CAN'T GET THERE ON TIME
You can't get there on time. If I've learned nothing else in 42 years as a news photographer, it's that there is no such thing as "on time." You're either early or you're late. If you are late, then chances are you've missed the assignment. At best, you have to play catch up. If you're early, you may have to wait fifteen minutes before the assignments starts. Or maybe an hour. Or maybe more. It depends on how far you had to drive to get there and what the traffic was like.
Reporters can get there late. They can pick up the beginnings of a story from other reporters. Or even from their photographer, who is almost always early. Because we can't pick up anything if we're late. (Oh, I suppose back in the other century, a shooter from another paper who owed you a favor might give you a 4x5 film holder with something on it, to save your bacon. And these days, I've had some terrific video guys offer a frame grab off of their monitor. But, It's just not the same as being there and shooting it yourself.)
Working for a Long Island Daily for my entire career meant that I was spared the daily grind of commuting into Manhattan. Most of the time, that is. But, there were periods when I seemed to spend more time in New York City than I did covering the island.
Only someone who has experienced the morning and evening rush hour commute can have some understanding of that daily disaster. The infamous Long Island Expressway, known as the world's longest parking lot, is jammed with cars, trucks and busses at any hour of the day or night. But, during the rush hour (rush hour? Now that's an oxymoron for the LIE) this main artery that cuts through Long Island's length into the Queens Midtown Tunnel and into Manhattan does indeed resemble a parking lot. Compound that with accidents, lane closings due to the interminable construction, snow, fog, rain or even a cop giving some hapless motorist a ticket on the shoulder, and traffic grinds to a halt.
So trying to allot enough time to get into the city to cover a press conference or a fashion show or whatever, means second guessing the conditions and allowing for the worst-case scenario. Which means that you can be there an hour or more before you need to be. And, oh yeah, leave even more time to find a place to park where your car won't be towed, ticketed or trashed.
I think that it was back in the '70's when New York City experienced it's worst transit strike. Transit Workers Union boss, Mike Quill threatened to shut down the city on the first Monday after New Year's Day. And he damned near did.
The entire photo staff at Newsday was called off vacation or days off and assigned to cover the bedlam that was expected to erupt as thousands upon thousands of commuters from the trains, busses and subways were expected to join the thousands upon thousands of commuters who normally jammed the roads.
I was assigned to cover the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, near City Hall, to photograph the mobs that were expected to walk over from Brooklyn. I was told to be there at 5 AM. Fearing the worst possible traffic conditions, I left my home on the island at 1 AM for what would normally have been a one-hour drive at that time of the morning. It took me one hour. There was no traffic and I was sitting under the Brooklyn Bridge by 2 AM, freezing my ass off. I was driving a VW Beetle that only produced heat when the car was moving. I sat for almost 3 hours before people started coming across the bridge.
"The Hell with that," I thought. The next day I left my house at 2 AM. And, I got there at 3 AM. And, the day after that, I left at 4. By now, I had a fierce cold as the result of sitting so long in that cold car.
I guess my editor took pity on me because he said that I didn't have to be there until 7 AM the next day. Sneezing and coughing, I pulled out of my driveway at 5 AM. At 7, I was still on the Long Island Expressway, about 10 miles from my house, with another 30 miles yet to go. We had no radios or cell phones back then. To pull off of the expressway to find a phone to inform the desk of my predicament would have meant another hour wasted trying to get back on the expressway. The entrance ramps to the superhighway were backed up for miles as thousands of cars inched their way trying to get to the city. Every other major road heading to NYC was equally snarled. And the secondary roads were as well.
I was not a happy camper when I finally pulled into Manhattan at 2 PM. Nor was my editor. I took the next two days off as sick leave.
There is nothing more frustrating than being helpless to get to where you are supposed to be on time and being unable to do anything about it. Even if it isn't your fault in the first place.
Years later, I had come into the office after my early assignments. While I was souping my film, the editor rapped on the darkroom door.
"I gotta get you into the city right away," he yelled. "Senator Bobby Kennedy is announcing that he is going to run for President at the NY Press Club in midtown in an hour."
Jeez! Even though it was a bit past the rush hour, it would certainly take me more than an hour to get there. And try to park in midtown. I left my film for someone else to finish and raced out to my car. For a few minutes, I actually thought that I might make it on time, as I sped through the secondary roads, and then onto an unclogged expressway. That euphoria didn't last long. By the time I got to the City Line, traffic was stop and go. I jumped off at Queens Boulevard and headed for the 59th Street Bridge. The boulevard wasn't too bad but the bridge had a lane closed heading into the city, and traffic was inching along over the East River. Kennedy was supposed to make his announcement at noon and it was 10 minutes to 12.
"Crap," I thought, "Let this be one of those press conferences that goes off late."
I tuned my car radio to one of the all news stations. I was two thirds of the way over the bridge and still crawling. My stomach was in my chest and I was sweating like an animal. And, it wasn't my fault that I had been given this assignment so late. Still, the newspuke in me demanded that I get there in time for this historic announcement.
The radio reporter announced that Kennedy was making his way through the crowd, to the podium. Shit! I was off the bridge, but still had a few blocks to go. I wove through traffic and rode up on sidewalks and threw my car in front of a bus stop, guaranteeing myself a parking ticket.
Kennedy's voice was coming through the radio speaker in my car, talking about the noble cause for which his brother, Jack, had died. I grabbed my camera bag and took the stairs to the press club two at a time.
"Where?" I gasped at the startle lady behind the desk.
"Third floor," she answered.
No time for the elevator. I sprinted up the stairs and came out into a corridor jammed with people who were unable to get into the room where the announcement was being made. I held my camera above my head and elbowed my way through the mass of people until I got to the door. I did a quick estimate of the distance and set my lens and held the camera over my head and shot "Hail Mary's" from the doorway in the back of the room. I could get no closer. I had no idea what I was getting in my frame, but I managed to get off about 4 frames before Kennedy waved at the crowd and disappeared.
I got crap. I was too far away and most of the frames clipped Kennedy out of the shot or cut him in half.
So, the next day we went with an AP shot on page one.
I told you. You can't get there on time.
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