THE BENCH AND LOST ROLL

memories

IT ALL STARTS WITH A BENCH…LOST ROLL OF FILM AND SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION. MAYBE LESS NOW.

I’ll blame Clint Eastwood’s new movie “Richard Jewell” for this trip back memory lane.

I think that there is all forms of PTSD and journalist are not immune from the results of the news they have spent a career covering. 

As much as we hear “Fake News” it was; and I think still is an honorable profession. 

The old-school thought is you just place thoughts in boxes; never to be opened or retrieved from the mental closet shelf.

As a small-town photographer you want to cover the big stories.  You want to be a war correspondent. The truth is, if you spend enough time in a small town you will cover every disaster; shootings and accidents in the region. 

There is nothing tragic to the human spirit, and body that you won’t see.

Intersections remind you of fatal accidents you’ve rolled on.  Family trips to the mountains are roadways where you’ve covered families who lost their lives in fiery head-on’s. It may just take longer…but you see it all. You’ll develop a need for gallows humor.

I arrived in Atlanta around July 15th, several days before the opening ceremony as a photo editor for Gannett News Service and USA Today. 

I was excited at the opportunity of working with some of the best photographers; word and photo editors in the industry.

My bosses were USAT Director of Photography Paul Whyte and Director of Visuals, Richard Curtis.

“ You’re NEVER to be without a camera! It does not matter if your here as a photographer or not.” Paul directed in a round-table meeting.  He scared me in a good way.

The afternoon of July 27th I took a rare lunch break and went for a walk a block away or so from office.

We had a large area on the second floor that housed both television and print.  A small television studio in front to interview athletes and dignitaries. In the rear a very large darkroom with WingLynch film processors and a digital area to download images from cards.  Digital images were new technology in 1996 and we were using it for testing and to hit tight deadlines for the first time at a large event.

I’d been blessed meeting some sports heroes and many photography heroes; Howard Bingham was one of those photo heroes .  I knew Howard from working near LA and trading emails. He came over to the photo department to say hello and tell me he had someone he wanted me to meet…Muhammad Ali who was there for a television interview.  

Howard was Muhammad’s good friend and personal photographer. I still can’t stop beaming at the thought of shaking his hand, not to mention the status in the newsroom it elevated me to…at least in my own mind.

Centennial Olympic Park was really not busy in the afternoon. Plenty of room and a bit of time to find a place on a bench and enjoy the sun. It  turned out later that it was not THE bench but close enough to have felt the shrapnel.

When you’re working these types of events you’re all in. 

You have one focus.

I’m not proud that the first week went past and I had not called home once.  This was before cell phones and I had no personal computer.

It’s an understatement that Anne was unhappy and I sold two Leica bodies and three lenses to have a computer soon after I returned home.

The hours are very long and the stakes are high on an event that the entire world is watching daily.

The Waffle House was about 20 minutes from downtown. Just across the street from the motel that Gannett had taken over to house their employees whom arrived from all over the country for the team coverage both print and television.

We filled the restaurant  and it had already been a very long day.  We were in various stages of ordering; being served and paying bills.

The terror of the bombing was just being broadcast live on the restaurant televisions. Everyone was moving toward the door. 

“Just go, just go.” is all I remember yelling as the team was trying to get their checks. “Put those four tables on this.” my new hardly used American Express card….”God I hope the accountants approve this!” I remember thinking.

I almost closed the white van’s door on my leg I still remember a bit of a pinch and watching the speedometer reaching 90mph as we made our way to the park.

The van slammed to a stop as the streets were being closed in all directions.

It was a pile out!  Everyone going in six different directions.

I found myself in a small culdesac surround by the night’s mayhem.

No strobe; doing the best I can with street lights. Bloody faces; arms; many legs injured; ripped clothing.  A young woman holding a shirt to a man’s head; nothing but red.

I don’t know that I took more than 10 frames on one roll.  I had to get moving back to the office.

Running up the street I run into a wall of police marching  in riot gear.  With military precision they place barricades closing off the street as they pass.

I try to pass across the street and I’m pushed back.

I can see the building; I see people on the other side.

“Anne, Anne I start yelling and waving my arms.” Looks like I’m going to get another shove.  “It’s my wife, I need to get to my wife.” The women look at me strangely now.

“ Go now and leave!” the officer yells as he allows me to cross towards the small group of people near the office building.

I just enter the parking level at ground level.  It’s empty just one other photographer looking around like he lost something near the stairs.  Just then the aluminum and chain security gates come crashing down.

In broken english he says the doors are locked and there is no access to the elevators. He was looking for a way out to get to the front door.

It’s one of those moments when the light comes on for two people at the same time and we started to run towards the freight elevator….cartoon characters in motion.

I still remember the eyes of one of the cooks when we came out into the kitchen. I thought they were going to explode.

We ran through the dinning room which was empty and into the bar towards the main entrance where there were still a few folks holding down stools. They were told not to leave by security.

My new French friend headed one direction and I start running up the escalator that had been stopped. 

As I turn the corner on the first floor looking towards the main entrance I see my editors and some photographers pressed against the locked door.  As I’m running up 3-4 security guards are running down yelling for me to stop in slow motion.

Another flight and into the almost empty office. Two reporters still woking were trapped while working on stories and it seemed like every phone in the office was ringing.

Heading with my roll of film in hand towards the darkroom I powered up the processor. Between high school and newspapers I had processed tens of thousands of rolls.  I was shaking so hard I found it hard to load the film on the reels and fit them into the plastic tube.

There is pounding on the darkroom door.  “The desk needs to talk to you NOW!” said the reporter.

I jammed the roll in, checked the dam in the trough; and flip the toggle for power.

“Gary we understand your the only one in the department. How can we help.?”

I gulped.

“Gary slow down, just get us something as soon as you can.”  I just remember the very calming words from the main desk as I took a breath in this river of emotion.

Watching over the processor I’m startled by a young photographer running into the darkroom with several rolls. He was a loaner from a small paper, but noted as a top sports shooter.

So here is the awesome part….after pulling my roll and grabbing his rolls and making a fast edit on mine. I see I had only one image worth scanning.  

I’m doing this while starting his film and closing the cover and tossing mine in the dryer. That roll was never to be seen again.

Making a quick edit on his rolls I moved the first image to USA Today.

I’m told I beat AP by five minutes but all I remember is scanning damp film.

The office lights were blinding and there was a thunderous wave of people in the office now.

At some point 22 hours had passed since I had last slept.

“Take a shower; get some sleep; whatever you need. JUST DON’T USE MY TOOTHBRUSH!”  Richard Curtis yelled with a smile while tossing me his room key.

Six Degrees:

The Bridge and a few degrees of Separation:

 With time comes the opportunity to view life from a distance, what may lie ahead and that left behind.  Given enough scrutiny almost any point in time has some degree of interest and in this case it may just be six degrees from Cedar Bridge.

First Degree: Back in the early 1970’s as a high school student in Redding, California my best friend Marty’s father belonged to hunting and fishing club that bordered “Rising River Ranch” near Lassen National Park.  Known for its beauty, native trout and plentiful waterfowl it was the type of country that you knew God gave up trying to duplicate. Even he knew when he raised the bar of perfection.

I will never forget one such hunting trip after Marty unlocked the rusty lock to the wire fence gate hearing the crackle of icy snow under the tires as we slowly drove, searching our way for the snow covered road leading to the cabin.  With a creaky cabin door the canoe awaited near the small hand honed dock leading to the open waterway.

We knew the rules well and that was to stay clear of the property on the far side of river. It was the property of Bing Crosby and later purchased by Clint Eastwood after Crosby’s death. I had just lived long enough that both men were idols and heroes in my Italian household. Here I was rubbing shoulders in the same country as Crosby and his buddy Phil Harris and sharing Eastwood nature’s beauty.

Second Degree: During the same time I was one of many lower male classmates that had a healthy respect and lust over beautiful Danna Kennedy who I had photographed many times for the class year book and whom a few years later as a young photojournalist I photographed her father’s swearing in as a Superior Court Judge to Shasta County. There was one historic moment in the frozen food department of the Safeway grocery store that not only did I see Danna but she introduced me to her older sister Kathleen.

Third Degree:  A few years later I met and married my beautiful wife whose father George in that very same grocery store while staring deep into a can of creamed corn offered me his fatherly advice.

“There will be times when she can be hard headed and you may have to shake a big stick in the marriage.”

I was smart enough to understand that he was speaking in an expressive nature as you don’t shake anything in front of Anne and remain standing.

A few years later we were blessed to raise two wonderful young girls.

Built in 1883 Cedar Bridge of the “Bridges of Madison County”

Fourth Degree: Somewhere in 1992 while working in Des Moines I had the pleasure of taking a portrait of an author, musician and college professor who had just finished a top selling novel.

Robert James Waller’s “Bridges of Madison County” had just made the best sellers list.  He was a very engaging subject who had a love of photography and the understanding of the strong relationships between a man and women.

Soon after the portrait of Waller the girls and I were on a weekend journey to Winterset, Iowa not to view the inspiration Waller’s book and the love of Francesca and Robert Kincaid, but to see the birthplace of Marion Morrison, John Wayne, the “Duke” another childhood idol and hero.

It was hard to believe that a man of such “larger than life” cinema stature could have been born in the small white neighborhood cottage in 1907.

Life’s turns in the road could have taken us to Adair, Iowa the a 1873 site of Jesse James and his gang’s first train robbery in the west or down the road to view “Albert” the thirty foot tall plaster bull in Audubon.

Fifth Degree:  Cloaked in the shroud of shame of just having photographed the author, we headed to the seventy-foot wood covered bridge built in 1883 over Cedar Creek.

With a little coaxing by mom and eldest daughter Alayna; young Ashley grabbed her sister’s hand for what became many trips in and out of the bridge’s shadow as the shutter on the camera chattered, recording family history.

Sixth Degree: It had all come together on one summer day on the dirt road leading to the lonely bridge.

In 1995 Clint Eastwood and owner of “Rising River Ranch” teamed with sister and classmate Kathleen Kennedy who later became a successful producer with Steven Spielberg and producer with Eastwood on “Bridges”. The author and portrait subject Robert James Waller had used Cedar Bridge on the cover of his book.  The three significant young ladies in my life Anne, Alayna and Ashley had been photographed along the historic weathered red boards; …did I mention that Waller’s subject, Robert Kincaid was a photographer?