Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Hobo's Soul

I didn't know Ben Cutshall, but after watching the tribute his station put together upon his passing, I really wish I had. He was the chief photojournalist for KFMB; a diminutive man who cast a large shadow across the San Diego area. Starting in March of 1964, the Vietnam combat veteran strapped a camera to his back and waged a different type of warfare: TV News, that blithering, banal form of communication that robs so many people of their optimism and dignity. Not Ben Cutshall. For more than four decades he made a habit of being at the right place at the right time, recording images both heartwarming and horrific. But he was also a gifted writer, a gentle comic and an ambassador of class and dignityin a business sorely lacking either of those traits. Those younger photogs lucky enough to learn under him can't say enough good things about this wizardly lenslinger, which, if you know photogs, is high praise indeed. Rest In Peace.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

On the Shoulders of Giants

Welch at Fire ExpoSo how do you make a chronic smart-ass go all stoic? Simple, put a camera on his shoulder, shove a tiny speaker in his ear and start counting backwards. If he's half the photog Bill Welch is, he'll stop smackin' his gum to follow the action. Of course that action is often a carefully coiffed correspondent, an earnest young person trying to ignore the fact that the guy (or gal) beneath the camera is sweating, shivering or listing hard to starboard. I've often thought (as sweat poured down the crack of my tripod) that if the folks at home could see what the reporter sees, they'd realize just how devoid of glamour the act of broadcasting truly is. Trust me, there's nothing sexy about hoping your photog can put off that coronary long enough for you to toss it back to Team Dimples. On the other hand, there's no worse feeling than mentally willing your reporter to wrap up their diatribe NOW - lest that red blinking light in the corner of your viewfinder go solid, bringing you latest dog-lick live shot to a premature, battery-free end. Now, back to you in the studio - before my spleen erupts!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Life, the Universe and Everything

Stewart & Shelly, circa 1990Mention the number 42 to my wife and she'll instinctively roll her eyes. That's because I spent the first five years of our relationship nudging her every time those simple digits crossed our path. Bank statements, billboards, cereal boxes: I never failed to acknowledge the fact that the total sum of six times seven was haunting our every step. Blame Douglas Adams. In his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - a whole series of books I devoured throughout my early teens, he writes of a hyperintelligent race of beings who seek the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. Building a supercomputer named Deep Thought, they wait seven and a half million years for the machine to spit out the damn answer. That answer it eventually comes up with, is 42. The Ultimate Question however, remains unclear...

My Two GurusI chuckled when I first read that, then proceeded to live an unenlightened life - until - I fell under the spell of these two jokers; half-mad cerebral hoodlums who more than convinced me 1) the Power of 42 was real, 2) Milwaukee's Best was rotgut suitable for any occasion and that 3) Oingo-Boingo was a band to be taken very seriously. Rick Dennis and Steve Bottoms were (hell, still are) two of the most brilliant guys I've ever pursued truancy with. Under their tutelage I escaped the small-minded shackles of my rural crossroads community, stretched my own burgeoning intellect and partied like it was 1999 - which it wouldn't be for a dozen more years.

Three of a PairIn that time, life accelerated. Kids, college, military service, wives and new careers... all conspired to cast our group of brainy bon vivants to the farthest reaches of the contiguous U.S. Though I didn't see my high school gurus even as often as I could have, I wear their influence to this day - most noticeably in my undying affection for the sum of the totient function for the first eleven integers. I'm not saying the number on Jackie Robinson' retired jersey has any mystical qualities, or that it's followed me around all these years, but I can without shame tell you that 42 was, is and always will be my favorite number. What Rick and Steve think I ain't so sure; whenever I see them Rick bangs out endless Beatles tunes on his grand piano and Steve explains how organized religion is really just an opiate of the masses foisted upon mankind by a shadowy cabal of theological underlords - ENOUGH! Can't we talk about the funny numbers again?

Sunset Beach 08 Stew and ShellyApparently not, for you can never go home again- which, when you're from the pitiable village of Goldsboro, North Carolina, ain't such a bad thing. But the damndest thing happened during my self-imposed Like Gary Dean himself once warned, I went from being the youngest guy in the newsroom to one of the oldest. It's not been a wholly unpleasant trip. I still love my job (in theory), am excited about the seismeic shift looming in that chosen field and far more importantly, have a wonderful family that allows me to sleep inside nine out of ten nights. On top of all that, the ladies in my life abide my keyboard compulsion, knowing for whatever reason it keeps me less crabby. That means alot, for 2009 is well underway and I'm already behind on a few of key schemes. I want to be a better Dad and a more thoughtful husband this year, I wanna make potent television all by lonesome and once every couple of weeks, write something semi-important. Too often lately, I've allowed self-doubt to thwart my grander ambitions. If that's ever to stop, this is the year. After all, I just turned 42.

Hope the wife understands...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Backache at Eleven

From the David R. Busse Collection
Sure, your little Namby-PambyCam fits in a purse, but once upon a time videosmithing called for a strong back and a wingman or two. Take Steve Flyte and the ubiquitous David R. Busse. Way back in '80, they roamed the mean streets of San Bernardino as a newsgathering team: a bulky but mobile crew of two bristling with battery-belts and bad moustaches. Just try and outrun them: they'll jump in their souped-up Nova idling just off screen and smoke your disco-ass. But I digress; something I'm wont to do when pressed with so much retro-tech. The hubris, the gadgetry, that totally bitchin' three-quarter sleeve network shirt... those guys were operators.

As for the corduroys - hey, YOU chase pablum and tragedy with half a Radio Shack strapped to your back ... Action-Slacks are out of the question. Just ask Busse...
"Steve Flyte and me on assignment in San Bernardino, Calif., sometime in 1980. He's using a BVU-100 3/4" tape deck rigged with an external battery so he can get double the battery life out of two gel cell batteries on his belt. I'm shooting with an Ikegami HL77 powered by the oddball Cine 60 +/- six volt batteries required to power this camera. I purchased electrical linemen's suspenders and rigged them to clip to the belt, spreading the weight and making the belt easier to wear. We were overjoyed when the newer HL79A came along a few months later."
Right on...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Salt in the Wound

Saltpile MeditationMan, look at the size of that thing... No, not my bald spot! I'm talking about that barnload of rock salt I'm pictured pondering. I must have stood there for a good fifteen minutes, waiting for enlightenment to wash over my lowly photog form... Nope, nuthin'. Still, there must be some kind of elemental magic in this county-owned space - for no sooner does a weather guy uses the 'S-Word' than some doofus in a suit insists we haul ass to the nearest pile of sodium, dirt and rat droppings. Why? To look for meaning, I guess. That and to prove to viewers that their municipalities really do have a plan for inclement weather. Basically, they're gonna season it. Why that's such a news sensation each and every year I don't know, but I have no more control over my assignments than I do over my eleven year old's opinion of the Jonas Brothers. Some things mortal men just ain't supposed to grasp, no matter how long they linger over spilled spices. So, instead of dropping to the floor and busting out a 'salt angel' I'd regret all day, I wandered outside...

Saltpile Close Up...where I found no less than four TV News outlets setting up their electronic encampements:. trucks, tripods and enough logo'd parkas to choke a sasquatch. Speaking of whom, the abominable snowman himself must have been at the bottom of the salt pile, for all the lenses pointed at it - and judging from the breathless voice in my own earpiece, he's got Osama Bin Laden in a headlock under there. Otherwise, there's no way to explain why half the Piedmont's live truck fleet is idling down at the county yard. Sure, every weather bunny from Murphy to Manteo is calling for some kind of wispy precip, but does snow in January really require continuous team smotherage?

Saltpile WatchApparently, it do. Early on, the TV vehicles outnumbered the brine trucks. That is until the evening shift rolled in: burly he-men in Carrhart jumpers, carrying heavy lunch pails under their arms and less than delicate words on their lips. I don't want to alarm any well-meaning meteorologists, but there's a whole bunch of county employees who really don't appreciate their MLK Day plans for quiet reflection interrupted by the flagellations of the Fourth Estate. Okay, they didn't put it exactly like that, but this is a family blog. Besides, I'm afraid if I repeat the exact sentiments of the salt crews, I'll awake to find Unit 4 encased in a frozen block of truck driver urine and county-owned brine. That kind of funk won't towel off, ya know...

Saltpile ScrumStill, there only so many lamentations the fellas could muster before they had to load up and get in line for the salt parade. As luck would have it, that's when everyone's live shots started and while all the movement made for a great backdrop, I could have done without all the hairy eyeballs and air horn blasts. Hey, don't blame me, Bandit. I'm just another schlub who drives around with tools in the truck and spreads muck across the greater Piedmont Googoplex. We got a lot in common, you and me. As long as their are AMS certified scientists with raging weather woodies and a general population that can't keep it between the ditches on a good day, you and I got a job. So don't spray me in slop when you pass my tripod spot on the interstate, Love the Cameraman! After all, we're the hardworking lifer of the TV news lot; we'd no sooner sound a false alarm than put our top-heavy logomobiles into an uncontrolled skid. On second thought, everyone should be allowed to sling some nasties once in a while. Look at it as job security...

Or don't - just watch where you spray that stuff, wouldya? These shades are prescription...