Monday, October 31, 2005

A river runs through it.

As I was saying in the previous post, I helped cover a prostitution sting on Friday night. It targeted the "johns" and featured police women who walked along a street known to be popular for this type of activity.

The flashing shoes were a nice touch. Kind of like chum for johns.

It never fails to amaze me what goes on in society. I'm sure people have seen the real working girls on this street and never realized what was going on.

I have to admit, I feel sorry for the guys who were caught. Even though I know what they were doing is wrong, it takes a colder person than me to look them in the eyes, videotape them, and not feel some small amount of sympathy for them.

Oh, yeah, they deserve what they got. The fear and embarrassment they showed just might help keep prostitution and all the related crime it promotes off the streets.

The willingness and the desire might still be there, but the fear that cops are hiding somewhere nearby might make some of the "johns" think twice.

By the way, the kicker for us that night? We saw a real prostitute (she was pointed out to us by the cops) pick up a "john" about thirty feet from our van as we were driving off after our liveshot.

She was walking along the street, an SUV pulled over and she leaned over the passenger door to talk to the driver. She got in and the SUV pulled off.

That's got to be frustrating for the cops. She's taking away business and she didn't even have a pair of flashing heeled shoes.

Kind of like fishing without bait.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Touche' Mr. Borghese!

The day started slow and I wasn't sure anything was going to happen that anybody might be interested in reading about. I was busy running errands in the morning and almost didn't get anything posted before work.

I cut it close, but I was pretty proud of the fact that I got the post in and very happy to be getting my blog productivity up for the week. I was still a bit concerned that nothing was going to happen and I'd have nothing to write up for Friday.

photo by John Vincent

So I'm sitting in the newsroom and a frequent reader who shall remain annonymous, good-naturedly teases me a bit about not posting as often lately.

Oh, goody! Now I've got something to write about. Heh-heh.

Of course, I'm going to need some pictures, so I run and grab my camera. The hunt is on and I use every bit of my paparazzi-ninja-photog training to try and snap a couple of candid shots of the big game prize.

All was going well until he passed me in the hallway. I tried to blend into the natural surroundings and even attempted sort of a combination Jedi/Vulcan Mind Trick thing.

You don't see me and these aren't the droids you're looking for.

"Hey Bryan, what's up with the camera? You taking someone's picture?" (not an exact quote)

Drat! Obviously he'd been tipped him off and I had now lost the element of surprise. That's okay, though. I had a couple of shots.

All I needed was time to get them online.

My plan was to work from my laptop out in the parking lot. I can use my cell phone to get an internet connection and with a bit of my patented "Frank Luck" I'd actually get a second post up in one day.

Yep, that was the plan.

Gee, do you remember I was at work?

The van cell phone rang (crap). I take the call and close the computer. Right away I'm in the driver's seat and heading out with a reporter. The blog is going to have to wait.

I spend the rest of my evening hanging out in the back of a dark parking lot. My assignment was to help cover a "John Sting" set up by the Los Angeles Police Department. Pretty interesting and I'm going to try to get some time later to tell you about it.

Hey, Paul! You might want to check back with me.

I tell you, I'm on a roll.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Hollywood Parking Lot of the Stars.

Sometimes I go to interesting places. This is the parking lot of the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Okay, so not exactly an interesting place, but that's where the day took me. We were covering an event sponsored by a group that deals with grief counseling. It was important to the station and I think we did a good job in our coverage, but we cover a lot of these events.

I wasn't even going to write about it, but two minutes before the liveshot at 8:00pm a member of the hotel's security staff came up and told us we couldn't go live from the property.

This is one of the Murphy's Laws of broadcast news. We'd been in the parking lot for several hours and had gone live from another location a few yards away earlier.

I feel a little guilty. We didn't do anything wrong, but it might have created problems for the security person. He was calm and professional and treated us fairly. We get a lot of guys like that just foaming at the mouth and treating us like we're being dishonest.

It was a simple misunderstanding. We drove up and we were told where to park our microwave truck (sigh).

We were cooperative and moved the van off the property without hesitation after the liveshot.

photo by Francisco (Pancho) Alferez

I guess I just felt kind of bad for having eaten some (really, just some) of the munchies offered to us during the event. It feels like I abused the hospitality and my mother would probably make me go back today and apologize.

Good thing I'm an adult (and good thing she lives in another state).

By the way, the salmon thingy was okay, but I liked the spinach and cream cheese pastries better. You're right, it is a tough job.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Put the mic down. . .slowly.

As a news photographer, one of the things I've learned from actual experience is there are some reporters you want to be careful with. Forget to white balance or screw up the nat sound and you could end up a breaker and lead the newscast.

Okay, you know I'm just kidding. Reporter Juan Fernandez and I got to "shoot" a story with the West Covina Police Department a couple days ago.

They're testing a new weapon that's loaded with electronic gadgetry, most of which allows it to be aimed and fired from around a corner. Kind of like when Bugs Bunny bends the barrel on Elmer Fudd's rifle. Just not so much of the part where Elmer Fudd blasts himself in the butt or the face.

You can see the story on the CBS2/KCAL9 web site. Sorry, you'll have to search through the videos, I don't have an individual link to the story and you're completely on your own for the Buggs Bunny cartoon.

I'm not a big gun enthusiast. I've got nothing against them, but did you notice where I set my camera (yeah, it's rolling). Still, I think it's pretty cool to peek behind the scenes of law enforcement activities. I got to walk down the hallways of a police station (hey, this time without handcuffs) and I got to hang out for a while on their indoor shooting range.

I got to see SWAT officers (and Juan) put effective little holes in targets representing bad guys who would do harm to others.

Gee, I think I'm pretty lucky to never have had a reason (at least not a good one) to put holes in anybody. I'm asked often how I can do my job with all the bad stuff I'm likely to see. It's tough, but mostly after the fact. I can always think of a few jobs worse than mine for traumatizing experiences. If I see a body, someone else put it there.

As a husband and a father, I like to think I could protect my family and do whatever needed to be done if they were threatened. You might like the wild wild west. Call me crazy, but I like living in a society with laws designed and enforced to protect us.

Law enforcement can't be an absolute guarantee of safety, but I greatly appreciate the efforts of the police officers who uphold the law.

It's got to be difficult to face the prospect of someday having to stop someone from doing harm. To make the choice and swear an oath, taking on the responsibility of protecting others is probably taken too lightly by too many people in our society.

I wouldn't speak for anyone else, but I'm glad the choice is still made.

I guess that's how it's supposed to work. The people who are suited for those responsibilities pursue that path. It allows others like me to live with some sense of security. It gives me the opportunity (the right?) to make other choices. Like going to sleep at night instead of standing guard over my home.

None of us are perfect. I know there are bad people as well as good people carrying guns and badges. That's why we need to wake up from that sound sleep every now and then. Trusting others to watch over us just changes our responsibility, it doesn't absolve it.

If I ever need some small holes put into somebody, I'm thankful I know who to call and if Juan Fernandez isn't available, then I'm calling the cops.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Don't forget the tacos.

Somebody remind me to be careful about wishing for news to cover.

It was a slow day yesterday and I much rather my Mondays be chock full of interesting news to cover. We had plenty of news to cover, but luck of the draw, I didn't catch any of it.

In the picture? This is the Apple Store on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. That's a nice area to hang out in if you've got some free time. Cool, I was okay with going and shooting some footage of the iPod Nano and maybe stop at King Taco.

No reason for me to ask what the story was about before I left. It just didn't seem to be that critical.

Like I said, Pasadena is a good place to hang and lots of other people think the same thing. As I was shooting from the sidewalk in front of the store, I got about a dozen people asking me what I was doing.

Yes, I especially like the people who walk through the shot, stop, come back and ask what I'm doing.

Natural curiosity and all, I know they want more details than the obvious and that's just a polite ice breaker. Still, with the camera, mic flag, and a big honking logo covered microwave truck behind me, that just makes the question annoying after you've heard a few thousand times.

I'm a nice photographer (that's not always true) and I explain that I'm shooting the iPod Nano for a news story.

Half the people who talked to me, asked why I wasn't covering any "real" news.

Gee, I don't know. They pay me to do this, so it's kind of like a job. You know where I can't just pick and choose what stories I'm going to cover. Maybe Steve Jobs shot somebody. I'm sure he wouldn't, but it could happen. On the way back to the station, I'll hope for a brush fire or another torso somewhere.

So, I'm in a swell mood already and then on my way back to the station I don't get a fire or a torso (I bet it's not many people who get to use the word "torso" when they talk about their jobs). What I get is a flat tire.

First blowout in almost eleven years of working news.

It happened as I was cruising down the 2 Freeway heading back to the station. I wasn't in a hurry. Just driving along and the van started feeling like I'm running over ridges in the road. The rear end felt wobbly as I made my way over to the shoulder and I actually felt when most of the tread fell off. I came to a stop, got out and made a critical assessment of the damage (woo, I can't fix that). One quick call to the assignment desk to let them know I may not be back right away and I waited.

The desk put a call into the roadside assistance company we use in these situations and right about then to my horror I realized that I had forgot to stop at King Taco.


A "short" three hours later and I'm back on the road. This guy was good. He patched the tire.


Actually, he swapped out the spare and I went on back to the station.

I never saw the iPod story, so I'll have to ask what it was about when I get back to work today. In the three hours I was waiting for help, I did manage to microwave the tape back, so at least they had the footage.

Life can be pretty random sometimes. I have three more tires from the same set and boy, do I feel lucky. I think I'll pack some snacks and something to read today.

You never know when you'll be stuck on the side of the road.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Did you get that thing I sent you.

Pretty mellow weekend for the beFrank household. I had to work on Saturday and I'd tell you about my assignment, but I'm not sure how hush-hush it was meant to be. I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures because it wasn't a typical news assignment. In fact it wasn't really a news assignment. I just had a conversation about bloggers who have gotten into trouble for their blog content, so I'm really eager to just tell everybody about the assignment, but I can't.

No, no, don't try to get me to tell anything about it.

In fact let's just drop it.

Fine, okay, I'll tell you, but just to cover myself, I'll add the word hypothetically right here.

Just in case, you know?

I had to work on Saturday and that meant overtime. "CHA-CHING" in all caps. An eight hour shift and all I had to do was drive a van up to a city (I think I better not say where) and use one of our handy-talkie radios to coordinate video being shot by somebody of something.

Wait, maybe I've said too much.

I'm all ready to do my thing with the radios. Five minutes after I arrive at the location, the decision is made to cancel the shoot. Oh boy, I'm freaking out on the inside. My whole assignment for the day (which wasn't going to take that long anyway) gets cancelled at the last minute because. . .well, I can't really tell you why.

This makes for an interesting situation. I can tell you that I was feeling pretty giddy at this point, because I still get paid for the day, but I'm cleared to go home. My goodness, what a predicament. I have to force myself to walk slowly back to my vehicle. I want to make sure they have plenty of opportunity to call me back. Just in case they have a sudden change of heart and want to go ahead with the shoot.

My only thought as I burned rubber out of the parking lot was that I hoped I didn't run over the star of the show as I was leaving. The star wasn't really there, but that's just what was going through my mind at the time.

With my day suddenly and unexpectedly free, I rush home and grab Dellis. We go out and have a decadent seafood brunch (yes, I'll have another crab cake) at one of our favorite restaurants. Hmm, I guess I can tell you, the eatery was "The Fish Tale", in Long Beach.

We laughed and sipped champagne at a table by their fireplace.

I'm truly sorry things didn't work out for the shoot, I was ready to drop my fork (wrap up that chowder to go, please and toss in that bread!) and head back to work. I'm just glad I didn't get any calls or pages and everything worked out pretty swell for me.

A little vague, but that's my story and I'm sticking with it. I really don't want to get into any trouble, so don't tell anybody about this post.

We'll just keep it between us.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Half a decade, give or take.

It's been a slow week again. If you've been checking for updates this week, I can't help but feel that I've been disappointing folks. The week didn't start off slow. I had a couple of good breakers and I have one more day to pull a lead story out of the hat.

My intention was to talk about news and the internet, but as interesting as I find those topics, I was nodding off as I was writing about it and decided to start over. Maybe it's just one of those things that's more fun to do than to talk about.

The picture is from about five years ago. I've been thinking of the changes local news has gone through and trying to imagine where I'd like be in a few years.

I look at what Kevin Sites is doing for Yahoo, but as hard as I work and as much I do in the run of a day, I can't help but feel like there's more that I could be doing as a journalist. Maybe taking my career outside of being a photographer and actually. . .well, I don't know. It's all just random thoughts for now. Besides, I'm not looking to jump into a hot zone. There's plenty of news I'd like to cover that's happening right outside my door.

Whichever road I take, even if ultimately I just keep doing what I've been doing, I'll be sure to keep everyone posted.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hot chocolate in front of a fire.

That's my favorite way to spend a rainy day. If I'm at home, then it's the same thing with a glass of wine.

The rainy season has officially started in Los Angeles. I mark the beginning of the season by the additional layers of mud caked onto my tennis shoes at the end of my shift.

Like the sparrows to Capistrano or a seasoned fisherman to his favorite spot along a river, news crews returning to past locations for weather related liveshots is just pretty darned comforting for me.

As I gassed up Unit #19 (my take home microwave truck) at the end of the night on Monday, a couple of young Hollywood partygoers (imagine Beavis and Butthead, but not as sophisticated) decided to express their amusement at our pursuit of rain related weather stories.

I'd just returned from the Polynesian "Deluxe" Mobile Home Park near Santa Clarita. It's been a year, but the roads are still getting overrun with rushing water and mud. The people who live there are still dealing with the same damage and destruction of their homes and if anything is being done, it's being done slowly and quietly. From listening to the complaints of the residents who don't really have anywhere else to go, too slow and too quiet, if at all.

Anyway, back to the guys at the gas station. They started out good natured and we shared a laugh at the media's typical rush to cover the beginning of the season rain showers.

It got annoying pretty quickly when they started doing mock liveshots and standups.

Live, here in Hollywood, it's raining! Back to you in the studio.

Ha-ha, I got it, yeah. Thanks, guys.

I might have tried to explain the point of the weather coverage, but it was just too late and they were too loaded for me to really feel like I had any chance of making a point.

I think there's a public perception of weather coverage that's driven by the promotional material used to draw viewers into the newscast. The actual content starts to get lost because people are rolling their eyes at the first sight or sound of the words "Storm Watch".

It's frustrating enough for us, because we're sloshing through the mud and muck and trying to protect the equipment and trying to stay warm and hoping that someone else gets the assignment to go up to Big Bear for the few flakes of snow that may or may not still be there for the 11:00pm newscast.

Still, it's the content that I work hard for out in the field. Give us the benefit of the doubt and take the time to pay attention to the stories being covered. I guarantee the folks at the mobile home park pay close attention to the weather report.

As predictable as it might seem in Southern California, the weather affects huge numbers of the viewing public. Where we go, what we wear, and how we get there is affected and don't forget, people are hurt and worse when the rain starts coming down.

It may all seem a bit frivolous at times, but really, it's nothing to sing about.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Body on Friday.

I've been working on upgrading my home network and my home computers over the last couple of days. I know that's no excuse for not posting about the fatal accident I covered on Friday.

The accident happened at Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights, right in front of the Virgin Records Store. It caused a lot of traffic to jam up all along Sunset. A lot of people stopped and asked what was causing the bad traffic.

Well, the dead guy pinned under a truck might be partially responsible, but I didn't really want to put the blame on him. He was having a pretty bad day anyway.

The accident happened about 2:30pm. I was sent out to cover it about 3:00pm. Yeah, it was a breaker, so I got to do the whole rollercoaster adrenaline rush liveshot.

Throw up the mast. . .

. . .roll out some cable and hook up camera, microphone, and earpieces (some other stuff too, but mainly these components). . .

. . .hit the light and wait for the toss from the anchors back at the station.

I'm simplifying it, but that's the main elements. Not a lot of anxiety involved for me at this point, but making sure we're ready to go on when the station needs us?

Well, that's what I do.

Somebody told us we were morbid for covering the accident. At this point, I barely thought about the body under the truck. It's not like I was getting some sort of thrill from seeing a mangled corpse.

I'll admit, there used to be a curiosity factor, but that's been satisfied many bodies ago. I don't have to avoid peeking, but I don't have to avoid it.

If you stop and give too much thought to the victims, I believe you risk letting your mind wander too much. I can't think about the victims life or what the victim might have felt when the accident happened.

Hopefully, I'll never know.

I just need to be focused when I'm shooting news. Not only on getting the story right, but also on my safety and everything else that goes into getting the story on TV.

That's not morbid in my mind.

That's just getting the job done.

Friday, October 14, 2005

You had to be there.

I kind of feel guilty when I see something that I think everyone who visits here would like to see and I'm too busy doing my job to snap any digital still shots.

Not real guilty, just kind of guilty.

The Long Beach Police Department buried one of their K-9 dogs this week and I covered the funeral. All the stills I took were taken long after the service was over.

There were hundreds of officers and other K-9 teams from around the state attending and it was a very moving experience. I didn't know what to expect, but I've done video work with K-9 units in the past. I've also lost family pets and I know it's not an easy thing to deal with.

I think I "get" the concept of unconditional love, but this was a major point that the K-9 officers I've talked to in the past have always tried to describe when they talk about their non-human partners.

I also know what it's like to work with the public and I probably get only a fraction of the abusive sentiment that's directed at law enforcement.

So, to lose a partner and deal with the loss isn't something I can feel in the same way, but I can understand it. To be honest, I think that's part of the reason why I didn't even try to snap pictures of the officer who was saying goodbye to a loved one.

Mike Parcells wore sunglasses, but you could tell there were tears in his eyes during the service and I was no more than twenty to thirty feet away from him. Close enough that it wouldn't have been any trouble at all to get a tight close shot of him and show everyone how emotional a moment it was.

Sorry, I'll pass on this one.

I never met Mike Parcells before the funeral service for his partner, Ranger. The photo below is actually how I'd prefer to remember them.

Every now and then for me, even when I have the option to take a picture and hold that moment for who knows how long. . .

. . .I have to let the moment go and just let it be a memory.

It might make for a slightly less interesting entry on my blog, but I think it makes me a little better as a person.

You'll just have to trust me when I tell you, it was an emotional day for Mike Parcells and everyone who knew Ranger. Hey, I believe this because it was emotional for me and I didn't know him at all, but I'll tell you I'll always have that memory of how a man looks who is very sad and misses his partner and friend.

You really had to be there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Chew this.

People I talk to sometimes think I automatically defend broadcast news because I work in the news. It's a sensitive subject for me, but I try to maintain an open mind about the criticisms.

Heck, I've seen enough bad behavior by reporters and photographers to know that we deserve a pretty fair share of the criticisms.

Oh, yeah, that's a small plane being towed back to Whiteman Airfield in the Pacoima area.

I covered the story the other day about this plane making an emergency landing on the freeway. It had to be towed back to the airport. That was kind of cool to see it making its' way along the freeway and along the city streets.

We followed along and interviewed both the pilot and a passenger. The plane's engine cut out and the only safe place to set it down was on the 5 freeway near McBean Parkway. The guys were lucky to be alive. I've seen planes make landings like this and the people on board suffered injuries or worse.

Looking at the pilot, I noticed his eyes were still a little wide. Also, it was very slight, but I saw that his hands and his body was still shaking from what had to be a pretty horrible experience. Really, I was happy for him and his passenger. It was a lucky day for them both. I was happy to not be interviewing people who knew them and asking how they'd be most remembered. See, that's one of the questions we ask when people aren't so lucky.

It was a tough day and everybody had a lot to be thankful for. I didn't need the comment from one of the older guys helping with the plane.

"You better not make him look bad or I'm gonna chew you up."

I don't exactly know what he meant by that, but I gotta say, it sounded pretty clearly like a threat. Surprising, because we'd been on decent terms with the people directly involved.

When we asked where that came from, the guy just said, "Hey, you're the media."

Photo by Scott Mackie

That's not a target on the side of our vans (sigh). When we were done, we thanked everyone for their time and went off to edit and put together our liveshot.

I don't want to go into a rant on this. Like I said, I've seen enough bad behavior on our part to appreciate where the guy might be getting the sentiment. Plus, I don't feel like I'm completely blameless in the creation of the media circus image we've built for ourselves, but I'm still insulted by the idea that we might twist this story to "make" someone look bad.

I'm glad the story had a happy ending, but it easily could have turned into a tragedy. If either of the guys in the plane had been killed or if they had killed someone on the ground, we would have reported it. If the pilot was somehow negligent we would have reported it. If the facts support this as something other than an accident, we'll report those facts. We have a job to do.

More than just being my job, I have a responsibility to the truth. Sometimes, if the truth hurts someone, it might be difficult to face, but that doesn't change my responsibility. Feel free to blame me and hold me accountable for what I do wrong, but don't try to guilt me or threaten me to suit what truth you believe should be told.

So, if you want to chew me up for doing my job, okay. You're welcome to try, but it probably won't stop me and I'm always willing to take responsibility for my actions.

Just be ready to do likewise for yours.

No, really.

I was writing up a post this morning and Hello dumped me out. I'll get back to it when I can get back in and recover the work I had done so far today. Go easy on me if half a post pops up.

Monday, October 10, 2005

What do you ask a burning man?

I'm not much into self-reflection. Questioning the purpose of my life or anyone else's isn't how I'm wired. I'm mostly happy and I feel like I'm lucky in that. Lots of people I know aren't happy.
I don't think about it much, but I know we aren't around forever. In my line of work, I face mortality pretty often as just another part of my day at the office. The clock is always ticking and time is easily my least plentiful resource.

Even though I cram as much as I can into any given day, it never really seem like I make a dent in the ever growing list of things I want or need to get done.

So, knowing that about me, can anyone explain why I'd volunteer both days of my weekend to help out at the APTRA Academy 2005 broadcast news boot camp up in the hills above Malibu?

The quick and easy answer is that we've seriously underestimated the effects sleep deprivation can have on those with only borderline sanity.

Well, I might be riding the edge, but I have to admit I've always felt that it's important to help and encourage others in reaching for their goals in life. Not because I expect to get anything out of it for myself.

It's just the right thing to do.

People call it "mentoring", but I don't even put a label on it. If you've hung out with me at all online or in real life, you know I enjoy my job. I talk to people all the time about what I do.

Answering questions or specifically being willing to answer questions? Sometimes that's going to make a difference. It's easy to take for granted the bits of knowledge we have that may seem trivial, but might be completely unavailable to people looking in from the outside.

Other times it takes rolling up your sleeves and giving up a weekend.

Photo by Phil Shuman

It's nice to be around people who want to help. I got roped in. . .I mean, I volunteered because other people have encouraged me along the way. I thank them for that and I try to pass along the favor.

There's people who might feel like everyone should give until it hurts. Well, as far as my weekend went, ouch!

It's okay, I enjoyed it. Can I have another?

I think it's nice to be willing to volunteer sometimes when the goal isn't to save a life, but simply to help change someone's life for the better.

It was a long weekend and it felt just like a hard day on the job for real. I was very proud of the group I worked with and I hope I get a chance to work with them on a real breaking story someday.

At least I'm sure they'll know that you don't ask a burning man anything.

For gosh sakes, you put him out.