It all started as a normal day, except it was 5:43 AM instead of 8-something.
My wife jostled me awake, worried I would oversleep, but after a quick glance of the fuzzy red digits, I mumbled that the alarm was imminent. Two minutes later its drone filled the room replacing the non-silence of the wife’s sound machine. I smacked the snooze right away...and then again in few minutes. But even though I hit the snooze twice, I was still up and at ‘em at Six, and out the door by Six-Twenty.
Little did I know that I was driving straight into a PR hellhole crossed with a logistical horror. And it wasn’t because Presidential Candidate John Kerry was stumping here today.
So through the foggy, wet remains of what was Hurricane Frances, I drove to Greensboro from Thomasville, a trip that registers 17 miles on my odometer. I actually arrived early at the Power Company Compound where they had invited us to come and shoot a story that they promised to be a great visual. As I drove up to the gate of their property I hesitated to pass through the gated entry even though I could have easily slipped in behind other cars with the code. I did the right thing and went around the block to the office where the public entrance is.
I learned something about Power Companies at this point: They don’t staff their office at Six-Forty-Five in the morning. Oh Well. My next thought was to try to get a visual on any gatherings that looked like what I was there for. I checked two other gates, but no sign of any activity. I decided at 5 minutes to 7 that it would be in my best interest to breach their so-called security so that I could find a warm body that could tell me where to go. I followed an employee through the open sliding gate and drove up to the building where a myriad of Bucket Trucks were backed in to their respective spots.
I found the first well dressed, should have a clue, looking person and asked where the staging area was for the trucks that were heading to Florida to help restore the power that Hurricane Frances had swiped. He pointed me back in the direction of all of the perfectly parked apparatus.
I grabbed my gear and walked up onto the dock easing around in and between guys who where shuttling a variety of gear; power parts, water-coolers and the occasional suitcase. I threw out a query here and there to get a feel for the scene. Some of the guys joked that they had left yesterday. I frowned and they laughed. They were referring to a power subcontractor that HAD left Monday headed to Florida. I finally ran across a couple of Power guys who were in the group that were preparing to head south, so I spread the Gitzo and plopped the Betacam on top and began the process that we know as B-roll. I watched and listened, and wondered silently why there were no PR flacks there to collar us and attach their leashes for this event they so cordially invited us to. I watched as two of my fellow photog rivals arrived, also with puzzled looks about where to be and where to go.
But alas, a blonde in a very pink jacket was headed my way. Somehow I knew she wasn’t headed to Florida. The pen and the leather bound binder, her umbrella for this event, blew her cover. She politely asked me who I was with and what kind of sound would I need. I gave her what I though was a simple answer, no need to go into to many details and confuse matter. I simply wanted great sound with some guys in this group who could tell me what it’s like to work under these conditions, and what kind of feeling they get being able to help the unfortunate populace of a now twice battered Central Florida.
She jotted down my request and quickly turned her attention to someone else, a manager of the line crew I suppose. I didn’t stand around there long before I just walked away and continued shooting.
As I was shooting and listening to everyone go about their business I isolated in on a couple of guys who I figured could give me some great sound. I walked off the raised dock area back down to ground level and out in front of the trucks. I was shooting on the tripod but shuffled the camera to my shoulder to go in close for some sound with the linemen. Over my shoulder was another shooter from the competition who saw the same guy at the same time, and we walked toward him together getting a quick shot of him stowing some gear in the truck. I threw out a question to him, but he didn’t exactly give me the magic soundbyte. I lobbed another softball and this time he gave me useable material. That was all I needed and I thumbed the camera to pause, and looked around for another person to attach to .
Looking right then left, I spotted a guy in a straw cowboy hat. I had overheard him say earlier, in jest, not to put him on tape, that the authorities might see him on TeeVee. That’s as good a reason as any that I know of to get a shot or two of him. I followed him around to the passenger side of the truck as he carried a pair of boots to put away. He smiled as his co-workers cheered my move. My first question was about the shirt he was wearing. It said ‘Fear Nothing’, so I quipped that the shirt was appropriate and he agreed saying there was no other frame of mind. As he eased back around to the other side of his rolling office I started to ask him the same questions I had told Miss PR that I would be looking for answers to. He was a pretty good sound byte but as I was throwing out the second question a tug at my right arm and his concerned look grabbed my attention.
As I swung the still rolling camera around I saw in the viewfinder that it was Miss PR. Her lips were moving but at first I did not comprehend, probably from sheer shock, maybe from anger. She had interrupted me to inform me that I needed to leave the guys alone, that they were busy and needed to finish packing their trucks. As she continued to insist that I start moving away immediately I went into defense mode. I told her that these were the shots and sound that I had told her I needed and she fired back that they were getting a guy who could speak well to come out and give us a sound byte. I passionately explained to her that the guy she had so rudely interrupted me from was more than adequate. She loudly told me that they needed to be working on packing their gear and were way too busy to be doing interviews. I quickly pointed out that she should look over her shoulder and observe the guy in the straw cowboy hat standing with his arms crossed, carrying on with a fellow worker, far longer than I would have needed to finish the interview. She followed that up with something about it being too dangerous around the trucks and as I rolled my eyes she snottily reminded me that they were working with us and would have a guy for us to interview shortly. I went beyond the line at this point. I said in my best sarcastic overtones, “Who, some guy who’s going to come out here and say, ’WEEEE ARRRRRE GOINNNNNG TOOOOOOO FIXXXXX THEEEEEE POWWWWERRRRR.’” Just imagine some underpaid linemen reading scripted PR propaganda. She gave me a pretty ugly look and told me she was going to call my bosses and I gave her their names and numbers.
We got what I predicted out of their pre-determined interview. She even orchestrated the background of the shot and tried to pretend she knew what she was talking about telling the interviewee where he should look and how he should stand.
We finished up the interview and remained at a great distance from the trucks shooting the occasional rolling vehicle. Now 7:50 am, the trucks were late leaving and I was pushing the clock on my next post hurricane related assignment. I called over to Lowes to see if by any chance their hurricane relief crew would be running behind their scheduled departure time of 8:00 AM. ‘No‘, a manager told me, ‘they left 30 minutes early.’ GREAT. I guess I missed that one. I checked my press release to reassure myself they their PR person had told us to be their at 8. YEP 8. Go Figure.
The Power trucks finally pulled away at about Eight-Twenty after much debate between Miss PR and us the other two phojos about which way they would pull out. She never really spoke directly to me again, and that was fine with me.
I got my final shot through the rain as they rolled toward the sunshine state. The lineman in the straw cowboy hat gave me a friendly salute and a big smile.
I decided I had better call another Lowes in a neighboring city to check on their hurricane relief crew. No luck. The last van was leaving the parking lot as the woman on the other end looked out the door to give me an answer.
When I got back to the station I filled in the Assignment Manager in on my troubles. He assured me a call was in order to Miss PR and her boss. That was a victory right there.
That would be the end of this thriller, but as I was writing this account of my encounter with the blond PR chick gone mad, the power flashed off and on and then off again here at my house. It stayed out for 45 seconds and then was back on. I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. I turned up the scanner to get the lowdown on the power flicker. Was it storm related or a conspiracy against me by Miss PR. Neither. A car wrecked into a power pole about 3 miles up the road taking out a main feeder power line.
I went up to the scene and knocked off about 10 minutes worth of my finest 18 db grain of a car wrapped around a broken power pole. I had to walk about a quarter mile to and from my news truck in a heavy rain to get the shot. I hope the 400 people who were without power in Thomasville because of some dumbass hydroplaning across four lanes appreciate my effort.
I know the morning show producers will.
And if Frances, what’s left of her or it or whatever, keeps dumping this deluge of a tropical washdown, I will probably need to be ready to start all over again extra early on Wednesday.
At least then there probably won’t be a PR Slacker telling me how not to shoot the flooding.