Thursday, September 28, 2006

Power Nap, GO!

I don't want to say that I've been just goofing off the last few days. . .no, wait a minute, as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I want to say.

Over the last few days I've turned "taking it easy" into an art form. I may have underestimated my need for some down time.



That's a bracelet in the picture. I took the shot with my brand spanking new EF-S 60mm macro lens. Dellis and I were going to spend a couple of days out of town while I was off work, but I just didn't feel like doing any traveling. Being somewhere else would have been okay, but driving to get somewhere and doing a lot of walking wasn't in my game plan for this holiday.

No, this time around it was okay to spend the vacation money on camera gear and some nice nights out at our favorite local food spots.

(yawn)

I just wanted to give folks a quick update. This post has taken a lot out of me, so I'm gonna go rest up a bit.

After my nap, I'll come back and see if I can get a couple of brain cells fired up.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I'll send you a postcard.

Maybe I should have said something sooner, but I'm on vacation this week. Not a lot going on, I'm just taking it "Easy" and spending some time with Dellis around the house.



We're catching up on a few movies (saw "Hollywoodland" yesterday) and the latest Walter Mosley paperback got bumped to the top of the book pile. It's also part of the plan to spend some time at Starbucks to wrap up a writing project.

I'll keep everyone posted if there's anything interesting going on (I expect to get a little restless by mid-week) and I'll see if we can't come up with an adventure to share.

So far, it's been nice to just sit back and feel like we didn't have to get out of town. It's great to have the time to recharge, but we looked around and decided that everything we needed for a vacation was right here under our roof.

I may still have to make a beer run. My beer bucket isn't going to fill itself.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It's not a fashion statement.

I started this post yesterday morning, but didn't get a chance to finish it. Since then, a body has been found that is likely the remains of Wayne Crowley.

From early Thursday. . .

Wayne Crowley is missing in the Santa Monica Mountains. Yesterday, when I was called in early (remember I mentioned it in the last post) it was to take a satellite truck out to help put the story on TV.



As typical, I barely knew anything about the story when I left the station. I don't care. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm not compassionate. It's just that at stage I'm focused on getting there and getting my job done. All I need is the general direction to start out. On the way to the location I'll call the assignment desk or the field crew to find out exactly where I need to be.

Sometimes I won't get any details about the story until I get to the scene. Sometimes, this is the first thing I'll see.



Family and friends comforting each other.

Wayne Crowley has been two days missing in the wilderness without a trace. Sometimes these stories end well. The lost person might be found disoriented, hungry, and embarrassed, but otherwise okay.

Until evidence to the contrary, there should always be hope. There's always a chance that the person will be found.

That's difficult to remember when the sun begins to set and it starts to get chilly.



Still, it's best to have faith.

That's sometimes difficult for me to write about. I find assumptions are often made from what isn't included in the text. It tends to make me want to try to explain so as not to offend or exclude. It just makes it difficult to keep things brief.

I've always found my religious beliefs makes a difference in my life. It's not a constant consideration, but when I'm out covering the news, thoughts of my religious beliefs will come to mind. When I see some else in pain and suffering, I will have prayerful thoughts for them.

It's not like when I pray to hit the lottery. This is different.

I'm not saying a prayer for something specific. It's not that I believe if I pray hard enough, I'll get a positive outcome. I just know that my beliefs have comforted me when I've had to deal with trauma and pain.



All I want is for someone else to find some comfort in their time of crisis.

Somebody commented on my earring while I was out there. I've worn it for almost half of my life, very rarely taking it off. I really don't think about it ever, but someone else noticing it is what got me thinking about religion and prayer and faith.

It's not part of my job description. It's not something that I have conversations about. I just thought it might be worth mentioning. Sometimes, the guy behind the lens (even if he's pretty focused on getting the story) might actually be saying a prayer too. It's comforting and almost as much for him as it is for you.

From seeing many search and rescue operations become recovery operations, I know praying for a positive outcome isn't enough. I know you have to pray for strength.

Even if (especially if) the outcome is the one that nobody wants.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Just wait until I get you home!

Boy, oh boy. I'd never laugh at another person's misfortune, but the kids who dodged a bullet yesterday in Glendale might benefit from the humiliation they suffered for their recklessness.

Much better than the trauma they might have suffered had things ended with a more tragic turn.



About seven kids were crossing the railroad tracks to play over in an empty industrial/warehouse property. Six kids made it across the tracks with no problems.

One of the kids was hit by a train.



The kid is okay. He only suffered cuts and bruises. I felt pretty down heading out to scene. These are the types of accidents that usually end in a fatality. I was relieved to find out things didn't end with a dead kid.

The kids were lucky. Well, for the most part.



They were all cited for trespassing and held at the scene until their parents could come and pick them up. You can probably imagine how the parents felt getting that phone call.

This is where it really got good.



Sure, it was a bad enough that a kid got hurt, but the terrible thing that almost happened is almost too horrific to imagine. That's the kind of thoughts the parents must have been having as they drove out to claim their offspring.

Four sets of parents came out and a couple of them were nearly homicidal in their anger at their kids. One parent took out his frustration on a skateboard.

I hope nobody was so angry they might actually hurt one of the kids, but you could see the fire was in their eyes. It may have been just talk, but one parent told us his kid was lucky the cops were there.

I'm not really laughing at them. I'm just remembering what it was like to be that age. I don't know anybody who didn't do similar (or worse) as a kid. As I watched the tearful youths being marched away by their angry parents, I had one thought.

I sure wouldn't want to be in their shoes when they got home.

Dang, phone call from the station. I'm heading in to help cover a missing hiker story. Anyone who wants to compare notes on their misspent youth, I'll check in later.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday Principles -vs- Friday Principles

I was trying to get the SNG assignment to go and cover the fire (that's STILL burning) that I was on last week.

Rats, I didn't get it.

Since I've actually been having a good run of assignments recently, I can't really complain too much. Ended up just helping out with a liveshot from the San Fernando Courthouse.



I've done livshots from here in the past and never had a problem.

Yesterday? Problem? Little bit.

We set up near the front walkway that leads to the entrance of the building. A dedicated Sheriff's Deputy came out and told us we couldn't shoot towards the building.

Whatthefu--?

Sorry. Okay. No problem, because the building isn't really a part of the story we're covering. We question the reasoning behind asking us to move our shot, but we move anyway. I shift the camera two feet and point away from the front of the building.

Maybe I should mention that it's after five o'clock and the building is officially closed.

We assume we were asked to move the shot because jurors enter and exit the building from the direction we were originally shooting. I think that's a grey area, because I'm pretty sure it's a policy of the court and not actually a law.

Outside of the building, we should be able to videotape whatever can be seen in public view.



With the courts done for the day, there really wasn't any possibility that we'd see any juror.

A Senior Deputy came out and asked us about the situation. We chatted about the rule against shooting the front of the building. We were pretty much in agreement. They gave us the "okay" to move our shot back to it's original position.

"Nah, we're good."

It wasn't a big deal. We did the liveshot, packed it all away and went home. Cooler heads prevailed, but these situations are always kind of tense. You never know when things might escalate and common sense doesn't always rule the day.

A little tip, just try to remember if you stand up for your principles on a Monday, you might only spend a few hours locked up. You do that on a Friday and you might have to spend the whole weekend in jail.

We think about these things.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

TGIF. . .DTTK

I liked this week. My awesome power of hindsight tells me there were a few things that I should have done differently. That is, if I wanted to be more productive.

You know what? For this week, I'll take well rested.



I took these picture last night as I waited to hand off my reporter to the photographer handling the liveshot. I work an early shift and often I'll just have time to get the story shot and edited before the end of my shift. It's kind of wonky (heh, you like that word?), but it gives me a nice bit of time at home in the evening.

We parked and waited in front of the Civic Center in Van Nuys. I'm quite proud of myself for not risking my health on a "Happy Dog" meal.



But, you know I really wanted to give it a shot.

Anyway, it was only 8:00pm(ish) and we had just driven over from Sylmar. Our assignment was about a man who worked at Sylmar High School arrested for sexual assault.

How difficult is it to remember, DON'T TOUCH THE KIDS (DTTK)!

I really hope this is the kind of thing that for whatever reason always gets uncovered and the bad guy always gets punished.



I'd hate to think that the teacher molestation stories that make it onto the news are just the tip of the iceberg. I don't want to believe there might be large numbers of sexual predators working on our school campuses.

Yeah, I know, that's more likely the case and it's scary. Sometimes I wonder how society has managed to make it this far.

Of course, I don't have a good answer for the problem. Maybe the only way we can really deal with it is to be vigilant when it comes to our kids. As for the anxiety, the fear, and the cumulative effect the actions of these monsters has on us all? We are the sum total of our experiences, but I think we have a greater resiliency than we believe.

Maybe it's best that we put it out of our minds and focus on the good that life has to offer.

Thing is, telling people to keep their eyes open, but try not to think about it?

Well, that sounds kind of lame.

Friday, September 15, 2006

CSI: Los Angeles?

The science of catching criminals is interesting stuff. It doesn't take a forensic detective to see that. Just look at the procedural dramas that fill the network programming schedule.

The science (and politics) of CSI type work in real life is also kind of dramatic.



I covered a press conference yesterday that was held at Cal State Los Angeles. It was part of a conference about DNA analysis as a crime fighting tool.

The top guys from LAPD and the Sheriff's Department were both there, so I got the impression this was a pretty big deal for them.



DNA testing has become such an important part of the criminal justice system, the current testing facilities are two years behind and get thousands of new DNA samples to test each month.

A huge new regional lab is being built on the Cal State Los Angeles campus to help with the processing and analysis of DNA. Most of the tests are being done on DNA material from people who are already in the system.



You know, that's how they caught the guy who killed Samantha Runnion. They tested for DNA and were able to track him down and convict him.

All from his DNA.

Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion, was there yesterday. She's one of the biggest supporter of DNA analysis. It was interesting to interview her. We were more respectful and considerate than it might seem in this shot.



She lost a daughter and it still pains her to talk about it, but she's determined to get the word out about the city and county needing additional funds to support the scientific aspects of fighting crime.

Here's something interesting that wasn't part of the story anyone would have reported. It was just a brief moment during the interview, but it was positively chilling to find out that she won't say the name of her daughter's killer.

It came up during the interview. I think it caught everyone off-guard, but was just awkward for a moment. She didn't have to explain herself and we quickly moved on to other subjects relating to the conference. You could tell from her voice and you could see from her expression, the pain is still there.

By speaking out for the benefits of scientific analysis in police work, she's doing something she feels is important. She's talking to the media to get the word out, even though the the pain of losing her child is still difficult for her.

That's not surprising in the least.



The surprising part of the press conference was a statement by LAPD Chief Bratton. This is not a direct quote, but right now as part of ongoing investigations, the LAPD is tracking five suspected serial killers operating around Los Angeles.

(pardon me for a moment)

Holy shit!



Sure, Bratton made what I'd call an inflammatory statement. I don't doubt that it's true.

He explained how the backlog of DNA testing is possibly hiding information that could help catch these killers. It's easy to understand why law enforcement wants more money to put towards DNA testing.

It's an important part of solving crime.



I knew that before yesterday, but I think they made their point.

After the press conference I had to get shots of the building being constructed. I kind of felt like yelling at the construction workers.

Hey! Come on, man, hurry up.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Fire Pretty.

Yeah, I kind of figured nobody was going to be all that into the whole existential theory riff in my "Big Brother" post. I admit, it was out there. Way out there. Fine, I'll see if I can just stick to journalistic endeavors.

Gosh, how about that fire off the I-5 up near Pyramid Lake?



Whoa, it felt like old times.

I was working a dayside shift and got called as I was hopping into the driver's seat of my newsvan to drive up to the station. The desk let me know that not only was I heading up directly to cover the fire, but I was actually going up to shoot and edit.

One of the newer SNG operators was running the SAT truck.

It felt a bit strange for me to not be the guy putting people on TV, but good gosh almighty. It was great to be rock and rolling on the fire line again.



When you're covering these wildfires, the smell of smoke from the burning brush is everywhere. You don't really even need to be close to the flames. It gets into your vehicle and your clothes and stays for days (even weeks) after the fire is long out.

It wasn't too bad today.

The fire was laying relatively low and the wind was working in the fire fighter's favor. I've been in situations where the mid-day visibility is practically zero.

Being an astmatic, I know pretty well what not breathing feels like. Yup, the smoke is probably the worst part for me.



When we're in really bad situations, I keep my face covered. You can see the ash in the air and there's no getting around the fact that we're breathing a lot of crap in.

I really dug this shot I took of the fire retardant drop. We got pretty close to where the stuff was coming down, but they were working far enough away that we weren't in any danger of getting hit.



People who have actually had the misfortune have told me this stuff will do some major damage to the paint finish on a newsvan. I can see where covering fires might get old for some photographers. I must not get out enough. All this was cool stuff for me today.

I've got another dayside shift tomorrow.

I don't think the fire is contained, that might mean another day out there for me. Gee, if I apply a unifying scientific theory of-- wait, wait, I was just kidding.

No more quantum physics. Fire pretty, it burn good.

Grunt.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Here kitty, kitty, kitty.

The driver was transported to a local hospital, so it's probable that he suffered some kind of injuries in the crash. . .OH, MY GOSH! THE DUDE WON ON "BIG BROTHER: ALL STARS" AND NOT THE GIRL!

Anybody hearing me? Hellooooo! Dude won! Dude won!



Aw, barnacles!

By the time you read this, the news (if you're interested in this kind of thing) will have already gotten out. I don't watch much (any) reality TV shows and I just don't know anyone personally hooked on this particular show.

Man, what a waste of a perfectly good spoiler.



My assignment after the automobile/99 Cent Store traffic accident, I covered the Big Brother LIVE season finale this afternoon. I knew the outcome before most people on the planet. It kind of gave me a sense of power for a little while. I kept asking people if they wanted to know who won.

People seemed interested, but they didn't seem impressed that I knew early. Maybe they were impressed and just didn't want me to know that they were impressed.

That show kind of makes you paranoid.



This is the second place winner. She got $50,000 dollars. That's not bad for three months of work. I couldn't do it, but she had the right personality for the show.



This was another couple of former contestants. The girl won the jury prize of $25,000 dollars. She had "the right personality" for the show too.

You may not have picked up on it, but I'm trying to use "the right personality" as a euphemism.

I'm not gonna explain that any further.



Surprisingly, the contestants were all really nice to us when we interviewed them. Sure, I know it was just a TV show, but I (maybe a little) expected them to be bitter dishonest people.

Can I hold your wallet? I'll give it right back.

They were all pretty normal. I kept checking my back pocket anyway, but that was probably unnecessary.

It also felt like there was a whole "Schrödinger's Cat" vibe at work here, but I'm just a news photographer. Quantum physics aren't exactly my area of expertise.

All I know is, I stood for an hour and a half waiting for the winner to be announced. Just me and half a dozen of my media brethren. We stood on a small prop staircase in the back of the studio while the finale show aired "LIVE" for the East coast.

The floor director kept telling us to shush.

You know what? Next season, if they try to explain Schrödinger's theory, I'm gonna watch. It'll add an educational component to the show.

I don't think I'll want to be there for the finale, but the show might end up saving a bunch of prize money.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Written by. . .eventually.

Took the day on Sunday to relax and do a little research. I've been slacking the past few weeks on my writing efforts and it seemed like a good idea to just put down the mocha frapp and get out of the Starbucks.

Okay, just for the day to clear my head.



Most of the people who know me well are aware of the fact that at some point I'd like to focus some of my short scattered attention on writing. I visited the UCLA Writers Faire to see if I might gain some insightful wisdom.

I picked up a few flyers, but didn't stay long. Of course, I also picked up a dozen cookies from Diddy Riese (6 chocolate chip with nuts, 3 oatmeal raisin with nuts, 3 chocolate chocolate chip with nuts). Yum.

If it seems like I was more interested in cookies than basking in the fellowship of my writing brothers and sisters, there might be some truth to that.

Questions pop up in my head all the time concerning my commitment to a literary life. Would I rather write for a living? Am I just working in news to pay the bills?



Beats me. I guess it comes down to motivations.

For some reason, I'm just not all that concerned about the level of my success. I don't feel as if I have to "be" anything more than I am.



I play the lottery almost every week, so I know the greed centers of my brain are functioning quite well. Even though I know from seeing firsthand how short life can be, it's not as if I would have to make an Ed Wynn pitch for the angels to give my life meaning.

For some reason, I just find it easy to accept that there's always going to be adversity and challenges. There's no perfect life to be lived. Plus, I've yet to meet a successful person any more or less happy than I am.

With my attitude, the monetary riches of the world may elude me in this lifetime. At least I'll always have strong memories (and maybe a photo or two) of some pretty perfect moments.



Sometimes the most perfect moments in life might slip by without us really noticing.

Dellis and I had grilled T-bone steaks for dinner. Dellis likes her steak medium well and I like mine medium rare. The steaks were smothered in grilled red onions and mushrooms. We had whole stringbeans on the side and a basket of tortilla chips with salsa (for no particular reason).

I had my beer bucket filled with ice near the table. It was stocked with two kinds of beer (a dark and a vanilla stout) and also a bottle of green apple wine (for Dellis). The glasses we used were set in the freezer while we finished cooking and set the table. We pulled them out just before we sat down.



Yeah, you bet we enjoyed that meal. Call me crazy, but that was a handful of pretty perfect moments for me.

When I think about what I want to accomplish in life, my goals aren't all that ambitious. I'm not trying to change the world. I'd just like to tell a few stories. It wouldn't suck to maybe see my name on a book or a movie that I've written.

Mostly I'm just thankful for every good thing that I've been blessed to experience so far. I'm enjoying it all, including my job in news. I wouldn't give any of it up. I just want to hang onto all of it for as long as I can.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Uh, Ben AFLACK?

Can you say his name without sounding like the duck in the AFLACK Insurance commercials? I was tempted to try to get him to say it.



The assignment that interrupted my posting from the parking lot on Thursday was the "Hollywoodland" movie premiere.

I got there really early and thought I might have a decent chance of getting a good spot along the arrival line.



Yeah, right. That didn't happen.

It's been a while since I covered a premiere. Yup, not much has changed. I was still crowded into a tight position waaaaay the heck towards the end of the arrival line. I know we can't be trusted to behave ourselves, but the steel barricades really feel like overkill. They've resorted to corralling us like cattle.

Mooooo, goes the photog.

It really feels kind of undignified, but that's how it's done and I think it's how we've always done it. I may go see the movie just to see if they have a red carpet scene.



There were a lot of older Hollywood stars in attendance. It was too crowded to snap a lot of pictures, but I caught a few (hey, that's Peter Graves) and I'll post bulk of the rest on Flickr.

Maybe I shouldn't complain too much. After all it does give me a chance to snap a few shots of celebs. Even if you don't like a particular actor or actress, it's still interesting to see and hear them up close.



I'm always looking to the future with the still shots I take. I wonder what I'll remember twenty or thirty years from now about this assignment.



I hope I remember what it felt like to stand in place for two hours holding a heavy camera on my shoulder. I hope I remember the cramp I got in my foot from standing on my tiptoes to shoot over the heads of the print journalists shoehorned in next to me.

Most of all, I hope I remember that these are often unique experiences. A lot of people might find it interesting and wouldn't mind trading places with me. I'll try to keep that in mind, but you also should remember that it's a package deal.



I get to see some actual Hollywood legends like Lesley Ann Warren when I get assigned to cover movie premieres, but I also have to face tragedy, pain and suffering in the course of my job.

You must know that it's all I can do right now to not take a cheap shot at Ben Affleck's acting ability.

Have a good weekend. I'll be tending to my landscaping.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Not a good breaker.

Yesterday I caught a breaking story and had to drive out to Duarte. That's about a twenty or thirty minute drive without traffic. So, of course I had traffic.

When I got the assignment, a rescue was in progress at a construction site. We had a helicopter over the scene, but the station wanted to get a ground crew there right away.



Because of the time of day, it took me almost an hour to get close to the scene. I think it was around 2:45pm when I left Hollywood and about 3:45pm when I called the desk to update them on my progress.

I was in pretty good mood until they told me the rescue operation was now officially a recovery operation.



Those are heavy words and it changes the mood when the announcement is made. It means that they've verified the victim is dead. Efforts are now being made to recover the body.

That makes everything else that I experienced that day pretty trivial, but I've been there before (and blogged about it). Just know that I don't get to stop and reflect on the tragedy of the situation. I still have a job to do.

In this case it was further complicated when I was then told that they'd like the story as the lead for the 4:00pm show.

Great, that's less than fifteen minutes away and I'm not even on scene yet.



This is where a lot of news folks might feel a bit of stress and anxiety. I don't. I'm not going to complain or vent or let the circumstances dictate my attitude or how I go about doing my job. The bottom line? I'm just not going to panic.

I try to tell people, panic is not going to help.



All I can do is try.

I'm supposed to meet the reporter at the scene. He had almost as far to drive as I did, but he's not there when I arrive. Setting up a liveshot is second nature and I fire up the generator. There's no checklist or order to things, I just flip switches and toss gear out of truck. I connect cables and try to keep an eye on everything going on around me.



A stringer has video of the scene. I make a dub while establishing a link to the station and feed the tape as soon as it's done dubbing.

The reporter arrives. We're too late for the top of the show, but they still want to take us. It's only about five minutes past the hour. I did try my best, but I knew there was no way I'd be ready for the top of the show.

Just because I don't panic, doesn't mean I don't try.

Whoa, there goes the phone. I was blogging from my van while waiting for an assignment. That was the call.

I guess I'll check back later and let you know what it was.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I'm good at focusing.

It's been months since Blogger misbehaved, but that's what I'm dealing with. Could be worse. I haven't been able get much of a post started, but at least I haven't lost a full post.

Monday was a holiday, but that doesn't mean much for me. In my job if the holiday falls on my regularly scheduled work day, then I have to work. On the positive side, I get compensated for working on the holiday.

I'm seeing a nice weekend away from home for Dellis and myself coming up soon.



On Monday, I picked up my art from the NoHo Gallery. The gallery show ended on the Monday the 3rd. It was great to take part in it and very cool that I learned a lot about printing photographs professionally.



I'll be looking forward to the show next year, but I don't think the time is right for me to commit major chunks of time towards this particular diversion. It's a great hobby, but I'd really like to be good at it. Kind of like I want to be good at writing and just like I want to be a good news photographer.

Below is a sunset shot from the top of our building on Sunset Boulevard (the Granite Chief never should have showed me how to get up there).



Anyway, I can do everything I want and even toss in some of my other activities. I just don't believe I'll ever be great at any one of them if I don't focus my efforts. If nothing else, I'm lucky for everything that I've been blessed with so far. It's okay that I love the life I have now. It's okay that I can do what I'm doing for as long as I need.

I still want to have dreams and goals. I still want to be challenged to be better than I am.

Not much insight into the world of news in this post. On Monday I checked out a fire at Castaways Restaurant. There wasn't any. No news for me on Monday. Tuesday evening I shot an interview with LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer. He dashed off before I could get a still shot of him.

Okay, I'm rambling and babbling and that's the minimum daily required "news insider" content. That's a wrap for this post. Falling asleep at the computer while writing? I'm really good at that.

I could do it with my eyes closed.