Wednesday, February 24, 2010


After I sent Sagre's school board story to the control room, I sat in the edit bay moping. No one would touch my car hop story. But I knew better than any of them. News? That might be a stretch, but it was a good human interest story that people would talk about around the water cooler, if they ever saw it.

I popped the tape into the playback machine, and slapped the shuttle wheel on the edit control console. Zig-zaggy images rolled backward across the monitor at eight times normal speed. Sam spoke in high-pitched Russian until the tape reached the beginning. "My name is Sam, and I'm a car hop."

That was it! It was that simple. If no one else would tell Sam’s story, I would let her tell it herself! I shuttled through the tape for an opening shot.

A large finger entered from the top of the screen and pushed a small red button on a silver speaker box. “Welcome to Sonic, can I take your order?”

Cut to another close-up, burgers sizzling on the griddle. Grease droplets leap from red meat. The mic was so close I could hear the meat squish as a long, spatula pressed pink juice from the burger.

"Order up!" Another tight shot of an overweight cook in a paper hat hollering.

Fingers with red-painted nails dropped paper-wrapped burgers onto a red dinner tray.

Another hand set a chocolate shake on the tray.

Sam's roller skate wheel entered the frame, and rumbled quietly down the pavement. The camera moved down the sidewalk with it. "My name is Sam, and I'm a carhop."

I rewound the tape, leaned back in my chair and watched it.

Damn. It was a rough edit, but it was good. I closed the edit bay door and buried myself in the edit, trimming shots here, extending shots there, smoothing out audio transitions, weaving a seamless open for Sam's story.

The whole sequence took less than six seconds. It took me nearly 20 minutes to get it right. Then I pressed on with the rest of it.

Just like in the parking lot, I let the story speak. It told me where it wanted to speed up, where it wanted to breathe. My fingers flew across the edit console, splicing sound and pictures into the graceful dance I saw in my head.

I choreographed Sam's moves to a soundtrack of sizzle, glurb, tink, schwick and rumble. Sam's own words were the lyrics I hoped would pull viewers along until Sam would deliver the knock-out punch of this little feature film.

"Everybody should care.” Trays and shakes floated in and out of frame. Sam’s skates twirled on the oil-stained concrete. “I'm not just schlepping burgers from the griddle to your car. I'm providing a service.” Customers unwrapped burgers and chompped fries.

A quick tight shot of the customer’s smile, then it was back to Sam on the hood of my car to finish out her passionate soliloquy.

Cut to a shot of Sam pushing her way backwards from the kitchen into the parking lot and out of frame. "This is my job, and I'm gonna do it right."

Close-up. Sam’s skates pirouetted in front of another car. The window eased its way down. "Besides, the tips are better when I spin."

Close-up. Sam's face lit up the screen. "Hi my name is Sam. Thank you for choosing Sonic!"

I rubbed my face. I hadn't realized I was sweating. I eased back in my chair and shuttled back to the beginning of the story. I opened the edit bay door to cool off and punched play. I smiled, satisfied as Sam spoke her last line and exited the screen to reveal a soft-focus shot of the Sonic sign. I mentally amended my new mantra. “Shoot with your ears; listen to the story.”

"Cute story." Lou James’ voice-of-god delivery startled me. "Who shot it?"


"It's a cute story." The weekend anchor explained. "Well shot, very well edited. Where did you find it?"

“Lou, what are you doing here at night?”

“Grip’s off. I’m filling in. It’s my chance shine. Work my way off the weekend shift and into the money!” His eyes sparkled. “So, where’d you find the story? I didn’t see it on the network feed.”

"I shot it this afternoon." I blinked, a little surprised at the compliment. "I just finished editing it."

"Doesn't look like your work. It's not blue."

"I don't know what happened. It just sort of all came together."

"I especially like the way you slipped in that little bit about an honest day's work. And letting her tell the whole thing is a brilliant idea."

"It's not my story. It's Sam's. I just helped her tell it. Too bad no one will see it." I slouched in my seat. "None of the producers want it."

"Those show-stackers don't know anything,” he answered with a dismissive wave. “Tonight, it’s my show. I want it in. It's late, but I'll make sure it gets in the ten o'clock."

"Late? What time is it?"


"Shit! I was supposed to take Susan to eat for her birthday." I ran past the anchor toward the back door. "Can you take the tape to the control room for me? Shit!"

"I'll handle it. Better not show up without flowers."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


part one
part two

I had barely darkened the newsroom door when Ken “the ASSMAN” Roberts lit into me. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Uh, lunch?" I waved him off.

"Lunch!" He sprayed my shirt with spittle. "Who cleared you to take lunch?" The dome of the Assignment Manager's egg-shaped head glowed red. His shoulders bunched around his ears and the folds of skin hanging on to his jowls trembled. "I've got reporters without photogs circling the desk like planes around LaGuardia, and you stop for lunch?"

"A photog's gotta eat." Ken's tirades were the stuff of legend, but the ASSMAN's venom had never been directed at me. Thirty-five years in television news had turned a one-time star reporter into a seething gasbag. He ran the assignment desk like a concentration camp. A photog hadn't earned his stripes until Ken went off on him. "Doesn't look like you've missed too many lunches." I patted his belly and started toward an edit bay with my tape.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"While Bump ate lunch, I shot a feature story about a carhop on her way to a national competition, so –"

"No one told the desk about a feature story." Ken's head was buried deep between his shoulders. The vein in the middle of his bald spot throbbed.

"That's because it just sort of happened."

"News doesn't just happen! It's not news in this building until I say it's news!" He waved his assignment sheet in my face. "Do you see anything about a carhop on the assignment list? Then it’s not news!"

"But it's a good story."

"You wouldn't know a good story if it shit in your face. And you sure as hell couldn't shoot it, you blue video, out-of-focus-shooting, no-sound-getting rookie."

Weaver rounded the corner of the big granite assignment desk just in time. “What the hell –" I had already thrown down my tape and was about to lunge at ASSMAN. Ken had his fists up in a boxing pose from the 1920's.

Weaver stiff-armed me right in the bruise on my chest. Fire, like a .38 caliber slug, shot through me.

"Calm down!" Weaver yelled.

I crumpled into a chair at the nearest desk.

"You better get a handle on your staff. Let 'em know how things work around here." Ken huffed at Weaver. "I assign the stories! They don't just go off doing as they please."

"That asshole better learn to shut his fat mouth, or I'll shut it for him!" I struggled against Weaver’s arm to get up.

“Both of you shut the hell up!” Weaver held me in my seat with one hand and pushed Ken toward the assignment desk with the other. “Ken, get back to the desk. Rene, my edit bay. NOW!"

Inside edit one, Weaver let me have it. "What the hell do you think you were doing in there?”

“He started it.”

“I stick my neck out and hire you with no experience. I defend you every time your stuff has to be re-shot by someone else, and you disappear for an hour, then pick a fight with the Assignment Manager?"

"Weaver, it's a good story."

"I don't care if it's the second coming of Christ himself. You just don't go off and do your own thing."

"So if I see a twenty car pile-up on Hollywood, you're telling me to ignore it?"

"You know better than that," Weaver sighed. "You gotta let the assignment desk know what you're doing. Ken's got way too many things to keep track of without wondering if some photog is off freelancing a story that no one wants."

"I'm telling you Weaver, this is a great story. The girl is fantastic, the pictures are there; the sound is clean. I nailed this one."

"Why didn't you radio that in before you shot it? What do you think your chances are of getting it on air now?"

I hung my head. "Yeah, I'll talk to him about it."

"You've done enough damage. You need to let this one go.”

“But Weaver, the story is gold.”

Weaver shook his head. “It’s my own fault. I knew you were too eager when I hired you.”

Was that a chink in his armor? Was Weaver coming around to my side? I sat there and tried to look pitiful.

Finally, Weaver sighed. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but if you really want to this story into a newscast, try to sell it to a reporter and have them sell it to Ken. Make it sound like someone else's idea."

“Got it.” I bounced to my feet and headed for the reporter’s pod.

“But I never told you to do it.” he called after me.

"Sarge" Wilders trampled through the newsroom like the proverbial bull-dyke in a china shop. Sarge spent half her life as a public information officer in the Marines. Her short-cropped hair and don’t-mess-with-me stare could wilt the resolve of the saltiest photog, but I had to try. “Sarge . . . uh . . . How about trying something a little softer today – It’s already shot – All you have to do is voice it.”

She lit into me like . . . well . . . like a drill sergeant. “Soft? Who you calling soft? The school board is voting on which standardized test to give to the little hellions. I have to be there this afternoon.”

"But Sarge, this story is visual." I begged.

"Too bad kid, the school board is real news."

Dick Hicks had always been open to my ideas before. He panned my idea for an interview with the mayor about the city’s effort to ban noise. And Boyd Leffingwell, the newsroom’s other screw-up, was all a twitter about his big live report from the 4-H fair.

When Ken caught wind of what I was doing he assigned me to Sarge and the school "bored" meeting from hell. I squinted through my lens as board members blathered about Iowa Test scores, bell curves, normalized results and standard deviations.

Riveting television.

While I wasted tape, my mind constructed Sam’s story, the sound bites, scoops of fries dropping into paper sacks, soft-serve ice cream globbing into waxy cups, the crinkle of cellophane as a customer unwrapped an after dinner mint.

It would never see the light of day.

to be continued

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


“You know, Baldilocks,” it was a pet name I had for our number two sports guy, “you’re just gonna pull a few more out like that.”

Bump continued checking his ever-thinning mane in the sun visor mirror. “Yeah, and I’m going to take hair advice from a guy wearing a mullet. I pull better looking shit out of my shower drain.”

“Leave my mullet alone.” I flipped my shoulder-length locks at him. It was a little Bald Cop/Hairy Cop game we played every time we worked together, which had been a lot recently. My knack for finding trouble made me an outcast in news circles. Ragging on Bump’s hair was better than talking quarterback ratings, RBI’s, or the sportswriter polls.

“That shit went out with hair bands. When are you going to lose that mop?” Bump complained, eyeing my mullet with contempt.

“At least I’m not counting follicles before every shoot.”

We had just wrapped up a less than riveting interview with the head baseball coach from Alexandria Senior High. I couldn’t help but wonder who Bump had pissed off to win my company for the afternoon. Six months of bone-headed mistakes had put me at the bottom of the photog food chain.

“I’m hungry.” Bump’s three-pack-a-day rasp interrupted my self-doubt. That rasp was amazing, considering he didn’t smoke. “Want some lunch? I’m buying.”

I couldn’t blame Bump or any of the other reporters for wincing when my name appeared next to theirs on the assignment sheet. Tape jams, blue video, broken mic cables, dead batteries, and head clogs stalked me. It was anybody’s guess how much longer Weaver could defend me when the suits in the front office bellowed.

“Yo! Buckwheat, I’m talking to you.” Bump slapped the back of my head. “That hair clogging your ears? I said, ‘I’m hungry.’”

He was always hungry. I turned to see the sun glint off Bump’s namesake, a large hump created by the drastic angle his over-sized nose took as it dove toward his upper lip. I dreaded lunch with Bump. He was a slob. When he offered to buy, it meant only one thing, Sonic Drive-In, big, flat, burgers eaten inside the car. At least it was free. I had been saving money for Susan's her birthday date.

I wheeled the turd-brown-Taurus into an empty stall at the Sonic on Lee Drive, and pressed the call button on the speaker box. Bump yelled our order from across the car. A few minutes later, a babe on roller skates glided our way, sandwiches, fries and drinks planted firmly on a red window tray. She stopped short in front of the car, pirouetted, and gave a deep bow. Not so much as a fry moved out of place. Then she skated to my door and hooked the tray to the window.

“Hi, my name is Sam. Thank you for choosing Sonic!” Her words practically jumped from her lips which she had painted to match our dinner tray. “Two Super Sonics, fries, a Coke and a Dr. Pepper, that’s seven-sixty-eight!”

Sam was way too excited about delivering burgers for a living.

“Hey, Sam.” Bump leaned across the front seat and dropped a twenty on the tray. “Thanks for the show. You still working on that ‘America’s Best Carhop’ routine?”

“Working on it? Won the regionals in Houston last week,” she beamed. “I’m headed to the finals at Sonic headquarters in Oklahoma City.”

“Keep the change,” I volunteered, “help pay for your trip.”

Bump shot me a look, but what could he do?

“Thank you. And thank you for dinning at Sonic!” Sam curtsied, “Ya’ll come back and see us soon.” She spun on one leg and sped back to kitchen.

"Why didn’t you tell me about her, Bump?”

He was already ear-deep in his burger. “Who, Sam?” A hunk of lettuce dangled from his lips. “She’s too young for you.” Bump wiped mayonnaise from his cheek with his sleeve. “Besides, what about Susan?”

“I don’t want to do her, you perv. And nothing happening with Susan.”

“Bullshit. I’ve seen the way she looks at you at the Gin.”

“Too much baggage with Ernie stalking her. We just party together when we bump into each other. Besides, who has time to date in this business.”

Bump gave me a you’re-full-of-shit look and licked ketchup off his fingers. “Then what do you want with Sam?”

“Sam’s got a great story – local carhop skates her way to national fame.” I fanned my hands across the windshield like I was laying out a headline.

“I don’t see it,” Bump gargled through another mouthful of meat and cheese.

“What do you mean you don’t see it? The skates, the tricks, it’s a great story.”

“It’s 1991. People want news, not a car hop contest.” Bump sprayed the dash with runny mayonnaise.

“Granted, it’s not like an intern giving the President a hummer in the oval office, but –”

Bump chuckled and dove into his fries. “Like that’ll ever happen.”

“You gotta admit it’s cute.”

“I don’t gotta do nothing, but finish this burger.”

I punched the button on the speaker box again and pitched my idea to the manager. A few minutes later, Sam was sitting on the hood of the turd-brown-Taurus snaking a clip-on, lavaliere mic under her uniform shirt.

I set my tripod to eye level. “Rock solid and on the sticks.” I repeated one of Weaver’s many mantras to myself. Each week during our tape reviewing sessions, Weaver would shake his head in disbelief at my misfortunes and try to sound positive. Sure, every week it was a different mistake, but with every piece of ruined tape, I could see my career as a news shooter slipping away.

The other photogs made it look so effortless. I, on the other hand, prayed every time I shouldered my big, orange Icky. I fumbled through each shoot and hoped I had flipped all the right switches. My amazing lack of aptitude put me first in line for the assignments no one else wanted.

Sam smiled sympathetically as I untangled myself from the mic cord. I peered through my lens, set the iris and flipped the white balance switch. At least everything would be the right color today. Inside the eye cup I framed a head and shoulders shot with the Sonic sign slightly out of focus behind her, and repeated another of Weaver’s favorites, “Composition, composition, composition”

I took a deep breath and hit record.

Sam answered my first question. I zoomed in for a head-shot and fired another question. She smiled and launched into a few sentences about Sonic’s made-to-order American classic burgers.

When she finished, I slid left – “Stick and move,” – and fought to lower the sticks. One of my tripod legs was stuck, so I bent over to grip the jammed lock mechanism.

“Whoa, whoa, WHOA!” Sam waved her hand in the direction of my lens.

I looked up from the stuck leg just in time to see Icky tilt up on its own.

Damn! Forgot to lock the tripod head.

Icky’s lens continued in its upward arc until it reached its tipping point. The locked tripod leg rose off the ground. There was no way Weaver could protect me if I dribbled Icky.

I dove.

Icky landed with a dull thud squarely on my chest. Bump screamed with laughter from inside the car while I flailed around on my back like a dying roach and gasped for air.

“Are you okay?” Sam slid off the hood to help me upright my camera.

“Happens all the time.” I wheezed.