Monday, January 31, 2005

What did you watch last night?

Action-Wife (Dellis) and I were watching "NYPD Blue" on my TiVo the other night (yay, TiVo!) and even though it was a pretty good episode, I couldn't get into it.

Don't really know if it's just me, but I get like that from time to time. Even the best television programs and movies sometimes just don't entertain me. Maybe it's because the scope of what I do puts me in a mood where the suspension of belief is difficult to maintain.

I can't forget that Andy Sipowichz is really Dennis Franz and the dialog coming out of him was written by someone else.

This isn't a Hollywood set. It's all real and I'm not talking reality show real either.

The events we witness zip by quickly. Sometimes I don't know if I really do them justice describing the details in my average post. I try to pick out what I think is most interesting, but sometimes there's just too much that's important and to say less seems almost disrespectful of the situation.

These pictures are from Friday night. My SAT truck trainee and I were on our way to Big Bear (yeah, that Big Bear) to put a reporter on TV in the snow. We were in a small messenger van for transportation and picking up the SAT truck at an accident scene in Colton.

None of these locations are close to Hollywood. We drove through almost three hours of traffic just to get to Colton. That's normally about an hour from our station. It was raining off and on and it was a long frustrating drive.

Also, don't forget, we still have to drive up to Big Bear. A drive up a mountain road at night in the snow. Yeah, good times.

We get to Colton and begin to make the swap, but the assignment desk calls and tells us the crew on the mountain can't get any further in the snow. They can do the liveshot by microwave from their current location in Running Springs.

We like to call that dodging a bullet. Now of course, that's great, but what do WE do?

The van we're in has no camera gear, so we can't work an assignment. Rather than swap out for the SAT truck to continue training (it's a complicated exchange, we'd have to get the truck back to the home of the regular driver in Chino at the end of the night), we decided to stay and help the crew coming up assigned to the Colton story for the later newscasts.

It's good that we did.

A little background on the accident. Don't quote me on this, but if I have my facts straight, this accident happened during a multi-agency police chase. The second suspect of a robbery/sexual assault case from days earlier was believed to be either driving or a passenger in the white van. The van hit another car at this intersection. That pretty much ended the chase, but shots were fired and the suspect was injured.

The whole incident was long done by the time we arrived on scene. Only the clean-up remained.

Before the liveshot, I found out the police had distributed a DVD of the surveillance video from inside the convenience store that had been robbed. Nobody could get it to work in their DVD players. I found out when I tried to play it in my computer DVD drive that it wasn't a video on DVD, it was an executable computer file and when I ran it, the program showed the robbery video from multiple camera angles.

On the video, you see the two suspects grab a female cashier. They rob the store and drag her with them as they leave. From one camera you can see them run out the door and get into a vehicle. The footage was grainy and low quality, but that didn't matter. You could see the faces of the suspects and the face of the victim clearly enough.

We were told one of the suspects was quickly caught. The other suspect drove to Colton with the woman and sexually assaulted her.

We didn't show the face of the victim in our news report, but we saw it. For low quality video, you could see things clearly enough. It wasn't difficult to imagine what kind of fear the victim must have been feeling. You could see it on her face.

The other photog and the reporter began editing the story while the SAT truck trainee and I stood in the rain at the back of the messenger van to shoot my laptop computer screen as the video played. We had to play it over and over to get enough usable footage because we used the camera to zoom in on portions of the screen that would keep the victim's identity anonymous to the general public.

We did one liveshot from the scene of the accident, but the police warned us that the neighborhood was too dangerous for us to stay in after they cleared the scene.

The rain stopped, but the street was still flooded with muddy water.

I loaned a set of jumper cables to a police officer, because one of their car batteries had died.

After the liveshot, we broke down the gear, packed it away and drove to the nearest police station for our next liveshot.

I got home late, but Dellis had taken a nap earlier so she could stay up late with me. She fixed me a snack and we watched some TV together. Remember what I wrote earlier about how watching TV or a movie sometimes doesn't do it for me? It's not that I find standing in the rain at a crime scene more exciting.

It's just when I'm sitting there watching it, even the best acting is still just acting. I couldn't get past that.

Not when the last thing I watched didn't end with closing credits.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Want to run a SAT truck?

It's the end of my week and I didn't get nearly enough of a chance to tell everything that went on around me. It's not all big news, but I figure some of it is at least a little bit interesting.

Another photographer and I (Mr. Jeff Mailes) got the go ahead to start training the next generation of satellite truck operators for our station. We're both going to take a trainee and spend four or five days going over the operation of the truck and pass along as much of our knowledge as we can.

Out of forty to fifty staff and freelance news photographers, we currently have about ten who are trained to operate the satellite trucks and because of their other duties, maybe seven or eight who are available.

Somebody asked me if we were training our replacements.

As far as I know, all we're doing is increasing the value of one of my fellow news photographer. I've come across other photographers who treat knowledge as a limited commodity. That's not how I see things.

In theory, if I teach someone else how to do something that I'm good at, that person might someday be better at it than me. The situation would never get to the point where I'd have to worry about my losing my job (God bless IBEW Local #45), but I am creating an opportunity for my employers to have a wider choice in how they make assignments. Lots of arguments could be made against being quite so free in sharing knowledge, but in the long run I feel like the goal should always be to raise the bar.

If I can somehow contribute to people around me being better at what we do, doesn't that benefit everyone?

Granted, it's not a well formed philosophy. It just has always seemed that if I held onto the few ragged scraps of knowledge I've struggled to pick up through the years, I benefit nobody but myself.

That's not the world I want to live in.

If being better than somebody else is going to be important to me on any level, I'll take the risk in raising the bar and just push myself harder to reach that next level.

Trust me, there will always be more to learn.

Life is funny like that.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Train wrecks waiting to happen

For something that's statistically rare, it hits me as odd that this is my fourth train wreck story.

The first two I covered when I was just starting my news career in Bakersfield. The third was not quite two years ago in the City of Commerce and now we have the Metrolink/suicide attempt from yesterday.

If you watched any news at all yesterday or listened to the radio, then you probably got the complete story already.

There's not a lot that I could tell of what went on behind the scene that would be of interest. We covered the story to the best of our ability.

One small thing that I found pretty great, Costco provided free food all day. Sweet. A nearby Starbucks opened up later in the afternoon and gave out free coffee and hot chocolate to the media.

I got called in early at 11:30am and worked through our late newscast at 11:00pm. That's a pretty long day for me even though I'm not active that whole time, I have to be alert for anything that might be important to our coverage.

By the time the sun had set and we started our nightside coverage of the accident, we knew that 11 people had died and the suspect believed to be responsible for the crash had been arrested.

The suspect was believed to be trying to kill himself and lost his nerve. I've always been strongly against suicide. Maybe my happy-go-lucky outlook on life oversimplifies the problems and complexities that other people might face. Maybe I've never had to experience the types of problems that the suspect faced.

Even though I know life isn't meant to be "fair", I just believe that the people on that train deserved better. It's horrible to think they were killed and never knew what was coming.

They were in a perfectly safe environment. They weren't in a bad neighborhood or doing something anyone would consider risky.

I never wish death on anybody and I'm almost willing to cut the suspect a little slack, because really he didn't intend to kill anybody.

Well, he intended to kill himself, but that didn't work out.

I know it's wrong of me to feel this way, but when I think of the pain and suffering he caused, I can't help thinking that the suspect should have tried a little harder.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Wow, do I win something?

I've always tried to be humble and take my hit count in stride. I never want to be too happy when the numbers are up, because I don't want it to bring me down when the numbers are down.

There's also the idea that the numbers shouldn't matter and the quality of the writing and pictures that I post should really be my only concern and besides, there are a lot of sites that do my numbers daily.

That being said, let me just add. . .

Check out that hit counter! Woo-hoo, baby! I'm not doing porn site numbers, but YEE-HAAAAH!

I'm feeling very lucky and blessed to be reaching 50,000 hits sometime this evening. Thanks to everybody for your encouragement and support. I love hanging out with all of you and look forward to some more interesting times.

I can't be sick, I might miss something

I'm feeling a little under the weather today. Too much of a good thing this past weekend is probably the culprit, but I have to take my fair share of the blame.

I'm going to take it easy today and keep my fingers crossed in the hope that all hell doesn't break loose in news this afternoon.

Anybody who works in news, knows I just jinxed myself completely. Here comes another natural disaster.

Oh, well, just keep a good thought for me.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Happy Birthday to me

It was actually Dellis' Birthday this weekend, but I think I reaped more of the benefit.

She and I haven't really had a lot of time together recently, so we managed a little overnight stay away from home to get away from it all.

I spend enough time in hotel rooms to feel like it's not any great treat, but I do try to remember that it's different for Dellis. She's the better half at home keeping our life on track when I'm away.

We grab what time we can for ourselves and try to stay in touch with each other through the day, but the fact remains that we keep different hours.

It's the kind of thing you can be staring at, but it still just kind of sneaks up on you. My long hours at work and on the road added to Dellis' additional responsibilities taking care of her mother all add up to very little time for ourselves. It wears us down.

I blinked and 2004 was gone. It's hard to believe that January is almost over. That opera we saw was back in November and I think we've seen two movies since summer.

Maybe more like one and a half movie. I pretty much slept through Lemony Snicket.

There are times when it seems like the only way to deal with life is to turn away from it. Take a break and recharge. As much as I enjoy the job I have, it takes a lot out of me and I know that can't always be easy for my family.

I never want to take for granted what it takes to keep us both going.

I don't claim to have a great understanding of how things work in life. Most of the time it feels like I've been very lucky that things have worked out for me in spite of my best efforts.

One thing that I know to be true is that I don't mind working to take care of a good relationship.

It's a lot easier than trying to fix one that's broken.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Get that camera out of my face!

All the threats and violence I've seen in recent weeks against people working in news media is seriously bothering me. I can't tell you how much spitting on me is going to ruin my day.

People are jumping to the assumption that anyone with a camera (video or still) is a tabloid paparazzi vulture. It pretty often feels like we're being stereotyped and that creates a very hostile atmosphere. Suddenly we have fewer rights than "regular" people.

(Day after one of the Staple Center Riots)

On the other hand I've been there when my fellow news photographers and I are tripping all over ourselves as we backpedal in front of a famous (or infamous) newsmaker. I'll admit at those times it feels like our reputation isn't completely undeserved. It's just unfortunate that out of all the good we do, images from those moments are the ones that people remember.

Having been in that type of scene, I admit it's difficult to not get caught up in the adrenaline rush of getting the shot that makes the story better visually or getting that quick and unscripted off the cuff remark.

I think people still need to understand that the majority of the time, that's not how we operate. The presence of a camera doesn't immediately set off a feeding frenzy.

(On the street in front of Robert Blake's House)

I can't quote the laws that directly relate to my right to videotape someone. If you're out in public view, the assumption is that your expectation to privacy is different than if you were sitting in your livingroom.

(Round the clock in front of David Westerfield's home)

That doesn't excuse bad behavior from us or the public.

I tend to be courteous about what I do and I'll avoid shooting someone who is trying to avoid being in my shot. I feel bad when I see people realize that they're walking in front of a rolling camera and they start doing the ducking zig-zag dance. People, just so you know, you're never out of frame. It's just making you look goofy.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I tend to avoid shooting people who aren't part of the story I'm covering. If you happen to be standing next to Michael Jackson, Robert Blake, or Donald Trump. . .come on, let's just be realistic.

(Outside of the home of Danielle Van Dam)

If you see me with my camera covering the news, try not to push me, jump on me, or throw bottles at me. I'm not breaking the law to do my job and you shouldn't break the law to try and stop me from doing my job.

At some point you'll be held accountable for your actions, just as I'm held accountable for mine.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Blogger is giving me trouble again. If my draft posts and you read it, come back later and read it again. It'll be revised and I hope, better. Thanks anyway for reading me. -beFrank-

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Last year's show was better

That's just my opinion, but mainly because I got to cover the show last year.

I think it's time for a beFrank "Classic" post. Out in the mudslide of La Conchita, I'm feeling a bit left out of the glitz and glamour of awards season. I've already missed the Golden Globes and the People's Choice awards shows.

How about a few pictures from last year's Golden Globes?

That dude from CSI.

Tom Cruise's ex-wife. Whatever happened to her?

Look! A Baldwin brother. They're getting to be kind of generic.

"Get me Jack Bauer. . .hell no, it can't wait until tomorrow."

What a feeling.

In the picture below, if you know who the woman on the right is, but don't know the younger woman on the left, you probably also remember when you hated to pay more than a dollar for a gallon of gasoline.

I hope she can find another job soon. I liked the two of them on the show.

Arrested Development is absolutely one of the funniest shows I never get to watch. I really need to update my TIVO season passes.

I think I written about all the pictures where I can actually recognize the celebrity. Somebody help me here.

Wait, here's one more. I have to admit, it takes a certain amount of skill as a photographer to take a picture of a woman who is recognized as one of the most beautiful women on the planet and make her look bad.

I have this fear that supermodels (super-rich ones) have a team of lawyers who comb the internet and media for unflattering images of their clients.

When her lawyers come after me, I'm going to swear that it was an artistic statement and that way they can't sue me or make me take down the picture.

I hope they have a sense of humor.

Maybe I ought to just pull the picture now or wait, maybe I can play dumb and say, I never pulled the picture because I thought it was Alicia Keyes.

Everybody knows I can easily make that mistake.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Go get more guys, we'll wait

It's not difficult enough making the long drive and then working the long hours in La Conchita.

Three teenagers tried to pick a fight with the photographer that was working the story with me last night.

We had driven up to Carpenteria to gas up the SAT truck. For whatever unknown reason, these idiots just decided that they didn't like CBS2 coming into their town.

Not one of them looked like they could fight their way out of a paper bag, let alone take on two grown men. Maybe they were loaded. It could be they're capable of civil behavior under other circumstances.

Maybe they had a gun.

Either way, we managed to avoid a fight. When we flagged down a cop, they scattered like mice. Just that quick, it was over and we went on about our night.

I do want to thank the folks who offered afterwards if it had gotten out of hand, they'd have helped us out. (If it had gotten out of hand and we needed help with the three runts, I'm thinking, I'd have been too ashamed to tell the story.)

We drove back to La Conchita and finished out the rest of the evening without incident.

On the long drive later that night back to the station, I couldn't help wonder how the night might have turned out if we didn't stay calm.

We could have fought. It did come pretty close to that.

It really takes a thick skin to do this job at times. If they were bigger and the outcome not so certain, it might have been actually easier to try and avoid a fight. Sometimes it's more difficult to walk away from a win.

Maybe I'll ask myself next time, WWCD?

(What would Carl do?)

Monday, January 17, 2005

"Hello" anybody?

I'm looking to add to my "Hello" friends list. If anyone is interested, just drop me an email or post a comment. I don't know if there's any great benefit to being my friend, but it's likely that I'll chat at times from somewhere interesting.

(I also promise to understand if you're spending way too much time at the computer already and really don't have time to chat.)

After the thunder

The weather is much better, but it's still a slow recovery.

I had one day off on Saturday and then had to be back on the job for an early start to my work week. I spent a huge chunk of Sunday (and a little bit of Monday) in La Conchita. Came home late and got up late. I'll be heading back up today.

As of yesterday, there was no running water and no electricity in the town. The houses that are still standing are dark and most of the residents are staying somewhere else.

The highway is open, but the traffic was congested in both directions during the day.

It's a disturbing sight as you pass the town at night. Most of the media crews are gone and over the holiday weekend, the work crews had also cleared out. It was quiet and empty and sad.

The crews will be back on Tuesday to continue digging out and shoring up the hillside. It's still too early to tell what's going to eventually happen to the town. I just have a feeling that we'll be there to keep everyone else informed.

As of last night, it was quiet. I hope it stays that way.

It's been a long week for us. I'm sure it's been worse for the residents.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Now, what you didn't see. . .

. . .can easily fill more than thirty seconds of airtime.

I've been out here all week and it's been as bad as you might imagine at the scene. I saw the man who lost most of his family and I passed on the opportunity to snap his picture. I've done that before. I wouldn't hesitate as part of my job (I'd try to be discreet), but giving him that moment of peace seemd more important and appropriate than me having that shot.

This is Carl Stein. You don't know him, but he's the photographer who shot the footage of the mudslide on day one. If you followed the story at all, you've seen that video.

He told me that he was asked why on the raw tape you don't hear him at all using more colorful language to describe what he was seeing. Not a single f*** or sh** was heard the whole time he rolled.

Carl told me it wasn't about him. He's a photographer and he knows better than to make running commentary when his camera is rolling (I'm paraphrasing here). If he talks, the story becomes less about what he's shooting.

I believe that's true.

It's a shame you couldn't also see the part on the raw tape where residents assaulted him. Nothing serious, but he got jumped on by one woman and some other people came up and shoved him and his camera around. A part of me almost understands the anger the residents must have felt, but it was still wrong.

I admire the fact that through all that, Carl still did his job. I'll have to get another look at the raw tape, but I don't remember hearing him say anything as he was being assaulted.

It's not an important part of the story for most people this week. It's just something I hope I can keep in mind if I'm ever in similar circumstances. Carl set a good example for me and other news photographers. He handled the situation well and behaved in a professional manner.

Let me just say it now, so I don't have to say it next time when I'm working.

"Holy sh**, look at that!"

"Get the fu** off of me. I'm just trying to do my job!"