Sunday, December 28, 2014

19- The Rocky Mountain Christmas Day Rescue

Thirty-eight years ago, I spent Christmas Day 1979 in Rocky Mountain National Park covering a holiday plane crash rescue for ABC News.
Leaving home early, well before Santa finished his rounds, I met Sky9 pilot Jug Hill and reporter Kevin Roberts at the downtown helipad near Currigan Hall. When we took off in Denver that morning the wind was bad but grew even stronger as we approached Rocky Mountain National Park 75 miles to the northwest. The lost plane had been down for two nights before it was spotted by a Civil Air Patrol pilot far above timberline north of Milner Pass and Trail Ridge Road.
High winds, which nearly prevented us from flying at all, were hampering the mountain rescue operation. At the base camp on Trail Ridge Road, we found it would be hours before ground rescue teams could possibly reach the remote wreckage high above on Shipler Mountain. It would be 3 more months before Jug and I, in Sky9, would crash in similar conditions just north of here on Cameron Pass. So perhaps, without that in our history yet, we were a little overconfident about what we thought we could accomplish. In spite of the gusting wind, we decided to give it a try. We took an Emergency Medical Technician with us but, because of the high altitude, had to leave Kevin, the reporter, behind to save weight.

We located the wreckage below a ridge at 12,000 feet and attempted a landing just above it but were pushed back by swirling 90 mph wind gusts. We dropped to the ridge below the crash site trying to find a level place to land but the snow was too deep and powdery to support the helicopter. The strong winds and deep snow forced us to hover just inches above the snow several hundred yards below the crash site. I’d hoped to organize my gear a bit before stepping out but Jug started yelling for us to jump, because he couldn’t hold our position in the wind and was beginning to tilt backward. I grabbed everything in my arms and leaped from the left front seat into the deep snow below. The EMT did the same, jumping from the right back seat as Sky9 tilted further, leaned right and then slowly pulled away as we both sprawled in the white-out below. It took me several minutes to collect my equipment and prepare for the climb. The EMT was already well ahead, moving steadily toward the plane about 200 yards above. This was no easy task for either of us, in waist deep snow, hauling gear up a steep mountain side, but it helped that he broke trail for me and my awkward video gear. Still, it was like climbing in sand, one foot…step up…six inches…slide back down. We were driven to get to the plane because, even from a distance, we could see clothing stuffed into the broken windows, so we knew someone had lived through the crash. The EMT was ahead of me by a good 40 yards when he arrived at the plane. I tried like hell to catch up, but this guy never stopped. Not once. He was a monster. I desperately wanted the video and audio of him making first contact with the survivors but I couldn’t ask him to hold up until I got there, so I shot his approach from below as best I could. I finished climbing up to the plane and got shots of him caring for the injured family members. Four out of five on board were still alive. I was careful not to overshoot as tapes had 20 minutes of media and I only had one extra tape. I had worked up a sweat climbing up to the plane and my clothes were soaked. Now, in the strong, cold wind, my damp pants were beginning to freeze like tubes around my legs. The crowded plane cabin, though intact, was filled with the five victims, the EMT and his equipment, so there was no room inside for me or my camera and recorder. It was the early days of video tape and the gear didn’t take very well to the cold. I knew the rescue teams behind us would take a while to arrive (more than three hours in fact) and I needed to keep the recorder warm to shoot the evacuation of the survivors and interviews. I hollowed out a shelter in the snow, below the wing, and waited; huddled with the recorder, held close against my body, under my coat. Over the wind I thought I could hear voices singing Christmas songs from within the broken fuselage. It was a very long, cold day, but one with a wonderful, joyful Rocky Mountain Christmas ending.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

18- All 50 States In 55 Years

Tennessee 1 was easy. I was born in Memphis. Mississippi 2 was just down the road and home to my mother‘s family in Eupora, where we visited frequently. My father was a young trainee with the W. T. Grant Co., which moved our family often. The first move I remember was to East Alton, Illinois 3 around 1950. I attended Kindergarten there. From East Alton we moved to Nashville and I began 1st grade at Hattie Cotton Elementary School.
In the middle of the year Grant‘s transferred Dad to Kalamazoo, Michigan 4. While there, we moved to a second house at 315 Garland to escape from a rough neighborhood. Kalamazoo led to Elgin, Illinois and then on to Carpentersville where there were 2 more moves. By 9th grade, I‘d been in eight schools. Other than driving with the family to nearby Missouri 5 and Indiana 6, my intention to tour all 50 states stalled until I graduated from high school and left for collage in 1964.
While attending Memphis State University and playing in rock bands over the next 4 years, I traveled throughout Arkansas 7 ,Alabama 8, Florida 9 and Louisiana 10. My parents moved a few more times, once landing in Owensboro, Kentucky 11 where my brother and I visited for the holidays. It was the first time Dave and I ever smoked a joint together. It was the 60‘s, Man.......You just had to be there.
On April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis I was playing for Bill Black’s Combo. We left town in a rush just beating the curfew as National Guard troops and tanks moved into Memphis. We traveled to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, West Virginia 12 , passing through Virginia 13 on the way, for a gig for the Corps of Cadets. The dance was a military formal, with drawn sabers forming an arched receiving line and all.
After graduation in 1968 I moved to Chicago to play with my brother Dave’s band. We played in Clear Lake, Iowa 14 among many other places. The following summer, 1969, I moved back to Memphis and went to Atlanta, Georgia 15 for the Atlanta Pop Festival. Later that summer I played with Chad And The King Lears on the Gary Van Zeeland Tour throughout Wisconsin 16, stopping in Beloit, Stevens Point, Appleton and so on.
In the fall of 1970 two friends and I took off on a cross country trip covering a number of states including Texas 17, New Mexico 18, Arizona 19, California 20, Nevada 21, Utah 22, Wyoming 23, Nebraska 24,
South Dakota 25, North Dakota 26 and Minnesota 27.
In 1971 I moved to Dallas where my new wife and I soon honeymooned at Lake Texoma in Oklahoma 28. In 1972 I went to Colorado 29 for Christmas just prior to our divorce.
I started playing with my second version of the band, Freedom Street, in 1973. We preformed all over the country, including Hutchinson, Kansas 30 and Hilo, Hawaii 31.
In 1984 KUSA-TV sent me to New York 32 to do a story about the Statue Of Liberty restoration. While there, the station asked me to photograph the home of a gangland character living in Connecticut 33. KUSA also sent me to Washington D.C. for a story about an NTSB investigation involving a Colorado plane crash.
Margie and I drove to Expo in Vancouver B.C. about 1988 staying in Idaho 34, Oregon 35, Washington 36 and Montana 37.
In 1989 I left KUSA-TV and began work as a freelancer for a show called America’s Back Roads. For one trip we started out in Maine 38 then shot stories in New Hampshire 39, Vermont 40, Massachusetts 41 and Rhode Island 42. On another trip we covered New Jersey 43, Pennsylvania 44 and Ohio 45. In 1991 I went to Alaska 46 to shoot the US Extreme Ski Championships
In October of 2001 while working for Oswego Creative, we visited Maryland 47, Delaware 48, North Carolina 49 and South Carolina 50. Over the years I have visited and worked in many of these states, all but one of the Hawaiian Islands and a couple of territories, several times in Porto Rico and all of the US Virgin Islands.   Country road take me home….

Friday, March 7, 2014

17- Counting Your Blessings

The 1970 road trip somewhere in Texas
In late September of 1970 I set off with two friends on a cross-country trip to find America and our place in it. Little did I know it would lead me to a life seminar on wealth and self worth.
On October 6th of that journey I met my first wife who, for the purposes of this narrative, we’ll call Pam, Pam Rosewood. We found each other, one exciting, sultry southern evening, in a little Dallas bar named Jim’s Place and parted company when I resumed my trip the next day. We kept in touch with phone calls and letters over the next three months before seeing each other again.
By the end of the year I was playing with Joe Davis and the Guilloteens at the Vapors Club in Biloxi, Mississippi when she drove down from Dallas in her VW to see me a few days before New Years Eve.
It was wonderful; love lost and found again. From that point on, Pam and I were together 24/7. I remember fireworks, romantic walks along the beach and incredibly long talks filling in the gaps in our lives. When I finished playing the gig in Biloxi she went home with me to Memphis where we shared a small house with Wade and his girlfriend Patsy.
Following a year filled with extreme highs and lows, the new one started off rough. Joe called it quits with the band and I was out of work again. In January of 1971 Memphis seemed full of missed opportunities and bad situations, one in particular which involved cops showing pictures of protesters, one who looked a lot like me, to my friends. Pam said she had contacts back in Dallas where we first met and suggested we move there. The future was not looking very good. My only gig was playing at a local burlesque theater for very little money. My savings were quickly dwindling. I had even resorted to selling blood. So, in February we decided to move to Dallas for a new start.
A new state. A nice town, but no work and no money. We stayed with her friend Mary until I could find a band or even a straight job. We were broke but under a warm roof and, what’s more important, we had each other and we were in love.
Within a week or two Pam asked if I’d like to meet her parents. I said sure, and agreed to dinner at their house. Over the previous weeks we’d talked about her family but only casually. I knew she had grown up in Dallas with her parents and a couple of sisters and that was about it. I was in for a shock.
As we pulled into the very upscale neighborhood, where she had failed to mention she grew up until now, I noticed her parents’ house, while only a single story, sprawled across the horizon from one side of my peripheral vision to the other. I pulled the collar of my coat up, perhaps to better conceal my ponytail and stepped out of the car, bellbottoms swirling over my pointy-toed boot tops. A Cadillac and a small sports car sat out front in the wide looping driveway.
I opened the door for Pam and we walked into the Rosewood estate. The entryway spilled into a large sunken living room with an expansive view of the pool, tennis court and putting green just beyond the patio windows. We were greeted by her parents, Joan and Lyndon. They were warm and gracious and couldn’t have been kinder to us. Conversation came easy and a delightful dinner, prepared by their housekeeper, followed. Afterwards, Lyndon asked if I played billiards? I said I played pool and he invited me to his billiards room. As we left, I noticed Pam walking, arm in arm, with her mother toward the other end of the house. The farther apart we got, the stranger the evening became.
The billiards room was like a scene from a movie and the timing of Lyndon’s question, right out of a script. As I drew back the cue stick to break for the first game he asked, “ Exactly what are your intensions with my daughter?”
I, of course, miscued…
A lot was said by both of us in a relatively short time but it was civil. No blows were exchanged or even threatened. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it was rather business like. He said he wouldn’t interfere with our relationship but he couldn’t give his “blessings to this arrangement, here in Texas, where we lived together”, what ever the hell “blessings” meant. Pam was getting the same thing from her mother at the far end of the house.
I didn’t show it as we left it but I was pissed. Who the hell did this guy think he was anyway? On the drive back home Pam told me of the conversation with her mother at the other end of the house. She explained how different our life could be if we had the support of her parents. My anger cooled. She was right of course. We had found a little bungalow to rent on, can you believe it, Lovers Lane, but we were still looking for work and our savings were down to nothing. Now, all I had to do was agree and things could change forever. The first “yes” was very difficult, but they got progressively easier. In fact, I don’t remember actually asking Pam to marry me. We just agreed to do it. That seems strange now, but that’s how I remember it. On the drive back to Mary’s apartment we just decided to take that road. The next day Pam moved back into her parents house and stayed there until after the wedding.
From that moment on I felt like my life slowly slid out from under me. I lost control. I just floated from one event to another for the next two years or so, like I was in a dream. It was seldom unpleasant but always unreal.
The engagement was received with great excitement. Plans were made, refined and then announced in the local papers. Money was never a problem again. I was first introduced to Lyndon’s favorite men’s store and given a closet full of new clothes to replace my current wardrobe; Then given a job selling houses for his company which built homes. In a matter of weeks I had gone from Memphis Police perp photos to the society pages of the Dallas Morning News. I still can’t believe how fast it all happened, or how fast I sold out. In spite of my love for David Crosby and his song “Almost Cut My Hair”, MY long hair was the first thing to go. By this time “yes” was much, much easier to say; much easier than I ever would have imagined. Day by day the hippy musician was transforming into something else…
The wedding was set for April 3, 1971, only six months after we first laid eyes on each other. It was held in the Slaughter Chapel of the First Baptist Church of Dallas Texas, then the largest Baptist church in the world. The well known Reverend W.A. Criswell, famous as spokesman for 1960’s right-wing, anti-JFK, sentiment, did the honors. He didn’t do weddings anymore but for this family, solid members and supporters of the church, he came back from retirement.
My family and friends came from all over the country for the wedding. Mom and Dad came from Texarkana. Wade Johnson and Herb Havens, who stood up for me, jumped a freight train in California. My brother Dave from Chicago filled in as best man for Joe Davis who had to deal with a last minute family commitment back in Memphis. Other than Joe’s cancellation, the wedding went off with out a hitch.
A large reception was held at the Rosewoods’ house after the wedding. Pam and I were part of a long receiving line at the door welcoming guests and I remember shaking hands and smiling until my face hurt. Pam and I left later that evening, in one of the Cadillacs, for a short honeymoon at Lake Texoma.
Deal done.
The whole affair must have cost Lyndon a pocket full of money. I guess this was one of the “blessings” he was referring to back in the billiards room.
While I wouldn’t say the relationship was a mistake, the marriage definitely was. Plain and simple, the marriage was her parents idea and pressure from them was the reason it happened. The sad part was we were adults and yet we easily allowed ourselves to be pulled, if not so much pushed, into it. It was the lure of promises, not the fear of threats we responded to. We became the dream that everyone, but us, envisioned. Then, we had to live it and that was the hard part. Neither one of us turned out to be the person we thought we’d met before that night at her parent’s house. And we were never the same again. In the short time we’d been together, we’d been a team; us against the world. Somehow the team had realigned, and our goals subtly shifted.
Left to our own devices we, as a couple, probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks anyway. We were quite different. Friends and family  pointed that out often enough and we were beginning to notice it ourselves. But the marriage sealed us in. So we made the best of it.
Not that our life was really so bad. Pam was given a job decorating her dad’s model homes. As a perk, she could use anything in the models to furnish the new house her parents gave us as a wedding gift. This was, obviously, another blessing. While this was going on I, in my new, short hairdo, was trying to sell houses and hating it. It was too much change, too fast. I must admit, it was exciting and a new world for me. I had never been around such wealth. But it was also a huge contradiction of values for me. I saw myself as a 60’s counter-culture warrior. These were the people I had been rebelling against. And now I was one of them?
That ate at me. I was desperate to do something to establish my own identity and self worth. The first thing I tried was quitting that stupid job selling homes and going back to graduate school.
I enrolled at SMU that summer as a film student. I also took a part time job at the Columbia School Of Broadcasting (Not affiliated with CBS as they used to say). I was hired to use my teaching skills but quickly found the pay was structured around how many students I signed up. If there was time between answering the phones and selling, I could use it to try to help students. But there was little time for that. Obviously this wasn’t the self worth I was looking for.
Through my classes at SMU I found another part time job at Southwestern Medical School at Parkland Hospital. I was hired there to shoot training films for the visual arts department but spent most of my time working for Dr. Charles Baxter who was head of burn treatment research. Between summer school and these two jobs I was pretty busy that summer. I can’t say that Pam and I grew any closer during that time. We were each busy with our own new lives; two totally different people from the flower children who met only a year earlier. For the first year, I don’t think either of us even noticed.
In the fall I got a break when I applied  for an opening at the Dallas news bureau of Ft. Worth TV station KTTV. I was hired as a Photographer/Reporter for a 15 minute news cast and happy as hell about it. It was part-time but my first real paying job in TV news. I learned a lot working there. I was a one-man-band. I set up the camera, turned it on, did my interviews and stand-ups, shot my B-roll on a smaller silent camera, went back to the bureau, then wrote, voiced and edited each story. It was great experience. Two months later a story I shot about a jet car crash caught the eye of Travis Lynn, the news director at WFAA-TV Ch 8 in Dallas. He offered me a full time job in, what was then I think, the 18th largest market in the country. I was on my way… and, oh yes, married.
By this time Pam and I had acquired Sybil, Minerva and Loki who were two cats and a dog. None of them liked me very much, probably because I didn’t spend a lot of time with them. They were always Pam’s animals. There was something about the house that bothered me too. It never felt like home. It felt like the model home it had been before it was given to us. It was perfect and filled with perfect furniture. Much of it wicker as I recall. I still hate wicker.
I wanted to get out of our too quiet, neighborless, suburban neighborhood and go camping, or do something in the city. Pam showed little interest. Not only that but, I felt like, she discouraged outside friendships with co-workers or anyone really. Her dad had season tickets for the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl the first year and bought tickets for us on the 50 yard line at the brand new Texas Stadium the second year we were together, so we did go to football games during the season. And we did drive back to Memphis for a few days to visit, but mostly we stayed in our perfect little house watching our perfect little TV.  Except for her family, we had no other friends.
I had always been in charge of my own finances but our relationship had evolved this “system”. A system where she kept the books and handed out the money. It started off because it was easier that way. We pooled our pay checks but, at some point, I started to gave my check to her each week. Money had been a struggle for so long, frankly it was a relief. It’s not like there was ever a shortage. She always gave me money for anything I wanted but, pretty much, everything was accounted for. I didn’t realize how confining that was. Now I see married women in this situation, with the man parceling out the funds, and I understand how it effects the relationship. It’s demeaning. It’s got to be a team effort or someone’s going to feel left out. We never spoke of this; one of so many things we never spoke of. It’s funny. When we first met, we couldn’t stop talking. Once we were married, we couldn’t think of anything to say.
By the end of our second summer I was approaching my anniversary at Ch 8 News and was very consumed with the job. Unlike my home life, nearly every day at work had been a new and exciting adventure. I enjoyed working at Ch 8 and made friends easily. Friends who, over the next year, were never invited to our home to visit and only rarely saw us as a couple at their functions. My best friend at work was female and Pam was never comfortable with that. I was proud of what I was doing, and seeing, every night on TV, and that may have got on Pam’s nerves. And seeing so much of my life, lived outside of our house, probably didn’t help either. We grew farther apart. I can see it now. Not so much then.
Pam began to hang around with Kim, an old girlfriend who was Maid of Honor at our wedding, and the two of them began to go out together. Kim was dating a biker and Pam went with her over to his club house a couple of times. One Saturday morning in early October Pam left with Kim for a group outing, a ride she said, and didn’t come home. There were no cell phones and no way to talk to her. I was sick with worry and, of course, didn’t sleep all night. We were scheduled to meet her parents to attend the Cowboy’s game the next morning. I called them with made up excuses, first about why we’d be late, then about not coming at all.  It was horrible. I almost hoped for news of an accident. At least then I’d know. It was with these thoughts, I went looking for her at the motorcycle clubhouse when she didn’t show up by late Sunday morning.
I must have looked pretty crazy and I was. I hadn’t slept much for several days, none the night before, and there was probably some crank involved when I walked into the biker clubhouse demanding to know where my wife was. They knew who I was. They knew knew who she was. They didn’t know if I was carrying. They said she’d left earlier. I was lucky I didn’t get killed. If there was laughter, it was behind my back as I left but I never heard it. At that point I don’t think I cared anyway.
Pam came home in the afternoon and I…     I spanked her.  Nothing dramatic. She walked into the bedroom where I was sitting. I stood up. I grabbed her. Sat down and put her over my knee. She resisted but didn’t hit back. I gave her a couple of swats and it was over. Nothing was hurt but her pride and my opinion of myself for resorting to this. I never did anything like it before… or since.
The separation was immediate. It was over on all levels. She moved out leaving me with the house, two cats and a dog at first glance. However, when all the smoke cleared, all I walked away with, at my insistence, was a motorcycle, some silver goblets and what was left of my self respect. That was about it. No lawyers needed or involved.
But it wasn’t that cut and dried at first. Her parents, not knowing all the gory details, thought the marriage could be saved and insisted we give it a rest and not see each other for a few weeks. That part wasn’t a problem. However, they wanted us to join them in Aspen for Christmas and see if we wanted to get back together. At the time it was hard to consider divorce as an option because that’s just the way we were raised. Besides I was just waking up from this long sleep and much of it still didn’t seem real to me. I was willing to try anything. Christmas in Aspen made as much sense as anything else.
So, in December of 1972 I climbed out of one life in the flatlands of Texas and up to another in the mountains of Colorado, enclosed in my father-in-law’s Cadillac with my wife, my chaperoning sister-in-law and the last vestiges of a failing marriage.
It was my 27th year. John Denver was playing on every radio station between Dallas and Aspen as I took in my very first Colorado Rocky Mountain High. On the drive, the chill between Pam and me was as cold as the falling temperatures outside the car. And with every hill we climbed, and every turn in the road, it became clearer, we would not be getting back together. One relationship was ending and another was beginning; my love affair with Colorado would endure; the marriage would not. So, I spent the next week learning to ski and the rest is history. To this day, I still consider that Christmas in Aspen and those several days of ski lessons to be Lyndon’s final and finest “blessings” of them  all.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

16- Lyle Lovett At Red Rocks - Friend Of The Devil

We used two cameras and an empty Red Rocks Amphitheater for the background on the morning of June 20, 1991. Lyle Lovett recorded this song live for ABC's In Concert series honoring the Grateful Dead. I was setting up for a wide shot when Lyle asked me politely on the side if I could get his girlfriend into the picture. I thought this was very sweet and did the best I could to discreetly include her in the background. Within a few months of this video Lyle was dating Julia Roberts. I've wondered if these shots, with his young girlfriend in them, affected the situation. The shoot went well and he was a pleasure to work with. He provided tickets and an invitation backstage later when he was playing in Steamboat Springs. Ever the quiet gentleman. I love his music and this version of a Grateful Dead favorite.

Lyle Lovett - Friend Of The Devil
(click on link below)