Saturday, March 21, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Kirby Creek Equine CenterThere are days this gig feels like an enema. Friday wasn't one of them. That's because I paid a visit to Kirby Creek Equine Center, a 52 acre horse farm nestled in the hills of central North Carolina. They weren't expecting me. Instead the people that run this rescue ranch for waiting on horse trailers - the kind you see a lot of 'round Surry County. Needless to say when I rolled up in a Ford Freestyle with GPS pinging, the lady at the gate could tell I was no cowpoke. She was a little shocked to see a man with cameras and questions about Kirby Creek's first vaccination clinic and in truth, so was I. See, I take requests and lately all anyone with a newscast has wanted to hear is the End of the Economic Good Time Blues. The last time someone in charge wanted something sticky and sweet, John Edwards was considered a viable running mate. Thus, I didn't blush when a manager handed me a print-out about a place called Pinnacle, I made for the door before they could change their mind and send me to some paperclip parade downtown.

Charles F. McDonell, D.V.M.Of course, I didn't explain this to the lady, intoning only that I wished to take a few pictures. She seemed agreeable, but before she could radio the others, a battered horse trailer arrived and pulled through the gate. I jumped into action at the sight, leaving the lady alone with her clipboard as I jumped back into my horseless carriage and followed the cloud of dust in the distance. Looking back, I guess I should have slowed my roll, for less than a quarter of a mile later, the caravan of two came to a halt. I jumped out and grabbed my gear, shouldering my weapon before rounding the corner. When I did, a woodsy looking gentleman stopped me with questions of his own. "What's all this then" he kinda sorts asked and the next voice I heard was me explaining from which I came. The must have liked the look of my logo, for minutes later I was leaning over the veterinarian's shoulder, as he poked and prodded his first patient of the day. I love it when a lack of plan comes together.

Pilot Mountain, N.C.What followed was a fairly glorious morning. A slight breeze whispered through the valley as I tried not to stare at the iconic outcropping looming overhead. From Kirby Creek, the reported inspiration for Andy Griffith's much mentioned 'Mount Pilot' hung like a painting in the sky. That made it tough for me to focus on the horse whisperers at hand, for I'm a flatlander by birth and tilted topography still renders me agog. Inoculation or not, it was difficult to pinpoint the equestrian needleship on display when a Bob Ross watercolor floated in the corner of my eye. Not that the locals noticed. Jamie Renzi and Susan Bingman opened this place back in August. Since then, they've boarded many an abandoned steed, from neglected nags to post-prime thoroughbreds. It's a bucolic, pleasing place and the weddings and festivals they hope to hold there should attract all kinds of attention. Certainly should you ever find yourself traveling through the shadow of Pilot Mountain, I urge you to mosey on over.

Kirby Creek Equine CenterIn fact, of my short time there, I left but with one regret. On my exit the kindly proprietors directed me to the barn where refreshments reportedly waited. I begged off at first but acquiesced when a certain pastry was repeatedly featured. Following my hosts past the stable and into a small anteroom, I saw, among other things, a box of Krispy Kremes sitting on a table. I did what any Southerner would do, scooping up a glazed confection before rejoining a walking tour of a couple dozen stalls. Tell me, have you ever eaten a cold doughnut while your nostrils were swaddled in fresh manure fumes? It's a flavor you won't soon forget, no matter how many times you shave your tongue. I don't know if such sensitivity will eliminate me from competition but something tells me I'll never fulfill my dream of becoming a rodeo clown...

At least the day made for pleasant television.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Power of Attorney

Ever barged into a stranger's office and demanded they elucidate? I have - more times than I've been to church. Most often, it's a lightning strike: Call from the parking lot and let the logo do the talking. If eight times out of ten you can't score an instant sit-down, you're not mentioning the logo enough. But Phil Bolton isn't some used carpet salesman. He's Greensboro's top bankruptcy attorney and when he first heard El Ocho wanted to come over and chat, he was probably expecting someone with more product in the hair. He got me instead, a somewhat rumpled father of two, who needs all ten fingers to even spell b-a-n-k-r-u-p-t-c-y.

To Bolton's credit, he never batted an eyelash as I schlepped into his office suite and opened all the blinds. Scene set, it was time to conduct the official television interview ... The second hand of the clock in the corner drowned out all sound as the counselor and the cameraman stared at each other. Fearing I might be billed for the hour, I commenced with my laser-focused inquest...

"Soooo, about this whole bankruptcy thing..."

From there the debriefing began. With the precision of a litigator, Bolton explained the tenants of insolvency, from how to avoid bankruptcy to when to embrace it. Throughout the summation I nodded knowingly, wondering how in the hell I was going to make all this data palatable for the masses. See, most interviews are but one (important) portion of the prerecorded report. For this story, however, the talking head was the sole component. "In Their Own Words," the managers demanded. "No reporter track, no interruptions, no cheesy two-shots." Knowing better than to question why, I huddled with my new attorney friend and pretended I understood everything he said. In the end, this finished piece won't bag me any trophies, but it's unpretentious, fairly informative and 100 percent loophole free.

Now, if you need me - I'll be in my chambers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Mod Squad

from the David R. Busse collection
Sure they're both elder statesmen of the Fourth Estate now, but once upon a time Steve Flyte and David R. Busse were young broadcast bucks, sporting enough moustaches, straps and gadgets to fuel an entire episode of The Electric Company. What's more, this intrepid news crew did it all while dressed in the finest JCPenney fashions! Short-sleeve shirts with that Western cut, bulging battery belts and the kind of high-waisted jeans that Jessica Simpson tried to bring back a few weeks ago! "Are those Garanimals? Don't answer. In fact, ignore me altogether - for I can hardly judge fashion. Not this Kentucky Waterfall in the distance. Besides, these guys truly are legends; Steve Flyte became famous in 1979 after he scratch-built a microwave antenna in the field and saved an ABC News remote from going down in flames. And David R. Busse? Why he became the Forrest Gump of electronic news-gathering. Which reminds me...

Run, Busse, RUN!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Steeped in the Shallows

Day at the OfficeVideography. All those syllables make it sound important. It's not, I'd wager, but that's the subject of another post. Tonight, I want to talk about longevity. It's been on my mind lately; the time I've spent jostling from one tripod spot to another. Twenty years - a number of months that sucks the very breath from my lungs. I never planned to stick the lens this long. In fact, when I started I was fairly certain I'd muck it up in a month. Instead, I found religion. No, a winged-creature didn't swoop down and place a fancycam on my shoulder, but a lot of good people gave a shaggy smart-ass a chance, long before I'd earned the right to televise anything. I still remember pulling up to my first car lot, a van full of camera equipment and nary a clue what to do with it. Countless local commercials later, I was figuring it out, but then an acquaintance took a friend of mine hostage and my baptism by news began. Suddenly, scanners crackled with shouts of prophecy fulfilled and the News Gods smiled down upon their acid-washed argonaut. Yes, it all seemed mystical in the beginning, this portage and deployment of video recording gear. When did it grow so mundane?

I'm not sure exactly, but it did. Somehow, amid the blur of ribbon-cuttings and ride-alongs, the press conferences and protests, the drive-by shootings and bloodmobiles, calamity became the norm. No longer the zealot of other people's peril, I found myself a washed-up apostle, a castigated ape loping from deadline to live shot and back again. What did I shoot last week? Christ, I'm still piecing together yesterday. It was either a daffodil contest or a burning bus full of orphans, itallkindsofrunstogetherafterawhile. What I can tell you is, it's a young person's game, both in pace and compensation. I left for a few years back in the early 90's, tried my hand at cranking out dreck for the man. It wasn't so bad in retrospect, but at the time the office, the assistant and the asshole down the hall felt like a plague of locusts at best. So I excommunicated myself from the House of Pain, made a pilgrimage to the Piedmont Triad and found a sect I could reflect in. An energetic lot, the crew at El Ocho; they took me in and forgave me of my swish-pan sins. In return, I stopped pretending to be grizzled. Suddenly, I just was.

So there you have it, a white-washed version of how I came to be here. No longer the wild-eyed believer I once was, I can't claim to be totally agnostic either. News - or at least the pursuit thereof, still feels like what I'm supposed to be doing. This should please me more than it does, for some folks go a whole lifetime without ever stumbling over what makes them tick. Not me. I learned early how to turn a limited attention span and eye for irony into the suckiest job you'll ever love. From watching the atrocity of a pedophile trial to riding shotgun with Meals-on-Wheels, the ever-present Sony on my shoulder has provided access to an education I never dreamed of back when I was cuing used car salesmen to do their finishing move. I only hope the craft of broadcasting continues to evolve, for I sometimes feel guilty of arrested development. It doesn't take a Mensa member to document life as we know it. Give me a few afternoons, along with one of those table-long subs and I'll have YOU traipsing up some widow's porch reciting 'Wide-Medium-Tight'. Just be careful: at some point you have to come back down and look at yourself in the mirror...

Try not to squint.