Friday, December 18, 2009
The mess hall, called “Goat House” had a pretty extensive lineup of food offerings. Everything from made to order eggs to waffles and every imaginable kind of breakfast meat. Since I like burritos, I thought I would give one of the little breakfast burritos a try. I won’t be doing that again. I couldn’t even identify what was in this thing. When I cut it in half a molten blob of yellowish goo slowly oozed out. Was it cheese? Eggs? I honestly couldn’t tell. Even the taste was somewhat unfamiliar. It was a little cheesy tasting, but not really. I’m sticking to cereal from now on.
There was one last photo op at Eggers before we left. Bob would be meeting with the British Minister of Defense and we had about a minute or so at the top of the meeting to do a photo spray. The staff referred to him as the “MOD” which led me to wonder if he would arrive on a Vespa with a green parka on that had a Who patch on the back. The FOX cameraman asked if he had shaggy hair.
The spray took place in a really small room that could barely fit 5 people let alone the 20 or so that would soon pack in for the meeting. Right before the top of the meeting we were told that some of the British press would be coming in. I staked out my spot and waited. Seconds before Gates came in with the “MOD” a TV crew and a stills guy came in and proceeded to push me and the FOX cameraman out of the way. It was unreal. At least they didn’t just stand in front of us. I’ve gone down that road before.
We all geared up and made our way to the airport where an Air Force C-17 cargo plane would take us to Baghdad. The press and staff would sit along the walls of the plane in jump seats while Bob would be inside a customized Airstream trailer that was safely secured in the cargo hold. The five-hour flight was pretty uneventful. Unfortunately, I had packed away my iPod in my backpack that was now under a ton of bags that were strapped to a pallet. This made the flight a little dull. At least we had power so I could get some work done.It was nice to walk off the C-17 onto the tarmac in Baghdad and see the sun shining with temps well into the 60’s. The cold in the ‘Stan was getting old. About 100 yards away from the plane eight Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters waited to take us to Camp Victory, a five minute ride. Soldiers stood at attention outside the birds as the delegation made their way across the tarmac.
Being back in Iraq was like going back to my old neighborhood or seeing a house that you used to live in. We flew over the airport terminal and the infamous Baghdad Airport Road where I used to come to pick up colleagues at the airport. There was the parking lot where we would wait and on a few occasions watched mortars fall about 100 yards away in an open field. The memories were flooding back. The quick flight dropped us off near Saddam’s Al-Faw Palace. I was in this place back in 2004 and was so surprised at how poor the craftsmanship was for being such a grand palace.We were dropped at the Palace Hotel, adjacent to the Al-Faw Palace. It is a pretty nice hotel, a little gaudy, but nice. Bob and his staff would be staying in the hotel, the rest of us are staying in trailers with bunk beds. The rooms and beds were a step up from Camp Eggers.
An hour after getting off the helos, we were back on. We would gear up with flacks and kevlars as our flight was taking us out of the confines of the base and over Baghdad to the Green Zone where Bob was to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.The ride over took us over the hotel where I used to stay, looks like it is still pretty much in tact despite being hit a couple times. After landing the motorcade made its way through the Green Zone, the pool was in the second to last car behind about ten. Upon arrival we had to run to get there before Bob got out of his car, he never waits for us. We were rushed into the meeting where throngs of press were already set up for the blink of an eye photo spray at the top of the meeting. The room was another dark one. After a few snaps we were escorted out.
There was supposed to be another photo spray for the next meeting with the presidential council but after waiting for over an hour we saw a rush of Iraqi TV crews come out of the room and we were told that we had missed it. Glad someone was looking out for us. This was where the day started to fall apart.
The schedule was going through a last minute change after PM Maliki cancelled his sit down with Bob and we were now on our way to the US Embassy to pay a visit. The Maliki snub would end up being the big news of the day even though it wasn’t really a snub. The dude was busy in some other meeting about the horrific bombing that occurred days earlier.
The Embassy was something else. A billion dollar building that resembles a maximum security prison in the middle of an ugly crumbling. I’d show you a picture of it, but I would have been shot trying to take that picture. It is really incongruous of its locale. The inside was a modern glass and steel structure the kind of place you see in Manhattan, not Baghdad. I can’t believe that they spent so much money to build this place.
There was confusion when we got back to the helicopters. Since it was dark and lights aren’t often used we had to rush to find the helicopter that we arrived on. Well, most of us made it. After donning the flack and Kevlar we noticed that the FOX producer and cameraman weren’t on the helo. One of the crew went to try and locate them to no avail. As we lifted off I couldn’t help thinking that we had broken the golden rule to leave no man behind. I expected to look down and see the scene from Platoon when Willem Dafoe was running across the field being shot by the enemy. Thankfully, the FOX guys made it back to Camp Victory where they received more than their fair share of ribbing.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
We geared up and got into the motorcade about 9 am and moved over to the airport. Gates came later with Matt Lauer in tow, they had some arranged interview that they were going to try and pull off in the helicopter on our way to FOB Black Horse. The helicopters had not yet arrived by the time Gates had arrived, so plans were made for the Secretary to meet with people in the joint command center. The room was a dark dungeon with awful lighting, the kind that can never be color corrected no matter how hard you try. He was briefed by coalition forces and then greeted every person in the room in a receiving line where he shook hands and passed out challenge coins.
Word came the helicopters had arrived so we all made our way out to the flight line where we stood in a misty rain for about 20 minutes before the flight command pulled the plug on the flight. The weather was too unpredictable and they didn’t want to get stuck somewhere if visibility diminished. The C-17 flight to Kandahar was also scrubbed for similar concerns. Our day was shot. The events that were scheduled would have made for nice pictures, now we had nothing.
Staff scrambled to set up more things for the Secretary to do. We made a break for lunch before heading to a NATO aviation training facility where Gates met with NATO forces that were being trained in piloting and maintenance of aircraft. He toured a Russian-made helicopter and a large transport plane before doing a interview on the tarmac with CBS News. Matt Lauer ever got to do his fancy in-flight interview.
Once again, we were back in the motorcade heading to our final destination of the day, the U.S. Embassy. The visit was a last minute add to the schedule, and would be our final event of the abbreviated day. Gates met with the Ambassador and spoke briefly with embassy workers. The staff was very nervous about us being inside the embassy and would not allow us to move anywhere without an escort. We were told that we could only point our cameras in one direction, towards the podium where the Secretary would give his remarks. It was a weird feeling to be an American in the U.S. Embassy and to be so looked over and scrutinized.
It was 4:00 when we arrived back at Camp Eggers. We had a lid on the day, which means we were done. The rest of the night was ours to do whatever we wanted to do which was limiting seeing that we couldn’t leave the base. I fired up my BGAN and sent my pictures from the day. The clouds were lifting a little and the nearby mountains boasted a fresh new layer of snow. It was colder today, but comfortable enough for me to stand outside for an hour while my pictures slowly transmitted.
On my way to shop at the PX, I passed the mob of soldiers who were serving as a backdrop for Matt Lauer and Al Roker’s live Today Show broadcast. The highly staged event had soldiers wearing Santa Claus hats and holding signs near lit up armored vehicles. The soldiers seemed to love it as they were coached by producers to cheer and wave their signs on cue.
With any luck, we will be able to move out tomorrow if the weather cooperates.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The trip was originally scheduled to depart from Andrews Air Force base this past Sunday but ended up being changed to Monday which left me with a whole weekend in
I tried to get sleep on the flight hoping to counter the affects of a morning landing of an international flight. I should have accepted the Ambien being offered by the plane’s doctor because I couldn’t manage to get a single minute of shut eye and we had a full schedule once we touched down.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Today started out looking like just another day. Nothing was really going on, seemed like it was going to be a light day. Then I got a call from Rick Romagosa over at the Chronicle checking to see if I had heard about the oil spill in the bay and wanted to know if I would be going up to shoot some aerials. My mind went back two years when the Cosco Busan crashed into the Bay Bridge (that bridge has had some rough times lately) and dumped 50,000 gallons of oil into the bay. Of course, I was out of town when that happened so I pretty much missed the whole thing. This time I was ready. I got on the horn with my editor Pierce in New York and started to talk about how we would cover this and asked about going up in a helicopter since there were some nice shots from the last spill. As soon as I hung up the phone with Pierce I called over to the helicopter charter company that I use and set up a time for a flight. Not more than 5 minutes after I scheduled a noon flight, Pierce and I were looking at some raw aerial video online of the ship and the spill and we both realized that the oil slick wasn’t that big. At least it didn’t seem that way. We mulled over the flight and collectively decided against it. So, I cancelled it. Then I called him back and questioned our decision and then we decided to best be safe than sorry and I rescheduled the flight. Confusing, right?
The company that I charter with uses Schweizer 300CBi helicopters which are pretty scary to ride in. They are small, almost like a remote control toy. Well, not that small. Every time I ride in these small helicopters I can’t help to think that I may not return. Since our flight today would take us over water, we donned bright yellow flotation vests. That was a little unsettling. It’s not like we would have survived the impact of a crash to use that thing. My pilot Laura and I packed into the cramped cockpit and headed towards the Bay Bridge. Luckily, it isn’t that windy today since this aircraft gets tossed around quite a bit if it is windy. Every time we hit an air pocket my heart stops. I look down and thing about that ride at Great America where you free fall some 20 stories in a matter of seconds. I decide that it would probably feel like that if the Schweizer’s engine died. It takes us about 20 minutes to get over the hill and over the bay. It’s freezing cold flying with the door off. After doing a few passes along the Bay Bridge we head south to find the oil tanker Dubai Star and the oil slick that was supposed to be surrounding it. Unfortunately, the sheen that had been reported by every bay area radio and television station was not visible. We flew around the ship a few times but I couldn’t see any evidence of oil. We did a few more passes along the disable Bay Bridge (nothing like doing two stories at once) and headed back to the airport.
Laura safely put us back on the ground after an hour in the air. I want to kiss the ground but decide against it. Too dramatic.
The oil spill doesn’t seem to be that bad. I wanted to get a different perspective so I drove over to Oakland to see if I could see the ship from the shore. I stumbled across a group of workers from the Port of Oakland who were deploying an oil containment boom and made a few snaps of that. So far, wildlife doesn’t seem to be affected by the spill and there hasn’t been any evidence of oil on the shores of the bay.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I have to admit, I was totally unaware that this had occurred. I was at home on Tuesday night just hanging out and nowhere near the internet or a radio. It wasn’t until after 10pm that I saw the story. Thankfully the bridge didn’t come crashing down like the one in Minnesota. I would have been in trouble if that happened and I missed it.
I went out the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge on Wednesday morning to check out the traffic impact and damage. Some 280,000 cars cross the span each day but the roads that I was on weren't that backed up. The radio reports told a different story about ths San Mateo and Golden Gate bridges. It sounded like a nightmare.
It was a surreal experience to see the dozens of lanes and toll booths completely empty with the exception of a single CHP car making sure nobody snuck onto the bridge. What was even more surreal was when I drove across the upper deck of the western span heading towards San Francisco from Treasure Island and I was the only car on the road. I felt like I was doing something wrong. It reminded me of being in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina when you would drive on the freeway for miles and never see a soul.
Since Caltrans wasn’t promising that they were going to let the press near the area where they were performing the emergency repairs, I decided to find someone with a boat to get me closer to the action. I called my buddy Noah Berger but he was already out on the water shooting for the Chronicle. So, I hung out at the small marina on Treasure Island and started looking around for someone who might take me out. After about an hour a guy named Chad came up the dock with his friends and I asked him if he knew anyone who would charter a boat for a quick trip. It was a nice day and Chad was not too interested in going back to work so he agreed to take me out for $50.
It was a fun trip, even though I don’t really like being on boats. It was also one of those six degrees of separation moments. Turns out that Chad used to date a former Chronicle reporter who I had just met a few weeks prior through Noah Berger. Go figure. Thanks to Chad I was able to get photos of the workers doing the emergency repair. It was a quick trip on a really nice day and I didn’t barf. Not a bad day.
Friday, October 23, 2009
On the first day of hanging out with Marissa I met her at 7:15 in the morning before her and her classmates went on a morning walk. Every day is started with a physical activity and today was a 3 mile walk around the grounds of the academy. For the most part her and her friends just chatted amongst themselves as I shadowed them. Marissa mentioned a few times that I didn’t have to go on the entire walk if I didn’t want to or I could cut across the field to save my legs. The days were long and the students kept busy from morning to evening. The bulk of the day was spent in the classroom studying everything from math and english to chemistry and cooking. There were, of course, a lot of physical activities throughout the day like soccer, walking and kickboxing. Meals were offered three times a day with two snacks in between. Whenever we were in the cafeteria Marissa would always tell me that I had to eat something because if I was following her I had to eat the same food. I had a few meals with her and her friends and I thought the food wasn’t that bad. The buffalo sloppy joe that I ate was pretty tasty. Most of the students might disagree with me.
Marissa will be at the Academy until May of next year. She has set goals for herself and is aspiring to cut her weight down to 200 pounds. She is determined to achieve this goal as a tribute to her mother who died about a year ago, on the first week that she had originally attended Wellspring. She told me that her mother would have been proud of her doing so well at the school and she uses that for motivation. I was proud of her and I just met her. The week was inspiring for me. I got to hang out with a young girl who had a good head on her shoulders with a big future ahead of her. Hearing stories about some of Marissa’s fellow students that have lost over 100 pounds was just amazing to me. I wanted to put down the cameras and join them during their activities. I was actually a little disappointed on the second day when Marissa slept in and didn’t go on the three mile walk. I wanted to go. I’m just going to have to keep that inspiration going and get my butt back to the gym.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
A few weeks ago, Rickey was inducted into the hall of fame. The all time stolen base leader had reached the pinnacle of his baseball career, legitimizing his claim that he is “the greatest of all time.” The following week Rickey would have his #24 retired by the Oakland Athletics.
It’s been a while since I have shot anything sports related. Not that the retiring of a number is actually a sporting event. I was looking forward to using my season credential for the first time. I got to the stadium about an hour and a half prior to the late afternoon ceremony. The last time I had been at an A’s game the place was empty. Tonight was different. When I arrived the parking lot was buzzing, people were already in line to get in and receive their free Rickey Henderson jersey. I believe it was a near sell out crowd.
The event was going to be pretty cool and sounded like it was going to have several nice photo ops. Me and 4 other photographers (Doug Duran, Bay Area Newspaper Group, Bob Galbraith, Reuters, Ben Margot, AP and Fred Larson, San Francisco Chronicle) along with a Comcast TV crew and the A’s team photographer Michael “Z” Zagaris were going to be positioned on the field next to second base. After a handful of Rickey’s former teammates came out Rickey was supposed to walk down a long red carpet from center field to second base where he would lift a golden base above his head. We all discussed how cool the shot was going to be and all agreed to play nice and hold our position, just let the magic happen in front of us.
Me, Doug Duran and Ben Margot laying on the field - Photo By Fred Larson
As Rickey made his way down the long red carpet, the TV cameraman stayed glued to his side making it difficult to get a clean shot. No big deal, I’m really holding out for that nice clean wide shot of him holding up that golden base. Well, I think I would know by now, if you over think a shot, it probably won’t happen. Today was another one of those days.
Prior to Rickey arriving at the golden base the light was perfect. Just as he reached down to pick up the base, not only was the cameraman directly between me and Rickey, but a rogue cloud had temporarily blocked the sun leaving Rickey in shade and the background still illuminated. The picture imploded real fast. The cameraman continued to stand in front of Rickey and even circled around him leaving very little opportunity to have a nice clean image. Oh well, they said we had a few more opportunities during the ceremony. During the ceremony, Rickey spoke to the crowd in his patented third person speak and kissed a framed replica of his old Athletics jersey. His daughters unveiled a giant jersey on the outfield wall which we were going to have a chance to take pictures of him posing by. We all walked out to the wall and waited for the man of the hour to come stand by his jersey. Again, we all agreed to play nice, let the picture happen and we would all walk away happy with pictures of a guy standing next to a wall. And then the TV guy showed up and was about a foot away from him as he held his golden base and pointed to his retired jersey. In the end it all sort of worked out, just not as great as it could have been.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
By the time I arrived at the Oracle Arena, the parking lots were about a third full and a line of police cars continued to stream in. A line of blue uniforms snaked from the parking lot the entrance of the arena. A sign above the door read “Forever Heroes.” The entire Oakland police force was in attendance, hundreds of them lined the back steps of the arena as the awaited the arrival of their fallen comrades. One by one, police escorted hearses carrying flag draped caskets passed under a giant American flag that hung from two Oakland fire department aerial trucks. In unison, police officers saluted as the casket was removed from the hearse and taken into the arena.
Fifteen minutes prior to the 11am start of the service, a long line of officers and general public were still waiting to get in. The line would soon have to be diverted to the neighboring McAfee coliseum since the arena had reached capacity. Thousands would watch the service on the jumbotron in the stadium where the Oakland A’s play. In all, over 20,000 people had come out to pay their respects.
Shortly after the service started, I went to file photos before continuing to cover what was expected to be a three hour event. After filing, I made my way over to the Coliseum to photograph the people watching the live feed. Right before I got the entrance I ran into a friend from the LA Times and she told me that she had been kicked out along with the rest of the press. She said that at the time of her ejection, she wasn’t even taking pictures. Apparently, someone in the Coliseum security team had decided to kick out all the press for no apparent reason. This was kind of bad news since there would certainly be some nice images from there.
I ran into Victor Blue and we were chatting with a TV crew for NBC. The TV was frustrated and left. Victor and I stuck around and chatted and out of nowhere a cop from Modesto came up to us and said we could go in now. This was great. Inside, about 5,000 people sat in the shade and stared at the big screens in right and left field. Everyone sat silent, some cried.
At the conclusion of the service I went to try and find a vantage point to shoot the procession of hearses and police vehicles. I had envisioned four hearses in a row with hundreds of police motorcycles making their way down the freeway. I found a nice overpass and waited for them to roll down the highway. As I waited, I watched a never ending flow of police cars mixed in with the traffic. Everyone seemed to be going the speed limit as the cop cars outnumbered the civilian cars 5 to 1. After a half hour of waiting, the freeway cleared and the first wave of motorcycles crested horizon. Unfortunately, the hearses weren’t all together so it was four mini processions followed by hundreds of police motorcycles and cars. In all of the police funerals that I have covered, I have never seen a turnout of this size. It was a site to see.