Our fearless photog, Lynn French of KPNX is heading to Athens, Greece to cover the XXVIII Olympiad. She'll be online here to tell us the daily story.
Good luck, Lynn... Bring back the GOLD for b-roll.net!
Home Sweet Home||9/1/2004|
3:30am Wednesday, September 1 PHOENIX!--- I just slept for seven hours straight in my own bed, ate Taco Bell, and now I am watching disc 3 of Freaks and Geeks Season 1 from Netflix while drinking some Three Buck Chuck. It is good to be home. |
However, Athens continues to plague me and Mark even on the terra firma of the USA. Recall our first incident in the Grecian capital?
Northwest Airlines and KLM put the "Damn" in Amsterdam. We arrived in Minneapolis aroun noon yesterday to clear Customs. As the three photogs on Flight 41 stood there watching the conveyer belt go around and around filled with hundreds of black suitcases, not a single piece of our luggage was to be found. When the call came that every piece of baggage was off the DC-10 we were crammed into, Mark and I had to make a decision. Do we stay in Minni and chase our lost editor and souvineris or go home empty handed? We were soon in line, the "I have nothing to declare and the hours I spent on Manifest paperwork were worthless because the stupid airline lost my luggage so I am behind this guy smuggling cocaine filled Twinkies in his satchel" line.
I think we were profiled. In America, you can check in on your flight via the internet while sitting in your underwear on your couch 24 hours before you take off. However, show up for your flight less than an hour ahead of time and you will still be sitting on the ground 60 minutes later.
In Athens, we showed up at the airport four hours ahead of time, stood in line for over an hour and when we were within a few feet of the ticket counter, we were told to get out of line and wait until no more than two hours before our flight at 5:45am. It was 3:15am and they were still checking in people for the 3:40 flight (after the Athens experience, I assume they will take 3:40 passangers up until about 3:42).
I was so proud of Mark. He informed the ticket agent that we would just stand to the side and gladly let any 3:40 folks go by but we would not be going to the end of the line that now stretched past the two hour wait point. There were a dozen of us with Smarte Carts piled high with TV gear from Minneapolis, Denver, Atlanta, Sacramento, St. Louis, Norfolk and Phoenix. There was no moving us. The ticket agent threw up his hands and stomped off in frustration. He continued down the line telling 5:45 fliers to get out of line, but we had already set the precedent and they offered the same solution to this excess baggage sit-in. He also discovered there were no more 3:40 passangers and went to the counter to tell his people to go on break until 3:45 and don't come back a minute sooner (it was all in Greek, but I can read pointing and glaring). As we looked at the Depatures board, we saw flights going to Tel Aviv and Tokoyo. We joked with Mark that his luggage would be going to Nairobi. At 3:47 when we started checking in, the TV people were told to take their over weight Anvil cases and bulging suitcases of Ouzo to the other end of the terminal to Belt 77 (obviously the Greek version of Area 51). We now know that is the out going luggage to Nairobi.
The flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix was excruiatingly long. But as we passed Shiprock, New Mexico and within minutes we would be in the Pacific Time Zone, there was not enough time to think about all the good stuff from this journey.
When we were waiting at the Gate in the Athens airport, Eric rushed up to us and exclaimed "Dimos is here, he wants to say good bye!" We looked at him and none of us were going to give him the satisfation of jumping up only to see him doubled over in laughter for being so gulible. But then something said, "get up and look". As I looked out the glass security windows, there stood our twenty-something Adonis driver, eyes welled up with tears. As we pushed our way backwards through the metal detector (something we would get shot for in America), there was Dimos---heart broken at the depature of his new American friends.
The next round of farewells was in Amsterdam. As we sent Dave and Adam off to Denver, Sam and Kenny home to Atlanta and Rene back to St. Louis, these are guys I would walk through fire for. In 25 days I got to know these fine folks better than most of the people I have worked with for three years. We walked flaming tight ropes over snake pits while juggling chainsaws on no sleep and bad food, it would have been so easy to take out our frustrations and anger on each other in the tight quarters of the workspace and shared bathrooms of the dorms, but instead we took care of each other every step of the way.
In Minneapolis, after the lack of luggage was apparant, we bid farwell to John and Eric. I will forever think of the ride home, seeing Eric running through the Amsterdam Airport trying to spend every last euro. When he was not in the security check line with us, we got a little concerned that he would still be there tomorrow looking for a refrigerator magnet for less than two euros.
As we were sitting on the plane, here came Eric, as he sunk down into his seat, he proudly displayed a foot and a half long three pound Toblerone for his final 6.50.
As we cleared the last security gate at Phoenix Sky Harbor this afternoon, there was Mark's family with signs welcoming us home (even spelled my name right!) and our General Manager. John took my camera and laptop and drove me back to the station. It is simply good to be home. Northwest is supposed to deliver our luggage to the station tomorrow, just in time to go on vacation!
Thank you for choosing Lynn's Athens b-roll.net Blog. I know you have many choices when choosing on-line reading material. If you are craving more of the Athens Experience, check out Dave Delozier from KUSA's column at www.9news.com/dave, there are pictures of the Beach Volleyball cheerleaders if you need the incentive.
Efaristo and Adiosas!
Last Entry from Athens||8/29/2004|
7:30PM Sunday, August 29 ATHENS FOR THE LAST TIME---- They are pulling the plug on our server in about an hour, but I swear I will hit this one more time when I get back to Phoenix late Tuesday/Wednesday. There is no more uplifting sight than when the Anvil cases and tripod tubes were wheeled in this morning to start packing up gear. We have one more live shot left for 10PM tonight in Phoenix after closing ceremonies (8am tomorrow). The piece is pretty much finished, just a two minute SOT with a music bed using the best soundbites and a few seconds of our Arizona athletes winning. |
I cannot believe we have been here 24 days. Aside from the fact that I will leave Greece without seeing the Parthenon or the beach, so many things happened in the lives of our Gannett crew that they missed at home. Mark's kids had their first day of school and tomorrow is his birthday, Tim's daugher went off to college, Eric's baby got her first tooth, and the big one---Kenny learned his wife is pregnant. We were only here for three weeks. It really makes you appreciate what our troops in Iraq have sacrificed. We have bitched endlessly about our dorms and the food, but compared to sleeping in a tent full of 30 other people in the desert knowing you are in someone's gun sights for months on end, we had it so easy.
There were a few nice moments when we really felt we were at the Olympics. The nicest being Friday when swimmer Kalyn Keller gave us a rare tour of the Athlete's Village and we were walking among their apartments with all of the different nation's flags hanging from the balconies.
Seeing Long Jumper Dwight Phillips beaming with a gold medal around his neck and knowing how proud his Mom is made this second less eventful week worth sticking around for.
It was facinating to see how each station covered these games. Some were like pole vaulters and just went for a few big moments with a big impact. Others, like us, were marathoners. No real big outstanding moves, but a constant run with a few significant passes and gutting it out to the end. Mark and I filled 3 and a half one hour master tapes. I can honestly say I have never worked this hard in my life. When I leave on vacation to Raleigh, North Carolina on Thursday, I will have worked 27 days in a row, many of them in excess of 14 hours. My shoulders and back are beaten to a pulp, we did not turn a single story I would enter for an Emmy or the NPPA, but I feel great about what we did here. We got lots of people's stories on the air, people you may not hear from for another four years, and some that will disappear from elite athletics, but for a few minutes a video tape, they were the most important athlete in the world. The best part, we laughed alot along the way.
I have been trying to recall the progression of things that we found blow-milk-out-your-nose funny:
Before leaving Phoenix---Referring to Mark as Zorba, joking about wearing togas and the Speedo Shark Suits, and doing imitations of people we work with at KPNX.
The first few days before the Games started---the no flushing toilet paper thing, of course. Saying "please don't kill it" every time one of us would try to speak Greek because a sales lady said that to Mark in Hydra when he tried to talk to her.
The first few days after the Game started--- Mark doing his "PartyBoy" dance (from the movie Jackass) while shooting stand-ups because of the blaring techno music throughout the Olympic Park. Making fun of the constant presence of chicken in the NBC lunchroom.
After our first trip to the grocery store---calling any food by a gutteral psuedo-German made up name---"gerfifengigen" is chocolate, "oofenspaht" for milk, "goldspaht" for powered creamer
End of week one of the Games---referring to everything as "pithicos" the Greek word for monkey: "You smell like a pithicos, this tasteses like pithicos, come here pithicos".
Middle of week two with no events---we did a story in the Olympic superstore where we were making fun of the mascots and starting talking in these stupid high pitched voices that soon became the way we expressed any negative thought, "Athena hopes her bathroom mate gets foot fungus" "Thivos wants to kick the bus driver for not stopping".
The end of the Games---the word "potato" and doing imitations of the people we work with at KPNX in our new mascot voices.
Looking back, these things are not that funny, but at the time it was a life saver. The cool thing, I can't remember in such detail the things that made me mad or frustrated, I guess it was not so bad after all.
Would I do it again in four years, ask me in three, I have alot of detox to go through from this.
See you PHX!
Looking at options||8/27/2004|
6:45am Saturday, August 28 ATHENS--- I like to believe yesterday was our last really hard day of shooting. From 6am to 10pm yesterday we just ran from place to place, getting on and off of buses, burned through five hours of tape, every battery to my name and I was the live shot shooter so eight hours of my day was spent switching out mic flags. I feel like Ionanni beat me up in the parking lot and took away my Sam's Club sized bottle of Advil. |
I am starting to feel the end coming. We had to fill out the paperwork for which shuttle bus we need to be on to the airport Tuesday morning. Of course the way the buses have run here, we may not get picked up until sometime on Thursday afternoon during the third week of September.
We will not be spending another night in Athens, bottom line. Mark and I have come up with some options to get us out of here Tuesday IF we miss our plane (which I am considering leaving for the airport tonight if necessary to be on Northwest flight 41).
OPTION #1: We did a story on the guy who flies the NBC Blimp (proper term being airship). We have Hans' phone number and would not hesitate to use it. It make take four months to get home, but as long as I am not in Athens as of noon Tuesday, I don't care.
OPTION #2: I know some folks flying C-130 Slurry Bombers in France right now. Due to the Forest Service cancelling all of the air tanker contracts in the United States earlier this year, alot of the planes came to Europe to find work. Some of the folks based out of Air Response International in Chandler, AZ are over here. Mark has sworn that if we have to charter a slurry bomber, we are going to do a drop over the Media Village to say good bye.
OPTION #3: I have about 400 hours in helicopters. Okay, not a single minute behind the stick, all of it on the camera, but I like to think I have paid pretty good attention at what I would need to do to get it off the ground. There have been two A-Stars, a Twin Star and a Jet Ranger flying around above the stadium. After the Games, they will be on the ground somewhere in this city near a creditcard machine. Between Mark and I and our corporate Visas (the official card of these games) I bet we get to Amsterdam at 800 feet AGL. Somebody warn our Chief Pilot at KPNX, that if his cell phone rings late Monday, please answer it, I may have a few questions.
11:30am Thursday August 26 ATHENS--- The Olympics makes and breaks celebrities. Rulon Gardner, Jenny Finch, Michael Phelps all owe their celebrity status to participating in the Olympics. Tim Montgomery, Marion Jones and Kostas Kenteris have seen theirs slip away because of how they let the Games affect them. During the trials and the Games, we have run into Paula Abdul, Pamela Anderson, Nia Vardalos and others. Everyone has had to do the ubiquitous Today Show story with Matt Laurer and Katie Couric and then snap a photo with them. Of course there are the athletes, we have sat down with the Softball team, the Beach Volleyball Team and the Rowing Team. But none of them compare to the celebrity who eludes me, but I know she is here. Sylvia Poggioli where are you? |
I am an NPR junkie, I have been going through tough withdrawls during these 21 days. At first I thought I would be able to get it off of Armed Forces Radio, but no luck. I have been listening to individual pieces on the internet, but it is not the same. I knew Sylvia (first name basis like we are buddies or something) was here. Before I left the US, she was filing stories from Athens and I imagined running into her in a Mix Zone or at the International Broadcast Center. But what would I say? I immediately imagine myself as Chris Farley on the old Saturday Night Live skit interviewing Paul McCartney, "Do you know how awesome you are?"
I have made Mark carry around my little digital snap shot camera for two weeks in hopes of being in the same place as the NPR star. There are only three days of competition left, suddenly it is all moving too fast.
Missing the Boat||8/25/2004|
7:30am Thursday, August 26 ATHENS--- NOOOOOOOOOO! I don't want to hear another detail of the Sports Illustrated Party, A.K.A the Greatest Party EVER. You might have read about it on espn.com or in NBC Nightly News' Kerry Sanders' blog---miles of sushi, bumpin' dance floor, athletes getting crazy, seeing the sun come up at the beach. |
Mark and I did a story last weekend about the Sports Illustrated cruise boat. They chartered one of those swank little boutique cruise liners where the cabins are bigger (and better appointed) than my house. After the interviews were done, they invited us to a party on Tuesday night. At first it seemed like a good idea so we accepted.
Well, after multiple nights of four or less hours of sleep, by the time I was editing our last package of the day Tuesday around 9pm (after being on the clock since 6am), I kept dozing off during the 5 second pre-roll. At that point, no spicy tuna roll or promise of Michael Phelps doing the worm on the dance floor could have diverted me from the path to my bed.
It is like waking up with a reverse hang over. I still don't feel good from the lack of sleep, but knowing I missed a once in a lifetime experience is even worse.
The silver lining---our crew has been invited to some party being hosted by a resort owner on Saturday, guess where I will be? I can sleep when I'm dead---which maybe Sunday.
7:45am Wednesday, August 25 ATHENS--- I don't know if experience tells you to expect injuries or if injuries tell you that you have experience. I knew it would happen eventually on this trip, I would hurt something. Despite years of ballet, kick-boxing, yoga and belly dancing, I am the biggest klutz. I sprained my left hand and wrist on Monday morning. Nothing major, just once in a while I will catch it just right and have to check if someone just shot me with a nail gun. |
The funny thing, I brought a wrap with me. I did not know what part I would hurt, I had bets on a knee or ankle. But I knew in 25 days of working non-stop, my tired, clumsy butt would be on the ground at some point.
Fortunately it is not my right hand and the left hand can do normal big stuff like carry tripods, it is just a few fine motor skills that send shooting pain through my arm. So I have been able to shoot and do all the things I normally do, except I can't type as fast.
Here is the thing, you know those guys who borrow somebody's baby to pick up women? The wrist wrap attracts atletes. We were at the Today Show set waiting for the women's softball coach, Mike Candrea, when we saw Gymnast Jason Gatson. When we called him up to our live location, which I think he only came to because it was in the shade, he looked at my bandaged hand, "What happened?" Leah Amico, the mega-veteran softball player gave it that concerned Mom look. Each athlete we talked to expressed some sort of empathy about my injured arm, they all have been there. But of course, the furrowed brows turned to barely contained laughter when I offered up the cause, "I slipped on the wet floor in the bathroom."
Flying the Flag||8/24/2004|
1:00pm Tuesday, August 24 ATHENS--- When it comes to mic flags and stick mics, I hate them. They are distracting to the viewer, they are a crutch for reporters, most reporters don't know how to correctly hold one and the stupid flags create a battle at every press conference of who can be front and center. They are not a tool of journalism, they are the work of the promotions department. |
But if you watch almost ANY story or interview we have done here in Athens, you will see my massive Sennheiser MD-46 with the big yellow 12 stuck on it in every shot. I may hate stick mics, but if you have to use one, the MD-46 is the way to go.
The scary thing, I have been militant about getting the mic flag on the air, fussing at my reporter if he forgets to take one with him to the live location or inflicting them on the News Channel photographers for our custom interivews.
I have been trying to figure out why I am doing this, and then it hit me when I was getting dressed this morning. I don't have enough logos in my life and this is the only one I can flaunt.
My work uniform in Phoenix is khaki shorts, New Balance sneakers, a Channel 12 polo shirt with the station logo on the chest and socks that match the color of the shirt (don't ask, I am a child of the 80's). When we came here, we were told "NO LOGOS". They did not want us to be blatantly American for security reasons. So, I went to the Gap and bought plain v-neck t-shirts in every color they had (that I have matching socks for). Despite being color coordinated, it does not satisfy my need to non-verbally express why I am carrying the giant camera. I cannot drive up in my happy meal box super stickered news unit or whip off my peacock covered jacket. The mic flag is it for Team 12 so we are flying it proud.
One for Sue||8/23/2004|
6:00 pm Monday, August 23 ATHENS--- The women's softball team just won their third consecutive gold medal. A huge portion of the team has Arizona ties, so we have gotten to know them very well over the past five months. Tonight, most stations will do the story of the "new Dream Team" or how the IOC was considering eliminating the sport from the list of games. But the story for us will be about someone who was not there. |
Coach Mike Candrea is an Arizona guy through and through. He grew up in Sunnyslope (an area of North Phoenix), coaches at the U of A, lives in Casa Grande. He is one of those good guys you only want the best for. Back in May when I first met him, I wanted the gold medal for him. All the stars were aligned, he had his amazing ladies that played for him at Arizona, plus the power veteras of the Atlanta and Sydney Games. Two weeks before the Olympics, the stars fell from the sky.
While the team was on the road, Mike's wife, Sue suffered an aneurysm and died.
Not coaching the Olympic team made sense. It is hard to keep your head in the game when your heart is broken. Sue travelled with the team, the girls knew her so well, they understood Coach needed to stay home and try to figure out what home would be now.
Here's the thing, that is not what Arizona guys do. When Coach announced he would continue to the Games, we were wildly thrilled and only slightly shocked.
During that first press conference here, someone asked about Sue. We were horribly uncomfortable and even more shocked because he was so willing to talk about her and the season and why he needed to do this. This is not what Arizona guys do, until now.
As you know, it has played out like a fairy tale. Only one run was scored against the ladies and it was in the last game. And as exciting as it is to watch these wonderous women play the best games of their lives, my heart swells when I think of why they are doing it... for their country, for their coach, for Sue.
12:15pm Sunday, August 22 ATHENS--- The unsung heroes of NBC's coverage of the Olympic Games are the drivers. Despite the adaptive driving abilities of most news photographers (who else can eat a sandwich, talk on the cell phone, read a map book, listen to scanners, change CDs and drive a car all at once?), none of us are driving cars here (thankfully---I have driven in L.A., New York, Chicago, and DC and nothing compares to the road rage and crappy driving habits of Greece). NBC hired two dozen local college kids to drive us around in Jumpys. They are like a strip down mini-van, but boxier and cuter. |
The driver for the Gannett group is Dimos. Our civil engineering student not only gets us from point A to point B, he is our translator for food orders and directions, our negotiator for parking and interviews, and our Frommer's guide to Greek life.
At first look, you would think he is a SoCal surfer dude---lean, tan, with wavy blonde hair and big blue eyes. But when Dimos speaks, he is all Greek. Granted, he speaks English better than most graduating high school seniors, but the accent and the attitude are all Hellas. In exchange for our Athens Q and A, he has been taking American lessons from our guys. Mark taugh him "knuckles", the classic sports greeting of punching your fist into someone elses. Tim has worked with him on the question, "who's the man?" To which he properly innunciates "I AM the man." But it quickly turned into a slipperly slope when we moved into urban terms.
It started with "phat", which Dimos pronounces as "fot" (rhymes with rot). When they turned him on the the way men who are good friends greet each other as "bee-atch", he was hooked. We all feared he would pull up to some Greek police officer with an automatic rifle, roll down the window and yell "What's up bee-atch?" But then he learned that beautiful women can be described as "Check out that phat bitch" or as he says "fot beech".
I tried to teach him about "bling" and Eric explained "holler", but he had already found the terms that consumed him.
Now each morning is a punching of knuckles followed by our "What's up bee-atch?" to which he replies, "Not much, beech". It would be horribly offensive if it was just not so damn funny. I am sure the folks at the other camps around us must think I am deaf, but Dimos' new language was endured to me immedatly on the first day of lessons. He was leaving for the day and bid everyone a good night proudly using his new words, "Leen, Leen, good night fot beech". That is the sweetest thing I have heard in a while.
8:30am Saturday, August 21 ATHENS--- If you have not seen it, rent or buy "Lost in Translation" with Bill Murray. There is a scene where he is talking to the other lost American, "I am planning a prison break." We have planned ours for tonight. We are going to Beach Volleyball and we are going to eat anything but chicken and drink a beer. I was getting on the verge of trading toilet paper and cigarettes for feed time on the satellite path, I am glad we are doing this. Last night for dinner I had a slice of overripe tomato with too much pepper on it and a handful of dried out mushrooms (doesn't that sound like one of those Lean Cuisine commercials). The dogs had chicken chunks and a hamburger, Cee does not like bread. |
Unlike regular sports stuff where you can just flash a credential and take a seat on press row, we had to buy tickets and sit with the general public, kind of a new concept for me.
We have been here two weeks as of today, it is starting to get that summer camp feeling. Everybody belongs to their lodge within Camp NBC, mine is Gannett, next to us is LIN and Telemundo. Everyone is homesick but having a good time. We have swimming, archery and bad food. Twice a day there is the talent show at the liveshot stand and people sneaking alcohol into the dorms every night. Like summer camp without the ticks (I hope).
When numb turns to dumb||8/20/2004|
4:30pm Friday August 20 ATHENS--- As we all know, when you are tired you do dumb stuff. Mark and I headed out to the shipping port here to take a tour of the Sports Illustrated Cruise Boat. Much like Wednesday, we were very excited to get away from the Olympic Village. I kept dozing off during the drive over knowing that it would just make me sleepier if I really did catch some zzzz's. We got to the Lion's Gate where the Queen Mary 2 sat about a half mile away looming over the entire water front. The police officer stopped our driver and said he could not drive us in, we would have to walk. We got out of the car because I was too tired to argue and just wanted to get on the luxury liner. The officer shooed away our driver and then started checking our credentials. He said Mark could go in because he has the reporter credential that gets you into the Mix Zones but I would have to wait outside. I am too tired to even remember what I said or what transpired. I just remember the horror I felt as he walked away and I realized I was arguing with a guy carrying a loaded AK-47 who has orders to shoot when necessary. Even though I bet he wanted to shoot me, he had to let us through since we were on some guest list, but something tells me I was in the crosshairs as I walked away. Tonight I have to settle down and get more than four hours of sleep, at this rate I will be dead from a combination of exhaustion, bad judgement and not knowing when to shut up.
The other side of the room||8/20/2004|
11:15am Friday August 20, ATHENS---- Real quick while Mark is logging our 6pm story before we head out into the oppressive heat, there is another side of the NBC Workspace. I had not really noticed it until yesterday. |
At your station, you can probably tell exactly where the newsroom ends and the sales/promotions departments begin. We have the same line of demarkation here. There is the News Channel Affiliates' side with camps made out of folding tables and anvil boxes with a hodge podge of laptop computers and editing decks swimming in stacks of paper and piles of used coffee cups. It is the telephonic pig sty typical of most productive newsrooms in America. I feel right at home.
But if you go past the food area, home of the ever present truck tire chicken, there they are. NBC Nightly News and the Today Show. It is the Stepford wives of newsrooms. All of teh plasma screen computers match, the tables are neat and orderly, the people are dressed nicely with matching ball caps that designate which subsidiary they belong to. Most of us on the affilates side are dressed to mow the lawn. I thought I had walked into the accounting office of Petroulakis, Gionapoulais and Smith. The weirdest thing, it is quiet. I like our side.
Old hat, New dog||8/20/2004|
8:30am FRIDAY! August 20 ATHENS---Don't ask me why I am excited that it is Friday, we have to work the weekend and next week, I guess it is just an American thing. I think I am just excited because the weekend shows do not have half of the demands of the weekdays---only one live shot a day and three packages, at this point I could do it in my sleep (like I haven't been). |
The routine has definintely set in. Get up at 5:15am, be on the 6am bus to the workspace, pull the overnight tapes from the Mix Zone, go through VOD, edit 11pm pkg, Mark does his live shot at 9:00am while I check in here and do some editing, then we go shoot a few stories and come back around 3pm to edit for the morning show. Mark does his liveshot at 4:30pm and I edit for the early evening shows, shoot some more and feed any where from 8:30pm to midnight and then we go home and do it all over again, and again and again.
I have loved learning what sports are important to other countries and societies. Whereas our glam sports are swimming, track and gymanstics, some countries could care less. We sat down with the Team USA table tennis players a while back for an interview. In the US, they might make the overnight filler spot on Bravo, but in Korea, China and Japan, they are like NBA stars and go in prime time. The stands at gymastics have been pretty sparse, try finding tickets to gold medal round women's judo, North America is the only continent not onboard with that one. If you get a chance and can even find it on American TV, watch some of it, it has that car wreck quality about it---scary to see but you can't stop looking. I would take three rounds with a Russian boxer before any of those ladies, that is some ashtray mean combat.
We got a new dog! I know Enby and Cee are smart dogs and would not tell anyone about the bounty of cold chicken and lamb burgers they get by being our official workspace canines, but the word is out. Today when I went through security, there was Simon (pronounced see-moan) sitting with the boys. He is a black lab mix named for the box of wine with an E-Z pull tab Mark got last night at the grocery store, Don Simon---vintage July with a hint of jet fuel. I drank it over ice with a straw, classy.
And on the fourth day, ye shall do live shots||8/19/2004|
10:30am Thursday, August 19 ATHENS--- It is my day to man the liveshot stand. Because it is such a haul to get to our liveshot location, including the world's slowest security checkpoint that steals stuff, each day we take turns on who will spend the day at the liveshot stand switching out mic flags and re-dialing IFB. Occassionally we might have a live guest so you get to do a little zoom in and out, otherwise it is a lock down shot of the reporter with the stadium in the back ground. There are three good things about being liveshot cam for a day. The other folks on the other paths who are also in the same boat are fun to hang out with when you have that hour between top of the hour hits. The Today Show has a seriously stocked catering trailer about five minutes away (but porta-potties that make the waste paper baskets in the bathroom seem pleasant). You have a few hours when you can't go anywhere. Banging out packages at every turn wears down your back and shoulders fast (especailly with no sleep or food) and that compulsion to go-go-go metally wears you out after a few days. It is nice to know that every fourth day you have to sit on your butt for four hours twice a day and the most you can do is move around the HMIs. |
Mark and I finally got outside of the Olympic Village yesterday to shoot some stories. It is such a pain to venture out interms of transportation, communication and not knowing if you will be back in time to get him to the liveshot. But once we were out, it felt great. We met up with a Greek-American family from Phoenix who stepped right out of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". They were loud and fun and had no qualms about telling strangers what they wanted. When Mark and I had been in the Plaka shopping district the week before for the NBC tour, we got the cold shoulder at every turn. Suddenly with our Greek friends, every door was open to us. The only restrcition we had was time. In three hours we hammered out four packages and chased our Greek family through the crowded paths of the market for about three miles. Three of the packages were our feature segment during the Olympics "Something Different". It was Mark's idea to give it a franchise feel so producers had to run it because the viewers expected it in the show every night. Every week night we show some interesting aspect of Greek life. Of course the first one was the tissue issue of "no flushing". NBC News Channel picked it up and put it out on Video On Demand. The photographer, Lori, I interviewed in the ladies room from KNBC (whose parents live in Phoenix, that is the only reason she did it) came up to me, "I am getting calls from friends in New York, Baltimore, all over that they saw me on TV talking about toilet paper." I went to the VOD script page where the headline is "KPNX reports on toilet paper usage in Athens". That is some journalism baby.
As mentioned above about the security folks helping themselves to our stuff, here is a pisser. Of course one of the big things about the Olympics is the pins. We have very cool NBC Athens 2004 pins that we give to people we interview, folks who help us with logistics and nice people in general. When Mark went through security the other day, he had a pocket full of pins and had to put them in the little cereal bowl with his cell phone, Blackberry and other stuff to go through the x-ray machine. When the bowl came out, the security people took all of the pins and started passing them out amongst themselves. When he tried to explain those were his pins and he needed them, they just ignored him and told him to move along. Yeah, that is the security Athens spent billions on.
I gotta stop the non-stop whining||8/18/2004|
I just took a quick look back at the past week and good grief, I better find something nice to say before the Greek Government comes into my room at the soon to be homeless shelter and takes out the bed, the one last thing that still brings me solice, even if only for a bit. It is really easy to get caught up in the tension and frustration of this environment. Unlike the past few Olympics, we are fighting a major time difference (10 hours), a HUGE language barrier---there is nothing like two people screaming in Greek over the top of you and knowing they are screaming about you, and serious understaffing---2 people per station when past Olympics have had double digit staffing producing a similar amount of material. With that said, here is what is good:|
I love the people I am working with. That is the only thing keeping me from going to the Athens Airport with my credit card and buying a plane ticket home. I have never laughed as much in my life as I have this past week. Granted, we have alot to laugh about---Mark walked into his bathroom this morning not only to be greeted by no hot water, but no toilet seat! The little Gannett group has really buckled down and taken care of each other, we are working in tight conditions under vicious deadlines and it would be really easy to take out the frustration on each other. We get one fiber path for six stations to get in all of the live shots and tape feeds. Two months ago when they told us how this was going to work, I envisioned some serious smackdowns about whose station is more important and whose athletes needed to get on the air first. This has not been an issue in the slightest, a true testament to professionalism. Of course all of the guys here are bathroommates, the opportunites for revenge reach far and wide. What ever keeps it all in balance, I am thankful for it.
We have dogs! Athens is known for it's roving packs of stray dogs. We have our own set here at the NBC workspace. They are twin rotweiller mixes and sweet as pie. After a day of getting slapped around by security and yelled at in forgien languages, it is so nice to come back to the happy face and wagging tail of these smiling pups. I have started calling them Enby and Cee (NBC). That nasty chicken they have fed us for every freakin' meal makes the dogs very happy, that makes me happy. I think I have mentioned before somewhere that I work on a rescue ranch for abandoned and neglected animals north of Tucson on my days off. I would love to take these two guys home to the other 14. But would my American dogs understand Greek dogs?
I can't feel my fingers so it is time for another cup of swill that they call coffee, back to the bitching!
I smell very Olympic||8/17/2004|
6:45am Wednesday August 18, ATHENS--- I have used more four letter words in the last hour than I normally say in a month, and I have pulled some from the reserves that only get used on extra special occasions like a broken bone or coming home to a pack of rattlesnakes in my livingroom. Let me preface this with the fact that we can't find good coffee anywhere, they are now keeping the NBC workspace at about 34 degrees, not quite freezing and no one brought long sleeved shirts or pants because it is the SUMMER Games, and our short days are around 14 hours. But now they have taken the one luxury, the one moment of the day that made this crap hole almost bearable---HOT WATER! Nothing says, "Go home stupid Americans" like taking away our hot showers. For you see, if you have never had the European experience, showering is not a priority in this sweaty society. Europeans are breath takingly good looking, but they will also take your breath away with their "musky scent". |
The other day as Mark and I were walking out of the International Broadcast Center into the sweltering afternoon heat, a guy behind us yelled to his friends, "I smell very Olympic!" The Olympics smells like... I can't say it without violating my ration of bad words for the day and it is only 7:00am.
What do you know, winning is more fun!||8/17/2004|
12:15am Wednesday, August 18 ATHENS--- this is just a quickie before I have to go catch the bus back to the barricks (best word to describe them yet!). We just watched Klete Keller stretch out his long body to touch the wall first in the Men's 4 x 200m Relay. It was invigorating to have the entire NBC workspace erupt when our guy won. That's our guy, our Arizona guy, he has a tatoo of the state flag under his right bicep. Seeing that has me juiced to get his story on the air. There is not much I can do tonight, everything is embargoed until after primetime in the Pacific time zone, but it is really exciting to take home the gold. Speaking of home, I better go catch the bus to get that four hours of sleep in so I can feel like a functional zombie tomorrow (later today now).
Seven Plagues of the Olympics||8/16/2004|
7:00am Monday, August 16 ATHENS--- I think we are in a succession of the Seven Plagues of the Athens Olympics. First there was lost luggage, then searing heat with stifeling humidity, followed internet and power outages, horribly slow security check points, being served the exact same food every day, the fiber at the live location dropping out and then yesterday---a HUGE windstorm with a wall of dust sweeping over the Olympic Village. HMIs crashing over... scrims ripping out of their frames...gels and scripts being blown to the Aegean Sea. What's next... being over run with frogs and locusts... boils? The precious part of the storm hitting---locked down live cameras swung around to get dust devils, waiting photogs with spare cameras ran out into the crowd to get sound---we are all so well trained to shoot weather video under any circumstances, even when it does not affect our viewers. |
The reason local affilates spend tens of thousands of dollars to send crews to these Games is to follow athletes with ties to our hometowns. It is one thing to watch people win at the most elite level of competition, it is another to watch people who shop at the same grocery store as you win at that level. Well, we have effectively been shut out of access to our local athletes at the one place we were guaranteed to talk to them (if they wanted to talk to us). After the atletes compete or come off the medal stand they have to pass through an area called the "Mix Zone". My credential does not allow me in there, everything is shot by an NBC News Channel photographer. But until yesterday, my reporter Mark could go and ask questions to our athletes. BUT then at diving, some members of the press got in a scuffle and the police were called and it was decided to limit who could go in (one reprentative from each organization---ours being News Channel as a whole) and that person is only allowed ONE question per athlete. It would be one thing if they were talking about national security, they are talking about running, jumping and falling down. The frustration level is now at screaming traffic cone orange, it had been floating around overripe lemon yellow. Oh yeah, to add to it, the bathrooms are all broken and overrun with sewer gas that has permiated the workspace because people have been flushing toilet paper. It smells like a warm diaper pail in here. Ahhh...the seventh plague has appeared.
LOST IN EXHAUSTION||8/14/2004|
9:30 PM Saturday, August 14 ATHENS--- Today was lost in a fog of bleary eyes and achy muscles. The Greek government shut down all of the streets near the stadium last night until 2AM this morning. We had no option but to sit at the NBC workspace until then. When we got on our bus at 1:50, it then sat there until 2:30 as we all struggled to not snooze on your neighbor. By the time we made it through security into the Media Village, I walked in my room to go to sleep at 2:55 AM. I then had to set the alarm to go off at 5:45 to get back over to the workspace in the morning to get in line to feed in our 11PM stories (10 hour time difference) and edit while Mark did the live shot with Dave from KUSA. Each day one of the photographers in the Gannett group agrees to stay at the live shot location inside Olympic Park and shoot all of the live shots for the day so we are not schleping gear in and out of the park and getting caught up in security check points. As slow as the mag and bag process is here, we would miss about half of the windows. I won't complain about the TSA at the airport for awhile now, they move like Marion Jones to the medicine cabinet compared to the Greek police. |
I had been asleep an hour when my bathroommate pounded on my door. I am thankful we do not have roommates, but we share a bathroom with a complete stranger, of which mine spends about six hours a day in there, it just happens to be the six hours I am there sleeping and wanting to take a shower. As I was startled out of bed, I caught my foot on the power cord to the Blackberry charger and sent it sailing across the room. I did not have in my contacts or my glasses, so it could have been any given terrorist at the door and I could not identify them except for their feminine voice telling me to turn down my TV.
If you have every used a Blackberry (a super fancy pager that works as a phone, internet and e-mail with a great brick attack game to boot), you know why they are called "Crackberries". I love being able to send my friends e-mail while waiting for a press conference to start or play brick attack on the bus ride each morning.
We cut and fed five packages today and my limbs and behind feel like it.
The only time today that I felt really alive and awake was when Mark and I went to the grocery store. There is a multi-story mini-mall in Olympic Park that has a combination Safeway and Target called Carrefour. We were there to buy laundry detergent and coffee cups, but ended up spending an hour being enthralled by breakfast cereal boxes printed in Greek and the whole octopus we could buy in the meat section.
I am the keeper of the live shots tomorrow and I need to do some serious laundry so I am calling it a night.
10:00 AM Saturday, ATHENS--- Okay, you probably had a better view of the action on the TV at your house than we did a block away from the stadium. Most of us at the NBC workspace watched the Opening Ceremonies on 13 inch screens with grainy reception from the Greek Broadcasting System, but WOW! As we have ridden around Athens on buses and I have watched a little Greek TV, there are a few areas where the USA is definitely advanced---building giant gas guzzling SUVs, drive-thru food, and toilets that can flush anything including car keys and cell phones. But Europeans have such an eye for design and emotion and the Opening Ceremonies was proof of that. I have to admit, we were all holding our breath when the pregnant woman walked down the ramp. Was there some planning meeting for the Opening Ceremonies where some said, "Hey let's really top Sydney!" We all looked at each other wondering "how would they time that out?" You thought the Olympic Rings of fire in the pool was cool, try live birth! Can you imagine the FCC complaints against the NBC affiliates, Janet Jackson has nothing on that. Oh, we up tight Americans!|
Competition starts today, we are watching rowing right now, time to work.
Getting out of the Gate||8/13/2004|
9:00 AM Friday ATHENS---Where did Thursday go? Already an entire day has disappeared into thin air, I knew it would happen once the games started when we have a few days with lots of athletes competing and high hassle factor, but I figured the speeding up of the time-space continuem would wait until the torch was lit. |
"Ni-kees Lee-ghos" Greek for little victories. We got on the air Thursday. There is a huge relief in unplugging from that first live shot, everything working well and getting those first few packages on the air. NBC News Channel has stations and ownership groups paired up into ten "paths". Our path is the Gannett stations---KUSA, KPNX, KARE, WXIA AND KSDK along with WTHR from Indianapolis. Bless, WTHR, they brought an engineering god with them, in ancient times I would have commissioned a stone statue to be carved in his likeness. To get these six stations on the air took four dozen anvil cases of equipment and one truck box. The truck box is a brilliant way to pack equipment. It is your typical chrome plated tool box that sits across the bed of a one ton truck. At a long-term live shot location, it is a riser, a bench for sitting, a lock box for the camera and brings a certain all-American "I would rather be at NASCAR" feel to the NBC set.
So far the best meal we have had was last night---McDonalds. You got it, in a country revered for it's gyros and baklava, Mickey D's is the best we have at our convienience. They cater in three meals a day to the NBC Workspace, only problem, it has been the EXACT same meal for four days now. Grilled chicken and french fries are fine one or two times a week, but far too many poultry have died already for this Olympics. I love Greek food, but for some reason they did not think a bunch of picky Americans would want the marquee food of a country. Greek wine is great though.
Opening ceremonies is tonight. It should be a good show, the word is they are going to flood the stadium with water for a Greek mythology show, or maybe that is just from all the Americans flushing TP.
Unclog the blog||8/11/2004|
11:00AM Wednesday ATHENS---Yesterday was an amazing experience in exhaustion. After another rough night of sleeping thirty minutes on, thirty minutes off, I got up at 4:30AM and went down to the gym in the basement of the Media Village. I am not a gym person. If I want a work out, I will re-excavate the driveway or clean house. So after pressing more buttons than an ATM transaction to a Swiss bank account, I got the treadmill going. After an hour of goofing around on the stair stepper, I went up stairs to start the day. I knew in May that August 10 would be one of the most intense days of shooting we would have here. NBC scheduled a tour of the Acropolis and one of the Greek islands. Because of liveshots and competitions, they knew from experience that we would not have any time after the Games start to do many flavor pieces beyond the Olympic village. Also, you have to apply for permits from the Greek government weeks ahead of time to shoot anywhere in the city, especially historic sites. During the permitting process we would have to submit our scripts for their approval as well. Find me a news director that is going to let the government preview your scripts along with a reporter who knows what they are going to say at a site two months ahead of time. If you are caught with a video camera for commerical purposes at a site without a permit, they can and will confiscate your gear. When we left the US, we left our rights as American journalists. NBC was able to get blanket permits for the cameras to use throughout the city except at anthropological sites. And the Greek government takes this seriously, during a single stand-up shoot, you will be stopped by every police officer and asked to show the permit. What takes five minutes in Phoenix, takes 15 minutes or more here. |
NBC did get a small window for all of our cameras to shoot at the Acropolis in the mid morning. As you watch local coverage in your market, you will see horribly backlit standups and interviews at Greece's most revered hill. Please know that it is not due to laziness or lack of knowlege about lighting, it is the government.
We then took a hyrophoil to Hydra. It had to be quite a sight from the shore to see 40 TV cameras pile on a boat and then a dozen of them shove their way aft to get a shot pulling away from the dock.
The island was amazing to say the least. No cars, no mopeds, not even bicycles are allowed, only mules. The water front was the typical tourist trap with overpriced jewelry, cheezy t-shirts and outdoor cafes selling five dollar coffee (4 euros=5 bucks). There were the picture postcard whitewashed buildings with bright blue trim and cobblestone paths. It will be a nice place to think about the next time I am standing infront of yellow crime scene tape at a south Phoenix crack house waiting for the SWAT team to move in.
We never stopped moving the entire day. On the boat ride back, Mark my reporter, said I stopped talking in mid sentence and fell asleep, I don't doubt it. We came back to sit through another security meeting which should have been scary, but watching all of the drooping eyelids and nodding heads was humorous.
As you watch Katie Couric or Tom Brokaw during the Olympic coverage, here is something to make you laugh.
You can't flush toilet paper here. The Athens infrastructure cannot handle pulp products in the pipes, the system is too antiquated and you risk having your toilet back-up into the shower. Talk that would normally be taboo at any American dinner table is a huge debate at every gathering, "do you follow the no flush rule or just do it and hope you don't single handedly take down the entire Greek sewer system?" Something to ponder today as you are stuck in traffic.
And so it begins!||8/9/2004|
6:30PM MONDAY ATHENS---My anchor/reporter and I looked at each other this morning and said, "Day One". A few minutes later, John from KARE passed by my room where we were pow-wowing and simply said, "Day one." |
It was a rough night. The longest stretch of sleep was about two hours. Insomnia without a TV, CD player, laptop or even a radio is a expanse of desparation when you find yourself fighting to do anything not to be stuck with the junk bouncing around in your head. It is a highly productive time though. I read through all of the Media Village literature, security documents and access rules. I then braved pulling the editor out of it's shipping case. At first glance everything looked good. But when I tried to edit a little faux package, the player side started making a cruching sound, much scarier than crunching bones, the crunching of tape. I did every trick I know (turn it off and on, wiggle the little black door, give it a good smack). Nothing worked, now add the stress of a broken edit deck to my brain's refusal to go to sleep and the fact that I had no clean clothes, I was desparate for something to concentrate on that felt better than this.
Moving furniture...it makes the brain think about geometry, functionality and feng shui all at once while wearing out the body. Our rooms are sparse yet cramped. They have fit a twin bed, desk, two chairs, TV with stand and closet into the space of a large edit bay. Someone described it as Ikea-like, I would say minimum security federal prison-esque, we even have heavy metal doors and cold non-carpeted floors (they are beautiful gray marble though). It worked, after moving the desk to the window and putting the bed so the editor case could serve as a nightstand, I was able to get one last cat nap before sunrise.
At 6:00am I planned to go to breakfast and then to the general store when it opened at 7 to buy laundry detergent to wash my lone set of clothes. I would just have to wrap in bath towels and wait in the basement as several thousand miles was rinsed and spun out of a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. When the elevator doors opened, out rolled KING's ops guy with their lost luggage! I could not have been more thrilled if said they were passing out gold medals at the reception desk.
Today has been like that first week at college, moving into the dorm room, finding the cafeteria, meeting the people who will sit next to you in class. Excited exhaustion is one of the most fulfilling states to be in. I will sleep better tonight.
LOST IN TRANSLATION||8/9/2004|
11:30PM SUNDAY ATHENS/1:30PM PHOENIX---We made it. Sort of. We had no problem getting us and our carry-on gear on and off of three planes throughout the United States and Europe---Phoenix, Minneapolis and Amsterdam. When we were getting ready to deplane in Amsterdam, I loved seeing another TV camera in an overhead bin. In fact it even looked like mine, minus the Kata body suit. In my head, I played "find the photog and his reporter". My guess for the photog was dead on, the dude I chose as his reporter soon busted my theory when he spoke English on par with my Greek. As we shuffled through the MASSIVE Amsterdam airport, we soon discovered it belonged to our fellow Gannetteer from KARE (we are all on DVCam). His reporter speaks English just fine. |
The lesson in always carry-on your camera and be ready to shoot anywhere: we banged out a little shake n' bake package with the Zambian Olympic team who was waiting for the same plane to Athens. It is not pretty, but when you are filling six newscasts a day, every little bit helps. Plus our viewers will melt over the coach's excitement for the Games expressed in that graceful South African accent. I love showing any team that is thrilled to be going, not just winning.
When we got to Athens at about 3:00 this afternoon, we were standing at the baggage carousel with that same Zambian Olympic team and our TV family from KING and KCRA when the conveyor belt stopped and our baggage was not in our hands. Some baggage arrived, some did not. Every stitch of non-logoed apparel I plan to wear for the next 25 days was somewhere in Europe, but I was not panicked. At least the 81 pound editor coffin was on the ground in front of me, I can buy some t-shirts and shampoo in Athens, I can't buy a DVCam NSTC Sony editor here.
Our luggage was supposed to arrive at 8:30, I just went down to the help desk manned by the lone young lady who explained in broken English that it had not arrived and this happens all the time. I have been in the same clothes for over 36 hours, the place to buy a clean shirt and shampoo here in the Media Village is closed, and after a little nap, I am painfully wide awake. I am too keyed up from the filthy feeling of my clothes to read through security documents, and the TV in my room does not work. The good thing, I put my toothbrush and a mini-toothpaste in my laptop bag, I think I have brushed my teeth seven times today in hopes of making some part of me feel a little cleaner. Allow me one last rant? For security reasons, we are not supposed to go anywhere alone. My partner, Mark, is sleeping, so I am trapped in this building, and I do not have any money exchanged yet, so I can't go to the bar downstairs to get a jet lag adjuster.
Enough bitching, it is Greece. The drive from the airport to the Media Village was not the post card white washed buildings with blue trim you see on the cover of Frommer's. It is actually a lot like the East Valley of Phoenix. Lots of brown stucco interspersed with farm fields. But in place of our citrus trees, they have olive trees. I would totally trade my grapefruit tree for my own olive making foliage. After about the first week of ripe grapefruit, I am done with them for the year and give away to friends for the rest of the season (often getting lemons and tangerines that they have grown tired of from their trees). But to have an olive tree (kalmata would be great), I would have the lowest cholesterol ever. Greek graffiti is fascinating. It is the same puffy and edgy style we get in Central Phoenix and on railroad cars, but using lambdas and epsilons instead. Vandalism is a universal language.
Well, the laptop battery is dying and I am not brave enough to plug it into the step down transformer I brought, we'll experiment with the coffee pot I packed when it gets here in my luggage.
And We're Off!||8/7/2004|
4:45AM Saturday PHOENIX---Just like in a regular news day, time just started to compress. I was burning some CDs of Rock Jock music to take with us and looked up at the time and realized, it is time to go! We depart at 9:15 this morning, but due to the Anvil Case with editor in it, I need to get there ASAP to get it checked in. When I put it on the bathroom scale, the monster weighed in at 81 pounds! Fortunately, the airline knows it is coming, they also plan to take about $250 bucks to get it there, hey, as long as it gets there. This will be silent for about three days while we travel---18 hour flight---PHX to Minneapolis (guess the airline), to Amsterdam (not long enough to leave the airport though), to Athens! |
By Lynn French
Photographer KPNX-TV Phoenix, AZ
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