by Dick Kraus
It seems like years since I have covered anything more than head shots and real estate for Newsday. Anyway, a few days before the Fourth of July weekend, this year, one of the editors asked me if I wanted to work the holiday. I usually work whatever holidays I can, because it's the only opportunity I have to make any overtime, since I am not eligible at any other time. So, I said okay. I figured that it would be like every other summer holiday that I worked. There'd be a parade, then crowds at the beach and picnics in the park. Sometimes you can make some decent photos out of these. So, I was surprised to hear him say that he wanted me to work the OpSail festivities in NY Harbor and the Hudson River. While that assignment was a great one, I wasn't anxious to make the shlep into NY City, find a place to park that would allow me to get out of the city when I was done. Then there were the crowds, and the heat.
"Can I work from a Press Boat?" I asked. I had done that on the first OpSail ever and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
"Nah," Jeff responded.
"Oh crap," I thought. It'll probably mean shooting from Battery Park, inside of a press bull pen and surrounded by the smelly, perspiring crowd. (Whatever made me think that I would be any less smelly or sweaty?)
"I have you booked to cover the President who will be reviewing the Naval Armada from some boat and then the Tall Ships will pass in review in font of his perch on the super carrier, USS John F. Kennedy."
Hoo Ha! Like the Phoenix, I will rise from the ashes of my discontent and I will be a newsman once more.
Jeff sat me down in his office and gave me some notes that he had scribbled on a piece of paper. He didn't have an awful lot of information, but he said that he'd been in touch with someone from the White House Press Office. My name had been turned in for the usual background check. I was to meet this White House guy at 6 AM on the morning of the 4th, down at the Wall Street Heliport and he would have my White House credentials. Jeff assumed that the prez would helicopter in from wherever he had spent the night and the assembled press pool would accompany him aboard some boat called the Hue City.
"Is it one of ours?" I asked.
Jeff didn't know, but we assumed it was some yacht from which Clinton would cruise up and down the river to review the assembled Navy ships from around the world. It turned out that not only was the Hue City one of ours, it was one of the latest US Navy guided missile cruisers.
The day of the holiday, after pondering how to get to Manhattan and what to do with my car when I got there, I opted to drive to mid-town and leave my car in one of the NYP (NY Press) parking spots in the vicinity of the office that we still maintained at Two Park Ave. It's a relic of the days when the staff of the now defunct N.Y. Newsday operated there. From there I would take a cab to the tip of Manhattan, to the heliport. That part of the city would be closed down once the festivities began, to accommodate the crowds, the beefed up police presence and the complications arising from having the Prez of the US of A in the area. It turned out to be a wise choice.
When I got to the designated meeting place, I saw a lot of suits with ear pieces who talked into their sleeves a lot. None of them were the White House man that I was looking for. Nor did any of them know of him. I saw a young man with bags full of camera equipment, sitting on a bench outside of the building. He was a photographer from the Newark Star Ledger (N.J.) and he knew as little as did I. As the sun began to heat up the city, a few more photographers showed up, looking for the White House guy. Finally someone came over to us, and after a short conversation up his sleeve, with his finger pressing his ear piece close, he told us that our contact man was delayed. He was with the Clintons and because of the early morning fog, instead of helicoptering down from their newly purchased home north of NY City (don't forget that Hillary is running for US Senate from NY) they were in a convoy on the NY Thruway and were running late.
Some of the younger photographers started fretting that Clinton was likely to go right to the Hue City and by the time we got to the West Side dock where she was tied up, they might leave without us. I tried to reassure the young'uns that the sole purpose in having a White House Press office was to ensure that the photo pool was in position to record The Man for our readers and for the world. When you've been a newspuke for 40 years, you do get a dose of reality and sure enough, that is exactly how it played out. The White House man rushed up, handed us cardboard tags to add to our chain of press cards, hustled us into a Navy van with a driver and we were soon tearing through the streets of downtown Manhattan, on our way to the pier.
We were stopped, just inside the gated area and asked to get out of the van so that we could be patted down and our cameras nosed over by bomb sniffing dogs. As this was almost completed, someone screamed, "They're coming!! Get these, F---ing cars the Hell out of here."
I don't know who was coming, but it had all the urgency of the president, so with my right foot still hanging out of the sliding door of the van, my compatriots and I were dragged up the road to the actual entrance of the pier. We were dumped out in front of another gaggle of uniformed and mufti clad security people from various agencies of our government. They wanted another check of our person and equipment. No matter how hard our White House escort pleaded with them, they called for another bomb dog and we had to endure the indignity of having our equipment sniffed by yet another mutt and have that friggin' electronic wand passed into our arm pits and into our crotches. And just as the last of us passed with flying colors, once again, our escort announced that the President's car was coming through and if we wanted to get aboard the ship to record his arrival, we would have to run full tilt down the length of the pier to climb the gangway before he did. Otherwise, we would have to wait until He and His party moved to another section of the ship. So, with cameras and camera bag flopping against my bony ass, this card carrying member of AARP did his best to run down the pier and still try to maintain some level of dignity. (Hah!)
I was too busy huffing my way up the gangway to notice, but I think Clinton was right behind me. They hustled us up another ladder to a deck above the fantail. On the stern, a receiving line had formed and the officers of the ship's company, and other assembled functionaries were pressing the flesh with the President, his wife, and daughter, Chelsea. From my perch on the deck above, I snapped a few digital frames, but I could care less about this kind of dog and pony show. Chances are that perhaps 2 or 3 of my photos would make the next day's paper, and they would show Clinton interacting with the OpSail dog and pony show.
The royal family was led to another part of the ship and lines were cast off. I heard the rumble of the big engines as we, the media, were led into what was the helicopter hanger on this fighting ship. Coffee and pastries were laid out on tables for us. Man, I was proud to be ex-Navy. Soon we were on station to begin the review of the Naval ships and we were led out to the port side bridge wing. Clinton and his family and the ship's top officers, as well as the Sec. of Defense and the Sec. of the Navy were all crowded onto the starboard wing. A White House Press pool still photographer was out there recording them as they saluted each nation's floating representative and cannons fired salutes. We heard all of this but didn't see any of it, because we were on the wrong side of the ship and were forbidden to move. Eventually, our White House escort arranged to get three of us at a time, to an area on the starboard side where we could make some shots. It might have worked, except this damned 3 star admiral blocked Clinton from our view. The youngster from the NY Post kept yelling to him in a loud stage whisper, "Hey, Captain, could you move!"
I suggested he call him "Admiral" in keeping with his rank, but even that failed to move the offender out of our way.
Eventually, we were allowed, one at a time, to stand in front of the group, where the White House Press Pool cameraman had been. We got plenty of photos of the Clintons, but you couldn't get them with any ships in the shot, because we were nose to nose with them, at that point.
We were moved back to the port side and told that the First Family would appear on a flag deck right off the bridge wing and we would be able to get better shots from there. This, obviously, was made to happen because we weren't getting usable shots from the other side. Well, it worked, as you can see from my accompanying photo.
Soon after that, we were hustled to the
rear flight deck of the cruiser and a series of choppers came in and landed
and whisked us off to the flight deck of the monstrous air craft carrier,
the John F. Kennedy. The last helicopter to leave bore the presidential
party and was the last to land on the JFK. Which meant that we had time
to get into position to record the arrival.
Again, this was nothing that I needed for
Newsday. But, it was fun to watch the scraping and fawning as the royal
family marched up the red carpet (yes, I kid you not. A huge red carpet
had been rolled out across the vast flight deck of this magnificent warship.)
There was a huge stage and a dais set up on the flight deck, as well as a large bleacher for assembled dignitaries and guests. And, there was a press bullpen set up for us and it was actually close to the action and in a good spot. We were pretty much confined to that
area and had any number of Navy, Marine, White House and Secret Service watch dogs assigned to make sure that we didn't breach their security.
The speeches started and the OpSail festivities began. While the speeches on the carrier deck continued, a military aircraft fly-over commenced and the speakers' voices were often drowned out in the whine and wail of high performance jet engines. But, nobody cared. They weren't here to listen to speeches. A whistle of amazement issued from the crowd of spectators as an Air Force Stealth Bomber flew overhead, just over the tops of the masts of ships from a completely different era.
When Clinton stepped up to the mike, I was able to get plenty of decent shots of him speaking. But, from our restricted angle, I couldn't include any of the tall ships parading past, or even a shot of the Statue of Liberty, which stood just across the channel from where we were moored. I had struck up a conversation with a still photographer from the White House Press Office who was shooting for the presidential record. I voiced my disappointment to him about not getting the angle I wanted. "Follow me, and stay close," he told me.
I was right on his tail as we crossed in front of the stage and the President and an army of Secret Service agents. They all knew him and waved or smiled as we scooted past.
"Get your shots as quickly as possible," he said, "before they get onto the fact that they don't know who you are and start to react."
I had to stand up in front of some VIP's in the audience, but I racked off a dozen or so images as the Prez stood at the dais while a beautiful ship, with sails aloft, hove into sight and sailed past. God, what a day to be alive and to be a working journalist with this kind of assignment.
Clinton swore in a bunch of re-enlisting sailors from the ship's company, and with Attorney General Janet Reno, gave the oath of allegiance to a group of new citizens, one of whom was a young female sailor from the JFK who had been born in Honduras.
There were more ceremonies to take place on the spacious deck, but our escort suggested that if we wanted to get off the ship in time to make our deadlines, this would be a good time. Because everything would be frozen, once the President prepared to leave. The parade of Tall Ships had ended and I had pretty much shot every kilobyte on the digital cards in my D-1. In fact, I had been deleting some of the lesser images to make room for more. So, we were led down countless stairways and ladders in the bowels of this goliath of ships until we arrived at a landing platform at waterlevel where ferries were taking guests back to NY City's West Side. I got aboard one of these ferries, which was packed to the gunwales with departing guests and press and we started up river. I was plumb tuckered out from my exertions and was slumped on a bench when I heard someone who was standing over me, exclaim, "Where the Hell is that damned stream of air conditioned air that I felt a few minutes ago?"
I looked up and said, "I dunno, Senator. Maybe you should have hung on to your space suit with the built in a/c." It was John Glenn. Fancy meeting you here.
Once we landed, it was a battle as hundreds of us tried to hail a cab. I gave up trying to do it in front of the ferry landing, as each succeeding ferry spewed hundreds more onto the street. I walked about a mile in the hot, humid summer air and finally managed to get into a Yellow Cab. The driver told me he would have to gas his cab first because his tank was dry. At that point I didn't care if he needed to rebuild his transmission. I was sitting comfortably in air conditioning.
When I got to our NY office, Jeff, who had given me this wonderful assignment, and Chris Hatch, our Photo Editor from our Queens operation, were there to start picking pictures as each of the 4 or 5 of us came in from our assigned locations. Jeff took my digital discs and had the images displayed on the monitor screen in far less time than I could have done it. He and Chris had also arranged to have fried chicken, potato salad and cole slaw and sodas on hand for us as we came in, hot, tired, dirty and hungry. Thanks, guys. You are both consumate professionals.
The paper looked great, the next day. I
had a couple of shots used. And I felt great about that. Dare I say, "enthused?"
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