Thursday, August 18, 2011

Schmuck Alert: Bachmann's Mob

Bachmann Mob
I have an aching distaste for politicians. They remind me of small market news anchors with coke problems: paranoid, grandiose, willing to gab all night with total strangers - as long as another blast of adulation was coming back their way. Perhaps I'm projecting. On second thought, no. I've stood through enough city council meetings, governor's huddles and Presidential pit stops to know the only thing more maniacal than your average incumbent is the person currently working so furiously to unseat them.Which brings me to Michelle Bachmann, aka the poor man's Sarah Palin. Lately she's been making all the right noises as she crisscrosses the country in an effort to make Barack Obama a community organizer again. That's cool! Depending on your views, she's either the GOP's latest great white hope or a headstrong wretch whose husband wants to pray Barney Frank back to lumberjack status. None of which concerns me.

What does concern me, however, is the way Michele Bachmann handles her business. In the eight weeks that she's been a Presidential candidate, her sycophants have manhandled members of the press; shoving, pushing and threatening reporters as they attempted to make her a viable choice for leader of the free world by hanging on her every heavily scripted soundbite. It's happened five times. Five times! It's flippin' systemic! Much of the roughhousing has happened in the scrum, when membes of the Fourth Estate close in on a candidate and pepper them with questions. It's an American tradition that dates back to the American Revolution  -  though I can't ever remember George Washington getting his knickers in a twist whenever some scribe wanted to fixate on his wooden teeth. Even Sarah Palin herself manages to plow though a far angrier press mob without drawing blood (and looking like a million bucks, might I add).

Don't get me wrong. Certain reporter types CAN be assholes (Don't make me draw up a list). But if you're aching to lead the planet's last superpower into the Twenty-teens, you're simply going to have to deal with it. And telling your goons to let loose with the elbows and retorts is only going to make you look bad - especially in an age where a candidate's every wet fart is tweeted, Facebooked and blogged before those late night comedians even come into the office.  That's why we've taken unprecedented steps here at the Lenslinger Institute. We're issuing our first ever STANDING Schmuck Alert on Michelle Bachmann, not because we think she has a prayer of gaining office, but because of the fatwa she has apparently declared on the working media. That Mickey Mouse shit won't get you to the White House, lady, but it WILL get you top billing every night on TMZ. Here's hoping you enjoy the view.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bromancing the Stone

Bike Trip Guys 2Haul glass up and down the interstate and you'll stumble upon a ton of cross-country quests. I feel as if I've covered 'em all: cowboy preachers on horseback, junkies taking a run at redemption, wall-eyed drifter carrying a cross. Whatever led to their personal sojourn, they had one thing in common: they were all half a bubble off plumb. That's carpenter talk for 'avoid elevator rides with this person'. So far I've managed todo just that, but scaling a few floors in close proximity with one of these pioneers is nothing compared to back-pedaling in front of them on some lonesome highway for a few hours. Don't get me wrong: I've met some fine folk, but quite often I've left their presence with the bullshit detector in my brain clanging away.

Which is why my time with a group of cyclists from Buffalo was so refreshing, for they didn't come off as the least bit loopy. Instead, they seemed dangerously sane for a flock of forty-somethings pedaling from state to state. Then again, they've had a quarter century to think about it. See, these three friends began their journey back in 1986 and they'd have finished it then too, had a truck driver not fallen asleep at the wheel and plowed into their group. Two went down, hard. What followed can only be described as life: a couple of the cyclists grew up to be doctors while a third fell into a crevasse of addiction. That's usually where the story ends, but these Buffalo natives are simply made of stronger stuff. When they decided to embark on another cross-country trek, a sore-saddle lunge for closure, local media outlets swooned. That included Bob Buckley and me. We spent no more than two hours with the guys as they snaked their way through the Piedmont, but I'll have a hard time forgetting them, for they taught me A.) it's never too late to finish what you started, B.) old campers CAN be held together by duct tape and C.) not everyone obsessed with that next horizon is completely out of their gourds.

I'll try to remember that next time I roll my eyes at an assignment.



Monday, August 15, 2011

Wing and a Prayer

iPhone photo by Katie Nordeen
I'm not much for assigning meaning to happenstance, but an encounter on a bridge named for a murdered child is enough to give one pause, if not hope. It happened Sunday, as more than a hundred bikers stopped to pray on the Jennifer Short Memorial Bridge in Rockingham County. Back in 2002, someone took the lives of nine year old Jennifer Short and her parents. Michael and Mary Short were murdered in their home, but it took investigators six weeks to locate Jennifer's remains in a creek alongside the very bridge that now bears her name. I was there that day, but you didn't need to be on scene to be haunted by this senseless killing of an entire family. Nearly a decade later, the case remains unsolved, despite numerous new leads resulting from a profile of the case on America's Most Wanted. For local folks, the only thing left to do is keep the Short family's memory alive. That's what was happening Sunday when reporter Katie Nordeen looked up from a memorial service and saw a royal blue butterfly hovering over her photog's tripod plate.
It landed at the beginning of the prayer and just sat there opening and closing its wings until they started playing the bagpipes. I'm a big believer in "signs" and I'm hoping this is one of those...
A chance landing by a flying insect? Probably, but I was a sailor long enough to think about the transmigration of souls. While the cynic inside me knows it was nothing more than the thoughtless loss of flutter by a gussied-up moth.... Katie and I choose to believe otherwise. Now go hug your kids.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Old Times Not Forgotten

Cisney on the Scene
Like a bad episode of Matlock, the case of the confederate soldier keeps bleeding onto TV screens. First, some background: In 1793 the invention of the cotton gin increased by fiftyfold the quantity of cotton that could be processed in a day, greatly increasing the demand for - Hmmm? Not THAT far back? Fine, so a few weeks ago a groggy driver plowed straight through a traffic circle in Reidsville, toppling a confederate soldier statue that had pleasured pigeons for more than a hundred years. It was an ignominious end, especially since somewhere between decent and impact, the old soldier lost his head. This made for a visual so delicious that camera crews from across the Greater Piedmont Googolplex soon swooped in to feast upon the headless confederate. I was not among them. No, I was laying low the day that story broke and happily sat out the dash up Highway 29. I even dodged the follow-ups, of which there were many. Seems not everyone up there adored the little gray man who lorded over that end of town. Soon TV reporters were furrowing their well-kept brows on cue as sweaty photogs panned up the statue's broken base. "Will the statue that used to stand here rise again? We'll tell you in a moment, but first is your dog psychic?" At least I think that's how it went. Truth is, I don't watch the news much, which is how I remained blissfully ignorant of the ruckus in Reidsville... until forces drove me there Friday.

Actually, I drove myself. It wasn’t like I had much choice, as I was already behind the wheel when my Droid launched into the generic metal dirge that is my ringtone. It was the morning assignment editor, her voice tense against the backdrop of scanner chatter. “There’s a man dressed as a confederate soldier standing on the pedestal where that statue used to be!” Okay, so it wasn’t “Aliens have landed at Center City Park and they’re asking for you!” but it got my attention nonetheless. So much so that I didn’t even debate the desk on the merit of my new assignment, something we photogs do by reflex. Instead I pointed my rolling logo northward and shut down much of my brain as the odometer clicked off mile after mile. No need to plan my attack, I thought. By the time I get there, any and all Civil War soldiers will have returned to whatever reenactment regiment they got separated from in the first place and there I’ll be with one less hour in the day in which to create the two minutes of newscast I’ve been made to feel responsible for all these many years. Hey, maybe it was never a soldier to begin with, just some wino in a Halloween costume. Either way, I was sure the rebel in question would be long gone by the time I dropped Unit 4 into PARK...

Except ... there he was. A little portly for a 19th century guerilla commando, but other than that the young man looked every bit the part as he stood at crisp attention among the rush of pick-up trucks, Volkswagens and mopeds. Hopping out of my own ride, I approached him sans camera. He smiled and welcomed my company, though he asked that I not block traffic, I complied, standing beside him and looking forward as if I were secretly arranging an intel drop outside some foreign embassy. As for the soldier, er, history buff, he was forthright, informed and seemingly way too sane to rock an itchy wool coat on a hot August day in North Carolina. He began to spout reasons why the Daughters of the Confederacy should build a bigger and better combatant on the spot, but I really wasn’t listening. I’d hear it all again in an edit booth, but not before I got a microphone on the guy. Walking back to my mobile office, I dug my equipment out of the back and returned with my lavaliere. I pinned it to his coat, backed off and zoomed in. Twenty questions later, I crossed the street one last time to secure a nice wide angle for my opening shot, the centered up on the soldier just in time to catch him whistling dixie.

Lone SoldierSeriously, dude whistled Dixie. From across the street, I tried to squelch my yelp, but I was too stoked to muffle it completely. Hey, it ain’t everyday a person of interest wanders into the center of your screen and gives an old story new legs, but that’s just what seemed to be happening here. And best of all, I had it all to myself. I was halfway through congratulating myself on said storytelling coup when the first of my competitors rolled up. Oh well, at least I’d have a few chums to chat up while the local police decided whether they were going to openly endorse the young soldier, drag him off in chains for disturbing the peace or simply use all those downtown surveillance cameras to scan the small but growing clutch of journalists camped out there on the sidewalk. As the cops watched us, we watched him, but the sentinel at the center of our cobbled-together controversy didn’t do much beside fish Skittles out of his overcoat and sneak swigs of Gatorade from a bottle he tried to keep hidden. At one point he even whipped out a smart phone, leading me to wonder Robert E. Lee would have preferred a Droid or an iPhone. Subjugate an entire race? There’s no app for that.

Actually, I’d be a stone cold liar if I even pretended politics played a role, for that’s not the way a photog’s brain works. Dude could have been dressed as Mayor McCheese for all I cared. Fact was, my bosses wanted him in my crosshairs and that’s about all it takes to spark my interest. But what interested me even more wasn’t the soldier himself but the reaction of all the town folk pouring past him. From my vantage point in what had become tripod row, I had a clear shot of motorists as they whizzed by the guy. Of those that reacted at all, I’d say 98 percent gave him a thumbs up or a rousing cheer. This neither surprised or inspired me, but I’m guessing most of those who held the simulated rebel in contempt had too much class to acknowledge it, lest their one fingered salute make it on the evening news. A man I spoke with on camera agreed, which gave me the dissenting view I needed to balance out my piece. With that perspective and many more simmering on my camera’s SD card, I made preparations to leave for the sidewalk was growing crowded with competing cameras and well, I hate the smell of catch-up before lunch. Thus, I bade my fellow photogs adieu, gave the young man across the street a half salute and gathered up my gear. Hopefully, the cops wouldn’t hog-tie the guy or Matlock himself wouldn’t wander out and mumble something homespun over a Ritz cracker, but if that very development was in the cards, there was really only one way to force destiny’s hand....

Leave. So I did.