commuterchroniclesdbh

Driving and Biking in the Big City

Posts Tagged ‘journalism

On the cop beat for life

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Recently, I’ve been listening to Harry Bausch’s adventures as written by Michael Connelly in “The Wrong Side of Goodbye,” and I can’t get past the feelings it evokes. “They” say your sense of smell is the strongest sense to activate your memories. For me, hearing can be equally haunting. Or is it sight and reading? A good book, read again, listened to again. A favorite author can feel like home and long ago at the same time. Or, in this case, a same character – Harry Bausch, the hard-nosed anti-hero and Los Angeles cop as written by another former reporter on the cop beat.

This book has me transported to the past. It has me reminded me of quick trips to the grocery store when I could rent a book on cassette tape, mostly abridged and somewhat unacceptable. But I’d take anything on tape to get me through a day of housekeeping or cleaning out when my kids were young and chores were routine.

Or it’s Sunday and the only library that was open was 10 miles away so I’d bike there and bike back – for 20 miles and two hours roundtrip at the minimum. I’d have to plan my clothes – light as possible but with a cover-up t-shirt, two waters and a light weight bag that would be book-laden for the trip back.

Or it’s a road trip to Austin where I would meet my friend from Michigan at her mom’s house so that we could keep up an important relationship for me where she was my rock while my son went through and out the other end of a heart condition.

Or to Lubbock for my westward bound road trip to visit my daughter at Texas Tech. That eight-to-10-hour trip meant a couple of really good books by favorite authors who would keep me occupied but focused.

concrete-blondeI’m transported by Connelly’s new book not because the book is about yesterday because it’s not. But because I’m reminded of some of the first books I ever listened to as an audio book addict. “The Poet,” “Concrete Blonde,” “Trunk Music.”  Ahhhhhh. I may need to listen again.

Listening to audio books is as common in my daily rituals as is my commute to work. Actually, I’ve been listening to read-aloud books far longer. I was first attracted to Connelly, now world famous, of course, long before the charismatic Texan Matthew McConaughey played the role of his “Lincoln Lawyer,” Mickey Haller, an attorney who works from the back of his car, so another commuter. Or before Clint Eastwood played a side character from the Harry Bausch books in “Blood Work.”

I may have listened to “The Poet” as one of my first audio books, if you don’t count the classics or old radio broadcasts that I could find on the car radio or at truck stops. Remember, this is long before the days of the internet or downloads and when libraries seldom carried anything but the written word.

the-poet“Death is my beat. I make my living from it.  I forge my professional relationship on it.  I treat it with the passion and precision of an undertaker — somber and sympathetic about it when I’m with the bereaved, a skilled craftsman with it when I’m alone.  I’ve always thought the secret to dealing with death was to keep it at arm’s length.  That’s the rule.  Don’t let it breathe in your face,” Connelly says in “The Poet,” back in 1996.

Connelly is back to his police procedural hard core in the “Wrong Side of Goodbye,” and I love it. It’s the routine of day-to-day police work. Keeping your notes in order. Working your sources. Doing favors. You scratch my back and I scratch yours. So I’m transported not only to my listening past but also to the heyday of my career as a cop reporter. Back in the day, I rode the beat with cops, went door-to-door with detectives and sat on stakeouts. I’ve discovered bodies, been shot at and, actually, solved a couple of murders myself. We were a team, on the same side mostly.

That’s the police beat as I worked it, back in the day of the press as Fourth Estate. My cop shops were on a rotation – whether it was Port Arthur, Beaumont, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston or a bit of Detroit. The bigger the city, the more often I visited the police station. But even the one-cop towns showed up on my calendar once a month. I called or dropped by. That way, when a body got dumped at Kennedale, a small town outside of Fort Worth, the dispatcher knew my name and would give me the story.

cub-reporter

Working traps on my first daily, the Beaumont Enterprise, two years after I’d started my journalism career at a bi-weekly. 

“Running my traps,” my first city editor called it. Joe Broughton was a feisty hellcat of a newsman with a kind heart but a trashy mouth. I learned a lot from him and from running my traps, a work ethic that has served me well in a writing career that soon will have paid my bills for half a century.

So, on this rainy day when I can’t be running the roads, I think I’ll finish “The Wrong Side of Goodbye” while I do my house chores and then run through some repeats including “The Poet.” I think I may even have that one in hard copy.

A reporter must report, even without a daily newspaper

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Tucker and SambaAs a lifelong journalist now with no newspaper in this age that has changed the Fourth Estate forever, I am still a reporter at heart and must report. Now, I’m a one-person shop – like I was at my first biweekly. I report, edit, take photos and write columns. I also get to choose what is reported and how high the play is.

No longer am I reliant on a city desk to decide if I’ve made Page 1 or if I get to cover the big story. No longer am I an insecure writer with low self-esteem, dependent on the judgment of the editors who were always the boss of me in my daily days. Well, maybe still in need of approval like all writers but that’s another story.

Facebook, Twitter and this blog are my outlets, and my iPhone is my Nikon.

Social media also has saved my marriage and made me easier to tolerate for friends, my children and especially my husband. In 40 years of marriage, I can’t even tell you how often I’ve asked my husband to come see something – a beautiful sunset, deer roaming the woods, perhaps a man who’d hanged himself from a tree. John actually believed me this time; we turned the car around and discovered my imagination had been at work. Now that I think about it, this may be why he isn’t always willing to come see what I want to report.

As a longtime police reporter, I’ve actually discovered a few bodies in my day so I can understand why he’s a bit gullible. But we’ve had at least three incidents where I’ve convinced him I’ve seen a crime in progress, and it turned out to be an over-reaction on my part.

Then, there was the time I wanted to report child abuse in my neighborhood because I kept hearing the kids shout, “Daddy, Daddy, please stop.”.” When John urged me to check it out one more time, I approached the house cautiously, prepared to knock on the door and save the children. “No, no, no, Daddy,” I heard. Then, splash after the cries. “Daddy” was horse-playing with the kids in the backyard pool. Cops were not called; my reputation remained intact, except with my husband.

One of my favorite halfway points.

One of my favorite halfway points.

In any case, I no longer holler for family or friends when I see something exciting or different in my routine commuting travels or my bike rides. I just post. Now, I may be an over-sharer, but I try to pace myself a bit.

Thus, this weekend I’ve captured some photos of the sights I’ve seen along my bike rides. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the two brother Batmen, complete with masks and capes nor did I get my iPhone out in time for the convertible with the kid in the backseat with a butterfly net.

Fishing and paddling

Fishing and paddling

 

 

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

September 28, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Homeless on the big city streets for the sake of a story

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I have respect for all human life and have a particularly soft heart for the homeless. I believe that’s always been true because I’m a chameleon and an empath.  But it may have teetered toward obsession in my reporter days when my newspaper at the time did a series entitled “The Haves and the Have Nots.” I, of course, had taken the “have not” position and actually spent three days as a homeless person on the streets of a big city where the homeless problem was growing. It changed me forever, as did most every story I wrote where I sometimes spent weeks of interviews, trying to put myself in another’s shoes – whether it was victim or culprit.

In this case, the memory I still hold most upsetting is of a friend I made at one of the soup kitchens who I saw occasionally while frequenting the common places for the homeless – street corners, underpasses, parks and public attractions. Eventually, we spoke a few times after I’d made him comfortable with my regular presence.

It was one of my few assignments where I had to keep my pencil far from reach and in the bottom of a deep dusty bag that was my constant companion. My suffering over those homeless days came mostly because I didn’t have a sharpened pencil in my hands, behind my ear, twirling unconsciously from finger to finger. Ironically, I never was as attached to paper and didn’t mind writing on anything at hand – envelope, napkin, back of a check book, although when I left the profession, I still preferred the skinny reporter’s notebooks that fit easily in a jeans pocket or skirt.

On the night of my memory, I had come to a high school football stadium to hear a preacher who would then serve us supper. I got there early to soak up the atmosphere and potentially sneak out the pencil for some details that I might not remember later.  My new friend came near and but sat several feet away. I was up a couple of rows higher than the seat of his choosing, but we were nearer to each other than any of the other homeless people who came eventually to somewhat fill the stadium.

He was dirtier than me, literally. More smudged and smelly, always with a bit of a runny nose. I never quite got homeless dirty but had found some battered jeans (not hard to find in those days), kept my hair unwashed and never tucked in my shirt (not blouse.) He, likewise, was in jeans and was pretty much blue all over. His bluejeans, his work shirt, his bizarre and ruddy blue complexion. He had some wire-rimmed glasses that sat askew on his face and were in fashion at least a decade ago.

What overwhelmed me and has stuck to me over the years was the simple fact of his age. He said he was 17 years old. He looked like a man of maybe 40. Not a day younger. And I didn’t remotely detect a lie nor any realization on his part of how old he looked.

His face was lined and rough from outdoor living but also from something deep and desperate. He was a runaway, he said. He said he had no one and nowhere to go. He’d been on the streets of Fort Worth for at least five years. (I calculated when he was 12.) He mostly slept in vacant cars and in junkyards. I simply couldn’t believe it.  I always expect tragic stories when I take on an assignment like the homeless, but somehow I am never quite prepared for reality. Facts are always worse than the fiction we conjure.

My second most haunting memory comes to me almost daily.  It is the face of a beautiful dark-haired girl of about 4 years old. She wields a soup spoon in her fist and shovels almost clear broth into her too-hungry mouth. She’s so heartbreakingly pretty and so sweet mannered and inviting that I want to sit by her immediately. She has a beautifully smooth complexion and long silky brunette hair that curls a little at the ends.  I want to touch its perfection. I wonder this decade or so later, “Is this truly how my homeless, hungry girl looked?” Or is she forever superimposed over my same dark-haired daughter who was about 18 months old at the time I was doing this backgrounder for the newspaper series. I see my own child, sitting at the kitchen table with her similarly dark-haired doll, and the two merge in my memory. It makes me weep and weep again.

I was a relatively new mother and all my feelings and empathy had been turned on its head by the experience of being a mom. My homeless child’s parents spoke only Spanish, and I practiced my Texas public school and state college training on them when I joined them at their table. We could talk about hunger, what they were eating, how beautiful their daughter was in her pretty dress. But the emotional details escaped me. I couldn’t get to the root of their pain at being on the streets. “Only three days,” the mom said.  The cultural difference, “I have work,” the father said. Clearly, this little family was simply pleased to be in the United States and what I considered suffering was not even on their radar.

So, I settled for telling the little girl that I had a daughter “la misma” as her.  Both she and my daughter were both “muy bonita” and I liked my new little friend very much.

Later, and after a six-month series I did on teen-age suicide, I’d be offered a transfer to Washington, D.C., or New York -– a reporter’s ultimate goal back in those days. I was eventually to turn down the offer so that I could spend more time at home with my baby girl and later her younger brother.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

February 22, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for playing

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More than 1,000 views of Commuter Chronicles. Quite a landmark day for me. I never knew this would be so easy and fun. I actually started this series of columns for my friends when I started commuting to Houston about 15 years ago and after the economy got tight for my corporate journalism business. So I have been doing it before blogging was even a word much less a trend.

I had been freelancing and driving to Houston only a couple of times a week or in the evenings when I taught news writing at University of Houston.  Then, college started looming for my kids and my best seller boat had not come in. Besides, my tennis career seemed to be coming to an end with my Baby Boomer knees.

I like to think I was never a sellout from the Fourth Estate to the better paid world of hack journalism — first of all because I always have writing jobs of high interest and worthy public good and secondly because I have never been paid well enough to establish myself as a true hack.

Instead, I have changed with the times and left the world of journalism to a new generation of less objective and more visually pleasing folks. In my heyday of covering presidents and presidential campaigns, I hung out with famous television folks  Connie Chung and Leslie Stahl. It is ironic to look back on those days and tell those stories. Friends are surprised and want to know my opinion of such famous journalists.  Guess I can say it now. They were great and certainly beautiful. But truly, back in the day, I considered them lucky to be hanging out with me and not vice versa. I was the newspaper journalist of the Walter Cronkite variety. I knew the local traps to run and folks in the know. I was well read and objective. They needed my help. And, when I was too busy with some real reporting, I had to ditch coffee with Connie.  She needed to head over to makeup anyway.

Blogging is so much better than daily newspaper writing, though. No snarky editors to question your subject matter; no true deadlines except your own urge to write. I say. “cool beans” and recommend blogging for everyone.

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