THE SENTRY GOOSE
By Dick Kraus
|Every gaggle of geese has one. While all of the other birds are feeding, there is at least one sentry goose that isn't. He is always standing erect and alert, on the lookout for danger. Meanwhile the other birds are bent over, intent on grazing the grass on the schoolyard, golf course, courthouse lawn, wherever. At the slightest hint of trouble, the sentry goose will raise the alarm, and the rest of the gaggle will take flight. It's an interesting natural phenomenon.||
I have found that a gaggle of
news photographers has its' own version of the sentry goose. On a big story
that attracts a large media contingent and lasts for any length of time,
there is usually a lot of waiting and a lot of down time. Reporters will
group together and try out leads on one another. Photographers and video
camera people will congregate somewhere where they can keep an eye on where
the action might be. And, if the day wears on without any action forthcoming,
someone will go back and open their car trunk to extricate the canvas and
tubular aluminum folding chair that has become so popular at our children's
weekend Little League and soccer games.
Soon the area looks like something out of a Matthew Brady Civil War photo of Union Officers sitting on campstools at Appomattox before the big battle. Some still shooters will be grouped to one side talking about the advantages of digital over film, or vice versa. TV camera people might be reading the day's newspapers, as their bulky cameras, powered down to conserve batteries, rest next to their chairs. Eventually, some eyes close and some chins rest on gently heaving chests.
It is a serene and bucolic scene. Not at all what one would expect at the site of a big story. But, hey. It happens. Some stories go on like this for days, and even weeks. It's tough to stand on your feet and stay alert for long, tedious hours, waiting for some action.
What would happen, now, if the shit hit the fan. Aha! Enter the sentry goose. I don't know how it came to be. I don't know who decided upon the idea. But, there will always be a sentry goose. One of us will not read the paper or become so engrossed in the conversation, or so lulled into a state of morpheus. That person is our sentry. No one ever declares that he or she will take the job. And no one is ever nominated for it. It is an unwritten rule that one of us takes upon oneselves to do our duty to our profession. It's amazing at how democratic is the process. Everyone takes a turn at it and there is never a spoken word to invoke the responsibility upon someone. It matters not if it is someone from a weekly paper or someone from some prestigious, large circulation daily.
I have never seen any reference to this nor have I ever even heard of this even being spoken of. It is a silent agreement amongst working professionals and it works. It has worked for as long as I have been a newspuke. And, I have no doubt that it will work long after I am gone
. It is the most amazing thing. Photographers will be lounging around. Reading, playing cards, backgammon, dozing.
"HERE HE COMES!!!"
It is a shout from the sentry goose. Instantly, everyone is on his/her feet. TV cameras are powered up and swung up onto shoulders. Still cameras and flashguns are switched on and brought up to eye level. What was, just a short time before, a group of friendly people relaxing and enjoying some quiet camaraderie, now becomes a seething, pushing, competitive mass of flesh and metal. It's every man/woman for him/herself, And the only thing that counts is getting a good, sharp image in the viewfinder and everything else be damned,
As a case in point, this past summer Lizzie Grubman, a young celebrity PR woman, apparently got miffed because a bouncer wouldn't grant her entry into a toney Southhampton (Long Island, NY) nightspot. So she backed her daddy's Mercedes SUV into the line of people waiting outside, injuring several.
Lizzie contends that she accidentally hit the accelerator while she was in reverse, thinking it was the brake. Nonetheless, she was charged with a whole bunch of assults, leaving the scene of an accident (all felonies) and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, a misdemeanor.
The District Attorney called for a Grand Jury to hear the case. A couple of things conspired to make it a media circus. One, it was a slow news period. Two, it was a case of a wealthy and powerful young woman apparently exhibiting her pique with a heavy vehicle at not being allowed to party at a favorite club.
Now everybody knows that Grand Jury investigations are held in secret and the media is not allowed into the hearing room or even into the area of the courthouse where the Jury sits. No cameras. No courtroom artist. No reporter. Little or no information filters out of the Grand Jury Room. And yet, on a hot day in July, I found myself camped outside the Suffolk County Criminal Courthouse in Riverhead, waiting to try to get anything that I could. It wasn't my idea to perform this exercise in futility. I was assigned. And so were two photographers from the New York Daily News and two from the New York Post. There were reporters, of course as well as a few tv crews from the New York stations and from the local cable news channel and some radio news people.
Of course, none of us had any real idea who would appear as witnesses. And even if we knew, how would we recognize them? We had no reporters up in the courtroom to come down and ID anyone for us. They were stuck outside with the camera folks.
We did have a slight edge, however. John Rocca, a photographer for the New York Daily News, lives in the Hamptons. He moonlights as a bartender at some of the nightspots and is very familiar with the crowd that frequents these posh summer watering holes. And he has contacts in just about any venue in the Hamptons that you could possibly imagine. And, John would share his knowledge with us.
The first day started out with all of us milling around on the sidewalk outside the courthouse. We had a vague description of the first few possible witnesses and when Rocca would spot someone that fit the description, he would take off, running through the parking lot toward the poor soul, with a dozen or more newsies in pursuit. There were more false alarms than there were hits. Mainly we looked for people arriving in BMW's, Porsch's, Mercedes', and fancy high-end convertibles. And we looked for sleek, good looking, well-dressed young guys and gals who looked rich and powerful. One poor female assistant district attorney fit that description to a tee. Every time she arrived for work, or went out to lunch, she had to fight her way through the newspukes, waving her DA's credentials and shouting that she worked here. Poor lady. She was getting her five minutes of fame, but she never got into the papers.
Things slowed up for awhile and
cameras (tv) came off shoulders and camera bags (still) were laid on the
sidewalks. At first we sat on the low retaining wall near the front entrance
to the building. Finally, someone went to his car and brought out the folding
camp chair. Soon, most of us were trying to find a shady spot to set up
Day followed day, with the same scenario. Now, we had heard everyone's war stories and jokes and it kept getting hotter and hotter. We would follow the shade as the day wore on. Some of us dozed in the humid heat. Some read, and some played Backgammon. But, as always, there was the ever-present sentry goose.
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