Saturday, March 08, 2008

What I Love About My Job

What I love about my job: About a month ago I was doing a story about high steel iron workers and at some point in the story I was at the new Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, and the boss pointed to a small metal box. "That's what you want, right?" he said, after we'd done interviews with some of his men. "What's that?" I asked. "The basket."
The basket was a 4' X 4' wire mesh basket, with sides that went to the waist and was open above that. And the basket got hooked to a crane that took me and the photographer over 300' above the ground, so that we were looking down on the iron workers walking around on 8" steel beams, their guy wires looking so flimsy I know they wouldn't hold anyone. I held on for dear life but still had the time or my life as that huge crane swung us left and right, out over space, dangling in air, blown this and that way by the wind for an hour. What a kick, even though I was scared to death the whole time.
And this week I was out on a gas drilling rig covered in mud on the wettest coldest sleetiest day of the year and a the whole thing was throbbing like some alien robot and I was thinking Thanks, God, I love my job. Now I can write a story about these guys. I don't live it but I got a good glimpse.
About 20 years ago I was doing a story for Penthouse about the crack epidemic. It would have been the first major national story about it. I spent two weeks traveling with the New York City SNU (Street Narcotics Units) in their vans, and then another two weeks sitting in their perches while they surveilled sales points, old hotels on the Bowery on lower 3rd Ave, where dealers tossed bags full of crack out the windows to dealers on the street. And then came the day. Me and Dave Cantor, the brilliant photographer of life in New York were sitting in his car, a formerly undercover narcotics car--blue Ford Fairlane with a 400 HP engine and a radio that caught all the police frequencies, and we were on 43 and 7th. It was probably midnight or a little later and we were waiting for a deal to go down, after which the female participant in the deal would let us photograph her smoking crack, at that time a new drug and largely unknown, on the street.
Well, this gang of teens, mostly 15 or so, but maybe 20-30-40 of them, come past the car and nail us for undercovers. And they razz us and we ignore them. And then, on cue, a gunfight breaks out on 42 and 7th/Broadway (where 7th and Broadway come together, the crossroads of the world) at the cigar shop, and suddenly these kids are back a and they're razzing us. "Hey, under covers. You going to fix that or just be chickenshit in that car of yours? What's up with that, you chickenshit motherfuckers?"
I was more than willing to ignore them but they decided to turn our car over, which I thought would have killed us. So me and Dave Cantor did the only thing reasonable: We leapt out of the car, pushed the kids aside and ran toward the shooting--it was a battle, not a shooting--with fingers in gun position held high screaming "Police! Drop your guns or we'll shoot!!!" and running straight into a gun battle with only our fingers. Thank god a couple of patrol cars showed up so we were saved. But what a rush that was.
And then one time in India, in Tamil Nadu, at Rom Whitaker, the great herpetologist's place, we wanted pictures of "Giant", his 16-foot long one ton saltwater croc. And Rom says go ahead. And Jeff Rotman, the fantastic photographer says "Peter, we have to get into the cage to get a good shot" and I'm so stupid I agree. So Whitaker grabs a very sick dog and tosses it into the far end of the 50-foot cage and the croc jumps at it and grabs it just as Jeff and I climb into the cage. Unfortunately, "GIANT" noticed us and came at us with a dog leg hanging out of his mouth and blood everywhere. Jeff and I climbed the 4' rock enclosure and 6' double- mesh, heavy-gauge fence faster than you can say "please, God!" and got over it just as Giant hit the wall full speed, sending shock waves for a quarter of a mile.
And then there were times when I was hired by the NY Police Department to guard the back doors of apartment houses against very bad men trying to escape, and times I had to drive half-a-ton of pot a couple of hundred miles for a High Times Photo Shoot, and once when I had to pretend I was an illegal and get smuggled into the US, and the times I had to jump freights to do hobo stories. And I'm not even talking about being in the Amazon with my own boat several hundred miles from the nearest place where there is a phone.
Sometimes you just investigate. Sometimes you get a glimpse of how it really is. And if I had my druthers, I'd love to do more of the "glimpse" stories because those are the ones where you can write first person about the sensation. Those are the ones where you do a "Am I really doing this?" reality check. And the answer almost always is "Yes I am, and this is FANTASTIC! Thank you baby Jesus/white light/ angels/ whomever. I'm alive!" even while pissing my pants.
And that's why I love my job.


clown princess said...

Hey, I love that you love your job! And I love reading about your life, your family, your experiences. This was a great post.

laurettalynne said...

Excellent post. I was hanging on your every word.

daisyduke said...

the story was great (of course) but more importantly, you were less than 2 miles from the House of Duke!!! (daisy, that is...)