Ever parked a billboard on the edge of misfortune and trolled for commotion? It’s not as fun as it sounds, but if you’re gonna be any good at this gig, you gotta ingratiate. Take today - all thirteen hours of it. What started as friendly hello at a reporter’s desk grew into an urgent journey, a feverish bee-line to a distant ‘burg, where reticent detectives, quivering witnesses and a halfway decent lunch made for a Thursday I’ll most likely soon forget. For now, though it’s on my mind, so let me knock this out so I can go get some sleep...
What makes a man stab a deaf-mute? It’s a question I hadn’t considered until fate placed in a speeding live truck this morning. Carter Coyle rode shotgun, a young reporter with a winning grin and considerable energy. She too had no clue why a guy would (repeatedly) plunge a knife into a stranger, but we both knew our lunch depended on nailing down the other four W’s. That may seem crass considering the crime, but when you data-mine calamity for a daily wage, you learn to do so from a distance. Emotionally, anyway. Physically, you gotta get up in it, which is why, after questioning a guy with a badge on his belt, Carter and I plunged into the heart of darkness. Actually, it was a rundown block on the West side of town, but you get the idea.
Twelve hours earlier, a young man with a history of violence did his best to end an old man’s future on this very spot. The old man was well known on these streets, a grizzled figure who didn’t let his inability to speak or hear stop him from begging for cigarettes. But bumming smokes was de rigueur in this ‘hood and the old man was much beloved among the saints and sinners that roamed its many yards and alleyways. How do I know Because they told us so. Five minutes after we’d parked the live truck in a side lot, a phalanx of aging neighbors lined up before our lens, eager to ask my glass why anyone would try to kill such a harmless old soul. We had no answers for them, only carefully crafted questions, designed to spawn responses in full sentence form. Oh, did they oblige.
“He ain’t ever done nobody no harm!” a man with deep creases on his forehead said. “I hope who ever did this suffers!” wished a woman with more fingers than teeth. Carter and I didn’t dare look at one another, for we knew better than to question such on-camera manna. This was the kind of emotional outpouring are bosses crave, soundbites to die for, if you will (even if you won’t). At that very moment, the young man with blood on his blade sat in a jail cell downtown. The old man was much further away, hooked to wires and tubes in a distant intensive care unit. His stab wounds were many, his chances few. Sad as that is, we didn’t really dwell on it there on the street.
We were on deadline after all, and with so many locals emoting on-cue, my focus was on the glowing red light in the corner of the screen. But the pitch and timber of all that anguish eventually seeped into my skull and as I edited the footage later in the day, I couldn’t help but think of my place in the world. Who am I to swoop in and demand answers? I hold neither a degree or warrant. I can offer the average bystander little more than a soapbox and a rickety on at that. Aside from my empathy, they will receive no cash or prizes for appearing in our show. But time and time again, people in precarious positions step before the glass and pour forth their darkest fears. Why? Is it just the chance to be on the Tee-Vee? Or is it just human nature to share perspective, hurl invectives and whisper things into a logo'd lens that they wouldn’t even tell detectives?
Don't ask me. I just drive the truck...
Monday, January 07, 2013
You know, I've carried more reporters than most parade floats. But try as I might, I can't ever remember knocking one down. It's not that I haven't thought about it. Any photog whose stood off-screen while their on-air partner crashed and burned has fantasized about ending it all. It would be as easy as pulling a plug, I guess, but taking a talking hairdo out at the knees is far more fun to fantasize about. But to actually do it, well, that's something only the network guys get to do. Until now.
Seems the talented staff at KARE 11 in Minneapolis-Saint Paul have a clause in their contracts, some special paragraph that grants them the right to knock a correspondent on their arse whenever the mood suits 'em. At least that's what I gathered after watching one of the most perplexing live shots I've ever seen. And that's a a lot coming from a guy who once convinced Garth Brooks to stick around for a little happy anchor chit-chat. But enough about my life as a faux-cowboy wrangler, let's go to the videotape!
It's a pretty exceptional seventy-some seconds. Lee Valsvik, a nice enough lady who doesn't seem to deserve what's about to befall her, chats happily with her morning show hosts before quizzing someone she identifies as a 'mixologist'.) Personally, I got the heebie-jeebies then and there, as anyone who goes by that title better pack at least two turntables and a microphone.) But music doesn't seem forthcoming as our intrepid reporter soon hands her guest a football and encourages him to hurl it. He complies and that's when the damnedest thing happens...
A figure emerges from behind a table, catches the football and, inexplicably, begins running right for the camera! Problem is, Valsvik is blocking his path and though she seems unaware of the barrier she presents, the mysterious receiver seems totally okay with it. Then, before you can say, "Oh Shit! He's gonna plow right into her!", he plows right. into. her. As hits go, it's pretty spectacular. I could describe it , all right, but it's really the kind of thing you have to see for yourself. Go ahead... I have, like three dozen times!
But no matter how many times I re-rack that point of impact, I cannot for the life of me understand what they were trying to do. Then again, what little I know about football could be etched onto the side of a single Tic-Tac, but that doesn't stop me from thinking this play seemed wiser in the huddle. Now, sources close to the collision tell me the runner in question is a talented photog NOT known for body-checking correspondents. Perhaps, but with a hit like that under his belt, I can't help but wonder if dude didn't inadvertently invent a new sport...
I'D buy tickets.
Sunday, January 06, 2013
Though I'm still a few weeks away from deciding on a New Year's Resolutions, I'm gonna go ahead and cross organized exercise off the list. After all, my job comes with its very own weight set. And who needs a personal trainer when petulant News Gods send me scampering up overpasses at midnight while wearing mismatched socks? Hell, I already twist, bark and cajole enough per shift to qualify as my very own aerobics instructor. See, I don't need to heave on some imaginary rope to 'feel the burn'. Not when I just pulled five hundred feet of camera cable up a smelly stairwell, all so some dude in a suit could address the allegations room the comfort of his conference room. And what's with that medicine ball? Come at me with that thing and you'll taste the rust of my Leatherman. Maybe then you'll understand that TV news photogs don't train, stretch or warm up. Instead, we curse and bellow while backpedaling down a fire escape with six sworn frenemies and a future felon.
Even DODGING work takes whole muscle groups not found in your average office park. Don't believe me. Let an assignment editor catch sight of me as the police scanner goes ballistic. I'll drop to my fingertips and low-crawl out of there before the ghost of Jack Lalanne can get his house slippers on. How fast I slither away depends on the nature of the call, of course. Explosion at the City Sewer? I'll crawl through a burning Mens Room to avoid that one. Strange flames over Colostomy Peek? I'll be hiding in the ceiling panels, if you need me. County Commissioner take a rival hostage? Let God sort 'em out. The water park's on fire? I gotta see THAT one!
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, taking umbrage at the very idea I may wanna pay somebody to make me sweat. Have you seen me in Mid-July. I'm like one of the mutant superhero types whose special powers only make him more of a social outcast. Check and check! Now if you don't mind, I have a bunch of batteries to charge and that's NOT a euphemism for my new hot yoga class. Sooo, for the love of my shattered kneecaps, please refrain from implying I might be more comfortable in a down-dog position. I'm limber enough as it is, mainly from squeezing into cop car cockpits and worming my way out of any shoots involving county commissioners, cadaver dogs or flu clinics. It's there in front of the desk I expend my most energy -- from shrugging at the news of a Presidential pit-stop to shirking my responsibilities as weather video getter. Yet there are times I'm all about ridding my body of toxins... Really, wanna see me drop and squat? Come to a stand-off that last more than six hours...
You'll never question my metabolism again.