“Bus stops are far more interesting and useful places to have art than in museums. Graffiti has more chance of meaning something or changing stuff than anything indoors. Graffiti has been used to start revolutions, stop wars, and generally is the voice of people who aren’t listened to. Graffiti is one of those few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make somebody smile while they’re having a piss”
 – Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall

Eighteen countries, five shock absorbers, two bikers, and one amazing adventure…. That’s what the back cover of the book- Long Way Down – describe within its pages. This was an epic journey by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman across the continent of Africa on two BMW R1200GS Adventure motorcycles. The book was a good read and I am envious of their adventure. I owned a bike once. Well, not a bike but a scooter, a Vespa scooter. I was the big white guy on a Vespa scooter riding from Burbank through Griffith Park to Los Feliz on my way to work. And, I loved that little white Vespa, So, you can only imagine that while I was in Italy my love for the little Vespa was reignited. Vespa, in Italian means Wasp and true to its name and nature the Wasps are everywhere and going in every direction including the sidewalks. It is nothing to see a family of three on a Vespa or a woman on a cell phone smoking a cigarette with a baby strapped to her bosoms on the streets of  Naples or Rome. The Vespa has it own filmgrpahy that goes from, “Quadrophenia” to “American Graffiti” and the most memorable of all “Roman Holiday”. For a scooter that was intended primarily to solve the problems of urban and intercity traffic the Vespa has a rich history of adventures. In 1997 journalist Giorgio Bettinelli started out from Chile, reaching Tasmania after three years and 150,000 km on his Vespa across the Americas.  Bettinelli continued his adventure to Siberia, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. All in all, Bettinelli has travelled 254,000 km on a Vespa. Pierre Delliere, Sergeant in the French Air Force, reached Saigon in 51 days from Paris, going through Afghanistan. Few know that in 1980 two Vespa’s ridden by M. Simonot and B. Tcherniawsky reached the finishing line of the second Paris-Dakar rally.What do you think about that Mr. McGregor and Mr. Boorman ?

For those who have not experienced the backs streets of Naples on a Vespa. Compliments of my Italian brother Vittorio and myself.

My friends, jump-start your day with a good night’s sleep with the comfort and quality you get from our single steel frame beds. You are guarantee with a life time warrenty to wake up refreshed and ready to roll out of your slumber to start a fun filled day of adventure. To make more of your space, go for the twin beds seen here. All our beds are bolted to the concrete sidewalk with built-in storage giving you space to chain your shopping cart or with the roomy space underneath to slide your backpack underneath. Our urban beds also give you the option to use your backpack, Von’s plastic bags or jackets as a pillow for your catnaps. And we have everything else for your street needs; steel slates for circulation, imaginary firm mattress for your back, and a duvet that you wear. All this to complete your bed in style. We are your Urban Outfitters courtesy of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

All kidding aside. When one has exhausted all resources and is reduced to the insane condition of toting a small travel bag, aimlessly riding buses, selling plasma, eating in soup kitchens, walking in a dream, sleeping in shelters and parks, and knowing that going to jail is a step up on the social ladder, this is homelessness.

In the book Peter Pan, one of the most memorable moments for me, is when the shadow of Peter Pan is severed from him when Nana runs into the room and growls. Peter quickly jumps out the window, but Nana has trapped his shadow by closing the window on it. Fortunately, Wendy who has befriended Peter will later sew his outline back. 

I didn’t notice until I became an adult, that death is a major component of the Peter Pan story. In the first chapter of the book “Peter and Wendy,” it’s essentially stated that Peter Pan is a psychopomp— a term found in mythology, that refers to  guides of souls, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly departed souls from earth to the afterlife. 

But others believe that Peter’s shadow, and those of his lost boys are typically understood as a symbol of their inability to reach adulthood. Thus the Peter Pan Syndrome in relationships, is a term that can be a harsh truth for women to come to the realization that the man-child that their dating or married too refuses to get his shit together.

I guess I am one of those guys who have clung to my long-shot dream for so long that it nearly costs me the harmony and love of family, friends and financial security.  So, why was it that I noticed my shadow trying to open the door to this old rusty pickup truck ? Maybe my silhouette is foreshadowing that without him, I have hitched a ride to Neverland and just how arrogant and self-absorbed I can really be if I don’t take stock of my actions and make the right attitude adjustment.

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them” – Elliott Erwitt

Street Photography is like catching butterflies, you run around scanning the horizon trying to catch that magic moment of interaction. With patients and tenacity, the nectar of your efforts presents itself unexpectedly. With stealthy sequence of movements, you position your lens ready to capturing the allusive moment. The planets are aligned, the decisive moment is captured  becoming an artifact of time that will never exist again. Well, that’s if you don’t stage the shot.

It started as a little stream of emotion while watching James Blunt’s song, Monster. The song is about James’ father Colonel Charles Blunt, who has stage four chronic kidney disease, and how the singer will have to “chase the monsters away” when he passes. 

“And while you’re sleeping I’ll try to make you proud

So, Daddy, won’t you just close your eyes?

Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn

To chase the monsters away.” 

Those heartfelt lyrics got me, and got me good. I traveled back in time to the night that I held my dads hand and watched him take his last breath. After all these years, I purged with such deep emotions my body gave out and all I could do is lay in bed for hours. So men do cry……. just in private.

FYI, James can hold off chasing monsters away as his father Charles is doing well after receiving an organ donation in 2020.

The one good blessing of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is the constant need to nurse my brain with images or music. Once I’ve falling into Dave’s zone, all ambient sounds wither away and evaporates into silence. So, like an addict looking for a fix, I got my smack from a Ford Pinto that has been entirely shielded with hundreds of tiny mirrors. It’s a potpourri of blue sky, me, and self-realization by reflection, which make me  appear larger then I am. Philosophically speaking, reflection is the careful examination of life situation. It involves the weighing of several alternative and using specific standards to evaluate one’s actions and build on previous decisions. As the old saying goes, “you are what you do.” 

Speaking of reflection and evaluating one’s actions, the Pinto was notorious for its moronically design by the Ford company. It seems the car was prone to explosions from rear-end collisions thanks to the gas tank being positioned directly behind the back bumper. This was happening from 1970 to 1980. But the “reflection” of large conglomerates like Ford is that in the end, human life is just a dollar value. So when the Pinto problem began to get widespread, Ford did a cost-benefit analysis and decided that facing a lawsuit and making settlements was cheaper than to recall the Pintos and fix the problem. Never mind the nearly 180 people annually who were charred to death in their death-trap Pinto. Far from Henry Ford’s ideology of each American having an affordable car, at that time Ford believed that a dangerous car should just be let loose, never mind the damages. 

Oh by the way, “Pinto” is a term used to describe a man’s Johnson that is less than five inches in length when perpendicular. It seems at the time Ford couldn’t rise to the occasion or measure up to doing the right thing. 

Like a still image, a song can transport you back to a moment in time that has been forgotten. For instance, during the wild fires of Southern California in 2009 I had a very real flashback when Shakira’s song; “Whenever, Wherever” blared out from the radio while driving on the Glendale Freeway. The smell of a burning hillside mixed with fumes of diesel, the thump, thump, thumping of the helicopters overhead transported me immediately back to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Music is sort of a synthetic acid, which enhances flashbacks of one’s own memories. Scans of the brain show that when people listen to music, virtually every area of their brain becomes more active. Which may explain why I have overcome a learning disability with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. 

Strange as it may seem, when I listen to music as I am doing right now, it forces me to focus and keeps my ADD at bay. Growing up, my parents could never understand why I would play music when reading or studying. They would just shout at me to turn the record player or radio off. But, instinctively I need this learning aid to focus .. go figure! Music helps me concentrate. Once I sit down, play my music I fall into a Zen like zone and my brain slows down to a crawl so that I can concentrate. If it were not for music and the computer I would probably be selling used furniture in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

But when you combine music and dance it can bring back the passionate fire of our youth and the peacefulness of our softer and more graceful years – maybe they are never expressed more fully than through a song and a slow dance. It is the medium of music and dance that is tangible to our soul and expresses to the world who we truly are and who we can be. The best part of music for me, is when my arms are wrapped around a woman and I can feel the beat of her heart to the tempo of the music. We become lost, yet together in sync as the lyric’s nourish our souls. Unaware of time and space we dance losing isolation to become a bridge of kindred spirits as a karmic connection begins to blossom between us……….would you like to dance? Hit it Bobby.

BOBBY CALDWELL – What You Won’t Do For Love (1979)

Written in 2012, “My Affair with Anita Ekberg, Sort Of ” is the most popular read of my blog. For your reading pleasure I extend to you without any significant changes or improvements my own awakening which is whatever young boy experiences when entering puberty.

images-8

This is the real story of my affair with Anita Ekberg. In 2012, I had written a very short paragraph of my first visit to the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy. I recounted how I found a spot away from the gaggle of tourist and for a moment had a short-term detachment from my immediate surroundings to relive the famous scene from Federico Fellini’s film, La Dolce Vita. In my daydream, I replayed the black and white scene of voluptuous Anita Ekberg wading through the fountain as her long blonde hair cascading down her back like the falling water’s behind her. The scene was glorious and lush with sensuality. Anita’s was wearing a strapless black evening gown with its plunging sweetheart neckline and seductively urging Mastroianni to join her in the fountain, 

“Marcello, come here, hurry up!”

All that was missing was Nino Rota’s music when suddenly, I’m back to reality when a tourist with a New Jersey accent asked if I would take a picture of him and his wife in front of the fountain. I was happy to do so, but I remember thinking that I would have loved to stayed little longer in the fantasy corridors of my mind with Anita.

 That’s what I wrote in 2012, but the real backstory is this. It happened one night at the age of thirteen when nature’s process of physical change presented itself while a tourist in slumber land. As I recall, I strolled from scene to scene of Fellini’s movie, La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life). Unknown-3I’ve always dreamed in color but that night of adolescent awakening, my dream was in black and white and was accompanied with a soundtrack of skewed martini lounge music – which only added to the surreal atmosphere of the celluloid dream. Thinking back, I can only guess that my dream may have been prompted by watching La Dolce Vita on the local PBS station before going to bed. But once in rapid eye movement of deep sleep, I fell from reality to a fantasyland that I can still recall to this day. 

5846The transitions from scene to scene of my dream were preceded with burst of light from the cameras and flashbulbs of the “buzzing insects”, aka paparazzi. I would find myself in the background as a causal observer or a participant in each celluloid episode. Whether strolling among the ruins of Rome or on a luxurious balcony of Rome’s decadent and papered rich high above the City of Seven Hills. With another intense burst of light, I found myself on a Vespa speeding down the narrow lanes of Rome with a twin-lens reflex camera in hand as my fellow insects and I were in hot pursuit of Anita.  images-3

The climax of my dream came as I followed Anita down dimly lite cobbled maze of alleys while a tiny white kitten sat on her head,

“Meow”

“Meow”

“Oh hello”, Anita said turning towards me.

At that moment, my emotions and body began to feel different and quite strange. Here I was with the most unattainable dream woman of my youth, and to top that off, I was being acknowledged of my existence. images-9Before me, Anita wades in the Trevi fountain in her black strapless dress, voluptuous, glamorous, and oozing with sensuality.

“David, come here, hurry up!” Anita’s urging me as she reached out to me

“Hurry up!” she repeated.

Even thought I was lost in my dream, I could feel my heart racing and a fever of heat images-6building up the core of my body. As Anita touched the tips of my fingers, I stepped into the Trevi fountain and instantaneously in a whirlwind of flashing lights; Anita’s lips met mine. – I need not go any further, because it all about biology.

 On January 11, 2015 Anita Ekberg passed away on a Sunday morning in her home near Rome. As most men my age would say, “Forse, quando un sogno diventa una memoria, la memoria diventa un tesoro per la propria vita più dolce. Grazie Anita come bella era, arrivederci e velocità di Dio.”

(Perhaps, when a dream becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure to one’s own sweet life. Thank you Anita, how lovely it was, goodbye and God speed.)

 

Carl

“I’m not sure if it the zest for life that I have or just the carbonation… my friends say that I have a bubbly personality. Oh geez ! People that say you have a bubbly personality… chances are you’re not attractive. I don’t think I’m ugly, I have a great smile, good hair, a positive attitude and I’m a Gemini. Did you know that we Gemini’s are gentle, affectionate, curious, adaptable, with an ability to learn quickly and exchange ideas openly. The downside of being a Gemini is nervousness and indecisive….wait a minute, indecisive…Coca-Cola or Pepsi ? Oh ! it’s not important. The only thing I don’t like about being a soda jerk is the paper hats. I mean they tear easily after you sweat and they never fit right. I don’t throw my paper hat’s away I keep them and make origami zebra’s..you know, the strips on the hat and all. Origami zebras are more difficult to fold than origami cranes. My paper hats are perfect for folding for zebras. It took me forever to get the lines of zebra stripes vertical and not horizontal. My zebras reminds me of the old adage: Not everything is black-or-white, or in my case red and white. The world isn’t black-or-white in the zebras world either. I once read that the symbolic meaning of  zebras are the masters of balance, a symbol for individuality, the spiritual significance of knowing yourself, and the magic of illusion. So, I may have a bubbly personality and be optimistic by nature but don’t judge me by my stripes, remember I’m a Gemini.”

Kabul, Afghanistan

My Afghan Polaroid

Wandering the back streets of Kabul I found myself on Passport lane where Afghan citizens go to have their photos taken for government ID’s. After watching the photographer at work with a couple of subjects, I fell in line to have my photo take as well. The process was slow, about 10 to 15 minutes to shoot, develop and print a photo for each customer. Which gave me the time to study and admire the work of this real street photographer. The Afghan box camera is a giant handmade wooden box known as the kamra-e-faoree, meaning “instant camera” – I call it the “Afghan Polaroid”. Working with only natural light the photographer uses a 35-millimeter camera lens attached to the front of the box and instead of clicking the shutter, the photographer removes the lens cap for a second and replaces it. Inside the box camera is an entire darkroom – paper, developer and fixer. After the latent image is exposed to a sheet of photographic paper, the photographer inserts his hand into the box through a cut-off pants leg designed to keep out light that would ruin the print.

He develops the image by moving the paper through two trays, one holding developer and the other fixer, to create a paper negative. He then makes another exposure, which converts the negative image into a positive print. It was truly impressive to watch how smooth and precise the photographer worked.

Having been briefly banned along with music and paper bags by the Taliban the kamra-e-faoree camera is in danger of disappearing again as digital cameras become more common place in Kabul.

Lukas Birk is well aware of the historical signifiants of the Afghan street photographers and their camera. Mr.Birk  has creating the Afghan Box Camera Project. For any photographer who appreciates the history of cameras and film this is a worth while cause. Link:http://www.afghanboxcamera.com/

I waited to see if the women was going to remove her burka for the photo, she never did.

“My legs are killing me and I hate these fuck’ing crutches, I’m sick and tired of this bullshit man !  

Where the fuck did my life go? 

Believe it or not, I was young man once, wild hair and just fuck’ing crazy at times, but that was when I was a young man. I stole motorcycles, drank beer, and howled at the moon. 

I was a chick magnet seducing them like bees to a honey pot, I was the stud, brash and brazen, but that was when I was young man. 

I smoked Marlboro Red’s and worn button fly Levi’s jeans and combed my hair with Brylcreem. 

I had a need for speed with asphalt scares to prove it, but that was when I was a young man once.

I sacked grocery at Safeway and bought my first car, a 49 Ford. It was my Hot Rod with stolen Baby Moon Hubcaps, Roll-and-Tuck black leather seats and a Hurst shifter topped with a pool hall 8 ball…do you want to drag and hear my glass-packs? 

I was reckless and insane at times but beer was my friend when times got tough. 

Let me tell you this, I never wore a watch because I had all the time in the world, but now as I grew older or should I say when my body grew older. I lost some abilities to do as I please. 

But deep within me is a spirit that is harum-scarum and ready to fight…. even if it’s with the aid of these damn crutches. I was a young man once full of piss and vinegar. 

My advise to you, find your speed, maintain your velocity, keeping it up and keep it consistent my friends.”

Palestinian Territory / Israel. The city on the hill is Bethlehem, this image was taken before the Israeli bulldozers destroyed the rock wall and the olive tree in the foreground. Then a concrete wall of 8 meters (26 ft) high was constructed in this Holy place. The West Bank “separation barrier” or “security fence” or “apartheid wall” or “anti-terrorist fence,” depending on whom you ask, is the largest infrastructure project in Israel’s history. Upon completion, its total length will be approximately 700 kilometers (430 mi). The annual costs is approximately $260 million to maintain the wall. It is said that “If the olive tree knew the hands that planted them, their oil would have become tears.”

In mountaineering, there is a phenomenon known as ‘Summit Fever’ in which the heightened anticipation of summiting out weighs all reasoning. It is a step into the Twilight Zone where one’s critical faculties take a leave of absence and reckless decision making begins. The boiling frog story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to perceive significant changes that occur gradually –  the premise is that if a frog is placed  in cold water that is slowly heated, the animal will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

In Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air,  he describes climbers so intoxicated by the drive to get to the summit that the common sense of survival gets discarded even when exhaustion, dehydration and  bad weather becomes overwhelmingly evident – not to mention the absence of  fellow climbers who have met their death.  

Summit fever is not only limited to the tallest peaks in the world but can be found anywhere the human spirit is challenged- including the Sahara Desert. 

It has been called the toughest footrace on earth, The Marathon des Sables. Competitors have described the event as running on the surface of the sun. The  race is  held each year in Morocco over six-days covering  254 km which is the equivalent to six regular  marathons. Competitors must carry all personal belongings and food for the entire event in their backpacks. Water, tents and medical support are supplied by the race organizers. During the 1994 race,  Carabinieri (Italian police officer) Mauro Properi lost his way during a sand storm. Not wishing to endure a long drawn out death of dehydration, Mauro attempted to commit suicide in an abandoned mosque by cutting his wrists. The attempt failed – lack of water had caused Mauro’s blood to congeal the wound before the blood could escape his emaciated body. Nine days later he was found by a nomadic family and taken to an Algerian military camp. Mauro was nearly 200 miles off route.

Whether in the mountains, oceans or deserts for many adventurers the ultimate goal is to finish – at any cost. 

” I think that if you see me crawling I might be in trouble, but until then I think I’m okay.” Triathlete Felicia Wilkerson, competitor # 378, Marathon des Sables.

 





Asleep and protected from the desert heat and drunk predators, Donna finds refuge on a city  bus in  Las Vegas. She wears gold shoes with a white jump suit that is divided by a belt with sea  shells glued to it. Donna’s hair is resting on the top of her head with a gold comb parked in front. She has grown accustom of sleeping over the sound of the diesel engine, air brakes and the frequent stops. Her head rolls from side to side with every turn the bus makes as it travels the back streets of Las Vegas. At first glance, Donna looks as if she has been shopping but the plastic bags are full of clothing and personal hygiene items which props her up right to a vertical sleep. The bags are her only worldly possessions.

A black man sitting next to Donna stares out the window to the lights of the casinos and hotels. He clutches a paper bag. He has no rings on his fingers or a watch on his wrist. His attention is focused on the world outside the window. Here, they are both protected from the elements of Las Vegas and lost in their own world.

Seemingly unconscious of my presence there is a moment between silence and mid-note that my lens captures Randys silhouette. He rehearses, then pauses to contemplate a melodic and rhythmic pattern. He continues to rehearse filling the room with waves of invisible sentiment. To the ear its blues, cool, romantic and yet a feeling of expressing pensive sadness. The rehearsal room turns blue.

A tattered piece of napkin is fused to the formica table top creating a semi circle from where the glass syrup dispenser sat. Frank’s forearm is momentarily glued to the table.

Frank fishes for an ice cube from his water and begins to mop the sugary halo.

The sound of leather and metallic tapping off the chrome bass of the table escalates.  Frank’s restless legs syndrome telegraphs his anxiety. 

“Okay Frank, this is just between you and I…..okay?” 

He nods yes.

“What I understand is that you can’t stop it or shut it down, you can only strap yourself in and go for the ride, you are no longer in the drivers seat. I hate to tell you this, but your guardian angel is helpless and can only watch and maybe drop words of comfort and gently remind you in a sweet whisper that your fucked my friend. You texted me that It started with awareness that your pill box organizer is not lying. Not that the medication is gone or forgotten but each container labeled with each day of the week are still full. It’s just not the loss of time but the loss of days. Is that right Frank?”

Again Frank nods yes. His hand trembles while still holding the ice cube.

“Frank, there are no magic beans here that is going to cure you. It’s a sad affair my friend. What can I do now while you are still cognitive?”

Frank’s eyes wonder over to the woman cashier as the line of customers grows while waiting for a table. He avoids eye contact with me as the truth of his situation becomes a reality. 

Frank becomes aware that he is still holding the cube of water.

“Frank look at me, what can I do to help you?”

Franks eyes tears up. He clasps his hands so tight that his knuckles turn white. Frank doesn’t know whether to be angry or heartbroken. The tapping grows louder from underneath the table and suddenly stops. Franks face becomes blank and pale as his emotions fade away. Receding and lost in the chasm of his mind, his soul is swallowed by the bottomless abyss. Frank then disappears from our table.  

After a midnight shoot in Hollywood at The House of Blues, I packed my camera gear and headed back to my car that was parked two blocks away on Sunset Boulevard. A block away from my car I came upon the Saint of Sunset sitting on a small swatch of old red carpeting with his back resting against a chain link fence. As I approach he looked up and with bright eyes and a smile he said, “Good evening my friend.”
“And a good evening to you my friend and how is life treating you this fine evening?” I asked.
“Better now that you are here”, he said, “would you like a blessing?”
“yes indeed,” I replied.
Closing his eyes the Saint bowed his head whispering, “My friend and I are but actors in a theatre called earth, our stage is small but it is here where we rehears our play of life before the curtain closes. Blessings my friend.”

Have there been times that you find yourself in a muddy gray area that combines breathtaking views of the Twilight Zone with the morally ambiguous ambiance of being in limbo? Well, get out the Sage and smudge the hell out of your environment. This may or may not work for you. But at least you will feel proactive in getting yourself out of the muck of your existential crisis. This dread is when individuals question whether their lives have meaning, purpose, or value, and are negatively impacted by this contemplation. By no means do I listen to all the voices in my head. Some of those assholes have hidden agendas and they’re expert at disguising their motive… which is only to make me feel bad about myself.

Getting out of the doldrums requires putting some wind in your sails. What’s called for are challenges that shake things up. I seek pleasure during my stagnation by taking refuge in doing for others who are less fortunate than me. A trip to the Dollar Store and I’ll buy socks. I mean lots of socks. Maybe 50 pairs of socks, socks of all colors, dress socks, crew socks, leg warmer, knee-high socks, split-toe socks, nylon socks, cotton socks, whatever is available on the store shelf. Then drive to skid row and hand out the clean socks. Giving something tangible to another human being gets me out of my head. If karma is real, and I believe it is. Buddhists, especially if you fall in the category of Bodhisattvas then you know souls that have reached enlightenment but have foresworn Nirvana so that they might continue to be reincarnated and work to liberate all sentient being from suffering. In doing so I avoid taking a direct hit of slimy karma by changing in a very small way my immediate surroundings.  

One of my favorite movies of all times is One Night On Earth. It’s a cinematic dream of just how connected we are as a species and all the synchronicity that life flings at us. The movie is a collection of five stories involving cab drivers in five different cities from around the world. Which is a causal or persuasive link to my nocturnal behavior of getting out of bed, grabbing my camera and climb behind the steering wheel of my KIA and drive. I actually like driving late at night. When I say late, I don’t mean 10 PM, or even midnight – I mean like the witching hours from 2 am to sunrise. There is no other time of day where you can see typically the most congested street completely empty. It’s like being teleported as the last man on earth. A bat maneuvering in the dark, it uses a process called echolocation. Echolocation refers to the process of using echoes and sound waves to navigate around objects. For my excursion into the great Basin of Los Angeles, I too use echolocation in the form of music to tap into the auditory cortex of my brain and beyond to the “seat of the soul” the pineal gland. The music dictates when I should proceed straight ahead or turn left or right. Tonight’s soundtrack is “A Perfect Place” a Morricone-esque soundtrack by Mike Patton. Ready set go!  Among the endless metaphors for life, a road is perhaps one of the best. There’s times for speed, times for caution and times to stop. Ahead, the lights of a psychic storefront beckon me to take time to stop and enjoy the cold Pink’s hotdog I picked up earlier. This is A Perfect Place for my One Night On Earth. 

Chapter Six

Music is a safe kind of high – Jimi Hendrix

It’s not that I’m a snob about music but any world traveler will tell you that one of the most essential items in your rucksack is your music. My choice of tunes has become the soundtrack for many of my journeys, often saving my sanity. I can attest that there is nothing better then listening to your iPod on a transatlantic flight, it evokes a wonderful state of being that takes you away from the crying babies and exasperated mothers. Music has protected me from exasperation when Egyptian wedding parties have still been going strong at two o’clock in the morning, as well as helping me pass days (not hours) while once waiting for a flight out of Kabul.

              For me, Justin Bieber’s mindless pop just doesn’t lend itself to the experience of tearing across sun-bleached sands in the Sahara desert in a Toyota Land Cruiser. The Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’, however, does a terrific job and always sets the mood. I have collected CDs from souks, bazaars, back alley kiosks and hotel lobbies; I’d like to think that, as a result, my taste in music is eclectic. You’ll find Middle Eastern dance, Bollywood, Japanese pop, electronica, soul, rock, tango and Neapolitan ballads on my iPod. 

              Like a still image, a song can transport you back to a moment in time that has been forgotten: a cognitive process that scientists have tried to understand for a long time. For instance, during the wild fires of southern California in 2009 I had a very real flashback when Shakira’s song ‘Whenever, Wherever’ blared out from the radio while I was driving along the Glendale freeway. Combined with the sight of the burning hillside, the fumes of diesel and the ‘thump, thump, thumping’ of the helicopters overhead I was immediately transported back to the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

              I see music as a synthetic acid that enhances flashbacks of our memories. Scans of the brain have shown that when people listen to music, virtually every neuron becomes more active, which may explain how I’ve overcome a learning disability, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. Music forces me to focus, which keeps my ADD at bay. Growing up, my parents could never understand why I would play music when reading or studying; they’d just shout at me to turn the record player or radio off. 

              Once I sit down and play my music I fall into a Zen-like state; my brain slows down to a crawl so that I can concentrate. If it were not for music I would probably be selling used furniture in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

              In all societies – with the exception of just one, that I know of: the Taliban – music’s primary function is collective and communal, to bring and bind people together through singing and dancing, should their culture allow. Humans have been making music since those first cavemen’s campfires.

              In Kabul, Afghanistan, I spent an afternoon eating lunch that had been cooked on the sidewalk, in front of a carpet store on Chicken Street. The owner and his son stayed and had lunch with me so that they could practice their English. When Kabul was under Taliban control, paper bags, white socks, kite-flying and music were forbidden. This was serious oppression; for instance, possession of a paper bag constituted the death penalty. If they viewed that so severely, imagine what they’d have done if a flash mob broke out to Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ – the Taliban would have nuked all of Chicken Street.  

Flower Street, Kabul, Afghanistan

              To celebrate my host’s and his son’s newfound freedom we played ‘Jump Around’ by House of Pain on his chrome-trimmed ghetto blaster that he’d kept hidden from the Taliban. It must have been very amusing for the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) troops to see a couple of Afghans and one big white guy jumping to the beat of the music in front of the old carpet store. To this day, when I hear ‘Jump Around’ I can smell the pilaf cooking, feel the heat of the day and, in my mind’s eye, see the physical expression of freedom on the owner’s face and that of his son’s, as they danced with sheer joy. 

              Prior to a shoot in Egypt I listened to singer Amr Diab which gave me some insight into modern Egyptians’ taste and a clever way to win over friends. I phonetically learned Amr Diab’s hit ‘Nour El Ain – Habiby’. Arabic was not a language I grasped quickly; I know a few phrases like ‘tiizak hamra’: ‘Your ass is red’ (i.e. like a monkey’s); or ‘moxxu gazma’: ‘His mind is (as low and dirty as) a shoe’, a bitter insult. Still, I persevered and mimicked ‘Habiby’ before leaving the States.                                                                                                                                                              

              Once we landed in Cairo we immediately started shooting. On a production like that there’s not much time to build a friendly relationship with your Egyptian fixer, crew members or driver. Despite the language barrier, we were all very courteous to each other and worked together really well. On day four of the assignment, we were travelling from Cairo to Giza by van; Abubak, our driver, pulled a cassette tape from a black box that he was very protective of, because it contained his personal collection of music. I was in the back of the van as the Egyptian crew sat up front, smoking Cleopatra cigarettes. The intro began to ring out and I felt butterflies in my stomach. Amr Diab sang the first lyric. I stood-up (as much as I could in the van) and belted out, ‘Habibi ya nour el-ain, ya sakin khayali, a’ashek bakali sneen wala ghayrak bibali (translation: My darling, you are the glow in my eyes, you live in my imagination, I adored you for years, no one else is in my mind). I then sang the chorus: ‘Habibi, Habibi, Habibi ya nour el-ain’ (My darling, my darling, my darling glow in my eyes).                                           

              I swear to God, one of the crew member’s cigarette dropped out of his mouth, and I could also see in the rear view mirror Abubak’s eyes widen – he nearly rear-ended the Cairo taxi in front. There was a moment of shocked silence – this big white guy from California was singing one of their most popular songs. They began to clap in unison to the beat of the song; one by one they stood up and held their hands high, swaying their hips, as we all sang ‘Habibi, Habibi’. The remaining seven days of our shoot were flawless. Every evening we came together and smoked shisha, played dominos and learned curse words in each other’s language. At the end of the shoot, and before checking in for the flight back to the States, we all stood in the Cairo International Airport parking lot to say our goodbyes and so I could pass out their payment and traditional bonuses. I noticed Abubak walk from the cab of his van with something wrapped in newspaper. He presented me with a gift: my very own hookah and shisha.                                                                                                                                               Surrounded by the Egyptian crew, tears filled my eyes as I accepted their gracious offering. We’d become as close as brothers through our common love of music. As we said our goodbyes I couldn’t hold it in any longer and I openly sobbed as I hugged each of the big, burly, bearded men. They, too, began to weep as I walked away and boarded my flight.                              

              I missed out on securing a bulkhead seat in coach and found myself wedged in a middle seat at the back of the plane. The seat had only enough space for a tiny derriere, which I don’t have – I swear, my toilet seat back home in Burbank was bigger. My legs were cramped up against the gray folding tray hanging from the seat in-front of me that refused to stay up, which seems to happen on every overseas flight I take. I should file a report to Amnesty International that United Airlines commits acts of torture by kneecapping captive consumers. 

              The in-flight movie was one I’d seen before: a chick movie, ‘Sleepless in Seattle’. It was time to escape into my world. I settled myself as much as I could by placing a pillow between my knees and the seat in-front of me. With my earplugs in and my iPod tuned to my favorite artist, Natacha Atlas, I opened a dog-eared page of my book: The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda. Having lived in the Sonoran desert of the American southwest, and after working in the Sahara desert, I have an affinity with space, sand and time. As an anthropologist, Castaneda wrote that Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian and shaman, was an expert in the cultivation and use of various psychotropic plants, (specifically, magic mushrooms, angel’s trumpet and peyote) all found in the Mexican deserts. While under their influence, Castaneda reached a transcendental state. At cruising altitude, with the monotone whine of the jet engines and the murmurs of fellow passengers, Natacha’s song, ‘Ya Weledy (My Child)’ began and I hoped to gain similar escapism. The music then turned to an Arab symphony; in my mind a curtain rose and I played back the last few days with my Egyptian friends as Natacha sung: ‘Don’t forget your friends, don’t forget your friends. And those who think of you, and those who think of you, you don’t know what is in front of you. Don’t stray from the path.’                             

          My own hypnotic drug – my music – was starting to kick in and I felt serenity, wedged inside my seat miles from the ground, incarcerated in a metal box. The track changed to Anthony Newley’s ‘What kind of fool am I?’ and I had a vivid flashback of my friend, Ya’akov, whom I worked with in Israel as we searched for a money shot….

*****

The passenger window next to me was tinted yellow from years of exposure to cigarette smoke. Running down the middle of the window was a vertical crack in the shape of lightning; it was stuck halfway which allowed a blast of hot air to penetrate the cab, bringing with it familiar smells of diesel and earth. As the terrain charged by, I idly wondered which biblical figures had walked this ground, and which battles from the Old Testament had been fought there. But it was difficult to ponder such searching questions when my Israeli driver, Ya’akov’s, radio-cassette player screamed ‘What kind of fool am I?’

              With both hands on the wheel, and an ever-present Marlboro dangling from his lips, Ya’akov belted out the tune, over-enunciating each lyric. A man of small stature, Ya’akov was built like a brick house, with hands like baseball gloves and eyes blue and clear. 

              For some, pop music is considered to be the demise of civilization but for Ya’akov, it was a blessing. Ya’akov embraced western culture by teaching himself English from the Billboard’s Hot 100 music chart – it was the reason why he strained so hard to pronounce each lyric. Although his accent was definitely Israeli, it switched to a bad Elvis impersonation when he cursed aloud, such as when the undercarriage of his truck scraped the limestone rocks in the road. He also had difficulty with slang, such as when we referred to the ‘walkie talkies’ we used on location. He called them ‘okie dokies’. So used to his description, I still find myself calling them ‘okie dokies’ even now. 

              Ya’akov relayed his military service history during our trip. He was a veteran of the Six-Day War and witnessed Israel’s history from the front lines. He added that the Beatles released ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ only days before the battle. He especially liked ‘When I’m 64’. 

              It was May 1967 when the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, expelled the United Nations’ Emergency Force from the Sinai Peninsula, including the Suez Canal. Egypt subsequently blockaded Israel’s southern ports of Eilat and the Gulf of Aqaba, preventing shipments of Israel’s oil imports. Nasser also had a strategic alliance with Jordan and Syria, with additional military support from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Egypt had amassed a thousand tanks and nearly a hundred-thousand soldiers on the Israeli border. On June 5, 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack against Egypt. Ariel Sharon commanded the most powerful armored division on the Sinai front, which Ya’akov’s unit was part of. Ya’akov, a machine-gunner, fought in that battle, but not before his unit was held back due to landmines and Egyptian tanks. I can only imagine that while he waited for the orders to move out, Ya’akov was drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and hoping to make it to 64.

              General Sharon broke away from his plan of attack and ordered his troops to follow a camel path through the sand dunes, thus avoiding thousands of landmines and with the intention of surprising the Egyptians. Ya’akov was happy to have just survived the war. He now drove film crews around Israel and sold cartons of Marlboros to the Bedouins. 

              We were on an old dirt road, somewhere off Highway 79, near Nazareth. Ya’akov maneuvered around bombshell-size potholes; his truck, filled with our camera gear, swayed almost rhythmically to the cassette player. The goal was to find an appropriate filming location in the Israeli outback, one without power lines or any evidence of the twenty-first century. I let my driver – and serendipity – find the money shot. 

              The first time ‘happy chance’ occurred was when I shot a documentary about the Dead Sea Scrolls. We’d traveled to the cave in Qumran where the scrolls were found by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947. With that segment of the documentary done, and with no further obligations, I put my headphones on and succumbed to Esquivel (which is great travel music). I let fate and inevitability take us down unmarked dirt roads. Hidden away were miles of beautiful, sweeping terrain, perfect for shooting stills and B-roll for the documentary. Since that shoot it has become a ritual to wander aimlessly about our location.

              True to this tradition, Ya’akov found a spot and pulled over. He got out a small backpack stove and proceeded to make us coffee. We sat on the back tailgate, smoking cigarettes and stirring our thick, black coffee.

              ‘Ya’akov,’ I said.

              ‘Yes, David?’

              ‘How about another song?’ 

              Without blinking, Ya’akov bellowed, ‘In-a-gadda-da-vida, honey, don’t you know that I love you? In-a-gadda-da-vida, baby, don’t you know that I’ll always be true?’

              As he stood in the middle of the old dirt road in the outback of Israel, Ya’akov mimicked playing a Vox organ in D-minor while belting out his tune. ‘Jesus,’ I thought, as I recognized the melody by Iron Butterfly. And then it hit me: the song came out in May of ‘68, right after the dust settled from the Six Day War – around the time Ya’akov started learning English. 

              As the sun set and Ya’akov rolled out the hits, there was nowhere I would rather have been. I shouted out, ‘Hey, Ya’akov…hand me your okie dokie. I’ll charge it for you.’

Chapter Five

I was in seat number 33E, center aisle, in coach. Brown and yellow stains covered my seat and the tray table hung from a hinge so damaged that I had to prop it up with my left knee. I tried not to make eye contact with a frustrated mother who was stood in the aisle with her crying baby – her submissive husband in standby mode with the baby’s formula bottle in one hand and a clean diaper in the other. The poor man exemplified Henry David Thoreau’s quote: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. A renegade four-year-old weaved through the cabin and ‘tagged’ an elderly Hasidic man who was praying next to the emergency exit. I just prayed that my iPod wouldn’t die and that the Ambien would soon kick in.

              Our flight from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv was a long sixteen hours. My in-flight entertainment was watching a live performance of Jewish cultural and family dynamics. There was some English spoken on the plane but mostly, a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish filled the stuffy air. The guy on my right was reading The Jewish Daily Forward newspaper and drinking a Sprite. To my left, and fast asleep, was a Teletubby of a man, whose yarmulke had slipped down to his forehead and who, on occasion, snorted like a hog. On my iPod, my Natacha Atlas remix played. Eventually, I entered the ‘twilight zone’ when the Ambien finally took effect.                             

                  As we approached Jerusalem on Highway One from Tel Aviv we could see the city lights reflecting off low-lying clouds. The first time I’d set eyes on Jerusalem was several years previously: it had been a clear night under a full May moon. The limestone walls of the Old City had been awash with blue moonlight and the air had been completely still, and uncomfortably humid. Klezmer music played on the car radio, which seemed appropriate as the streets pulsated with trucks, cars, city buses and pedestrians dodging traffic. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry with their cell phones attached to their ears. 

On this visit, however, there was no moon. Jerusalem was quiet and room service was closed. I lay on the bed munching a Balance bar, stretching my legs and back when the peaceful night vanished with the screech of tires and a ‘Whoosh!’

Below my balcony, on Aharon Katsir Street, a van was on fire. I grabbed my Nikon and got a few shots of the van just as one of the back tires exploded from the heat of the fire. In the distance I could hear sirens as I watched the driver run and disappear into the night.

                  What if the van’s full of explosives and I’ve just watched the driver run away? The Hyatt Regency is full of tourists and here I am, on the balcony, shooting stills – the only thing left of me will be ash, meat and a Nikon F3T!

              But that train of thought wouldn’t lead to the money shot, so I kept shooting until I heard chatter from a walkie-talkie above me, on the roof. 

              Looking up, I could make out the silhouette of an armed guard and the barrel of his Uzi submachine gun. He was dressed like a Ninja, all in black, and wore a balaclava. His conversation was in Hebrew but there was no alarm in the Ninja’s voice. The Israeli fire department arrived, as did the police. They were in the process of putting out the van’s fire when the potential terrorist returned to the scene, showing the police his driver’s license and some papers.       

              When I share this story of the would-be Jihadist and the van on fire, people often ask me, ‘Aren’t you afraid when you go to Israel or the Middle East?’ 

              ‘I’m always very comfortable in Israel,’ I reply. ‘Besides, everyone carries a gun. But what does it say about your faith if you’re afraid to go where Jesus walked?’ Without a beat, I continue, ‘Quite honestly, I’m more fearful of going into a 7-Eleven in L.A. at midnight and getting shot, than I am about getting blown up in the Middle East.’

               The fire of the van had been extinguished so the Israeli fire department left with the police. I watched the driver of the van hail a cab; the show over, I jumped in the shower before falling into a deep sleep. 

              I woke to the loud chirping of sparrows. The morning sun presented a new day as I walked out onto the balcony to greet it. Below me, the blackened shell of the van sat desolately. I looked beyond its charred skeleton to the Old City of Jerusalem, surrounded by its stone walls and the Damascus and Jaffa Gates. It was hard to imagine that within those walls so much bloodshed had taken place, given that it spanned only 220 acres. Jerusalem, for me, was the Disneyland of the world’s most sacred sites: the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock. In spite of the many solar panels, satellite dishes and electrical wires cluttering up my eye-line, I could still imagine what the Old City of Jerusalem looked like five hundred years ago.

              Our plan was to start filming at the Christian Quarter’s entrance of the Jaffa Gate, on the west side of the Old City. We would then shoot still images and slices of life throughout the Jewish Quarter before finally moving on to the Muslim Quarter. At that point, we planned to double back and follow the Fourteen Stations of the Cross of the Via Dolorosa, which would lead us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter. The end of the day would be spent in the Armenian Quarter. With that in mind, I grabbed the Betacam, my Nikon camera, Sony Discman and a day-pack full of camera batteries and tapes, before heading out. 

              Jerusalem is a rich source of content for television news pieces and documentaries, as part of secular or religious programming – both of which keep me employed. The entire country of Israel is a treasure trove of archeological digs, ancient tombs, artifacts, current affairs and war.           Standing at the Jaffa Gate, I watched a young American man preparing to perform and sing at the entrance to the Old City. He had a small consumer camera on a tripod and a silver, portable radio-cassette player. His blonde hair was coiffured within an inch of its life and didn’t move even when the breeze picked up. He was wearing a light blue polo shirt, khaki pants and penny loafers: the unofficial ‘uniform’ of most young evangelical Christian men in America. He held a microphone that wasn’t connected to anything and asked a fellow tourist if they would hit ‘record’ on his camera and ‘play’ on his cassette recorder. As a disco beat rang out, the young man raised a clenched fist, his index finger pointed to the heavens; with his fake microphone in the other hand he began lip-syncing to the music. ‘We were lost sheep in a dark, dark valley. Lost, lost, lost.’

              During the chorus he danced. ‘He’s obviously not a Southern Baptist,’ I thought, recalling the old joke: ‘Do you know why Southern Baptists don’t believe in sex? Because it may lead them to dancing…..’

              As the music built in tempo he was completely absorbed, twirling and bouncing around like Zebedee. Behind him, an old Palestinian man in a gray suit who’d been watching began mimicking the dancing Christian, nearly tripping over his own feet. Standing to the right of the Jaffa Gate, three young, female Israeli soldiers smoked cigarettes and giggled at the impromptu performance. Tourists stopped to take photographs before continuing their pilgrimage into the Holy City. The Palestinian circled the young Christian – now aware of his new backing dancer – upstaging his performance. Jockeying for pole position, the old man moved towards the camera. The young Christian tried to put his arm around his waist but the old man wasn’t having any of it. He pulled away, and when only inches from the lens of the camera, he shouted: ‘God is great! I love America! I love hamburgers!’

              Upset, the young American stopped his performance. With his arms at his side he watched the old man praise America as the music played on. The Israeli soldiers, having enjoyed their unscripted reality show, turned towards the city to start their patrol. I tagged along behind them, past the Tower of David and into the Jewish Quarter. 

              Before entering the quarter I put on my Discman’s headphones and listened to my music which cut out external noise and distractions, thus helping me to focus on the rhythm of life inside the ancient walls. It’s amazing what you see when you’re immersed in music; it’s like your senses are heightened to compensate for the workout your ears receive. Sights and smells are more vivid and the trance-like calm I felt delivered a lucidity I couldn’t tap in to when people’s shouts and blaring car horns drilled into my skull.

              Track one, Jethro Tull’s ‘Living in the past’; ‘How appropriate,’ I thought, as I entered the bleached limestone homes and shops of the Jewish Quarter. It was spotlessly clean with pretty flower boxes and blue-and-white Israeli flags. Orthodox men wore black hats and coats; they rushed around as young Israeli soldiers stood sentry at every corner. Entering the vast space of the Western Wall Plaza, men prayed to the left while women prayed to the right of the huge stone structure, the retaining wall of the Dome of the Rock. A large group of American Christian pilgrims were stood in the middle of the plaza photographing each other with the Western Wall behind them. As they waved into the camera, Jewish men dodged and ducked around the group, covering their faces so that they weren’t also photographed. I heard one of the Christian women ask her tour guide, ‘Where can I get an iced tea, dear?’

I passed a contingent of Israeli soldiers at the entrance to the Muslim Quarter. Unlike the sterile antiseptic Jewish Quarter, the aroma of grilled onions, spices and garbage filled the narrow stone walkway. Vibrant, noisy, crowded and intriguing, the Muslim Quarter is the poorest neighborhood of the four quarters. Darkened from age and smog, the limestone walls were covered in green, red and blue graffiti. I stopped to film children playing in the ancient streets and spotted an old man sitting on some alley steps, counting the ninety-nine names of Allah with his prayer beads. A young coffee vendor approached, wearing a Manchester United football jersey. He offered me a shot glass full of coffee which I accepted. ‘Shukran,’ I said.

‘Afwan,’ he replied. ‘Would you like to sit down?’

‘I would love to, but I’ve work to do. May I come back and join you for coffee?’

‘Of course, of course, my friend,’ he said.

At that moment, one of many self-appointed Palestinian tour guides in Jerusalem interrupted our conversation. ‘Mr. TV, you need me to get you in the Dome of the Rock. I know people. No problem, no problem. Come, it’s easy, Mr. TV.’

In Arabic, the young vendor started scolding the tour guide for his intrusion; their voices rose and spit flew through the air. Caught off guard, I stepped back as the veins in the tour guide’s neck began to enlarge. 

Shit! I should be filming this.

I brought the Betacam to my shoulder, but the argument was done. The tour guide stormed off but not before he’d jabbed his finger at me and shouted, ‘May your children cheat you!’

I continued my hunt for the money shot through the ancient labyrinthine streets and alleys, amongst Jews, Christians and Arabs wearing variations of their traditional dress. Although I was surprised, others appeared unperturbed as a Christian pilgrim passed, wearing shorts and carrying a seven foot wooden cross with a wheel attached to its base. Two nuns shopped for pastries and four Muslim women pointed at a shop window, discussing which of the mannequins’ hijabs they preferred. The volume of banter from the local merchants as shoppers haggled only added to the bustling atmosphere, the smell of deep fried falafel deeply ingrained. Symbolic of a country with bipolar disorder, one nearby kiosk sold the CDs of American, European and Arab artists along with T-shirts bearing the Israeli air force emblems and prints such as ‘Free Palestine!’, Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, images of Yasser Arafat and Che Guevara. 

              ‘Mr. Mr….my friend, you come into my shop, please? Are you an American?’

        In my best Barry White voice, I replied, ‘No, no, I’m Klingon.’          

              ‘Oh, that’s okay. I take that money too.’

        The Muslim Quarter overflowed with pure capitalism. I continued through the souks, occasionally stopping on Via Dolorosa, shooting video and still images of Christian pilgrims, IDG (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers and Muslims on their way to prayer. At Station Three, I found a multitude of Korean pilgrims with point-and-shoot cameras, all wearing the same bright yellow hats. They followed a guide waving a bright yellow flag as he spoke through a mini bullhorn. I swear I saw the same group of Korean pilgrims in Rome two months before. Those yellow-hat-wearing pilgrims – and the group of red-hat-wearing Italian pilgrims right behind them – were on a very tight schedule.  I decided to wait them out at a nearby sidewalk café and enjoy a cup of tea, a ‘kanafeh’ and a smoke. As the mass of pilgrims finally passed, I noticed a tourist on the corner babbling prophecies with tears in his eyes. This wasn’t an unusual sight in Old Jerusalem: devout Christian pilgrims got quite emotional when walking in the footsteps of Jesus. 

              The ones you’ve to watch are the seemingly normal Christian pilgrims who suddenly become ‘inspired’. They shed their normal clothes and transform into biblical characters, garbed in nothing more than a toga made from their hotel’s bed sheets. We call this ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’ and I wondered which of the biblical prophets the man opposite would become. Usually, it’s Moses, John the Baptist or Jesus Christ himself. 

        I’ve yet to find the woman who truly thinks she’s the Virgin Mary. It’s said that she walks the Via Dolorosa every day to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to sob at the altar of Golgotha, mourning the death of her son, Jesus. She may sound far removed from reality but there is another ‘Virgin Mary’ – she invited everyone to her son, Jesus’, birthday party in Bethlehem.            

              There’s a joke in psychiatry that if you talk to God, it’s called prayer, but if God talks to you, you’re nuts. There seemed a disproportionate number of those who contracted Jerusalem Syndrome that were American Evangelical Christians, though there have been reports of deeply religious Jews – and, in rare cases, Catholics – also contracting this strange affliction. Peak seasons are Easter, Passover and Christmas. 

              Over the years, Israeli police have come across multiple biblical characters running around in bed sheets and even goatskins, proselytizing to the citizens of Jerusalem. Tour guides are asked by the Jerusalem authorities to watch for these symptoms: agitation, singing/shouting verses from the Bible and/or religious songs, marching to holy sites, delivering sermons in a holy place and urging people towards a better life. People who fall behind the group and who want to go off alone are observed carefully because once they get to the ‘bed-sheet-toga’ stage, there’s no stopping them.                                                                                                     

             After the mass of Korean pilgrims moved on, and before the Italians moved in, I grabbed the cameras and continued walking the Via Dolorosa. A metal medallion hung next to patched-up bullet-holes bearing a Roman numeral; these indicated the historical events at each location, of Christ’s walk to Golgotha.                   

              The church belonged to five different Christian groups: the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics (Franciscans), Armenians, Coptics, and Ethiopians. This makes for complicated arrangements; disputes are common, particularly over who has the authority to carry out repairs. There’s a wooden ladder on a ledge just above the main entrance that’s been left there since the nineteenth century, because no one can agree who has the right to take it down. It’s not unusual to see fights between monks from different sects in the Sepulchre. Passions run high, particularly on important holy days. All it takes is a monk in the wrong place at the wrong time in a religious procession and it’s SmackDown. Fists fly, holy water’s thrown, beards pulled and even candlesticks used to ram groups of opposing monks. 

              The Jerusalem police had enough on, patrolling the bed sheet prophets without keeping the peace at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A bit disappointed that there was no rumble between rival gangs of monks, I left the Holy Sepulchre and made a mad dash to the Mount of Olives, east of the city. This, potentially, was my last shot of the day and my first sit-down meal was patiently waiting for me. The Mount of Olives was the perfect location to shoot a setting sun over Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock, the Golden Gate and Lions Gate in the foreground. Sunset and sunrise both made great shots which meant my days were long. With copious amount of coffee and snacks to keep my sugar level high, I averaged a sixteen-hour day. As the sun packed up and left, dusk turned to night and jewels of light gave Jerusalem softness from its harsh reality. Maybe it would see a better day tomorrow.  In spite of war, terrorism and the recent ‘intifada’, Jerusalem remained a devotedly holy place for the world to visit. As I left the Mount of Olives, I had to pass Bar-Ilan Street which could prove to be a harrowing experience, especially at night. 

              Ultra-orthodox Jews gathered on Bar-Ilan Street, a main Jerusalem thoroughfare, to protest about driving on the Sabbath. They threw rocks at passing cars and trashed restaurants with non-kosher food; they slashed tires and set trashcans on fire. Proudly burning the Israeli flag, they also committed acts of violence on women they didn’t consider to be modestly dressed – all in an effort to influence how the secular Jews of Israel should live their lives. The Jerusalem police resorted to riot gear, club-swinging and water cannons to keep Bar-Ilan open. The ultra-Orthodox had an unlikely ally in their fight for religious observance in Walter Sobchak, the Polish-Catholic convert to Judaism from the Coen brother’s cult movie, The Big Lebowski. In the bowling alley scene, Walter explained why he couldn’t compete in league-sponsored bowling tournaments during the Jewish Sabbath. ‘It’s Shomer Shabbos. I don’t roll on Shabbos. Saturday,’ he yelled, ‘is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work, I don’t get in a car, I don’t fucking ride in a car, I don’t pick up the phone, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as fucking don’t fucking roll!             ‘I don’t roll on Shabbos!’ adorned T-shirts alongside Walter’s image cocking a 9mm Glock: it was on cups, aprons, posters, mouse pads, caps, bumper stickers, hoodies, dog tags, and even babies’ bodysuits. We approached the Orthodox neighborhood in a convoy of Israeli traffic. I could smell smoke; all I saw were trashcans with yellow flames vaulting upwards and men dressed in black standing about. No stones were thrown, there were no blockades, just singing and shouting as we left their civil war against secularism. We drove by Kfar Shaul Psychiatric Hospital, for tourists with Jerusalem Syndrome, and turned northwest of the city, past olive groves, crops of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. Off Highway One was the village of Neve Ilan and the Elvis Inn. We were greeted by a five-meter tall golden statue of Elvis Presley. Inside were more life-sized monuments scattered in various poses, such as Elvis sitting at a table, strumming a guitar. The jukebox played his greatest hits on loop and even the napkins bore his image. The walls were carpeted with Elvis photos, movie posters, magazine covers, concert tickets, postage stamps and license plates.                                                                                                 

              A short, portly man stood at the souvenir counter waiting to buy a kitschy keepsake. He had greaser sleeves (extreme sideburns) and wore a white polyester jumpsuit with rhinestone shoulders; round his pot-belly was a crudely embroidered American eagle belt. He also had Elvis’ trademark gold-framed sunglasses. I felt I’d discovered a new psychiatric condition: Elvis Syndrome. I saw that another Elvis statue was sat across from me, staring me down as my spicy burger, (kosher beef, of course) French fries and Coca Cola were set down. ‘Thank ‘ya very much,’ I said to the waitress, giving her my best Elvis impression.                                                          

              ‘You don’t think I hear that every day?’ she scowled. 

              ‘Must be the end of her shift,’ I thought.                       

              The jukebox played Elvis’ ‘Viva Las Vegas’ as the front doors swung open and two truck drivers walked in, laughing and discussing something in Hebrew. The Elvis impersonator walked away from the souvenir counter, past the two men who barely noticed his get-up. There was shouting from the kitchen and the wonderful fragrance of fried food filled the restaurant. As I watched a young couple point and stare, open-mouthed, at the multitude of Elvis photographs on the wall, I ordered another Coke. It was the end of another perfect day, and as Elvis’ voice sang from the jukebox: ‘Bright light city gonna set my soul. Gonna set my soul on fire,’ I couldn’t have agreed more.

 

It’s a beautiful enigmatic harmony which captivates a moment of intimacy between the sexes. There is no explanation worthy of this mysterious hook up. One must experience it in order to fully understand it. It’s a non hallucinatory trip of the light fantastic with nanoseconds of movements that are fleeting moments that are irreplaceable and then dissipates on the ballroom floor. It’s an agreement in harmony as souls are required to leaning into one another with full commitment between flesh and bone. There is an element of proneness as passion engulfs the psyche of both spirits. Of course I am writing about the Argentine Tango. Why?  Because it retains the intimacy of the original dance of the early 1900’s. Sure there are other different styles of tango, but the Argentine Tango  emphasizes the exchange of energy through physical connection and lustfulness between the dancers. It also represents the elaborate courtship ceremony dance of the wild, it can be raw, elegant and elaborate interaction played out since the beginning of time. It is an essential aspect of all living species, it is life.  

It came as no surprise, I knew what I was doing, it was caculated on my part and now I will live with my decision made so long ago. What I wasn’t prepared for was the awakening of becomeing a burden. Maybe that is why the word “liability” is stuck in my crawl. I have become a liability in my old age. With body parts not functioning as well as I would like. I’m now on a regiment of blood thinning medication, Horney Goat Weed and vitamins with the realization that reality of my situation is real. Isolation seems to be the best option at this time in my life. I’ve deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts because I just don’t fit into todays social media. I’m the original analog man in a digital world. That maybe why I live in the mountains in a small cabin surrounded with framed accomplishments and a formal life of adventure. I have pull away from having a serious relationship with women as I cannot bear the thought of burdening them with my deterioration….I’m not looking for a nurse with a purse. The one thing I have not lost is my independents and the day I lose that is my exit day. Even in my youth, Henry David Thoreau’s most frequently quoted sayings “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” resonated with me. I fought every temptation to live a 9 to 5 life and unceasing scuffles with uncertainty, hesitation and unsureness. – I just wouldn’t have it. I came to the conclusion, that doubt consumes the spirit and without risk our destiny is ultimately written by others. I am the author of my life. 

Quotes by me to live by after decades of adventures:

“Don’t wear paper underwear in the Sahara Desert.”

“Being driven protects you from fear because it keeps you moving forward.”

“It’s never been a question of what am I doing here?’ but more about ‘how could I have been in a better spot when it happened?”

“I’m not an adrenaline junkie, I had the opportunity and respondsiblity to record history.” 

“I realized that the camera doesn’t keep me immune from reality but that it will eventually bite me in the ass, I just don’t know when.” 

To Whom It May Concern, Unapologetically, I publicly announce my love to my wearer….Dave. We are hard-wearing and tightly weaved in this life. Pay no attention to the transcending of receding cotton threads, or the lack of blue contours that have lost their constitutional condition. So don’t abandon me now Dave, for I too have toiled with you my friend. We have been down many roads and have collected many rips, bruises, soil and stains. Our souls are made of denim, I am your faithful indigo friend. 

Music is a safe kind of high -Jimi Hendrix

It’s not that I am a snob about music but any world traveler will tell you that one of the most essential item in your rucksack is your music. My choice of tunes has become the soundtrack for many of my journey and it has saved my sanity. I can attest that there is nothing better then listening to your iPhone under the influence of Ambien on a trans-Atlantic flight. It is a wonderful hypnotic chemical that takes you away from the crying babies and exasperated mothers on El Al Airlines (not the Ambien, the song). The music has isolated me from Egyptian wedding parties at two o’clock in the morning as well as helping me pass days (not hours) while waiting for a flight out of Kabul.

For me, Justin Bieber just doesn’t round out the experience of tearing across the sun bleached sands of the Sahara Desert in a Toyota Land Cruiser – although, the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” does a terrific job in setting the mood. I have collected CD’s from souks, bazaars, back alley kiosks and hotel lobbies. I’d like to think that my taste in music is eclectic; you can find Middle Eastern Dance, Bollywood, Japanese Pop, Electronica, Soul, Rock, Tango and Neapolitan ballads on my iPhone proving that I am in constant search for my own personal soundtrack. 

Like a still image, a song can transport you back to a moment in time that has been forgotten. For instance, during the wild fires of Southern California in 2009 I had a very real flashback when Shakira’s song; “Whenever, Wherever” blared out from the radio while driving on the Glendale Freeway. The smell of a burning hillside mixed with fumes of diesel, the thump, thump, thumping of the helicopters overhead transported me immediately back to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Music is sort of a synthetic acid, which enhances flashbacks of one’s own memories. Scans of the brain show that when people listen to music, virtually every area of their brain becomes more active. Which may explain why I have overcome a learning disability with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. 

Strange as it may seem, when I listen to music as I am doing right now, it forces me to focus and keeps my ADD at bay. Growing up, my parents could never understand why I would play music when reading or studying. They would just shout at me to turn the record player or radio off. But, instinctively I need this learning aid to focus – go figure! Music helps me concentrate. Once I sit down, play my music I fall into a Zen like zone and my brain slows down to a crawl so that I can concentrate. If it were not for music and the computer I would probably be selling used furniture in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

It is the weighty force that pulls at the body to the center of our planet, and for any other substantial mass there is no escape. But, with a degree of intensity in acceleration, liberation is possible from the slavery of this invisible force we called gravity. Breaking free is a flight risk, a temporary moment to fill the empty space, it becomes a grudge against gravity. For some it becomes a spiritual phenomenon, a vaccine against quantum mechanics and society. As this exploit loses energy, and with the friction of air resistance the complexities of reality drop you like a stone. It was a courageous moment but there is a conspiracy at work by the natural Laws of the Universe. As J.B. Smoove has put it so eloquently, “You know how you put peanut butter on a piece of bread and the bread falls – it never falls on the bread side down, it always falls peanut butter side down. That’s because of gravity.”

A continuation from This is Life in the City of Angels: When You Can’t Get Published, Fuck It, Give It Away!

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‘Scenes of rape in the arroyo, seduction in cars, abandoned buildings, fights at the food stand; the dust, the shoes, open shirts and raised collars, bright sculptured hair’

~ Latino Chrome lyrics by Jim Morrison, The Doors

Prologue

On April 29, 1992, twelve jurors in Simi Valley, California, delivered their verdicts in a controversial case involving the 1991 beating of Rodney King by four LAPD officers. The case received international attention when grainy footage of the officers’ attack on King was televised and it became a national scandal. The beating would never have been seen had it not been for George Holliday, who grabbed his video camera and stepped onto his balcony when he was awoken by sirens.

The verdict was read: all four officers were acquitted of excessive force and cleared of all charges. Due to the extensive media coverage, the public received immediate news of the verdict. Reaction in Los Angeles was swift as people began venting their anger. L.A. became a scene from a war movie, albeit one far from the facade of a studio.

The following night I picked up an assignment for CBS news to cover film director Spike Lee’s speaking engagement at the University of California in Irvine. The timing was ironic; following the King beating and the LAPD officers’ verdict, it was day two of the rioting. Spike was to talk about his new film ‘Malcolm X’. Irvine is about 45 miles south of Los Angeles, in the county famed for its oranges. Spike never made it; the announcement was made in the UC auditorium that, as a result of an upsurge in violence in L.A. and due to an exodus of traffic causing congestion on the freeways, Mr. Lee was unable to attend his engagement.

I’d taken the precaution of renting an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera; my 1978 Volkswagen Bus just didn’t have the speed or the protection for riding around the city of Los Angeles under such challenging circumstances and against brutal violence.

I packed up the camera and rushed back to L.A., heading north on the 405 freeway. It had been closed and was therefore free of traffic by the time I neared Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). With no police scanner to monitor the situation, I listened to KFWB news radio for leads, following police vehicles, helicopters and fire trucks that may have led me to riot hotspots. From their reports, I deduced that the worst fires and looting were taking place in central Los Angeles. At the interchange I took the on-ramp to the Santa Monica freeway that sits high above the ground on concrete columns. This gave me a spectacular view of L.A.’s cityscape – it stretched out before me, hundreds of dark gray smoky plumes spiraling upwards to meet the black sky. I could smell the distinctive stench of burning asphalt shingles, wood and rubber. Jesus! It’s Beirut L.A.

Lingering in the night, like a string of Christmas tree lights, were several police and news helicopters, their distinctive red and green pulsing taillights circling where civil unrest seemed to be worst. Known on the streets as Ghetto Birds, the LAPD helicopters sliced the darkness with their powerful searchlights on fixed points of unrestrained violence as media helicopters converged, scavenging on the carcass of a ravaged city. Above the helicopters were processions of commercial airliners with white lights making their final approach to land at LAX; the passengers looking down below were witnesses to a city gone mad.

Speeding along at 144 k.p.h, towards central L.A., I passed a huge house fire. ‘There’s a man on that roof!’ I shouted to anyone listening. I braked, leaving skid-marks and burnt rubber on the freeway, shifted into reverse and backed up to a suitable point to evaluate the scene. The silhouette of a man with a garden hose looked cartoonish against a wall of yellowy-orange flames. The sound of wood beams splitting from the heat of the fire rang in my ears. I grabbed my camera and rolled the tape, capturing the man as he moved back and forth, dousing the roof with water. I was eighty feet away, but I could still feel the heat as the building cooked.

Mesmerized by what looked like a wasted effort on the man’s part, his hose spraying out little attack towards the ferocity of the fire, I was unnerved by the sound of something whizzing past my ear. I heard the air split wide open as the hissing of a bullet passed by, followed by the sharp cracks of gunshots. I reacted automatically, panning the camera over to where the sounds were originating from when another shot was fired. Shouting began and a car peeled out onto the street below me.  I had no idea if I was the target but I managed to get it on tape. I continued shooting film throughout the night, and it was only when I was filming a mass arrest of looters at a Von grocery store that a voice from behind me reminded me of my vulnerability.

‘You better watch out, cameraman.’

I paused. I didn’t want to press my luck so I packed up and drove to CBS Television City in the Fairfax District and licensed my footage to CBS news. The Oldsmobile, I returned without any damage.

April 30, 1992: President George W. Bush announced that he’d ordered the Department of Justice to investigate the possibility of filing charges against the LAPD officers, for violating the federal civil rights of Rodney King.

August 4, 1992: A federal grand jury returned indictments against Sergeant Stacey Koon and Officer Laurence Powell, both guilty of violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights, with an additional count against Sergeant Koon of willfully permitting the other officers to beat King.

Nearly six months later, on February 25 1993, the trial began in the courtroom of Judge Davies, on the charge of violating the civil rights of Rodney King.

April Fools Day, 1993: Expecting that history would most likely repeat itself, all local, national and international news outlets were gearing up to cover L.A.’s reaction to the verdict. I had been inundated by phone calls from news organizations to cover the event from the end of March. The booking I took was with the A.D. Production Company, the producers of the American Detective show that aired on ABC Network. I was on and off the phone throughout the morning with Mark, who’d produced the riot segment for American Detective.

‘Dave? This is Mark. We’re expecting a verdict soon on the King beating. If the cops are found not guilty there’ll be another riot. If they’re found guilty there may still be a riot. What’s your standby rate if a riot doesn’t happen right away? And do you have a gyro-zoom lens for the helicopter shots?’

Even though we’ve worked together for years, the business of booking has to be clear with very little negotiation; it is pay or play. For my services and for my camera, lighting package and audio gear, it runs to seven hundred dollars a day.

‘Well, Mark,’ I explained, ‘I’ll hold off until another job comes down. There’s no standby rate on my camera package, and yes, I have a gyro-zoom lens.”

There was a pause from Mark. I could hear talking in the background; I must have been on speakerphone.

Mark returned to our conversation. ‘Okay, okay. You’ll be positioned in the Special Enforcement Bureau command center of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, in south-central L.A. You’ve also been given clearance to ride along in their helicopter.’

In my experience, I’ve always found it best not to get too excited about a standby gig, since most inevitably go away on the same day the production companies hire you. This led to the question: ‘Do you want me to ink the date in my diary or shall I use pencil?’

Mark replied, ‘Pencil. By the way, we’ve also hired you a bodyguard for if we reassign you to the streets. If that’s the case, your bodyguard is on the SWAT team of the San Jose Police Department. Oh, and do you have a sun gun light for your camera?’ Mark asked.

Taking notes, I replied, ‘It’s been my experience that a light on a camera makes for a good target.’

‘Oh, good thinking. Okay, we’ll see you on the 12th of April, Monday morning, at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Commerce. We’ll also rent a bulletproof car, if we reassign you.’

‘How much is that going to cost you?’ I said.

‘A thousand dollars a day.’

I wasn’t surprised – you can rent anything in Hollywood. I called Bexel, the largest vendor of broadcast equipment in the country, to sublease some extra wireless microphones, a gyro-zoom lens and a wide-angle adaptor. I got hold of my friend, John Badovinac, who handled my rental account. ‘JB, this is Dave. Do you have…’ Before I could finish my sentence, John interrupted me.

‘Sorry, Dave, CBS has ten cameras and two gyro-zoom lenses and ABC has just rented what was left on the shelves.’

‘What? This is crazy. This is really crazy!’

‘We’ve rented out everything that has a lens. The networks and local stations are treating this trial as if it was the ‘84 Olympics.’

April 16, 1993: The federal jury convicted Koon and Powell on one charge of violating King’s civil rights. Sergeant Koon and Officer Powell received two and half years in prison. Officer Tony Briseno and Timothy Wind were found not guilty.

April 17, 1993: It was Saturday, 2:30 a.m. I was fully clothed and laid in bed, watching the re-edited version of Dune on television. I munched on another peanut butter Girl Scout cookie and sipped black coffee that was loaded with tons of sugar. I was in a hotel room at the Wyndham Garden Hotel, along with off-duty San Jose detectives and one ex-navy Seal, all of whom had been hired and assigned to me as bodyguards. They were armed to the teeth; the Seal was to drive our rented bulletproof Crown Victoria. Our team had been issued with flak jackets, Kevlar helmets, pepper spray and Israeli gas masks. Ironically, the instructions for the gas masks were in Hebrew which none of us could read.

LA #1A

Though I wasn’t upfront and close to the L.A. riots of 1992, I now had an official backstage pass to the ‘L.A Riots -1993 Tour’.

The decision was made to embed me within the Special Enforcements Bureau instead of a helicopter, in a platoon made up of thirty-six deputy sheriffs. We were to travel in sixteen marked patrol cars and one armored hostage rescue vehicle.

3:15 a.m.: The call came in to prep the gear, check out and travel to a new location. Dammit! Dune isn’t over and I’m going to miss the best part – where the giant sandworms appear to destroy the Harvesters mining on planet Arrakis!

In the hotel lobby I was informed that the production company had had second thoughts; they felt that the thousand-dollar-a-day bulletproof car was too expensive. They didn’t want to be held responsible for any ‘unnecessary’ damage. It looked like I was going to be riding in a deputy sheriff’s patrol car.

8:25 a.m.: We rendezvoused with several other platoons made up of uniformed deputies, in what appeared to be an abandoned hotel parking lot. I looked around the place: I saw some of the deputies relaxing in their vehicles while others paced outside nervously. No one was going to tell me how to behave or exactly what to expect. It was at that moment, as I distracted myself from such thoughts with a fruitless search for coffee, that I heard the verdict and sentencing of the defendants in the second Rodney King trial.

LA #5

              Several of the patrol cars had their trunks open with portable radios tuned to the KFWB news radio. The newscaster’s flat voice echoed across the parking lot, along with news of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nuclear accident in Russia, a fire-fight with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and a nifty review of Billy Crystal’s hosting of the 65th Academy Awards.

9:20 a.m.: The platoon relocated to a substation at the City Hall Complex in Lynwood.

11:25 a.m.: This was our first sit-down meal in two days. I was sitting in a plastic molded chair and table that had both been bolted to the floor. This was Angelo’s Burgers, a small fast-food joint at the corner of Imperial Highway and Atlantic Boulevard in Lynwood, California. As I ate my breakfast bean burrito and drank my second cup of coffee, I notice a handmade cardboard sign that had been written on with a magic marker resting on the counter where you placed your order. ‘Falling Down, with Michael Douglas, was filmed here on May 12th, 1992.’

It was at Angelo’s that Michael Douglas’ beleaguered character terrorized a fast-food chain called ‘Whammy Burgers’. I remembered his almost understandable motive for going berserk – the menu had progressed to lunch, and all he wanted was a little breakfast. In short, the movie was about a man in L.A. who went bonkers, so it was ironic that we were in Angelo’s with deputy sheriffs, having breakfast, whilst waiting for a city to go bonkers.

LA #2

2:15 p.m.: Despite the announcement of the court’s verdict, this wasn’t what saw us race, at top speed, from Lynwood to an amusement park north of Los Angeles. A thousand tickets had oversold at a scheduled rap concert. Not surprisingly, some of the fans were upset and, out of frustration, had shattered the windows of restaurants across the street from the amusement park’s entrance.

4:35 p.m.: Boredom started to kick in. The deputies, our crew and assorted bodyguards were in a holding pattern at the upper entrance to the park. Everyone was hungry. With my supply of Balance bars and gum gone, all I had left was a bag full of Atomic Fireball jawbreakers, which I promptly started to throw at the deputies and production crew, shouting, ‘I’m coming!’

The production company eventually decided to get McDonald’s quarter-pounders for everyone. Halfway through the order, McDonald’s ran out of burgers, so most of the crew and the seventy-plus deputies ended up with Happy Meals. The Happy Meals came in red cartons and inside each was a toy action figure from Batman. A trade-off began between Batman, the Joker and Two Face, though it was Catwoman in her fitted gray costume that proved to be the most coveted.

7:46 p.m.: The sun set. I grabbed the Betacam and my Nikon camera and tagged along with a squad of seven deputies. We took in the sights and sounds of the park and I wondered to myself if we were going to stop long enough to get a corn dog.  Occasionally, families and kids, looking for a way out of the park, stopped us and asked for directions. No one in our group was familiar enough with the park so we weren’t much help.

LA #7

We’d not been in the park longer than fifteen or twenty minutes when there was a distinct change in the atmosphere. Instinctively, I hoisted the Betacam on my shoulder and removed the lens cap from my Nikon.

There was a lull in the night’s sounds. The normal carnival atmosphere had diminished; where laughter and the excited screams of kids on wild rides had filled the air just minutes ago, there was now just a low hum and relative silence. Something was happening. All of a sudden, there was a new sound – a differently pitched scream travelling through the air. It was a disconcerted screech that built in intensity, continuing until all the laughter had been swallowed. A swelling of emotion rose from my stomach, settling into my chest and heart.

Time seemed to shift then split, both streams working simultaneously. Different scenarios presented themselves in slow motion, while craziness was kicking off in the background in ‘quick time’. I was rolling tape and filming with the camera on my right shoulder while shooting stills using my left hand.

Like locusts swarming upon a field of grain, kids and families poured out of nowhere and surrounded us. The deputies reacted quickly, creating a circle in the middle of a concrete walkway. If you’d have looked down from overhead, you would’ve seen a circle of tan helmets surrounded by a sea of bodies with a sergeant in the middle trying to hear the two-way radio above the noise. One of my eyes was glued to the Nikon’s viewfinder when the camera’s motor drive whined with a ‘click-click-click-click-click’. Framed faces held expressions of dread, concern and confusion as the volume of pandemonium rose to an even higher decibel.

Somewhere in the park ahead of us panic struck like a flash of lightning. We caught the first swell of people seeking safety: a stampede of hundreds barreled right at us. What the crowd needed was a concrete wall, five-feet thick; we were but a mere fence of eight people. The crying, shouting and screaming escalated again. In the distance, ‘snaps’ could be heard. More screams from the stampede.

A deputy shouted, ‘Was that gunfire? WAS THAT GUNFIRE?!’

The mob receded a little, confusion filling the void. The milling crowd looked set to disperse; again, gunshots or firecrackers were heard somewhere in the park. A tidal wave of families, in sheer panic, descended upon us.

Unlike the 1992 riots, what was happening had an element of vulnerability from the families caught in the middle of a total breakdown of civil order. A group of teenage boys and girls ran up to us, screaming that one of the park’s security guys was getting beaten up behind us. We turned but couldn’t see anything other than a wall of bodies a hundred yards deep.

More deputies arrived from nowhere and we made our way across a sea of glass shards, white plastic coat hangers, price tags and paper images of cartoon characters. I filmed the sheriff’s helicopter as it flew overhead, its powerful spotlight shining down on the confused throng, creating massive shadows from the tree limbs and scaffolding which slowly crawled over the entire area like a black web. Looking through the black and white viewfinder the shadow looked ominous – almost alive.

Dep and Looting

As we passed a restaurant, I noticed that the doors were cracked. I stopped to peer into the darkness. In the foreground were the legs of chairs, tables and serving trays stacked on top of each other. Beyond the barrier a young man, dressed in his chef’s hat and whites, stared at me with a dazed, anxious look. I rested the Betacam on the ground and wedged my Nikon lens between the doors, snapping off a couple of shots. I could only assume that he’d chosen to stand sentry, protecting his co-workers and guests with a fire extinguisher as the world beyond the restaurant door suffered a momentary lapse of sanity.

LA #9

The park was now quieter as the deputies prodded the visitors, containing them in the main entrance. I passed a long line of kids at a pay phone trying to call their parents to come and get them. Nearby, I saw a marble statue of a rabbit on horseback waving goodbye to its guests.

LA #6

              April 19, 1993: I read that morning in the L.A. Times that the park reopened on Sunday to an enthusiastic spring break crowd as law enforcement officials, park managers and a music promoter tried to pinpoint blame for the melee that damaged both the park and its reputation as a place for family entertainment. An all-night repair job replaced broken windows and a restock of looted merchandise was completed in time for Sunday’s 10 a.m. opening.

I later learned that the ‘confused mass of people’ cost the park an estimated two million dollars in damages. Forty people were evacuated as an emergency, and it took 450 deputies to move 40,000 people out of the park.

Urban legend has it that a body was found underneath the Viper rollercoaster ride four days after the riot.

During the comedown, in showbiz news, there was a big buzz around the release of Steven Spielberg’s film, Jurassic Park, about a team of genetic engineers who created an amusement park full of cloned dinosaurs before all hell broke out. Sometimes, science fiction can be a little too realistic.

Within days I picked up an assignment to the Middle East. As sad as it sounds, I was well prepared.

Epilogue

 June 17, 2012: Rodney King, the man at the center of the infamous Los Angeles riots, was found dead in his home in San Bernardino, California. He was forty-seven. According to media reports, King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, found him dead at the bottom of a swimming pool. King recently marked the twentieth anniversary of the riots. Mr. King, whose life was a roller coaster of drug and alcohol abuse, multiple arrests and unwanted celebrity, pleaded for calm during the 1992 riots, in which more than 55 people were killed, 600 buildings were destroyed and the city suffered $1 billion dollars worth of damage.

August, 23, 2012: The autopsy findings by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Coroner Division: The effects of the drugs and alcohol, combined with the subject’s heart condition, probably precipitated a cardiac arrhythmia, and the subject, thus incapacitated, was unable to save himself and drowned. There’s nothing in the history or autopsy examination to suggest suicide or homicide, and the manner of death is therefore judged to be an accident.

              “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we all get along? Please….we can get along here.”

– Mr. Rodney King, May 1, 1992

Heather Newman is the founder and CEO of Creative Maven, a virtual marketing consulting firm that brings c-level strategy, inspiration and creativity to marketing teams, startups, enterprise businesses and individual artists. She has produced thousand of events, campaigns and experiences in the high-tech and entertainment industries. She is also the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Content Panda, a high tech business dedicated to creating products that deliver a superior user experience that drive value to businesses. She is also a Microsoft MVP for Office Apps and Services. Heather-Newman-Headshot.jpg

In this episode Heather interviews Dave Banks, award winning documentary film-maker, writer, and photojournalist.  Tune-in to hear their conversation on: “I knew the struggles.” – Growing up with a single working mother inspired Dave to get involved with the Women’s Movement and how he uses his connections to amplify the message. “Life in the City of Angels” – Dave’s passion for sharing stories with his work and the books he is working on. “Nobody really knew what dyslexia was.” – How Dave’s struggle with dyslexia as a young man and an understanding teacher led him to photography and documentary filmmaking. “There’s this world over here that they’re not talking about or discussing.” – Dave’s observations as a freelance photo journalist at Standing Rock and the Middle East on how the mainstream news media is failing to deliver real news. “I kinda fell into it.” – How Dave’s work on the Wide World of Sports at ABC led him to work as a freelancer in the Middle East and his experience with PTSD. Visit mavensdoitbetter.com for full show notes, transcripts, and more.

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     Mary McWhorter-Banks 1925 – 2020                       

Uh-will the wind ever remember the names it has blow in the past?

                                      And with this crutch, its old age

          And its wisdom it whispers, “No, this will be the last”  – Jimi Hendrix

Mary is 94 years old with severe dementia, and resides in a hospice facility in Oklahoma. And she’s my mom. On November 6th, 2020 mom passed away from complications of Covid-19. This is the last moments I spent with mom.

************

Mom sits silently in her wheelchair vacantly staring at the bear wall above her bed. On occasion she will touch her locket that hangs around her neck. I know she feels like leaving, but she can’t go. Mom doesn’t know that this is her tomorrow. There are only fleeting moments when the depths of her dementia recedes, and she sees me sitting on her bed.

“What are you doing here?” She asks. 

As quickly as I can answer. Mom vanishes back into the dark corridors of her mind. She’s gone, only to be replaced with an empty stare to the white wall above her bed. My love for the woman who gave me life isn’t always available, but somewhere in moms mind I can only hope she knows that I have not abandoned her. 

I open my computer and start to play music to fill the void of silence in her room. Out of the corner of my sight, moms leg starts to gently move, I slowly turn my head so as not to detract from moms gaze. Following her leg down to the tip of her fuzzy pink slipper. Mom begins to tap the metal footrest of her wheelchair. Mom smiles, and the paleness of her cheeks disappears and is replaced with a rosy pink color hue. I wonder, what if I play music from her youth.

Playing a mix of Frank Sinatra songs, the room fills with big band music with “Ol’ Blue Eyes” at the mic.

“ I always liked him” she says somewhat abruptly. 

“Mom were you a bobby-soxer?”

There is a pause as mom searches her past, “Yes.”  

She looks over at me after answering.

“Who are you?”  she ask 

“Mom, I’m your historian.”

A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterdays life

Somewhere a queen is weeping

Somewhere a king has no wife

And the wind, it cries Mary  – Jimi Hendrix

A continuation from Life in the City of Angels: When You Can’t Get Published, Fuck It, Give It Away!

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It seemed as if the sun had directed all its energy from purgatory to this hole in the ground. I was alone and crawling on my belly in a shroud of darkness, breathing in the suffocating heat that kept my mind from dwelling on snakes, scorpions and the curse of the mummy. With every breath I could feel spiny particles of dust enter my nostrils as they worked their way up to my sinus cavity. These tiny parasites, consisting of historic spores, would now stowaway for months, traveling secretly through my membranes, only to reveal themselves at a later date as a brown muddy discharge from my sinuses. This was not the first time living organisms had taken a free ride at my expense; it had never been guns, landmines or potential kidnapping situations that worried me the most on my adventures, rather that some exotic micro-organism would ultimately do me in.

Above me is ‘The Collapsed Pyramid’, also known as ‘Meidum, the forgotten pyramid of Egypt’. It’s situated about 100km south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile. Tomb robbers originally dug the shaft I was in some 4,000 years before. They must have been small people because they certainly hadn’t wasted their time making their entrance passage any bigger than was absolutely necessary. Hanging from the ceiling like stalactites were polished knobs of tafla clay that scraped against the back of my head.

Shimmying through the tunnel with a 26-pound video camera was no mean feat. The muscles in my arms began to involuntarily contract with the release of lactic acid, which decreased their capacity to hold the camera steady. I was shooting B-roll from the point of view of a tomb robber making his way into the burial chamber below. Unable to stop my arms from shaking, I paused to rest them and to brush away what felt like a large camel flea scurrying down my forehead. I shook my head wildly, only to crack it against the clay ceiling. Taking a swat at my face, I discovered that it wasn’t a flea, but a droplet of sweat mixed with dust. I was now blinded in one eye which stung with irritation. Great!

I dug the toes of my Doc Martin boots into the soil and pushed forward with a grunt, only gaining a few inches. I paused again to look through the camera’s viewfinder only to discover that the lens had what looked like dirty rice on the front element. How long have I been shooting with that crap on the lens?   

Lifting my head, I promptly cracked it yet again on the tunnel’s pitted ceiling. Cradling the camera with my left hand, I reached with my right to pull some lens tissue from my shirt pocket. The packet of tissue was moist from sweat. If I cleaned the grime with a wet tissue it would only smear into a mucky casserole. I laid the camera down to search for a dry, clean tissue, but grappling with the camera in such a confined space brought only more frustration, scraped knuckles, and bruised knees.

With the lens finally clean, I continued to shoot my progress through the earthy conduit, forcing a layer of Egyptian dirt into the crotch of my pants as I lurched further into the passage. To my surprise, the cool earth mixed with sand didn’t actually feel so bad – refreshing, even – as I wasn’t wearing underwear.

Suddenly, my progress was halted by my belt buckle that had snagged on a rock. I swayed my hips back and forth and lifted my pelvis up to free myself from the stone. I think it’s time for a breather. 

I lay on my stomach and enjoyed the feel of cool soil on the family jewels, turning off the camera to save its battery life. In the darkness I became acutely aware of the aroma of earth mixed with dung, along with the delicate fragrance of diesel fuel as it permeated the passageway. The potpourri of odors came from two Egyptians at the entrance fanning air into the tunnel with torn pieces of cardboard.

‘Should I have stayed in L.A., picking up cushy assignments, shooting another silly sitcom or self-serving award show,’ I thought. ‘No!’ I said aloud, forgetting I was alone in the tunnel. Before leaving ABC, I’d gained a reputation of self-reliance in remote and hostile locations, shooting everything from mountain climbing to extreme sports, and even stunts for ABC’s daytime soap opera, General Hospital. I knew it was time to bail from that life when I was charged by my very own union (NABET) for introducing a new video camera technology: the ‘Betacam’. I became a liability for embracing new technology that would ultimately change broadcasting forever. I faced great resentment for disrupting the status quo; I had passed the point of no return. So, I left my comrades behind with their old ideas – the Betacam became my VIP pass to the wider world. Ultimately, it had brought me to this hole in the ground.

Waiting for me in the corbelled burial chamber below was Dr. Salima Ikram Ph.D., Jeremy Brill, my audio man, and our government escort, Mohammad.

Dr. Ikram was a professor of Egyptology from the American University in Cairo and a Cambridge graduate. Specializing in zoo archaeology (the study of faunal remains left behind when an animal dies or, as Dr. Ikram puts it, ‘road kill from the past’). In the field Dr. Ikram can be found wearing a sky-blue headscarf and large, round Audrey Hepburn-style sunglasses. You would imagine that a woman working in traditional Arab society, in a field dominated by males, would be unnerved or feel intimidated. However, despite her youthful age and short stature, Dr. Ikram has a very sharp tongue and can speak rapid Arabic, delivering what needs to be said like a machine gun.

To make sure her point was always understood she armed herself with a Japanese silk hand fan which she pointed and shook in the face of any man who questioned her knowledge or authority. She’d ventured into ancient tombs and ruins more times than Lara Croft and Indiana Jones combined. We all had a crush on her. She was the real deal.

I groaned and resumed recording as I continued down the tunnel. I reached an old wooden ladder which led to a den below that was about the size of a Mini Cooper’s interior. I climbed down, using one hand to hold the camera and the other to grip the rungs of the ladder. ‘Jiminy Cricket on a crutch! My back is killing me!’

‘What was that, Dave?’ Jeremy asked.

‘Nothing, Jeremy, I’m still shooting.’

Crouched in the den, I filled my lungs with more fine dust and floating orbs. I wiped my brow; I was keenly aware that we had so little time to shoot this segment.

Between the den and the burial chamber was a huge slab of limestone. In the center of the slab was a twenty by twenty-inch aperture chiseled out by the tomb robbers. The beveled cuttings from simple hand tools still looked fresh in spite of their age. Extending my arms out in front of me, I held the camera to document my progress as Dr. Ikram, Jeremy and Mo stood on the other side of the slab, watching me with great amusement as I struggled.

I stopped recording when I reached the crux of the tight squeeze, my progress somewhat hampered by my bubble butt. Handing the camera to Jeremy, I pushed and pulled, finally letting out a loud ‘Aarrgghh!’ as I felt my ass pop like a cork from a champagne bottle when I passed the apex. Finally, I was clear of the aperture. Through into a relatively spacious area, I stood upright for the first time and stretched my back.

Scattered about the hallway, leading into the burial chamber, were huge broken blocks of limestone that the tomb raiders had smashed to gain entry to the tomb. For all their tunnel-digging efforts, their prize was a red granite sarcophagus, the size of a professional snooker table. The sarcophagus probably weighed about three-and-a-half tons and it had been hollowed out for a body without the power tools we have at hand today.

The granite lid had been moved aside slightly. On closer inspection, there was an ancient wooden mallet, about the size of a man’s fist, wedged between the sarcophagus and its lid. The tomb robbers had only needed to reach into the stone coffin to plunder it of its riches.

‘Dave, tell me when to start crawling and I’ll describe what lengths the tomb raiders were willing to go to,’ said Dr. Ikram.

Let me get situated and I’ll give you a cue,’ I said.

‘Okay. But remember, if I have to stop and turn around, you promised not to shoot my bum,’ she said, referring to a pact we’d made before descending into the tunnel.

Everyone bustled into place. Mo stood silently as he waited for instructions on what he should do.  We had so little time – I was hoping that after this take with Dr. Ikram I would have enough time to shoot more B-roll in the tunnel, and particularly the aperture and the burial chamber, without anyone around. Once we wrapped at this location we still had to travel back to the Saqqara Palm Club Hotel to do the ‘talking head’ part of the interview with Dr. Ikram; I just hoped it would be before dark.

I gave Dr. Ikram my spiel: ‘Okay, let’s start on this side of the aperture. I’ll start on you, as you explain who, what, where and how. I’ll then pan over to see Mo enter the aperture and follow him through. You continue to describe the tunnel as we make our way to the exit. I’ll continue to roll tape, so don’t stop. If you have to stop, just start from the top of your description, and in post-production we’ll edit snippets of you walking and talking and we can also add in the B-roll footage.’

I panned round from Dr. Ikram to see Mo crawl through the aperture. As I followed Mo through – BLAM! I smacked my forehead into the top of the opening. It must have made a loud noise because Jeremy looked up.

‘What was that?’ he asked.

‘Aarggh… start… start again,’ I said, not wanting to acknowledge that I’d smacked my head for what must have been the hundredth time.

My shins scraped against the lip of the aperture. I arched my back to support the camera in front of me and pushed with my feet to enter the den. I desperately tried to balance myself on my knees. Kerplunk! In a cloud of dust, the camera and I capsized on the rocky floor of the den.

Dr. Ikram, unaware of my listing condition, continued her narrative. ‘Meidum is thought to have originally been built for Huni, the last pharaoh of the Third Dynasty. It was completed by his successor, Sneferu, who also turned it from a step pyramid to a true pyramid, by filling in the steps with limestone. At the pyramid’s massive base are tons of scattered fragments from the collapsed outer shell that stemmed from Sneferu’s repair job. This is the robbers’ tunnel and this is the way to exit the ‘mastaba’. It’s quite a tight squeeze,’ she added.

‘You can say that again,’ I thought.

After Dr. Ikram passed through the aperture and exited the frame, I panned round, following Mo through the den to the bottom of the ladder.

Dr. Ikram continued: ‘The robbers chiseled through the tafla and in through the stone-built mastaba. There are lots of twists and turns to this whole experience, and it’s very difficult in some places because you have to go down almost on your belly and wiggle like a snake.’          She whispered, ‘You didn’t see my bum, did you?’

‘No, no. I didn’t even look in the viewfinder,’ I replied.

Now that there were four of us in the tiny den, and despite the Egyptians’ efforts to keep us cool, there was very little air circulating. We were all getting tired and cranky, and we had just minutes left to shoot this segment.

I would love to do another pass of B-roll in the tunnel alone.

I reached as high as I could, grabbing for the first rung of the ladder. I pulled myself up with one hand, holding the camera in the other. At the top of the ladder I panned round to catch Dr. Ikram climbing up behind me.

I clambered off the ladder. What was that? It felt like a spider running down the inside of my pant leg. I unclenched when I realized it was just a stream of sand and dirt I’d scooped up earlier. Shaking my legs one at a time, I started to edge backwards as Dr. Ikram walked towards me, describing the tunnel. ‘The tafla is worn and eroded because of the many visitors who have come down recently with their nice electricity. Conveniently for them, they could see exactly what was going on.’

Thud! Again?!

‘Do you want to take a break?’ Dr. Ikram asked.

‘No, I just scraped my head and it bloody hurt. Let’s continue,’ I replied softly, so my audio wouldn’t be picked up on tape.

‘It really is a tight squeeze, and when one finally looks out at the end they can’t help but think, ‘Thank God, at last! Light!’’ she went on.

Pointing my camera towards him, I followed Mo’s silhouette as he exited the tunnel into the blinding light of the Sahara sun. Is this what we see when we die: a bright light at the end of a tunnel, and a shadowy figure greeting us as we make our way to God?

Dr. Ikram tried to finish her description while spluttering on the fine dust. Eventually, we were done.

Mark was waiting for us as we emerged from the tunnel. ‘Okay, guys, we have to do it again, and this time, faster! Dave, you’re leaking. What’s all that sand coming out of your pant leg?’

We all glared at Mark, our mouths open.

‘Just kidding!’ he said.

 

Though that segment was done our day was not over, we still had Dr. Ikram’s sit down interview to shoot back at the hotel, as well as to review the tapes, clean the equipment, charge the batteries and package tapes for shipment back to the States. We had been in Egypt for six days shooting the History Channel’s ‘Tomb Raiders: Robbing the Dead’ and it had been non-stop since landing in Cairo.

Over the next 24 hours we had to travel back to Cairo where our first priority would be shipping the tapes via DHL to Burbank, California. Then we had to drive to Giza for more B-roll of the pyramids and to find a dynamic location to interview Zahi Hawass, the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities: his interview would cost about $1,500. It’s not uncommon to pay a fee, but the lines between a proper fee and baksheesh is thin.

After the interview we were scheduled to shoot miscellaneous scenic footage with camels, horses and pyramids – hopefully without tourists in the shot. Traveling back to Cairo from Giza, I would have to strap myself on top of our van to catch moving shots of the countryside and the cityscape after entering Cairo. We were to then check into a hotel for just a couple of hours, where we’d need to unload our gear from the van to take to our room – which we all had to share. In that time batteries would need charging and gear needed packing, which meant cross referencing the carnet to our equipment again.

We called Shmuel Bernstein, our co-producer and fixer in Israel. At the Cairo airport parking lot we had to pay the Egyptian production crew, guides, tourist police and our government watcher, plus bonuses. After discreetly shooting B-roll inside Cairo airport, we were finally free to buy souvenirs, drink espresso and eat whatever we could find in the airport terminal, finally boarding a flight at 10:30 p.m. and flying to Tel Aviv, Israel. There, after clearing customs, drinking coffee and eating old Balance bars, we had to load the camera gear into Shmuel’s suburban and drive for two hours to Jerusalem, where we’d check into the King David Hotel around 2:30 a.m. There, we were to unload the gear and charge batteries yet again and take a three-hour nap, just so we could grab the camera and shoot the sunrise over Jerusalem at 5:34 a.m.

We had all that to look forward to, but not before taking a swig from a warm Fanta and racing back down to the entrance of the tunnel. We had one more pass before Mark officially pulled the plug on this location. I rolled the tape and made my way back to the burial chambers. Now alone, I ran my fingers along the narrow opening of the granite sarcophagus to the 3000 year-old wooden mallet. For a moment I visualized a thriving kingdom by the Nile, via this tangible piece of history.

Conscious of our tight shooting schedule, I quietly exited the crypt, leaving in peace any ancient soul aimlessly roaming the tomb in search of the ‘tunnel of light’ to his God.

*****

Later, the post-production supervisor in Burbank called Mark in the middle of the night to say the footage in the Meidum burial chamber was unusable. They said the recording heads of the camera looked dirty and that there were lots of breaks in the video signal. They said they may be able to salvage only a few seconds of footage of the sarcophagus and the mallet.

Blood seemed to drain from my veins. My pride turned to liquid jelly and I lost my appetite. It was the most dreaded phone call any shooter could get and it was certainly no way to start the day. Perhaps there was a curse of the Pharaohs after all…

*****

Mark and Shmuel were inside the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum where the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Jerusalem Division, was located. Across the street was the north wall of the Muslim Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. They were discussing the day’s schedule and the implications of a ‘ride along’ on a night patrol with Amir Ganor, Director of the Robbery Prevention Division of the IAA.

Tucked away, at the small of Amir’s back, inside his pants, was a .45 caliber handgun with walnut wood grips; on his belt sat a pouch loaded with ammo clips. How Amir sat comfortably in his unmarked jeep for hours at a time with a .45 was a mystery to me – I wondered if it left a permanent imprint on his buttocks.

We loaded up. In a caravan we followed Amir and his partner driving east through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. As we passed the east wall of the Christian Quarters, we watched as huge tour buses parked on the acutely narrow street to unload a fresh crop of pilgrims at the Jaffa Gate. Near the Citadel of the old city a Hasidic Jewish man, dressed all in black with long curls, insisted on walking down the middle of the road wildly waving his arms. Continuing south we drove by crowded bus stops where quite a few male and female Israeli soldiers with fully automatic weapons hitch-hiked for a ride.

In Shmuel’s suburban the four of us were crammed in amongst anvil cases of camera gear, audio equipment, climbing gear, boxed lunches, two cases of bottled water, assorted tools and mountains of protein bars. With one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding his cell phone, Shmuel talked loudly in Hebrew as he set up the next day’s shoot. Mark, with his long legs, sat behind me as he read from the Tomb Raiders’ production book and glanced occasionally out of the passenger window to take in the sights. From time to time I’d hang the Betacam out of the window, taking travel shots across the horizon.

It had been stop and go for hours as we followed Amir down deserted back roads near the Green Line. We just hoped that the camera mounts were holding steady. The afternoon sun seemed brighter there than in Jerusalem and the air was thick with humidity, making it feel hotter then it really was. The dirt road that we were traveling on was badly rutted from the scars of erosion and potholes that looked like shallow wells. With every plunge into a cavity the anvil cases in the back of the suburban leapt up before swiftly crashing down.

We parked aloft a barren hill overlooking the Palestine Territory; the terrain was very similar to southern California: a desert full of sand structures, prickly pear cacti and brown shrubs that eventually turn to tumbleweed. Jeremy was the first to leap out of the suburban to check the camera that was mounted on Amir’s jeep.

‘Dude, the suction cup is solid and the camera is filthy from specks of bug juice,’ he said.

Grabbing the Betacam and a handful of Balance bars, Mark, Jeremy and I started shooting B-roll immediately. Amir and his partner locked and loaded their automatic weapons in unison, slapping the butt end of their magazines to ensure they were sat correctly. We then proceeded east, towards the Green Line, moving as a unit to Amir’s slow and deliberate pace. Amir continually checked the ground for telltale signs of foot traffic and fresh digging. Twenty minutes into our stroll Amir came upon a freshly-dug shaft.

He pointed to the ground. Dead shrubs surrounded the cut in the earth. The shaft had smooth edges and its width was approximately 1.2m square. Just below the surface, the walls of the shaft were lined with roots that looked like the fingers of skeletons cradling protruding rocks.

‘Here! There is new soil on the edge of the shaft,’ said Amir.

Amir gave his weapon to his partner and took the longest Maglite flashlight I’ve ever seen from his pack. He started to climb down into the vertical shaft, using the freaky skeleton-like fingers as a rope ladder for his descent. At the bottom, he disappeared into a horizontal tunnel that led to a chiseled slit in the wall. Shmuel was very anxious to follow and gave us a detailed commentary on his downward climb, using Amir’s technique. ‘Okay, guys, putting my hands on the edge. I’m using my right foot to step on this rock. Okay, okay, now my left foot on this one and now down to the bottom…’

Once descended, Shmuel asked, ‘Okay, who’s going to be the first one coming down, guys?’

I’d deduced that the Betacam was much too big and heavy to film down the shaft so I grabbed the mini DV camera and started to clean the lens from dust and bug wings.

‘Okay, guys, who’s next?’ Shmuel asked again.

I looked over the edge to Shmuel. He was squatting at conduit points in the opening of the chamber. ‘You see? This was blocking the entrance. They moved the stone a little with a crowbar then broke it here to get in. Okay?’

 

‘Yeah,’ Mark said. He shimmied feet first into the burial chamber, inhaling as he went through the aperture. There were skulls, bones and shards of stones scattered about the burial chamber that made the ground uneven. Amir sat on some broken ossuaries, shining his flashlight on the ceiling of the tomb; the light it cast made the tomb seem even more eerie.

From above I could hear Mark rustling about as he began shooting. ‘I’m just going to get a close up of the skulls and the bones,’ he shouted.

I heard a thud then a groan. Mark had tripped but luckily, he’d not fallen on any of the bones or ossuaries. ‘I have to be very careful here,’ he said to Amir.

Peering over the edge, I made eye contact with Shmuel and handed him my camera. As I started my descent into the shaft, small streams of dirt and pebbles started raining on Shmuel who took shelter next to the slit. Stepping on the jutting stones I heard the dry ‘skeleton fingers’ crack underneath my boots.

Facing the slit, I saw for myself that the tomb raiders had chiseled their entrance unintentionally in the shape of an open mouth. As I prepared to go feet first I conjured in my mind ancient goddesses with beautiful lips, their power of temptation calling on men to see what lay beyond them.

The aperture appeared to suit those with a waist size 32 or less. Given that I’m a 34 waist, I anticipated a problem.Shmuel started giving me instructions. ‘Da’vid, face the opening and go feet first. Slide and inhale at the same time.’

I slid my right boot then my left boot into the hole leading to the tomb’s tunnel. There was the soft, muffed sound of my pants sliding against the rough stone as my feet fell into the tomb. My knees passed and my thighs followed – which was as far as I got. I was stuck between two worlds. My companions started laughing before cheering me on.

‘Push! Push, Da’vid,” said Shmuel.

From inside the tomb I heard, ‘Dave, there’s a fall of about four feet. Drop!’

There was a scraping noise as my 34 waist and belt buckle tried to shimmy. I’ve been told in the past, during romantic endeavours, that I have ‘a butt like a black man’ – something I’ve always thought of as an attractive asset, but which, in this instance, was a real liability. ‘I think I’m too big, guys,’ I told my audience, ‘I’m wedged in!’

Shmuel was trying very hard not to laugh but a giggle escaped. I too began to chuckle, which was uncomfortable considering the added pressure of stone against my waist.

‘I think I’m going to have to go back!’ I kicked my legs wildly, inhaled and pushed with my arms against the lips of the hole. With a grunt, I popped back out like a newborn baby from its mother, onto the ground up top, creating a small cloud of dust.

              Tilting their heads up to the entrance, Mark and Amir laughed as Shmuel helped me up and slapped – not brushed – my backside, freeing me from the dirt and pebbles that clung to my butt. I stretched my back then pulled up my shirt to find that my stomach wore the physical proof that I’d been stuck. Humility aside, all I could think was that the tomb raiders who had made that shaft obviously didn’t like hamburgers as much as I did. I handed the camera through the small hole to Mark and left him to sort out filming in the tomb.

 

 

IMG_0779.jpgThe chances of my parents, Nelson Banks and Mary Brooks meeting and finding each other attractive enough to start messing around until they had a child (me) is 1 in 2,000. I can only assume that Nelson was at his prime health wise and rocketed a large amount of sperm, approximately 250 million squiggles. So, the chances of you or any of us being conceived to become who we are from that one particular egg meeting that single sperm is astronomical. Think about it, that one sperm that surfed your mother’s reproductive tract, to fertilizing her egg, overcoming a great number of obstacles and barriers that will make it difficult through the tubular of the Fallopian without wiping out and hit its target, momma’s egg. That is 1 in 4 quadrillion. Let me repeat that, the odds of your lineage remaining unbroken long enough to create you is 1 in 4 quadrillion. That means that every single one of your ancestors also had to be conceived to become exactly who they were. You have no choice in the matter by the way. When you calculate all of these Las Vegas odds and possibilities the chances of you existing right now as you drink you coffee with the tv on is basically zero. You’re a fucking miracle so start acting like it for G-d sakes. Have a nice day!

 

Dad and Missouri Mules009 copy

 

There is something different about a hand written letter, emails get deleted, greeting cards get lost and phone calls are forgotten with time. But a letter from a loved one is special, maybe it’s because a letter is a tangible artifact of love. In the absents of a departed loved one a letter can be the substitute for holding hands, a hug or a kiss on the cheek. The letter is a reminder of a loving connection that is slowly fading as decades pass by. I carried letters with me when I traveled overseas. Letters that have touched me, letters of encouragement and most of all unconditional love. These letters have pulled me through some pretty hard times.  So, this is an open letter to a man that has given me not only sweet memories of childhood, but by his example showed me how to deal with life on life’s terms with grit and humor.

At the age of five Jasper Paul McWhorter asked a single mother for her hand in marriage which Mary (my mom) accepted and a new family was formed. In spite of the economic hardship of caring for his new family, Paul’s willingness to raise another man child still impresses me to this day. Within the first year of their union, Paul’s earnest effort to provide a secure home and with his sense of humor the bond between a father figure and 5 year old stepson grew and I started calling him daddy.

A veteran of World War II,  he was awarded two Bronze Stars, a Commendation Medal and a Purple Heart. Dad had seen some heavy action in the Philippines but would never talk about his experiences to the point that we could not watch any war movies on TV – which I could not understand until reaching maturaity. Home was on the outskirts of Norht Tulsa off Apache Road near the strip pits and  regardless of the less desireable location dad love his home and took great pride in maintaining the property. With a passion for gardening dad became an expert at growing copious amount of Beefeater tomatoes and on summer days he meditated and problem solved by mowing our yard without a his shirt on – to this day the aroma of fresh cut grass takes me back to those summer days on Quebec Street. After his chores, dads would sit in the backyard on a white metal lawn chair  with his cap pushed back smoking his pipe and drink freshly made lemonade and munching on peanut butter cookies.

My favorite childhood memory of dad is watched him tinker with an Evinrude boat-motor that sat in a steel drum full of water in our backyard. Preparing to start the boat-motor dad would secure his pipe by clinching his teeth, then pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and with one mighty pull of the starter rope the Evinrude would sputter. It would take two or three pulls, but once he got it going the blue smoke would fill the backyard and the roar of that Evinrude could be heard throughout the neighborhood. The fumes and smoke engulf dad and all I could see was his pipe sticking out of the blue haze. When the smoke dissipate dad would be standing there with his hand on throttle and for a quick moment I could see in his eyes that dad was far, far away, somewhere on TenKiller Lake or Keystone fishing for bigmouth bass or maybe he was off the coast of Baja fishing for marlin. I’ll never forget that image when the blue smoke cleared.

The word love was not used liberally by dad, but his grandchildren, Jeff and Darla and I knew we were loved when teased with nick names like apple-knocker, eight-ball or curtain-climber. But when dad did get close to saying the words out loud,  “I love you” his voice would crack with emotion as his eyes teared up.

Near the end of dad’s life the Formica kitchen table and vinyl chairs were replaced with a rented gray hospital bed next to the backdoor that lead to his beloved garden. The one room where we gather as a family for meals, games of Monopoly, and frank discussions had become his hospices. It was dad’s wish to end his journey in the home he had worked so hard for. Without the financial means mom’s responsibilities of wife grew greater as the sole caretaker to a man she married so long ago. Before dads final journey, his dementia grew and grew but on this occasion while on the phone he seemed lucid and even cracked joke with me. After sharing the days events and jokes dad handed the phone back to mom. I could hear mom walk away from the kitchen area to the hallway to give me the reality of dad’s condition.

“David, daddy goes in and out of dementia and sometimes he acts as if he is working and asking me for his tools. ” She said.

“I understand mom, just act and pantomime as if your were giving him his tools, okay? Give me a call if anything else come up, just indulge dad, okay? ” I told her.

“Okay dear, I’ll call if anything comes up.” She reassured me.

“Okay mom, love your.”

” I Love you too.”

Three hours later mom calls me back.

“David we just got back, and I wanted to let you know what just happen.” Mom tells me.

“Wait a minute, what do you mean you just got back? I ask out of concern.

“Well, you said to indulge daddy so I did.”

“What”? I asked.

“Daddy thinks he is back on the farm and borrowed two Missouri mules from his neighbors to plow a field, Daddy thinks he didn’t return the mules and seem desperate to return them, so I dressed him in his pajamas, put him in the car and we drove around the neighborhood looking for the mules.”

“Mom!”

“Honey, it got daddy out of the house and you said to indulge him.” she tells me.

“Yes, I did tell you that mom – I tell you what mom, tell dad I’ll go out and look for the mules, okay? Dad may not recall that I live in California.”

“Okay dear.”

An hour late I call home, “Mom, tell dad that I found the mules and returned them to his neighbor.”

“Okay dear.”

I can hear mom hold the phone away and speak in a clear audible voice to reassuring dad.

“Daddy, daddy! David found the mules and returned them to the neighbors.”

Over the phone I can hear dad voice clearly and my heart sank as I heard him say.

“That David, he sure is a good boy.”

My Dad, PaulThose were the last words I heard from dad as he slipped away into the corridors of his mind. I believe that God puts people in our lives when we most need them. And as a five- year old I desperately needed a good Dad, not a perfect Dad, just a good Dad. Today I am what I am as a result of his influence and example. I know what a work ethic is and the value of humor, thank you dad for giving me those gifts.  Happy Fathers Day Dad, I miss you terribly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sahara-Riders

Cue the Camels

by

 Dave Banks

Copyright © Dave Banks. The right of Dave Banks to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.

FOREWORD by JAY LENO

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Dave asked me to write the foreword to this book. I’ve always known Dave as the guy behind the camera with the very loud laugh. His audible approval of my jokes has always proved wonderful feedback; sometimes, his chuckles would escalate to a full belly laugh that echoed across the stage during rehearsals.

I’d clearly notice Dave’s absence for weeks or months at a time – his giggles only heard in my memories – until, unexpectedly, his distinctive howl would come from behind the camera once again. Dave’s disappearing and reappearing act had been going on ever since I took over the Tonight Show in 1992, but it wasn’t until reading ‘Cue the Camels’ that I learned Dave was freelance – booking out of my show to shoot news and documentaries in the Middle East and North Africa.

As a solo journalist he covered the war in Afghanistan which goes some way to explaining why he always seemed to have a smile on his face. He was just happy to be somewhere he wasn’t being shot at or pursued by a foreign army. He appreciated the warm, comfortable studio and that he was not lost somewhere in a landmine field, however much I like to think it was my jokes and free coffee that kept the constant smile on his face.

Within these pages Dave has written gung-ho, self-deprecating, wildly engaging accounts of his exploits, with all the behind-the-scenes high-jinks that go into shooting news and documentaries across the world.

In his chapter ‘Dog Biscuit and Noah’s Ark’ Dave perfectly describes his decompression from one of his trips back to the Tonight Show: ‘Forty-eight hours ago I was in eastern Turkey, a target of the Turkish army, avoiding the PKK, dodging Kurdish smugglers and circumventing landmines on a goat trail.

Recovering from jet lag, painfully sore calves, busted blisters and jock itch, I was now hobbling about Stage 3 at the NBC studio lot in Burbank, California. I’d picked up a couple of days’ shooting on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The guests that night were Martin Short and Mia St. John, the music provided by Santana and Rob Thomas (which I was particularly excited about). The best part of the gig was the perks: free coffee, pastries, camaraderie and good laughs.’

Dave welcomes you to both of his worlds.

I once told Dave, ‘Whatever you do, make it entertaining, and don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself.’ I’m glad to see he took my advice and applied it to ‘Cue the Camels’.

 

INTRODUCTION

 ‘Doubt consumes the spirit; without risk, our destiny is ultimately written by others.’

‘We were not mentioned in S. E. Hinton’s book, ‘The Outsiders’.  We were the nameless kids from north Tulsa whose economic standing was somewhere between the Socs and the Greasers. We were the nerds, the geeks and socially inept when it came to girls. But, with our parents’ Bell and Howell 8mm cameras, we charged other kids 50 cents to be in our war movies. Our little band of brothers found its place in life.’

~ Dave Banks

While watching the History Channel, you may be captivated by a shot of a majestic sunset in the Sahara Desert; Bedouins and their camels enter the frame and cross your television screen, their black silhouettes strolling across the blaze of the sun. This image burns into your imagination and transports you from your recliner to a place you’ve never been. Then the program fades to black and a Snuggie commercial begins. You ignore the ad and replay that desert scene in your mind. A thought may pop into your head from time to time: just how did they capture that incredible footage?

*****

Have you ever wondered who filmed the rock climber two thousand feet up, dangling from the granite walls of Yosemite? Or considered how a cameraman got those claustrophobic shots deep inside the ancient tunnels beneath the pyramids of Egypt? How about the intense handheld footage of the Los Angeles riots – what kind of cockamamie person would voluntarily put himself into that chaos? Well, I’m ‘that guy’. In this book, I’ll bring you a unique glance into the two worlds I inhabit and the difficulties I’ve had to endure.

Few people realize, that to film documentaries in exotic locations, a cameraman, or ‘shooter’ may be forced to brave blinding sandstorms, the blistering heat of the day, ‘bone-marrow freezing’ nights, as well as experience the sharp crack of gunshot followed by the screaming hiss of bullets as they pass by his head. He’d need to survive the projectile side-effects of eating what some cultures call ‘delicacies’, but what we would simply consider ‘repulsive’.

As a result of being dispatched all over the globe, I’ve embarked on the types of trips few travelers ever experience, and I’ve done this whilst lugging thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment. I’ve risked life and limb for the sole purpose of sharing the farthest reaches of the world for the audience back home. I’ve covered expeditions, mountain climbs, archeological digs, adventure races, civil strife and war. I’ve been shot at; I’ve been lost in the Sahara desert, and I’ve been chased by a foreign army. I’ve strayed into a landmine field twice and had a bounty on my head. And I’ve also covered a story on fainting goats. For twenty years, I’ve taken huge risks to bring the world into your living room.

It’s quite normal for me to one day be working with celebrities in the air-conditioned studios of Hollywood, then the next, shooting film at hostile locations in the Middle East.

The material in this book has been adapted from years of journal entries that started as dry, factual lists, production notes, itineraries and equipment checklists. The handwritten notes on these lists grew to be the heart and soul of this memoir. Increasingly, my journals have become utterly treasured; in some cases, they literally kept me sane during my riskiest adventures.

They’re tales that I have lived, not imagined. You’ll glimpse what happens behind the scenes and the lengths I’ve travailed to capture those magic moments or ‘money shots’, always with a zany, international cast and crew close behind. This book brings to the reader the hardships and escapades that go into filming on location, with a (sometimes dark) sense of humor. Hopefully, it will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of how anonymous shooters like me see the world, and what we endure in order to make a living in our chosen profession.

This book also offers the reader the unique opportunity to view many of the clips I’ve treasured, via QR technology, as I refer to them within these pages.

At times, the search for the fabled money shot means stepping away from the familiar, and into a place where life seems to balance on the razor-edge of reality.

CHAPTER ONE

CUE THE CAMELS

Assignment: Shooting Eco-Challenge Promo

Location: Sahara desert, Morocco

 Mr. Abdul Salam, my Moroccan fixer and driver, had found the perfect setting for the money shot. A perfectly stunning, cinematic backdrop that could have been borne from Lawrence of Arabia; we imagined a bright azure sky, puffy white clouds, the Sahara sand expanding towards the horizon and the midday sun hanging in the air.

The Betacam was on the tripod, locked off and shooting directly into the sun. The idea was for five Tuareg riders on their camels to circle the camera, creating silhouettes against the desert sky. As each Tuareg passed, a burst of sunlight would splash, striking the lens, hopefully creating great B-roll. At least, that was the plan.

As I started to set up the shot, and without warning, I was subjected to a forceful whack to the back of my head. As I lay semi-conscious, face down on the hot, sun-baked ground – and with the legs of the tripod entangled in my lower limbs – I heard a loud, gassy belch.

The attack was not by some crazed Jihad but a long-necked, long-legged, wooly dromedary with a Chris Brown attitude. The twenty-seven pound camera teetered on my back and shoulder, the lens resting on my head. Interrupting the faint sound of the camera’s internal recording heads rolling was another belch: a loud, guttural siren accompanied by a violent, sputtering snort. Fumes of rotten vegetables contaminated the otherwise unsullied air and a cloud of scattered earth fell over my face.

The heat from the desert floor forced its way through my clothes, searing my torso and palms like a steak. I opened my eyes to a vertical world and immediately recognized the image inches away from my face: a hairy camel hoof with two protruding toenails on a broad pad about the size of a dinner plate.

I then became aware that fluid was trickling down my forehead, behind my right ear and towards my neck. ‘Oh, God,’ I thought, ‘I’m bleeding!’

Still disoriented, the sensation that the back of my scalp was soaking wet and that my shirt was firmly plastered to my back made me reach for the nape of my neck. I just hoped my hand wouldn’t come back red. I quickly deduced that I wasn’t horrifically bleeding. Why was I so wet? Jesus, did I urinate on myself? If so, how did it get up here? Pawing at my neck, it came to me why I was drenched in such foul-smelling gunk.

There are two myths about camels spitting. Firstly, camels do not spit habitually, they only spit when provoked. Secondly, camels do not ‘spit’ saliva but the partially digested contents from the chambers of their fore-stomachs.

When camels are angry or threatened, they ‘burp up’ some of their cud. Once the cud is in their mouths they angrily wield their heads like mad birds. The cud is propelled from their mouth onto their droopy lips, which they fling in the direction of their victim, which, in this case, was me. The amount of camel spittle foisted on a victim could cover their upper torso, and the color is tied to their dietary intake. It appeared that this camel had been eating dates, grass or wheat, as I was covered in a sickly, tea-green colored ‘smoothie’, not that it looked appetizing or nutritious sliding off my skin.

The camel’s slobber was sticky and thick, like cheap hair gel. With helping hands and laughter from the Tuareg, the tripod and my legs were divorced without damage to the camera or the lens, though I couldn’t say the same for my ego. I turned the camera off (it had been in recording mode, capturing the attack in all its disgusting detail), making a mental note to review the footage later in the day.

The laughter and pointing of fingers continued as I dusted myself off and tried to regain some composure. Turned out my baseball cap had been knocked off during the camel’s SmackDown, and as I looked at my reflection in the lens of the camera, I could see that my face had been powdered with beige earth. A huge cow-lick of hair came straight up from the back of my head – sort of a backwards Donald Trump coiffure.

With my breath and a soft brush, I swept sand and grime from the exterior of the camera, using my toothbrush to clean the nooks and crannies around the lens. Fortunately, there was no camel drool on the equipment.

Still unaware of what had pissed the camel off, I moved more cautiously and drafted Abdul to stand sentry behind me. Abdul didn’t want to be there either, but since his name means ‘Servant of the Peaceful One’ he had no choice. Without further incident I got the pretty silhouette shot I was going for.

Before leaving the location, I played back the tape to check that: a) it had recorded, and b) that there was no break up or other problems with the image. I then gestured to each Tuareg to look through the viewfinder at what we’d shot. Regardless of their image, the Tuareg had all their teeth, something I noted when kindly rewarded with smiles of approval at the footage.

We wouldn’t be able to come back and reshoot the sequence which, I think, after departing any location is the worst phone call a shooter can get. Such instruction is usually from the editor or executive producer, saying the footage is damaged, unusable, or a combination of the two. It’s often referred to by a technical term: ‘Shit!’

This has happened to me on a couple of occasions; each time I felt the blood draining from my veins and my self-esteem turn to liquid. It takes weeks to recover from ‘the call’. As a result, you learn to be militant when cleaning the camera gear and checking the tapes. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver sparkling footage that is in focus and not overexposed nor underexposed, which has no swish pans or tilts, and with just the right amount of headroom. The terrifying truth is that when you fuck up, people will see your mistake. And, in some cases, when you fuck up, millions will see your mistake. It’s every shooter’s fear.

We take every precaution, including hand-carrying the camera and footage onto flights, using leaded bags and DHL delivery. Our reputation – the only marketing tool we have – is based on what we deliver. As we often say: ‘You’re only as good as your last shot’.

With the Land Cruiser loaded, I sat in the cab. I grabbed the Snoopy air freshener from the rear-view mirror and deeply inhaled, hoping for a little relief from the stench of my sweat mixed with camel smoothie. My shirt, now dry, was grafted to my back and needed peeling from me like dead, sunburned skin. With the windows down, we headed back to our base to wash off the stains of the day.

My practice, while on location, is to have two changes of work shirts and trousers. When I’m back at base, I stand in the shower with all my clothes on, lather-up with a bar of soap and scrub them clean. This is an old practice that has worked well over the years. After rinsing and wringing, I then hang them on a makeshift clothes-line made of parachute cord, which also makes up part of my kit; come morning, my clothes will always be dry.

My shirts are ExOfficio – they’re as expensive as hell but worth every cent. They’re quick drying, sun-protective and they have great pockets. Cargo pants are Columbia’s convertible trousers; they also dry quickly and (most importantly) they have a gusseted crotch to help facilitate freedom of movement for increased comfort. With regards to my underwear and socks, I just estimate how many weeks I’m gone and simply toss away the skivvies and socks at the end of each day. Someone once suggested that I should buy ‘Depends for Men’; a very stupid idea: in the desert your ‘boys’ need to breathe, not drown.

On one occasion I’d underestimated my stay on a shoot in the Sahara and was forced to turn my underwear and socks inside out for over a week. With no stores in sight and as cotton takes forever to dry it was easier to toss aside and go commando. What a mistake! I suffered horrific chafing and the worst heat rash I’ve ever had. Both my inner thighs were rubbed red-raw along with my testicles: for three weeks I had to continually apply medicated cream to my infected crotch before the rash cleared up. I walked as if I had a spiked bowling ball between my legs. It was a very painful lesson to learn.

After a hot shower – a definite rarity – we went for dinner. The meal consisted of (stringy) chicken shawarma pitas and my favorite food: fried falafel dipped in hummus, washed down with warm orange Fanta. Our schedules, jam-packed with driving to locations, shooting interviews and gathering B-roll, afforded little time to eat; once we leave the plane, we hit the ground running, existing only on Balance bars, Coca-Cola and espressos.

We ate dessert outside under the Milky Way, which seemed almost within our reach. Little separates heaven and earth in the desert.

It’s customary in the Middle East to socialize in the evening, smoking shisha (apple tobacco from a hookah pipe) and mulling over the day’s events. Sitting in molded plastic patio chairs, we smoked, drank hot tea, and watched an Arab soap opera on a black and white television. One of the antennas was wrapped with aluminum and had been sculpted to look like a rabbit. The TV was connected to a car battery that had been decorated with Hello Kitty stickers. In the distance, breaking the serenity, I heard a camel bellowing. Any more relaxed and I’d have been in a coma.

Before going to bed, I viewed the tapes once more, labeling them with dates and a quick description. I cleaned the gear, charged batteries, made production notes, did some petty cash book-keeping, read the itinerary for the following day, checked the map for locations, and finally set three alarms for 5 a.m. to shoot the sunrise. It was 2 a.m. before I finally got to sleep.

Boots-and-LR-WP 1copy

*****

Assignment: Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt Shoot

Location: approximately mid-way between Dakhla and Bahariya Oasis – Western Egypt

Mark Hufnail, executive producer and long time friend, hired me to shoot ‘The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt’ documentary. We were deep in Egypt’s interior, beyond Bahariya Oasis, and we’d been shooting non-stop for days. I relished shooting at midday, capturing waves of heat rising from the scorching sand and apparitions of lakes beyond our reach.

I appreciated the power of the sun from the very first time I went to the Sahara. I’d rested my cheek on the side of the camera while looking through the viewfinder; my face burned with such intensity that, for a couple of days, I had a large, red, rosy birthmark on my cheek. From that first experience, I learned to soak my kefflyeh (scarf) with water and wrap it around the camera to keep it cool.

For late afternoon shooting, I picked a location facing west to where the sun was due to set. The stage was a large, symmetrical star sand dune (star dunes are pyramidal mounds with slip-faces, on three or more arms, that radiate from the high center of the mound. They tend to accumulate in areas with multidirectional winds, a supreme annoyance I often have to deal with).

It was to be the last shot of the day and a welcome relief from the desert heat. If all went well, this would be the money shot. I’d planned the scene with two Bedouins in the foreground. As they led their camels across the top of the sand dune they’d appear as silhouettes against the giant orange ball that was the setting sun. I just hoped the camels would prove to be co-operative.

Camels are known as the ‘ships of the desert’; they can travel across desert sands with a speed of up to eight to ten m.p.h. They can maintain this speed for longer periods of time over great distances – about thirty miles a day – even with extremely heavy loads.

With this knowledge, I decided to start shooting three minutes before sunset. Inwardly pleading for all the planets to be in alignment and for a little luck to go my way, I hoped to get one good take of the Bedouins and camels passing in-front of the setting sun.

Houston, we have a problem. As I started recording, the winds picked up. Sand started to blow in all directions, spiraling around me.

‘Holy crap! Not now!’ I muttered.

I was shooting on a long lens with a two-time extender, which meant that any small movement of the camera, no matter how subtle, caused the image to be shaky. Out of fear of getting ‘the call’ and being told that the footage was unusable, too shaky, or too shitty, I went into madman overdrive.

I’d already taken precautions by tightening the tilt and pan head and dropping the legs of the tripod to their lowest point above the ground. I dumped all the contents from my backpack and filled them with camera batteries, my Nikon 35mm camera, bottled water, rocks, sand…anything I could get my hands on that would hold weight. I took the anvil case and tried building a protective wall around the camera. The camera’s shaking stabilized, in spite of the many gusts of wind.

I grabbed the walkie-talkie. I had less then three minutes left to get the shot. I called out, ‘Mark, cue the camels. Mark!’

‘Copy. Cue the camels.’

I had two minutes and twenty-four seconds left before the sun set. The frame was empty, no Bedouins or their camels in sight. With adrenalin in my throat, I barked, ‘I don’t see them! I don’t see the camels. Cue the camels! The sun is setting!’

There was a pause. Then Mark replied, ‘They’re going…and they’re going!’

Looking in the viewfinder I saw the first Bedouin enter the frame. Jesus! It was such a relief to see them. ’Okay, there they are… there they are… keep them going… keep them going. Good, good.’

Two minutes and twelve seconds until sunset.

A gust of wind blew hard against the camera and my face was spiked with sand pellets. As the last Bedouin and his camel exited the frame, I had one minute and fifty-six seconds left before the sun went to bed.

I needed them to turn around and cross the frame again. Straining not to overreact, I grabbed the walkie-talkie. ‘Mark, turn them around. Turn them around! Hurry, hurry…turn them around. Turn the camels around!’

‘Okay, we’re turning them, we’re turning them. Stand by…’

I could see the sun accelerating in its fall. One minute and forty seconds of light left. Now I was pleading: ‘Hurry! Hit them in the ass or something!’

‘We’re hurrying! Camels don’t turn on a dime, Dave, we’re hurrying!’

The first camel had its tail up. ‘That camel better not take a crap,’ I warned.

Mark, very calmly, replied: ‘Nothing I can do about that, Dave, sorry.’             I held my breath and prayed that the camel didn’t evacuate its bowels. Slowly, the two Bedouins and their camels sauntered across the frame without incident and exited the shot.

‘Dave, Dave, did we get it? Are we done?’

I stopped recording and checked the tape. I’d managed to get three good passes with just a little shaking that could be minimized in post-production. After a deep sigh, I put the walkie-talkie to my mouth.    ‘That’s a wrap,’ I said. I celebrated this small achievement with a little ‘end zone’ dance before sitting down by the legs of the tripod to enjoy the sun’s departure from the day.

My adrenalin had faded and I became aware of a great stillness surrounding me. The Sahara had toyed with me but now, as I sat in the desert, I felt blessed to be there, with only Mother Nature as an audience.

There was a silence. A silence so great, I could actually hear the earth breathing.

 

 

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“Matthew 24:24 For false christ and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

In 2015, televangelist Creflo Dollar was widely mocked for starting “Project G650,” a means of getting a state-of-the-art Gulfstream G650 plane of his own, financed by his 200,000 followers. According to The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser, Dollar said he “needs one of the most luxurious private jets made today in order to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Televangelist Jesse Duplantis told his followers, he needs roughly $54 million to help him efficiently spread the gospel to as many people as possible, has asked the Lord – and hundreds of thousands of hopefully deep-pocketed followers across the world – for just such a plane.

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland, told followers. The Gulfstream V jet that likely cost millions. The plane was “an exceptional value” but needed another $2.5 million in upgrades. The ministry also needed to build a new hangar and buy a special maintenance equipment and lengthen its runway to accommodate the new plane.

So with all that said, isn’t time to tax the church ? After all, they are big corprations as well.

According to a University of Tampa study, not taxing churches is taking an estimated $71 billion from our economy every year, and this fact remains largely unquestioned.The charitable deduction for all groups cost about $39 billion this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and given that 32 percent of those donations are to religious groups, getting rid of it just for them would raise about $12.5 billion. Add that in and you get a religious subsidy of about $83.5 billion.

When people donate to religious groups, it’s tax-deductible. Churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don’t pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don’t pay capital gains tax. If they spend less than they take in, they don’t pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get “parsonage exemptions” that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they’re doing their income taxes. They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes (and benefits).

Of course, these subsidies do more than reduce revenue. Property tax exemptions, in particular, distort real estate construction decisions and allocate more land to religious entities than would otherwise be the case, which drives up rents for everyone else (especially since religious groups tend not to buy property in high-density, skyscraper-style developments and instead get a whole lot of land for themselves).

It’s just my freaking opinion.

Standing RockThere has been a paradigm shift in my work as a freelance  photojournalist. The curtain of time has slowly been closing in on my life’s work. I am to believe that my prime has passed and my glory days are over. I’ve even been told that I am not millennial enough.  But, as fellow photographer David Carol put it best: ‘No, I can’t think about my own death. It will happen, and I’m sure it will interrupt something I’m doing. At least, I hope it does.’ So heeding David’s words,  I have no desire in retiring and until the day that I exit for the cosmos, I will create my own assignments on my own dime. How important is this you may ask ? For sometime I have witnessed the insidious disease of Oligarchy transmute our Democracy. I worry for my son and daughter, my grandchildren and future generations as the prospect of this social cancer kills the light of democracy. My skillset as a photographer is what I can contribute to stop this affliction to our society.

Inspired by James Natchtwey words, I heard the call and started using my skillset and give back to society. His words so resonated with me that I keep of copy of his speech on my iPhone, which I would like to share with you now.  

Let My Photographs Bear Witness: “The war in Vietnam was raging; the Civil Rights Movement was under way; and pictures had a powerful influence on me. Our political and military leaders were telling us one thing, and photographers were telling us another. I believed the photographers, and so did millions of other Americans. Their images fueled resistance to the war and to racism. They not only recorded history; they helped change the course of history. Their pictures became part of our collective consciousness and, as consciousness evolved into a shared sense of conscience, change became not only possible, but inevitable. Visual journalism, can bring into focus both the benefits and the cost of political policies. It can give credit to sound decision-making, adding momentum to success. In the face of poor political judgment or political inaction, it becomes a kind of intervention, assessing the damage and asking us to reassess our behavior. It puts a human face on issues which from afar can appear abstract or ideological or monumental in their global impact. What happens at ground level, far from the halls of power, happens to ordinary citizens one by one.”

James Natchtwey, Ted Talk 2007

Main line Dialogue

“Hey man ! It’s all about infinite reflection isn’t it? We ask for an eternal embrace after our rite of passage, but like string theory it’s always about getting the right vibe. The vibe man, the vibration of energy from someone who believes in the third eye… Jesus! I sound so woo woo or stoned. Which reminds me, back in the day I use to watch wonky Dance Fever on tv while stoned….popping Tootsie Rolls and caramel popcorn, man oh man! Maui Wowie! Good shit back then.
Jesus! Dance Fever man, hosted by that baby face and swarthy Adrian what’s his name of T J Hooker and Captain Kirk. “Where no man has gone before.” Oh yeah, been there in the cerebral abysses man, damn near didn’t come back. Got to go man, have a date at Pink’s Hot Dogs, peace brother.”

Lady in WaitingSitting here in La, La, Land I can see how you would believe that a gluten free diet and drinking green veggie smoothes is the answer to all your worldly woes. It’s a lie sweetheart, what really works in this world is a pack of Marlboro red, a cup of coffee and a buttermilk donut. Listen sunshine, there is no guarantees in life, this is it, this is all you get. Honey, you and I are living in a temporary parking lot between Nativity Lane and Sunset Boulevard.

Splitting the air above my head with it’s tiny load of death, I instinctively panned the camera to where the sounds originating from when another shot was fired. Shouting began and a car peeled out onto the street below me.  I had no idea if I was the target but I managed to get it on tape. I continued shooting film throughout the night, and it was only when I was filming a mass arrest of looters at a Von grocery store that a voice from behind me reminded me of my vulnerability. ‘You better watch out, cameraman.’

Excerpt from Cue The Camels, Chapter 4, Beirut L.A.   www.cuethecamels.comwww.oodlebooks.comwww.amazon.com  (Kindle Edition)

 

Twenty-eight years ago I picked up an assignment for CBS news to cover film director Spike Lee’s speaking engagement at the University of California in Irvine. The timing was ironic; following the King beating and the LAPD officers’ verdict, it was day two of the rioting. Spike was to talk about his new film ‘Malcolm X’. Irvine is about 45 miles south of Los Angeles, in the county famed for its oranges. Spike never made it; the announcement was made in the UC auditorium that, as a result of an upsurge in violence in L.A. and due to an exodus of traffic causing congestion on the freeways, Mr. Lee was unable to attend his engagement.

I’d taken the precaution of renting an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera; my 1978 Volkswagen Bus just didn’t have the speed or the protection for riding around the city of Los Angeles under such challenging circumstances and against brutal violence.

I packed up the camera and rushed back to L.A., heading north on the 405 freeway. It had been closed and was therefore free of traffic by the time I neared Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). With no police scanner to monitor the situation, I listened to KFWB news radio for leads, following police vehicles, helicopters and fire trucks that may have led me to riot hotspots. From their reports, I deduced that the worst fires and looting were taking place in central Los Angeles. At the interchange I took the on-ramp to the Santa Monica freeway that sits high above the ground on concrete columns. This gave me a spectacular view of L.A.’s cityscape – it stretched out before me, hundreds of dark gray smoky plumes spiraling upwards to meet the black sky. I could smell the distinctive stench of burning asphalt shingles, wood and rubber. Jesus! It’s Beirut L.A.

Excerpt from Cue The Camels, Chapter 4, Beirut L.A.   www.cuethecamels.com, www.oodlebooks.com, www.amazon.com  (Kindle Edition)

 

 

 

April 17, 1993, Saturday, 2:30 a.m. I am fully clothed and laying in bed watching Sting in the science fiction movie “Dune,” while eating Girl Scout peanut butter cookies and drinking coffee. I am in a hotel room at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Commerce, California along with off-duty San Jose detectives and ex-Navy Seals, all of who have been hired as freelance and assigned to me as bodyguards, and all of who are armed to the teeth.  A Seal will drive our bulletproof Crown Victoria that is being rented by the production company for a thousands bucks a day, and one of the detectives will ride “shotgun.” Our team has been issued flak jackets, Kevlar helmets, pepper spray and Israeli gas masks. Ironically, the instructions for the gas masks are in Hebrew and none of us can reads Hebrew. Unlike the first intifada – the L.A. Riots of 1992 – I now have an official backstage pass to the “L.A Riots Part 2-1993 Tour.”   I’m embedded with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Special Enforcements Bureau, in a platoon made up of thirty-six Sheriffs Deputies traveling in sixteen marked patrol cars and one “armored hostage rescue vehicle.”

The Call…..

3:15 a.m. The call comes in to prep the gear, check out and travel to a new location. Crap! Dune is not over and I will miss the best part where giant sandworms appear out of the desert floor and destroy the Harvesters that mine for the Spice on the planet Arrakis. In the hotel lobby I am informed that the production company has had second thoughts and now feels the thousand-dollar-a-day bulletproof car is too expensive.  They do not want to be held responsible for any damage to it. Looks like I will be riding in a Deputy Sheriff’s patrol car.

Platoon Rendezvous…..

8:25 a.m. We have rendezvous with several other platoons of uniformed deputies in what appears to be an abandoned hotel parking lot. Some deputies are relaxing in their vehicles, others are outside, pacing nervously. It is here that I hear the verdict and sentencing of the defendants in the second Rodney King trial as I’m searching for a place to get some coffee. Several of the patrol cars have their trunks open with portable radios tuned to the KFWB all-news station. The newscaster’s flat voice echoes across the parking lot along with news of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nuclear accident in Russia, a fire fight with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas and a nifty review of Billy Crystal hosting the 65th Academy Awards and the shows ratings.

9:20 a.m. The platoon relocates to a substation located at the City Hall Complex in Lynwood.

Falling Down For A Meal……

11:25 a.m.This is our first sit-down meal since Thursday night the 15th of April. “Today is Saturday the 17th of April” I think. I’m sitting in a chair at a table where both have been bolted to the floor. This is Angelo’s Burgers on Atlantic Boulevard in Lynwood. I am getting ready to eat a breakfast burrito, in the company of fifty deputy sheriffs in this small burger joint. After the meal we talk with the deputies and drink coffee when I notice a homemade sign made of cardboard and a magic marker on the counter where you place your order. “The Movie ‘Falling Down’ with Michael Douglas was filmed here on May 12th, 1992.”  It was here at Angelo’s that the famous scene where Michael Douglas’ beleaguered character is trying to order  breakfast from a fast-food chain called  “Whammy Burgers” was filmed.  The menu has changed from breakfast to lunch and Michael wants breakfast not lunch.   In short, the movie is about a man in L. A. who goes bonkers. It’s ironic that we are sitting here at Angelo’s with deputy sheriffs having breakfast waiting for a city to go bonkers.

Saturday 2:15 p.m. It is not the result of the announcement of the court’s verdict that sends us racing at top speed from Lynwood to an amusement park north of Los Angeles. Apparently a scheduled rap concert has been oversold by a thousand tickets or so.  As expected, some of the fans were upset, and out of frustration windows were broken at restaurants across the street from the entrance to the amusement park.

I love Scottish Food……

4:35 p.m. The deputies, our crew and assorted bodyguards are in a holding pattern at the upper entrance to the park. Everyone is hungry. With my supply of Atomic Fireball jawbreakers, Balance Bars and gum gone, the production company finally breaks down and decides to get McDonald’s quarter pounders for everyone. Half way through the order, McDonald’s runs out of quarter pounders and we end up with Happy Meals for most of the crew and seventy plus deputies.

7:46p.m. The sun has set. I tag along with a squad of seven deputies, taking in the sights and sounds of the park. I wonder if we can stop long enough to get a corndog.  Occasionally families and kids looking for a way out of the park stop us and ask for directions.  None of our group are familiar enough with the park and we are not much help in answering their questions. We have not been in the park longer than fifteen or twenty minutes at the most when there is an atmospheric change in the night.

Jurassic Park…..

There is now a lull in the sounds. The normal sounds of a carnival atmosphere where laughter and excited screams of kids on a wild rides are mixed in the night air have diminished. There is something different happening here. There is a different kind of screaming now. A disconcerted screaming that builds and continues until all laughter has been swallowed by the night. A swelling of emotions rises from my stomach and settles into my chest and heart. My instincts are telling me something that I don’t yet consciously perceive.  It is at this point that time becomes a series of different scenarios in slow motion and other craziness in “quick time”.

Like locusts swarming upon a field of grain, kids and families are pouring out of nowhere, surrounding us. The deputies react by creating a circle in the middle of a concrete walkway.  If you were to look down from overhead, you would see a circle of tan helmets surrounded by a sea of bodies.  A sergeant is in the middle trying to hear the two-way radio above the human sounds. My eye is glued in the Nikon’s viewfinder, and the cameras motor drive whines with click-click-click-click-click. The framed faces are growing with expressions of dread, concern, and confusion as the volume of pandemonium rises to a higher decibel.

Somewhere in the park ahead of us panic strikes like lightning and like the delay of thunder, so is my reaction and that of the seven deputies. We catch the first swell of the crowd seeking safety. It is a stampede of hundreds of people coming right at us, and we are a mere wall of eight people. The noise level of crying, shouting and screaming rise again to a decibel level higher then an AC/DC concert. I hear a deputy shouting ” Was that gunfire ? Was that gunfire?”

The mob recedes and confusion fills the void. Again  gunshots or firecrackers are set off somewhere in the park ahead of us and a larger tidal wave of families in sheer panic descend upon us. Unlike the 1992 riots I covered nearly a year ago to the day- this had the element of the vulnerability of families caught in the middle of a total breakdown of civil order. They have become a captive audience for Mad Hatter’s Wild Ride and Freak Show.  A group of teenage boys and girls run up to us screaming that a park security guy is getting beat up behind us. We turn but can’t see anything but a wall of humanity one hundred yards deep.

More deputies arrive out of nowhere and we make our way across a sea of glass shards, white plastic coat hangers, price tags and paper images of cartoon characters. A helicopter flies overhead with its powerful spotlight shining down on the throngs. The beam creates a massive shadow from the tree limbs and scaffolding which slowly crawls over the entire area like a black web.

A Table, Chair and  a Chef……

Passing by a restaurant I notice that the doors are cracked  I peer into the darkness and silhouetted in the foreground are chairs, tables and serving trays stacked on top of each other. Beyond the barrier, a young man dressed in his chef’s whites stares at me with a dazed and anxious look.  I can only assume that he has chosen to stand sentry with fire extinguisher in hand as the world outside goes for a roller coaster ride into a momentary lapse of sanity.

The park is now quieter as the deputies contain and prod the visitors to the main entrance. I pass a long line of kids at a pay phone trying to call their parents to come and get them while near by is a marble statue of a rabbit riding a horse waving goodbye to his guests.

April 19, 1993,  Morning Coffee and the Times….

This morning I read in the  L A Times, “The park reopened Sunday to an enthusiastic spring break crowd as law enforcement officials, park managers and a music promoter tried to pinpoint blame for two melees that damaged both the park and its reputation as a place for family entertainment. An all-night repair job replaced broken windows and looted merchandise in time for Sunday’s 10 a.m. opening”

I later learned that the  “melees” cost the park an estimated 2 million dollars in damages, 40 people were emergency evacuated and that it took 450 deputies to move 40,000 people out of the park. Urban legend has it that a body was found underneath a roller coaster ride four days after the riot. In ShowBiz news, there is big buzz about the release of Steven Spielberg’s film “Jurassic Park” It’s about a team of genetic engineers creating an amusement park full of cloned dinosaurs – then all hell breaks out.