Thursday, September 08, 2011

Friday Night...Delight

Banner Cam 1
Sometimes you have to crawl up into the camera's eye-cup and forget everything else around you. Friday Night Football would NOT be one of those times. No, for something like that you need the speed of a cheetah, the thumb of a junkie and the situational awareness of a Navy Seal. I possess neither, but it didn't stop me from shocking sports fan across the land by showing up at my daughter's high school and shooting my first local football game in easily fifteen years. Those cats at NFL Films can relax. While I proudly stand behind all my highlights, a grasp of football's finer points would no doubt have clued me in as to where those jacked-up gladiators were gonna run to next. As it was, I followed the ball, threw up color bars at after every score and kept my balding head on a swivel.  But as the above photo illustrates, danger abounds before those guys in tights ever take the field. Witness:

1) I'm surrounded by cheerleaders. High school cheerleaders. Now, I'm certain they're all nice girls, but it's a known fact that anyone who dons a cheerleader uniform is opening themselves up to zombie demonification. Not the kind of creatures you wanna turn your back on, even if they haven't enterfed the seventh circle of Hell just yet. Be it a brain-eating bloodbath or some daffy flash mob, it all feels the same when that cute little thing in the pig tails comes at you with a flying drop-kick.

2) There's a teenage volunteer firefighter at my feet and he's fondling an extinguisher.  Normally I got mad respect for anyone who rocks the Neoprene for free, but this particular scenario makes be a bit itchy. After all, I was once a teenage volunteer firefighter and I did unspeakable things with far less intrusive station equipment. Therefore, I'm dedicating 45 percent of my peripheral vision to all the young dudes with chaw in their lips and pagers on their hips.     

3) Vikings, Marauders, Cupcake Queens...whatever you call them, a speeding column of testosterone and shoulder pads is about to burst through that paper and make a beeline for yours truly. Okay, so most of them will pass me by, but once the game begins all bets are off. I have seen grown men with mortgages and crab-grass damn near crippled by a sixteen year old running back who's drunk on Twizzlers and pep talk.  That might make for a decent Matthew McConaughey flick, but it ain't gonna be based on me.

In the end, I came away from my shift on the gridiron unscathed. There was even a bright among the stretches of tedium and moments of terror. After hearing "Hey Mr. Cameraman!" about two dozen times, I turned away from the game to see my own Freshman daughter among a group of girls. Amazingly, she waved me over and I followed with my fancycam, recording a wide swath of her whole group as they cheered for a game they really weren't watching. Hannah seemed pleased and before I returned to the sideline, she acknowledged to her posse that this slightly sweaty doofus before them was indeed her dear old Dad.

For THAT, I'll dodge a thousand flying drop-kicks.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Uncool At Any Speed

Photog Carjack
Note To Self: Drop the family off before you join in on a high-speed chase. Photojournalist Carlos Rodriguez might do well to post that to his dashboard after a fleeing suspect car-jacked his Nissan Cube - with his wife and baby aboard. It happened the other night near Turlock, California. Rodriguez and family were doing some back to school shopping when word of a police pursuit broke over his in-car scanner. Unlike my normal reaction (Unplug scanner. Take to pawn shop. Sell for parts.), Carlos apparently floors it, heading straight for the tri-county high-speed chase with his wife and two month old son in tow. (That's dedication! I think.)  For a few minutes, it's a family adventure - until the intrepid photog catches up and (apparently) pops out of his boxy ride to catch a shot of the approaching suspect. From there, things got hinky:
"There was a split second where I see the vehicle go by, but the suspect wasn't in the vehicle and the next thing I know there was pounding and screaming coming from the inside of my car - I run up and see the suspect throwing the car in gear and speeding off with my car," Rodriguez said.
The mind reels. But as Carlos Rodriguez watched a car-jacker speed off with his young family, he did what any natural born shooter would do: he raised his glass and thumbed the RECORD button. Then he flagged down a cop and told him the man they were looking for was now driving a goofy white Nisssan with precious cargo and a police scanner aboard. Ya know, one doesn't have to be a screenwriting hack or even a cynical lenslinger to imagine how badly this could have gone. After all, three picture revenge thrillers have been built on thinner premises. But luckily... thankfully... mercifully, the true life drama soon concluded.

Brett Phares, the 28 year old tool behind the wheel, pulled over two exits later and let Mother and son safely out of the car. He then cemented his standing among criminal masterminds by running out of gas several miles down the road. (Schmuck!) As for the Rodriguez family, they're happily back together. We here at Viewfinder BLUES Global Headquarters wish them nothing but placid commutes and a plethora of yacht rock to soothe their jangled nerves. That especially goes for MRS. Rodrigue, who might very well have a thing or to say the next time hubby points the family van toward the horizon and proceeds to punch it.

Y'all be careful out there...

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Irene Diaries: Saturday Wrap-Up

Irene TrioThere's more I could tell you about Operation Irene and eventually I will. For now, just know that it was an invigorating way to spend a work week - a chance to break away from the soft news I so specialize in and get back to my storm-chasing roots. Weaver led the way this time with his uncanny acumen and limitless energy. Sheeka, too, proved herself quite the storm warrior, doling out cogent facts and commentary each and every time we pointed a camera at her - which was most of the time we were there. Countless live shots, dozens of packages, more tweets. Skypes and status updates than you can shake a dying iPhone at. Was Irene over-hyped? Not my call. But it was the first real hurricane in the age if social media and it all makes me wonder how we'll cover these storms just a few short years from now. One things' for sure: I'll fight to cover these signature whirlwinds each and every time they threaten our shore - if for no other reason than it leads to cinematic situations like this:

Irene Sunset

It was nearly dusk on Saturday by the time we saw the sun. Even then it was just a glimmer, a five minute break in the haze in which the Western sky exploded. I broke off a conversation with WRAL-TV's legendary shooter Robert Meikle and stumbled toward the orb. Loitering on the boardwalk there, I bathed in its beauty as a bundled figure approached. "That's somethin' ain't it?" I asked him and he agreed it was indeed celestial. We exchanged more warm words about the sun and as I stood there looking at it , I feel the young man staring at me. He leaned in close and with a grin said, "He-e-e-y, you ARE the Lenslinger!"

And that's how I met Ben McNeely.

The Irene Diaries: Saturday's Swath

Pier from AfarAt 7:30 am, Irene made landfall near Cape Lookout, N.C., some fifteen miles north of the sandy Sheraton we called home. Moving low and slow, the Class 1 hurricane raked the Crystal Coast before taking lives and property as close as the Outer Banks and as far away as Vermont. Within that context, Atlantic Beach escaped unscathed, though that would be difficult to explain to the residents whose neighborhoods were temporarily flooded, whose income was interrupted, whose favorite fishing pier was crippled by the passing storm.

Tog Slog WideFor the members of the press, how you spent Saturday morning depended on who was picking up your expense report. Those with network addresses on their check invariably fared better. Just ask the NBC crew spotted walking out of a backroom with bacon and eggs on their breath - long after Irene knocked out power to the hotel. I'm not saying Sheraton staffers fired up a generator and cooked the big-shots breakfast, but there's a local photog over there with a belly full of Cheez-Wiz and Pop-Tarts who wrote a little song about it. He's humming it now outside the Peacock's sat truck right. Try not to make eye contact.

All WetjpgThen again, maybe I imagined him. It all seems so fuzzy now. What I most remember about the morning Irene came ashore is driving around in it. Sheeka, Weaver and I scoured the island as best we could while eighty mile an hour winds made full grown stop signs wobble and thrum. From a leaning steeple to shattered glass, we collected the requisite evidence of a hurricane on the wane. Hell, we even pushed Sheeka out in the open for some street-level coverage. It was great fun, in a "hey, watch out for flying sheet-metal" kind of way. Later, we hit the beach where great curtains of flying sand granules wedged themselves in places that just shouldn't be explored on a family blog as this. 

Balcony Duo But you didn't stop in to hear of gritty under-loins. That kind of thing can be found all over the internet. No, what I hope you expected were tales of deprivation, pithy missives borne of hunger, snark and delirium, great passages of action in which a heroic news team rises above their station by plucking orphans from a kinetic surf. You know, I'd kinda like to read some of that myself, for true hurricane coverage is comprised of hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of totally heinous chafing. By far, the most perilous part of our mission was navigating five stories of pitch black stairwell under heavy load every time we went somewhere. I've never tasted so much flashlight!

But even that metallic taste doesn't capture the true flavor of extended hurricane coverage. For that, I'm forced to cue up a most disturbing vignette, a grainy trek into the very heart of darkness. That's right, I'm talkin' about the trail of destruction spawned by a news crew on assignment, a swath of debris that begins somewhere around the Do Not Disturb sign and extends well past the point of imagination...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Irene Diaries: Friday Night Lights

Windy PierBy nine o clock, the mood at Molly’s had changed. Gone were the drunken swimmers and sober-eyed cops. Missing too were more than a few camera crews. With Hurricane Irene churning just off shore, more than one affiliate had ordered its people off the island. Those crews moved quickly: no one really wanted to drive their satellite truck over that bridge after dark. Not with the wind howling like God himself had a hemorrhoid. It’s just one of the many reasons Weaver, Sheeka and I had decided to stay put. Irene would strike overnight. We wanted to be here when it did. So we hounded the hotel lady for the safest place to park. Other stations did the same and soon all the TV trucks clung to the old Sheraton like frightened pups huddling under their mother during a storm. Inside Live 3, Weaver and Sheeka worked on a story for the next newscast while the top-heavy truck rocked back and forth on its tires. I, meanwhile, unfurled fiber-optic cable across a parking lot turned tidal pool. At least that’s what I think I was doing. Truth is, my glasses were so fogged up and my rain-suit so twisted I wasn’t sure if I was setting up a live shot or doing the underwater lambada. All I know is that it was raining up my nose and not just because I was bent at the waist wrestling . Up ahead, a couple of strong spotlights lit up my next destination. Molly’s, the beachside bar and grill whose covered patio had become the media’s situation room. Minus Wolf Blitzer, of course.

Beach WatchNo, I’m not sure who was the guy outside the CNN truck. Blame it on the rain. Once Irene started spitting ocean water at us, everyone pulled on their plastic. Soon even the glossiest of correspondents got lost in a sea of rain-suited strangers. (Except one. NBC’s Kerry Sanders rocked a giant NBC peacock on the back of his bright yellow coat. It was awesome and I told him so a day later outside a port-a-potty. No law was called.) I pulled my own hood tight and followed a particular strand of the thick black cables running toward the shore. Most of it ran under water at some point and as I shook water off the end of an extension cord before jamming it into a sandy receptacle, I found myself wondering what they talked about in all those middle school science classes I slept through.’ No bother’ I thought as I splashed across the parking lot. I’d swapped my flip-flops for a pair of rubber fishing boots and at the moment my toes were the only body part not wet. Once under Molly’s roof, I fought the urge to shake off like a dog. Had I done so, I would no doubt have incurred the wrath of a Fox News Channel photog and for a slender blonde woman, she looked like she could rip your lips off. Nearby, a local crew took turns taking pictures of each others, their wisecracks and nervous squeals punctuating the wailing wind. It may have been a slow night at Molly’s, but the atmosphere was electric and as I stood there dripping in it, a weary grin appeared beneath my visor.

Duo RainWhole cooking shows could be built around the taste of a hurricane. I like it best off the rocks, wedged into the stairwell of some concrete hotel with a protected doorway from which to point my camera. That would come later, but for now I’d take advantage of the few minutes I had for before the newscast started and simply soak it all in. This would be easy to do, as I was wet from stem to stern. Back in the truck, Sheeka and Weaver were putting the finishing touches on the interviews we had shot earlier. It wax dry in there and more than a little fragrant, so I chose to stick it out at Molly’s for awhile. With my camera and cables now seeing eye to eye, there was nothing left to do but vedge, something I’m particularly gifted at. Besides, the rain was utterly hypnotizing me. Hurricane rain is like that: it comes down in  cockeyed curtains, whips upward when you least expect and preforms the kind of aerobatics people cough up good money to watch. With the high powered lights pointed toward the pier, the rain put on a performance worthy of a flashback, each buoyant orb its own Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I stood there for a long time, the cackle of the neighboring news crew falling away as I focused only on the falling water, the exploding surf, the tortured wail of the wind. You’d think a hurricane was coming…