Friday, July 11, 2008

My Kingdom for a Waterskiing Squirrel

hell week 002Well now, THAT was grueling. Do me a favor, gentle reader: next time I yammer on (and on) about how splendiferous my vacation is going, someone shoot me an email and tell me to shut the &$#@% up! I think the suits read it and decided to bring me back down to Earth with a week of concentrated servitude. Barely-there storm damage, annexation stand-offs, teacher sex stings ... where’s the fluff? It’s not like I'm unqualified. Give me thirty minutes at a sparsely attended band camp and I’ll bring you back a piece of television that’ll make you want to sell your remote control! Normally, the bosses wholeheartedly endorse my mastery of pabulum, but this week I’ve been relegated to the front, shipped off in a battered live truck with reporter in tow and made to turn lead stories on all sorts of unseemly fare. Sure, it’s the kind of stuff most photogs crank out without thinking twice (you poor, magnificent bastards), but I’m Special! Just ask my Mom! Anyway, Hell Week is over - but with the July book in full swing, a number of other photogs on vacation and the sweltering stick of a Carolina summer truly upon us, the next thirty days ain’t lookin’ good. There is however, one upside: I’m so full of angst and career dissatisfaction that I’m bound to write something worth your time. Either that, or I’ll finally man up and get that lobotomy I’ve been eyeing all these years. Whatever happens, know that I’m newly committed to getting it all over ya, for while I can’t fully explain it, nothing brings me more joy than running my mouth on-line. See, I told you I was special...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

As Good As It Gets

"Hey, aren't you the um, the um, gunslinger?"

"Why, yes," I said, looking for the first time at the man with the fancycam, "Yes I am."

"I thought so, man. I got you bookmarked. Love your stuff. It's... it's ... real."

Unknown Scrum MonkeysI thanked the man behind the Sony and turned back to my own upturned eyepiece. At the end of that shallow tube, a tiny politician stared back at me, his voice pouring out of the earpiece laying across my shoulder. I suppose I should have been listening, but all I really could do there in the red glow of the 'RECORD' light was smile. It was to be a very long shift, one involving meth labs (not a good idea), 400 plus research monkeys (don't ask), and a butt-puckering round of live truck stunt parking (imagine backing a river barge down a spiral staircase), but of all the inanity and adventure that was about to follow, a fellow photog's offhand compliment turned out to be the highlight of my day.'Why's that?' you ask...

Ego, baby! But it's more than that. It's, dare I say, validation. See, when I first began sharing my narratives on-line, I figured it would only be a matter of time before some camera-carrying pro called me out. After all, it was easy to impress friends and family with my behind the scenes lore, but those in the know? Surely, they'd see through my prose as the ambitious ramblings of a failed reporter. Not. So. In my time as a blogging photog, I've been lucky enough to meet many of my small band of readers. While never an unpleasant experience, the most meaningful feedback has come from working photojournalists, who look past the wordplay and the self aggrandizing photos to see if I'm capturing their world correctly. So far, I've gotten a resounding thumbs-up - which says alot since we photogs can spot a poseur from across a crowded press conference. What better affirmation than that of the person whose very plight you're trying to spotlight? Well, a big fat check would be nice, but until that (never) happens I'll gladly settle for the recognition of my swarthy peers...

And who knows? Someday, they may even get the name right.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Splintered Intervention

If a tree falls during a bad storm and no TV crews show up, did that family of woodchucks die in vain? A stupid question, certainly, but when you’ve been tasked with turning three day old weather damage into fresh television, you take your conundrums where you find them. Just ask Charles Ewing. The weekend meteorologist slash weekday reporter was just walking by this morning when my vacation came to a crashing halt. Storm damage. Randolph County. Charles and I took turn rolling our eyes as we saddled up in Unit 4 and punched an address into the GPS. For fifteen miles we wallowed the inanity of it all. Surely whatever destruction Friday night’s windstorm has left had long since been cleaned up. Most likely we would only find tidy tree stumps, empty neighborhoods and few other elements from which to craft ninety seconds of newscast. Still, we made a beeline to the scene in question with the steadfast knowledge that no matter how lame the assignment, we had to flesh it out or find better. And get lunch. Lunch is very important.

A few minutes later we arrived in Worthville - a tiny community outside the mean streets of Randleman that neither Charles or I had ever head of. Well, perhaps Charles had. Dude does point at maps of the Piedmont for a living. But the electronic squiggle that signifies this old mill village couldn’t possible do it justice, for the pastoral splendor of inner Worthvillle is - ahem - well worth your time (Sorry!). Best of all, when Charles and I rolled into town (or lack thereof), the place was draped in broken tree limbs. Sure, a stretch of bent twigs is no Sasquatch footprint, but when you’re resigned to shooting everything out of focus in hopes it looks more devastating, actual damage is heaven sent. But ninety seconds of news story isn’t built on broken lumber alone. We needed sound. To do that we needed to knock on a few doors and as Charles picked a porch to climb, I once again implored him to tell whoever answered the door that he was there to deliver their personal forecast, then launch into some nonsense about low pressure systems. As usual Charles declined, but I’m always hoping he’ll surprise me.

Instead, Charles protected his AMS seal by playing it straight with the grandmother behind door number three. That however didn’t stop her from joining us out on her back lawn, where a Walnut tree estimated to be three hundred years old had given its life for the sake of better television. Charles and I exchanged knowing looks as Granny described to our microphone how the massive hardwood came crashing down a few night before. Despite her freewheeling soliloquy, I was skeptical. Could we wrap an entire news story around a single fallen tree? You’re damn skippy we could, but does that make it right? I never really had to decide, for five minutes into our visit Granny invoked the Deity. For years she and her family had feared the old Walnut would topple any storm now; the only question being whose home would it crush on the way down. As luck (or the Lord) would have it, the old tree spared every domicile as it fell to the Earth without so much as scratching a single structure. Okay, so a few sections of a neighbor’s fence disappeared, but these kind of details hardly matter when you’re spotlighting a case of divine intervention - which is exactly what Charles and I did.

Then we got lunch. Very important.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Vacation Papers

sunset 2008 001Even though I'm back in my upper lair, I'm still picking sand out of my cerebellum. If you think that's something, you should see my garage. It's like Jockey's Ridge in there. But I didn't log in to talk about my pet starfish. Rather, I'm came to extend my break, to relive my coastal sojourn even before I get around to spraying that dried up sea urchin off the lawn chair. That's right, I got vacation slides, No, WAIT!!! Don't go...

Dazed DadI said Sunset was soothing; I didn't say it was deserted. In our time there, we saw the island's tidal pools swell with suburbanites and all their detritus as the July 4th crowd rolled in. By week's end, there were more nuclear units on the beach than most reactor sites. With that level of distilled domesticity, it wasn't at all uncommon to spot the occasional father wandering dazed and irritated into the surf. Usually some older gentleman would break away from his bocce ball match and guide the poor sap back to his inverted beach umbrella, but twice I saw a babbling patriarch lunge into the drink with that certain suicidal look in his eye. Ya know, they really should post a lifeguard...

Surf at SundownBut then again, that might interfere with how folks enjoy the beach. And God knows there's as many ways to kick back on the shore as there are sandspurs in my tenderloins. There's the age-old practice of burying one's siblings in unwanted dribble-castle, there's Lounge Chair Chess - in which players move their encampments back just far enough to afford another six minutes of leisure before the riding tide makes them move all over again. Man, that never gets old! Of course heartier souls take to the breakers, where threat of jellyfish, twelve year old elbows and the occasional urine cloud make one yearn for the relative safety of the cement pond. Me, though - I scans the horizon...

Where's Bubba?Blame my hyperopia. Farsightedness, for those of you lunging for the thesaurus. Unlike my wife, who could walk for miles looking down through two feet of cloudy surf and still find suitable living quarters for the girls' hermit crab, my natural field of focus lies somewhere between here and Uranus. That's a hell of a thing for a guy who makes his living with a tiny TV screen jammed in his face. Speaking of which, I didn't see a single camera crew clamoring over this shrimp boat - no matter how many cups of Corona I poured down my sunburned gullet (No glass containers on the beach, don't ya know). Anyway, maybe the photogs were belowdecks. After all, if they weren't shooting some kind of reality show out there, what were they doing? Fishing? PFFFT!

Ship to ShoreOf course there's more to vacationing by the bay than sleeping with your eyes open while you pretend to read. There's getting there in the first place. See, unless your beach cottage has a giant gold Trump sign on it, you're gonna have to hoof it over a sand dune or two if you want to get wet. That's okay if it's just you and your toothbrush, but if you're like most of the Sunset bunch, you got a small living room to drag to the waterline. These days of course, they rent fancy carts like the one Junior has here, but back in my day we schlepped our crap to the shore on our backs! Our sunburned backs! With wooden chairs that wore splintery grooves in our shoulders while slathered head to bloomer in sunscreen made from castor oil! And WE LIKED IT!

Sunset HugA-hem. Sorry, slipped into Dad Mode for a minute there. I've been doing that a lot lately - perhaps because my kids haven't left my sight in nine days, ten hours, forty minutes and a half dozen bags of Cheesy Poofs - but who's counting? Not me! I'm loving all this generational interaction, even if the little crumb-snatchers do roll their eyes every time I launch into a tirade about we used to have to get off the couch just to change the channel! Okay, so perhaps it is time to go back to work. Sure there's probably a ribbon-cutting or cop car ride-along waiting for me, but at least I'll have fresh memories of all that saltwater togetherness to reflect upon while I'm babysitting the trainwreck - or factory tour - or meth lab - or marching band camp - or...

You get the idea.