to a life of off-camera glamour as long as it keeps feeding me such fine blog fodder. Others laugh when I tell them the rest of my career is just field research for a book I'll never finish, but I mean it. The images I slather across the region’s living room sets every evening dissipates upon impact. But the pixelated drivel I leave here seems to linger. No one's ever gonna look over my grave and think about that vosot I shot. Even if they do this is time well spent, for through this portal I've developed something the very thing I use to yearn for. A Writing Discipline. When I first logged in here four years ago, I worried about running out of material. More than 12 hundred entries later, I ain't really sweatin' it.. While the ability and the urge wanes on occasion, my compulsion remains acute. I'd like to organize these thoughts, sandwich some of them between a binding and take it to the john. Someday that'll happen. For now however, I gotta get busy if I'm going to maintain my little harangue. Should in the process I grow pissy or befuddled, know I'll be better in a post or two. I may pretend to be prolific, but I'm really just making this up as I go.

Friday, June 13, 2008

One of the Good Guys

I once came within hailing distance of Tim Russert, at the October 2000 Presidential Debate held at Wake Forest University. I wanted to approach him but there were too many network techs between he and I. Not wanting to come off like a small market spaz, I strung cable around his NBC booth all morning with only a few stolen glances. I wish now I'd broken protocol and found a way to shake his hand, for he was one of the few political analysts I could ever stomach. His affable manner and habit of skewering blowhards from either party always, Always held my attention. He also seemed devoid of the bluster that mars so many personalities in my business; he was refreshingly rumpled in an era where on-air talent is measured by the cheekbone. In short, he made proud to be a broadcaster. Not many people I can say that about. We in the media tend to lionize our fallen- but in Tim Russert's case, it's well deserved. Tributes are pouring in, of course, from network honchos and heads of state. For me, though, Mr. Richter says it best.
"There is something intangible about broadcast journalists like Russert. Something that you can't quite put your finger on. Something about them, and how the represent themselves, and information on the air, that makes them magical to watch. Tim was a favorite of mine. His presence on NBC, during the controversial election of 2000. His dogged perseverance on the air, during broadcasts that would last for hours. His perfect balance of objectivity and nuance ... Tim was one of the good guys, in what I consider to be a dark era in journalism ... The general election at the end of the year won't be the same without Tim Russert. And I'm sad he won't be at the helm, guiding me the viewer, through the chaos of it all. 58 is too young to die. Tim deserved to live longer. And we would have been blessed to have him on the air for another year, let alone twenty."
Tim Russert, 1950-2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What Would G. Lee Do?

Road Kill Camera Banner
What would G. Lee do? What should G. Lee do? These are questions I don't ask myself nearly enough, for once upon a time my little fictional photog was up to his mullet in misadventures. Okay, so G. Lee ain't got a mullet. I think, anyway. Truth is, I don't know an awful lot about the guy - besides the fact he's able to do and say things I don't dare. Other than that, I'm not too clear on who my alter-ego's alter-ego is. Is he a rookie shooter - still learning the art of the grab? Is he a crusty vet - sleepwalking through assignments until that one last deadline? Or is he neither - just some tautological camera hack with a bad case of burnout? On second thought, don't answer that last one. Just know that G. Lee's been on my mind lately - whoever he is. Sure, I could sit down and map out the characteristics, traits and habits of my everyman - but if I was capable of that kind of serious research would I still be slingin' a lens for a living? Ya know, forget I mentioned the whole thing, just nod like you're listening as I run through three ready-made scenarios I may actually get around to writing one day...

Queen of the Scene

On-air she was known as Rhonda Swanson, but everyone in the field called her "Cruella". An insensitive nickname, perhaps - but when it came to localized atrocity, Rhonda always got her man. Homicides, fatal fires, Amber alerts - if there was a widow's porch that needed climbing, Cruella was the person you wanted doin' the 'death-knock'. She just seemed to enjoy it - whether wrenching details from a shattered family member or trading slang with the PO-leece downtown, Cruella was happiest when picking at the ribs of fresh tragedy. That didn't really bother our hero so much - until his drunk Uncle Oz killed a man behind the wheel. Suddenly G. Lee finds himself torn between protecting his kinfolk and assisting this insensitive bitch on her newest exclusive...

Hog Killin' for Dummies

G. Lee thought he had shot it all. Then a hillbilly buddy hepped him to a backwoods tradition that screamed to be on TV. Or so he thought. Truth is, when he agreed to shoot an old timey pig killing for a weekend feature, he didn't really know what he was getting himself or his camera into. But when the trio of good ole boys pulled up to his tripod spot with three full grown hogs they'd just shot in the head, he began to regret all that flat draft beer he'd drunk the night before. By the time, those rednecks strung up the dying swine, slit their throats and relieved them of their entrails, he'd sworn off bacon altogether. That's when things really got weird, and G. Lee soon regretted taking his fancycam down on the farm. Still, he'd always have a tape of that day ready whenever an intern begged him to teach them how to edit...

Unexpected Plummet

By all accounts, G. Lee should have enjoyed this assignment. After all , how often do you get to ride in a hot air balloon with a videocamera and a portable transmitter? Even better, his old flame Jani was along for the ride ... sort of. Actually she was in a different balloon altogether - clutching a cell phone to her ear and attempting to go live(!) as she and G. Lee hopscotched over treetops in two brightly-colored orbs. As far as live shots goes, it was hit and miss. But whenever G. managed to point his transmitter to the distant TV tower while pointing his camera at Jani's balloon, it was morning show gold. Only one problem: the old transmitter on a stick the engineers gave him ran off an ancient car battery. At the moment that very power source sat at his feet, wedged into the bottom of the balloon's basket and leaking wicker-eating battery acid all over its flimsy floor. No wonder he couldn't hold his shot steady...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Sagacious and the Flaky

“You mean they PAY YOU for that?”

Barbecue PitI looked up from my viewfinder and into the face of seasoned wiseass. Easily in his seventies, with a toothpick jammed under the eave of a neatly-trimmed moustache, my antagonist only smirked as I searched in vain for the proper reaction. I could laugh it off, try and convince him my job was harder than it looked, or simply throttle him, drag his quickly stiffening remains out of the barbecue restaurant I was trying to profile and embark on a tri-state killing spree. Not really in the mood for a road trip, I forced a chuckle and turned back to my camera’s eyepiece. But the silver-haired instigator wasn’t through.

“Shoooooot, if I had a job that soft, I don’t believe I could take a paycheck for it…”

With that I laughed for real, for it dawned to me I was being played. Then again, Mr. Moustache was probably being sincere. After all, I was dressed like a third grader, was hunched over a TV camera, was trying to convince the woman three booths down that I wasn’t really shooting video of her as she shoved pulled-pork down her gullet. No Sir, this was not the occupation of a full grown male. For all knew, my new admirer had stormed the beaches of Normandy - though he looked more like a retired insurance salesman than a one-time Sergeant Rock. Either way, I wasn’t about to berate him for dismissing my gig, for I’ve come to believe he’s probably right. Noo, I’m not refusing my next paycheck, but I will savor the thoughts of any senior citizens who wants to taunt me with just how easy I got it - be it a man with barbecue on his breath or a quiet cowboy with church hymns in his heart. Besides, all inquirers aren’t quite so sage.

Take yesterday. Fresh from a weekend of carting offspring to and fro, I wandered out of the mist and onto the lava-hot asphalt of a gas station assignment. Seems the Hess station in Thomasville was selling petrol at $3.75 - a quarter less than the new national average of 4 dollars a gallon. This of course, caused some motorists to lose their minds. Cars, pick-ups, campers and mopeds all stormed the convenience store parking lot - each piloted by a person with nothing much to do on a Monday morning but top off the tank. This alone should have triggered concern, but I was too elated to have something to shoot so early in the day to bother with such ethereal concepts as logic and consequences. Thus, I waded into the twenty car pile up with a smile and a microphone, hoping to score some sound while the gas pumps chugged. I was well into a conversation with an evangelist couple from out of town when Stretch rolled up.

“I’LL TELL YA ’bout some dad-gummed gas prices!” he shouted.

Sir Pump-AlotLooking over, I took him in. Tall, greasy and a little bit deranged, the man climbed out of an antiquated minivan and hitched his pants. Something in the way he moved convinced me to ignore him and as I turned back to my proselytizing pair, I mentally changed the stranger’s status from possible sound source to certain psychopath. In the next few minutes he did not disappoint, loudly protesting my rebuff with the sort of rejoinders I’m not prone to print. It ain’t the first time I’ve been cursed. After all, fancycams are famously considered ’asshole magnets’ and years of field research have convinced me the classification is accurate. Still, I wasn’t prepared for Stretch’s next retort:

“I’ll shove that camera where the sun don’t shine, you filthy Mexican!”

Now, I look about as Hispanic as Conan O’Brien. While I wasn’t shocked that this instant nemesis misread my lineage, but how you could think my fair skin and sandy hair came from anywhere near the Rio Grande is beyond me. Luckily though, Stretch had to go. As he drove away I could hear him argue with the woman riding shotgun. No doubt they were late for the symphony. All I could do was turn back to my camera, where I inadvertently made eye contact with a gentleman who could looked like a roadie for ZZ Top. Through stiff whiskers and broken teeth, he spat his summation of the aforementioned Stretch. “Damn redneck...” I opened my mouth to agree, but was rendered mute by the motorist to my left. He was ninety years old if he was a day, hands shaking as he tried to fill an open gas can sitting in the trunk of his running car. Hearing John Bunnel’s voice hype the tragic videotape I feared I was about to shoot, I looked back at ZZ Top for another salient sentence.

He couldn’t really talk, though. He was too busy lighting a cigarette with one hand as he pumped gas with the other. It was almost enough to make one yearn for a harmless smart-ass with a toothpick and an endless supply of one-liners. Almost.

Monday, June 09, 2008

East Meets West

It was well after 9 PM and damn near ninety degrees. But the cloying heat didn’t stop the weekend crowd from stumbling up and down South Elm Street. Pretty women led packs of admirers from club to club as self-proclaimed hipsters traded quips and cloves. Half a block away a Jazz trio was rushing through a bit of Coltrane, but the overall effect was pleasant enough. I couldn't help but rock back and forth on my heels as I waited under the McGee Street sign and looked around. Earlier, I’d plopped down exhausted in my upper lair and without alot of thought checked my e-mail. Suddenly a 'Priority Message' from a bigger name popped up, urging me to dial a ten digit telephone number. When I did, a kindred spirit answered the line and spoke as if he knew me. Which is how I came to loiter outside Natty Greene’s Saturday night, trying not to look to deranged as Greensboro's beautiful people filed past. However still, I was on the hunt, clocking every distant silhouette for signs of symbiosis. There - that slightly swaggering figure heading my way. Though I 'd never before seen the man even move, I knew it was him before he stepped from the shadows and extended his hand.

“Hi Stewart, I’m Bryan.”

No introduction was needed, for before I ever started putting my thoughts to pixel, I worshiped at the church of beFrank. Something about his sense of Zen and generous grin always intrigued me, so much so I spent the first few months of this very blog imitating him. Since then, I've realized I'll never master this West Coast photog'd vibe, for while I am plagued by unending angst, he is the Apostle of Calm. At least that's the way he comes off on-line. A veteran of the L.A. news market Bryan Frank is at home on the red carpet as he is the yellow crime tape. When he’s not running a camera, a sat truck or a training session, he's taking photographs that occasionally grace gallery walls, waxing philosophic on a life of deadlines or simply grinning into his lens. No one pops off a self-portrait like beFrank and his early efforts convinced me it was okay to give it a shot. If you dig at all my 'likeable loner with a lens' schtick, know that beFrank did it first and does it better.

Me and beFrankBut we didn't face off in the Gate City's hippest street to stage an otherworldy sword fight. We went for a beer instead. In the state on family business, Bryan insisted on driving a little further to bust a suds or two with yours truly. This alone brought a glimmer of a smile to my face, for thrice we failed to rendezvous on my American Idol trips to Hollywood. This time though, we were not to be denied and we quickly repaired to the closest tavern for barley, hops and conversation. The exact transcription of said encounter was destroyed in an unfortunate bar napkin episode, but I can tell you we covered the important subjects: Shooting news, parenthood, mutual friends and of course, writing. Mr. Frank has much to say on the matter and encouraged me to work through the funk I've found myself in as of late. It was exactly what I needed, like a battlefield visit from a wiser, more powerful warrior. Not that Bryan is the least bit militant. Instead, he's funny and warm, regularly flashing the million dollar grin he's known for on-line. Like fellow elder Rick Portier, he's exactly the person his site would have you believe. That's always a relief and I only hope I returned the impression.

After our beer and a half ran dry, beFrank and I took to the streets. It was pushing midnight and downtown Greensboro was bursting at the sidewalks with drunks, debutantes and derelicts. Ever the photogs we stole glances at the more eccentric members of the late night parade, admired their reflections in plate glass windows and provided commentary. Finally, we paused for one of beFrank's trademark snapshots, promised each other we'd do it again and parted ways. As Bryan slipped back into the shadows, I turned to walk toward my pick-up and realized again that - no matter where else this silly blog may take me - it has already enriched my life. His too, I think...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Making Sausage: Savannah Style

"Well, I didn't HATE it." Sorry, but that's about the most excitement I can work up after watching an on-line version of Making News: Savannah Style. For the second season of TV Guide Network's highest rated original series (what came in second - infomercial listings?), producers took their incredibly sloppy camerawork to Georgia where tiny affiliate WJCL-TV tries to win the ratings war despite a powerful competitor, a scandalous past and really, really, really crappy gear. I may have enjoyed this show more - had I not lived every freakin' day of it early in my career! Still 'Savannah Style' has some merit, if only to show the unbelievable earnestness that goes into such ugly television. Hey, speaking of ugly television - here's a message to the show's producers: BUY A LIGHT KIT! You're making a show about TV, fer crying out loud! I understand how you're too cool to (ever) use a tripod, but even revolutionaries like to see the faces of those being interviewed!!!

A-HEM. Anyway, the pilot episode was bearable enough, but I do wonder how it plays in Peoria. Whereas I scan each scene for reminders of struggles past, the average couch potato may find this kind of low level sausage making tedious at best. Still, there does seem to be a never ending appetite for behind the scenes drama - even if those scene are devoid of the glamor people mistakenly believe comes with TV News. Perhaps in L.A. it's all very glitzy, but in places like Savannah, bottom rung broadcasting is about as sexy as those hard-charging bon vivants down at the local Electrical Co-op. Thus, I can't promise I'll tune in for more of this punishment - unless they stunt cast a certain wordy cameraman, who secretly erases all those rookie reporter's escape tapes. Now THAT would be entertaining.