Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmastime Rhymes

What is it about this time of year?
Sane people lose it, go crazy, I fear.
The roads are jam-packed with trucks and with cars,
but none of them go very fast or get far.
Their pilgrimage leads to their Mecca - a mall.
Capitalism reigns within these hallowed halls.

Sixty minutes to find a spot, by the curb some just stop.
Yet no one has been shot in the lot for a spot.

There is a clearing in the haze. Before Christmas, just 3 days!
Gifts unbought? In a hurry? Hit the mall, it's open early.
8 am is the time to shop. It's so quiet, you'll hear a pin drop.

People are few and the stores are uncluttered.
A few moments before they were all shuttered.
Standing in center court is a scene so surreal,
I feel I've walked into a movie reel.

The muzak echoes and escalators hum.
In under an hour my shopping is done!
No parking fiascoes, no fighting the crowd.
"How lucky am I," I wonder aloud.

Now it's off to work in dawn's bright light.
Merry Christmas to all? You got that right.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Sunday Fun

It's Sunday, I'm in Denver, and the Broncos have a home game. I don't have tickets, yet, but that's not gonna stop me.

As the date for our trip to Denver drew closer, my time to get a ticket to the Broncos game grew shorter. Before I knew it, we were landing in Denver. Oh well, it's just a game, right? I'll just catch it on television. That was my rationale, until our hotel shuttle pulled up to the Red Lion to drop someone off. The Red Lion is directly behind Invesco Field at Mile High, abutting the fence to the parking lot. It was that moment, sitting in that van, that I resolved to attend the game that weekend.

How could I not? I grew up in Southwest Louisiana. Football in my town is like a second church. You attend the South Cameron game on Friday night and go to God's church on Saturday or Sunday, depending on your faith. Growing up in Lousiana means that you're a Saints fan first, but you've gotta have a backup team that's actually gonna have a chance to win. For a few years, it was the Broncos, with Elway at the helm. The legends that played in those days are long since retired, and so is the field they played on, but their history is thick in the thin air of the Mile High City. It would be sacreligious to miss a game here.

Sunday dawns bright and clear. The plan is to make my way to the stadium, soak up some of the tailgating atmosphere, and score a ticket for a reasonable price. Completing that final goal would be tricky, since I'm not the most street-wise person.

Foot traffic is light on the streets as I utilize public transit to get to Invesco. At the light rail station I run into a group of fans from both teams. The Bronco fans are locals, of course, and the Pat fans traveled all the way from New York. Good natured trash talk between these friends helps make a short trip even shorter.

Soon after disembarking I run into my first scalper. For those who don't know, these can be identified by the laminated signs that read "I Need Tickets" on one side with a seating chart of the venue on the other. This particular gentleman informs me that I might be able to get an upper deck "nosebleed" seat for $100 or so, but I wouldn't be able to get one from him for that "cheap" at this time. My near-eidetic memory of the ticketmaster website calls shenanigans on this so I tell him I'll call him later and head for the parking lot, and some authentic NFL tailgating.

Following my instincts and using my photographer's eye for characters, I soon spot the folks who will become my hosts for the day. Intending to just snap a few shots and move on, I ask them if they would mind? "Of course not," they respond. "Where are you from?" The answer draws looks of sympathy, but I quickly tell them that I'm not an evacuee, but here by choice. Less than a minute after saying hello I find a beer in my hand and an invitation to make myself at home.

That isn't hard to do. I've traveled across several states only to find all the comforts of home, fried turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and a couple coolers full of light beer. The view isn't bad either. No one has a ticket for me, but they assure me that I will be able to find one closer to game time for face value. Ten minutes later, a cool cat named Rob hangs up his cell and tells me that he might have a line on a ticket for me. Another ten confirms it, and the turkey is done. Fried turkey in one hand, a beer in the other, and good people to share the fun with... life is good.

The game is a good one, and the fans are great. A family from New England is scattered around us, with the patriarch next to me, but they don't get heckled too badly by the Bronco fans. It's a great game that keeps everyone in their seat until the final tick of the clock, with the Broncos picking up the win.

After bidding Rob goodbye, and asking him to pass my thanks on to everyone at the post-game party, I begin my trek back to my wife...and dinner. It's been a great day and I have memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks to the Mile High Fryers, and the City of Denver, for making my trip one of the best vacations I've had in a long time.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Games and Gamers

What is it about video games that they draw the fire of so many people? In this day and age it seems as if everyone is trying to blame games for everything wrong in the world.

I have grown up in the information age. This means that I haven't known a time without television, telephones, or video games. I've seen computers go from room-filling mainframes to pocket PCs. One constant in these last 27 years has been the flickering entertainment of games. Playing a home version of Pong is one of my earliest memories. It's practically prehistoric by today's standards, but it is still one of the most pure experiences of gaming. Then Atari swept the nation with its home console. While I didn't have one, I had friends that did, and I logged many hours playing alongside them.

Of course a trip to the mall meant that I would go to the arcade. It didn't matter if I had money or not. I could enjoy just watching others play as much as playing. Well, almost. The allure of the cavernous space filled with the hulking cabinets and faces illuminated by the blue glow of the screens was impossible to ignore. Not to mention the cacophany of sound eminating from the games and gamers alike. I still visit them today, but they are not the same. The power of home consoles has grown so much that the games are actually better at home than in the arcade. That was one of the reasons for paying to play them at the arcade - the graphics were better than what you could get at home, due to dedicated hardware made specifically to run that game. Another reason was the competitive atmosphere, whether competing against the game, your own score, or the person standing next to you.

Atari gave way to Nintendo, and the world would be changed forever. The Nintendo Entertainment System stands as a tour de force in gaming history. It's only real competion was the Sega Master System, but most people only remember the NES. Many historic franchises began here: Zelda, Metroid and Metal Gear are but a few.

Nintendo has long been known as the name in family friendly games. They even went so far as to have the blood removed from Mortal Kombat. For those who don't know, MK is the game that more or less started the whole violence arguement. Nearly everyone has at least heard about the move that allows a player to rip out his opponent's spine. The first time I played it I knew it was a unique experience in gaming. There had been fighting games before, but none that looked or played like this. Certainly none had the gallons upon gallons of blood.

And so we flash forward to today. The violence debate has been raging for over 10 years, and it has borne fruit. We now have a ratings system for games created by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Every advertisement for a game has its rating, and they are printed on the game's packaging. Currently I'm looking at the box for Conker: Live and Reloaded for Xbox, a game rated M for mature and proud of it. Along with the ESRB rating, displayed both front and back, it has a large warning on the front that says it's not for anyone under age 17. Some say that the ratings don't give enough information about the game's content, but I would disagree. On the back of Conker's box, right next to the rating, is what it's rated for, which would be blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, sexual themes, strong language, and use of drugs and alcohol. Any person who looks at this box and actually checks the rating should have no doubt as to what this game contains.

If a parent buys this game for their eight-year-old, they have only themselves to blame.

A quick check of some older games shows the same method of ratings. I was surprised that some of these games were even rated! I thought at least one or two of them weren't, but it was there in black and white, with a description. Only recently has the film rating system become this complete, but I'm not sure it's applied across the board, unlike the ESRB ratings.

Some call these M-rated games an assault on the nation's children. If video games were only played by children that might be so, but I am proof that the same people who played Pac-Man years ago have grown up to play Grand Theft Auto today. I have matured, and my games have matured with me. I am in agreement that retailers should take more responsibility in selling games. Should they wait for a law to tell them to check someone's ID before selling them a game? I don't think so, but I'm not sure there should be a law, either. I rarely get checked when buying alcohol or going to an R-rated movie, but it still happens on occasion. I don't have a problem with it, because they are doing their job, and it is just a few seconds out of my day.

It is also theorized that the violent behavior depicted in a game is learned by those playing it who then act out that behavior in real life. This could be true, but it is more likely that the individuals who do this are just screwed up and would get their inspiration from a book or movie just as easily as from a game. They call these games murder simulators. I concede that you can learn by simulation, but it is still up to the individual to know right from wrong, which is why it all comes back to proper parenting and being a well-adjusted member of society. These games are fantasy, not real life.

In the end it all comes down to parents taking an active role in raising their children. Parents must make themselves aware of what their children are watching, reading, and experiencing. These attempts at banning the sale of mature-rated games are a waste of taxpayer money. Good parenting cannot be legislated. This money could be better spent educating parents about how to properly raise their children. A start would be teaching them about the rating system, which can be found at www.esrb.org.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fans and Family

Are we really thankful for the things we have? For many people Thanksgiving is a day off to stuff their belly with food, either with family or alone. This year is different for many people.

As I have noted in previous posts, Hurricane Katrita significantly changed lives here, including mine. What I am most thankful for this year is the ablility to gather with my family in places that are familiar. Gathering in my grandfather's house for a noon-time meal is a needed step toward normal in the New Louisiana. Unfortunately we didn't have the traditional turkey at this meal. The plan was to order the meal from Robie's Grocery, a local store that does an excellent job. Last year we had no problem getting one, this year they sold out very early, but we can roll with it. Instead we have sausage-stuffed chicken, with all the trimmings. No big deal, meat is meat, after all.

After dinner we replaced the ceiling fan in the living room, which was almost as old as I am and leaking oil. My sister says it's not a true family gathering if there's not a big project to be done. In the post-project recovery, the conversation turned to movies. The older folks recounted stories of the drive-ins of the past, and that someone could make some money if they opened one now. The rationale is that people are looking for nostalgia, and with today's technology they can get the sound in their car on crystal clear FM radio.

My grandfather joins in with the story of how he and my grandmother got married at the drive-in. Apparently the Justice of the Peace was also the projectionist, and the only free time he had was between reel changes. After 27 years of life, I'm finally hearing the great stories. It could be that I needed to reach an age that I could appreciate them, but I know I've never heard these before.

Before long we are on the road to meet my in-laws. They have turkey, both smoked and fried, and we get along very well. No really great stories here, just good times visting with family.

In the end that is what I'm most thankful for this year. Even though my childhood home has been swept away by tidal surge and my parents are living in a hotel room, we are all healthy and able to gather together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Ah, the dubious honor of being the on-call photog. In addition to the daily workload, that person also gets the oh-dark-thirty wake-up call for whatever calamity just happened.

I'm staring down the barrel of my second on-call stretch in three weeks. Why so soon? Thanks to my little vacation in Denver last month, and the photog shortage, my week from last month got switched. That was two weeks ago. This is my regular week.

It's been five years since I took up the lens, and when I started I looked forward to each week of call. Not only did it mean overtime, desperately needed to keep a roof over my head and ramen in my belly, but I was a night-owl anyway. Few people know the serenity of cruising the streets at 2 a.m., when the signals only flash yellow or red, and the lanes are devoid of traffic. Everything was a new experience, just waiting for me to get there. How could I ever tire of that?

Now I'm hitting the five year mark, and the wall that I've heard other photogs talk about. It could have something to do with being married, which means that I'm not the only one roused from sleep's sweet embrace when the phone rings. Like the other photogs in my shop, I look at call as a necessary annoyance that comes with the job. The good news is that our morning producer has been in my shoes, so when he calls it's usually worth the trouble of tying them.

It's the weekend that receives the most loathing from our ranks. From the end of the late newscast to nine a.m., the newsroom is deserted. This is usually when I see the most activity, since no one is at the station to check the validity of the call. Car accident in Plaquemine? Guess I'll have to drive the hour to get there. If I don't and Brand X does, the reaming will be worse than the lost sleep.

That's what gets me out of bed now. I can't just roll over and go back to sleep. The fear keeps me awake. Will this be the one time that costs me my job? Once I'm in the car the anticipation of what lies ahead usually supplants those thoughts. It's a shame, really.

Let's not forget about the people who are affected by these calls. One is a mother who just lost a child, either to a murder or a car accident. There are others who have lost a home to a fire, and if they're lucky, that's all they've lost. These people are the real reason I don't look forward to taking call. In the end their story is why I'm out there, so I treat them with the respect I would expect were our roles reversed.

Hopefully the pager stays silent this week.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Egg Nog and Pumpkin Pie

It's been a while since dropped some crumbs, but I'm back.

It's funny how the smallest things can trigger memories. On the surface the last couple of days have been fine, but not really. Yesterday started out fine, but soon went downhill. I think I scared a couple of coworkers with a brief loss of control. Today I almost lost it again, but in a different way. It could be the stress of the last couple of months, or it's just built up over time and now has to find a way out.

Anyone who hasn't felt some stress in this part of the world lately is on some outstanding drugs. My job does nothing to relieve that. In fact it can add a lot more, usually in a hurry. Let's just say they got their money's worth out of me on Friday.

Today was mostly stress free. Grocery shopping was going along just fine, until we got to the dairy aisle. This time of year is one I look forward to and is somewhat embodied by the annual appearance of egg nog. It's just not the holiday season if I haven't had some at least once before the New Year.

As I looked at the bottle in the store I was swamped by memories of holidays past. These happy memories are all centered in Cameron Parish, the place I grew up, and now recovering from the wrath of Rita. The ghost of Christmas past reminded me that those familiar surroundings of the past 27 years are no longer familiar to me. The home that I thought would always be there has been washed away. The living room that has seen so many happy times is inches deep in muck and the furniture tossed around haphazardly. I stood in the store, fighting back tears. I thought I had gotten over the worst of it, but the pain is still there.

Moving through the rest of the store, I discovered a strong desire for pumpkin pie, another seasonal favorite, and usually very comforting. This brought on more memories, and my eyes filled once more. I suppose I will find myself in more moments like this as the year continues.

Now we must look toward the future and make new memories, all while cherishing the old ones. I know I am not alone in this. Families across the Gulf South are struggling with this as well. My family has already made plans to have Christmas at my new home. I'm hoping that everyone who has lost so much finds solace in just being together with loved ones in the coming weeks. Maybe a few will even discover the reason these holidays began.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Missing Miracles

This would be something that you might read on my craptacular compatriot's blog over at Turdpolisher (linked at right), but I've got a feeling he'll be dealing with a much deeper issue in his next post.

At every station there are days when those "in charge" ask the impossible. Here's an example: You just drove an hour to get here and the newscast hits in 15 minutes. You are the lead story, and have been told that it will be a vo/sot. No big deal, until the show's producer tells your reporter that they want a package, and that still-green reporter acquiesces. The result is a miracle edit of a one minute story done in six minutes. For those not in the know, ideal edit time is 45-60 minutes per one minute of story. Our photogs have been meeting these kinds of demands for so long that the miraculous has become commonplace, at least in the eyes of our producers.

Recently our ranks have been thinned by the departure of our most senior photog, Russell Drewry, and a defection to the ranks of the producers by another. At least we have someone who's been in the field producing, now, so he isn't included in the catch-all 'producers.' Add to this number a person on vacation and another in the hospital, and we are four short of our normal daily total. We also have twice as many reporters as photogs, and all of them are expected to turn a story today. Truly a recipe for disaster.

Two reporters leave the station with the same photog headed to the same destination to turn separate stories on the same meeting. Both reporters have stories for all shows, with both having packages in the same show. All of this is to be edited by one photographer. Needless to say, one of the stories misses slot.

On my end everything is going great. One day before, a pilot made an emergency landing after running out of fuel. Today they are loading the plane to transport it to the airport, but there are complications. Everything seems to be straightened out when the decision is made to let the pilot use the same road that he landed on to take off. The road is blocked at both ends and the pilot taxis into position. The engine revs, the plane begins its run, and disaster strikes. The pilot clips the mirror of a parked 18 wheeler which causes him to smash his wingtip into the back of a parked rescue truck, all within my viewfinder. Everything is fine for the next four hours until, just before our 5 PM live shot, we get locked out of our live truck. After waiting for 30 minutes for someone to bring us keys, I sit down to edit our package. It will be tight, but I know I can do it. At least I could have, if the editor hadn't picked that moment to crap out.

Had I missed slot through my own fault, I would be upset, but that's on me. Nothing frustrates me more than missing because of equipment malfunction, because I have no control over that. Most days we are asked to do the impossible. We say that it can't be done but make it happen, somehow. Today, we ran out of miracles.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Yipes! Stripes!

Could it be? A sign of progress on the highways and byways of Baton Rouge? It is!

For those who don't know, Louisiana roads in general, and Baton Rouge roads in particular, are famously screwed up. While the rest of the state is getting better, a slow process at best, Baton Rouge has a much farther distance to go. This city has to recover from decades of nonexistant planning. I'll skip the surface streets, except to say that on a cross-town trip you will drive on one street that has 10 different names, depending on what block you are on.

What I'm really writing about is the interstate system. Anyone who has driven through Baton Rouge on I-10 or I-12 knows what I mean. We'll start with I-10 at the Mississippi River Bridge. Until just a couple of years ago, both lanes of eastbound traffic coming across the bridge had to merge into one lane. As if that wasn't bad enough, that one lane was an exit lane into a neighborhood, so eastbound I-10 traffic had to merge with traffic from I-110, which was coming from the north. That had been like that for years, but was just recently 're-striped.' All the traffic still has to merge into one lane, but that lane now continues, so the flow is uninterrupted.

Believe me, it makes sense if you've ever had to drive it.

As Bill Cosby once said, I told you that story to tell you this one. Since moving to Denham Springs, a rapidly growing suburb of Baton Rouge, I've noticed a few things about traffic in my area. Number one is that it's horrible, but I knew that before moving. Why it's bad is something I've pondered for the last year and a half, and I have resolved that part of it comes down to striping, again.

I don't know what the state's engineers had against eastbound traffic. Maybe they weren't getting any that month and decided that everyone should feel that same frustration. In any case I-12 eastbound in Baton Rouge is a very nice stretch of road. Plenty of lanes, with a generous shoulder on both sides. Until the last exit in the parish, O'neal Lane. It doesn't seem like reducing three lanes of traffic to two would be that much of a problem, especially at an exit, but this is Baton Rouge. Instead of having the right lane end at the exit, as it's done everywhere else, the left lane ends, merging with the middle. This has led to miles of traffic constipation.

Tonight I saw a sign of hope, and almost wrecked because I couldn't believe my eyes. Between yesterday and today the road has been restriped. The missus and I were shouting hallelujah because we had just seen a miracle. Well, not quite, but the feeling was the same. I won't know what effect this will have on traffic until I drive home from work Tuesday, but this definately shows some progress being made in a city that desperately needs it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mile High

My wife and I just got back from Denver last night, and we had a great trip. She was attending a conference, and I was along for a much needed vacation from the news business. I'm a cameraman for a local TV station, and the events of the last couple of months demanded that I get away for a bit.

I recommend visiting Denver to anyone who wants to go. I didn't know what to expect, but I found that the people were just as friendly as the people here at home. The city also seems to have a decent public transit system, though my experience was limited to the downtown Mall Ride and a trip to the end of the light-rail line after the Broncos game, but that is another blog for another time.

While my wife was spending her time in meetings, I was taking Oreo's Walking Tour. This tour started at my hotel, but the route was determined by interesting buildings along the way. When I saw one that interested me, I walked toward it. This led me from the Capitol Building all the way to Invesco Field at Mile High, which is quite a hike, but took me past all the major landmarks. In all, it was a great way to spend 4 hours, and get some much needed exercise to boot!