"The FBI…" 21•May•09

It always starts with a phone call.*(For good assignments & good pictures) Never fails. You take the call. Here’s the scene at home, as best as I can remember – 11PM or so – I was settling-in and nodding off with the headphones on, watching a movie on the Mac, totally engrossed with the second DVD of a gift box set of the old TV series “Homicide: Life On The Street.” Ironic that it would be our street reporter Doyle Murphy calling at 11:26PM. (we’ve been covering the homicides & funerals here in Newburgh the last 2 years – see my earlier posts here on the blog) Ironic too that I’d left the work cell phone turned up loud enough to even hear it ring on the windowsill just inches from my head. “State Police SWAT teams have Broadway closed uptown, and had I heard about the bomb plot earlier that day…?” He asked. “What?” I replied as I sat up like a bolt. (I’d been out all day Wednesday on the usual hectic Spring day in our coverage area and finished up covering HS championship golf up in Poughkeepsie. I’d even made an attempt to get to bed a little earlier Wednesday night because I was facing another hot day on Thursday morning in Kingston for a HS championship track meet…) Little did I know, I’d be up all night right in my city, and then with literally no sleep (Note: less than 2 hours) back down in White Plains in Westchester County, with all the NYC media, staking out the federal courthouse, hoping for even a glimpse of these four “terrorists” who had been arrested on charges of shooting down military aircraft here at Stewart Air National Guard Base, and bombing synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. “Yea man, I’m up. I’ll be there in 15 minutes…” It was classic NYC style hustle to jump into my clothes, grab enough gear and speed up Broadway. I’d actually passed the second scene with heavily armed FBI agents outside the tenament building on Broadway & Lutheran Streets. “Wow…” I remember murmuring to myself. Serious shit. I reached the scene at 11:40PM or so and immediately began making pictures as best I could under the street lights. Pumped up the ISO on the Canon 5D Mark II to 3200. Steadied the camera on the back corner of a Caddy Escalade to make the top image. Told Doyle about the scene down at the other end of Broadway I’d passed. We headed down there, and I made frames there – this time with the ISO pumped up to 5000. Was kind of bummed at myself, as I’d forgotten the monopod & 300mm f/2.8 (used for golf that day, and for track on Thursday…) Keeping the newsdesk editors informed of what we were seeing, I knew I had time to get back home and move a few images to make the later editions of the paper, and web stories. Back home by 12:20AM and sent in these first two images at 12:36AM. Got back on the street (this time with the 300mm & monopod) and began making images of what appeared to be at least 20 armed FBI agents milling around. It was now after 1AM.
We stayed at this scene past 3AM, moving around the neighborhood, looking for different views of the building, and at times even joking with one of the Newburgh City Police detectives, and a talkative FBI agent in plainclothes who ventured across the Broadway to chat us up. Made images of the agents removing evidence from the building (images I’d made countless times on stories in NYC through the years), so I knew we’d have something that no other media would have.

We “owned” that scene for a few hours – well past 3AM. No coffee needed for this all-nighter. Adrenaline was keeping us on top of our game. This was going to be big. Really big. I eventually left the area around 3:30AM and was too keyed up to go right to bed. Decided to edit my second take from out on the street, and sent in 9 more images at 4:32AM. If memory serves, I was back in the bed a little after 5AM, as the morning birds were already chirping and the morning glow of sunrise was already on the horizon…

*Jump to early Thursday morning. Another phone call – this time from the boss. “Pictures look good. You should head to White Plains for the arraignment of these guys..” Great I’m thinking. This could all work out and I might get to see one of the perps if the authorities move them to / from the federal courthouse in Westchester (some 70 miles south of me – and right in the heart of my old coverage area at the Journal News in the ’90’s. )

Now, on literally no sleep – I’d call it a hard nap actually, here I was racing down the highway to another stakeout. The uniform of the day would be shorts, as I’d knew it’d be a long wait. The suspects were already in the fortress of a courthouse, so the all day waiting game began. No breaks, no bathrooms, only an occasional food run by the assembled media types. The only pictures to made here were of the lawyers speaking to the press, and the US Marshal’s Service vans transporting these individuals into / out of the building.
Smoked van windows and a drive-in sally port proved to eliminate any views of the subjects. I was on the scene for 9 hours, before heading to a Kinkos in the city to send in my photos from the day’s take.

Forget about the time factor, workday hours and just silently make the commitment to yourself to stay on the scene, keep your antennae up to cover an event like this.

Chatting it up with old photo colleagues from Westchester and NYC, TV cameramen, and other reporters helped the time pass by too. (the stories shared among longtime journalists are great & the jokes just as scathing.) Just like the old days… -cg.

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