Monthly Archives: September 2012

Circle the Jackwagon

Jackwagon’s energetic new self-titled CD showcases a band that’s getting it right.  The three-piece has produced a refreshing record rooted in traditional blues-based rock–  strung together with a  crisp, buzzing guitar and catchy songwriting.  It’s a kicky sonic assault that’ll lodge into the fun part of your brain and linger… long past the moment you stop asking yourself whatever the hell a “jackwagon” is.

Eddie plays bass.

I have no record reviewing skills, which may explain why CNN Español guy (and former WAGA photog) Eddie Cortes asked me to review his latest aural output.  It’s a self-titled record from the band he decided to call “Jackwagon.” He knows I’m a sucker for all things Eddie; our invasion-of-Iraq experience in 2003 cemented that.

While driving to Augusta Friday  — where we spent some quality time with GOP congressional candidate Lee Anderson — Dan Reilly and I listened to Jackwagon.  The good news:  When the CD finished, and returned to song one, neither of us reached for the “eject” button.

It was a fine record for 300 mile round-trip drive.  Each song is uptempo.  The guitarist, Robert Blondeau, is inventive yet firmly rooted in a Slash / Van Halenesque comfort zone.  His riffs make the record, though the maniacal work of drummer Patrick O’Connor seasons it nicely.

Among his friends, the longstanding joke about Eddie’s various rock bands is that Eddie ends up singing.  He’s a fearless vocalist, despite a range that can generously be described as “limited.”  The new record has some surprises; in a song called “Battle Heart,” Eddie’s vocals are expressive and help keep the song interesting.

The record is much better than I’d hoped.  The songwriting actually is solid, for the most part.  The record is well produced; Eddie says the band paid for studio space and had it engineered by a guy who actually knows what he’s doing, and it shows.

“He ought to be singing about live shots,” Dan started to say after I revealed that Eddie was behind the record.  At that point, the song “Carolyn Day” came on.  Eddie wrote that song a decade ago, in a moment of obsession over an appealing WAGA reporter named Carolyn Day.  Carolyn left the news biz shortly thereafter to work at a B&B in southern California. She now works with a production company there. Jackwagon has remade the song longer and louder; the song wasn’t particularly good to begin with except as an inside novelty, and this doesn’t improve it. I’m pretty sure the lovely Mrs. Cortes still rolls her eyes whenever she watches Eddie’s band perform it.

The real head-scratcher, though, is the band’s name.  “Jackwagon” brings to mind a gnarly fur bus filled with paunchy former frat guys who’ve removed their wedding rings for an evening of stoopidity.  Recently, an 11Alive photographer suggested, incorrectly, that the Butthole Surfers is the worst band name ever.  I countered with Jackwagon.  Although I’ve offered to consult with Eddie about band names, he has declined my generosity on this issue.

Should you buy the record?  The download is $9.99.  Have you ever pissed away ten bucks on two beers at a bar?  Or given a Hamilton to a guy who “just needs money for gas to get home”?  Of course you should buy the record.  Or at least like their Facebook page.

Even if you aren’t embarking on a 300 mile round trip to meet a guy running for Congress.

Jackwagon is having a CD release party thing at Famous Pub at Toco Hill on October 13.  I’ll probably miss it.  Go hug Eddie for me!

Waiting game

Outside the Douglas Co. Courthouse. The poles to the left are from TV trucks.

As I write this, I’m seated on a couch on the third floor of the Douglas County Courthouse, waiting for a jury to decide whether to send a 20 year old kid named Tracen Franklin to death row.  It’s the third day I’ve spent doing this.

Franklin’s guilt wasn’t difficult for the jury to determine.  But the jury is struggling with the penalty phase that comes after the guilt-or-innocence phase.  They started deliberating late Tuesday.  Today is Friday.  This morning, they sent a note to the judge saying they were deadlocked 10-2.  They were ordered back into the jury room to keep talking.

Bruce Harvey waits. “My” couch is behind him.

For those of us waiting for the decision — reporters, attorneys, family members, court staff and spectators — it means we’ve gotten to spend lots of quality time trying to stay comfortable and somewhat busy in and around the courthouse.  We know that at any moment, the verdict could come — at which point we’ll go full throttle to make the evening’s deadlines, in addition to getting the story on the web.

But until then, we wait.

For me, the best spot has been this mostly overlooked couch on the third floor.  Bruce Harvey, the famed ponytailed Atlanta defense attorney, is seated at a table nearby, working undisturbed.   The courthouse, built in 1998, has a unique circular atrium.  Looking through the atrium from the third floor, I can see the hallway outside the fourth floor courtroom, where spectators are idly waiting for word that court has reconvened.  Their body language will tell me when something is up.  Likewise, Harvey has an assistant inside the courtroom.  She has whisper / hollered through the atrium at Harvey whenever the jury has sent the judge a note, requiring his (and my) presence in the courtroom.  So although I’m one floor away, I’ve got a solid system for monitoring the courtroom.

The courthouse atrium. The folks awaiting a verdict are one floor up.

To get to the courtroom from here, I have to go through courthouse security.  In Douglas County, “security” is required for courtrooms.  However, county administrative offices — including the county commissioners’ offices — don’t require security.  My couch is near the commissioners’ offices.

Normally, courthouse security is a dreary but  necessary evil.  It’s worse in Douglas County though.  The chief judge here — I don’t know the name — has told bailiffs that people wearing visible belts must remove them before going through the metal detector.  It puts us in the awkward and slightly creepy position of removing the belt in public, then putting it back on in public.   Very few courthouses require this onerous step.  (And if your belt isn’t visible, and doesn’t set off the metal detector, it’s overlooked.)

Near the security system, a guy has a shoe shine stand.  He growled at me a few times when I passed, making note of my scuffed wingtips.  He snagged me Thursday afternoon, before the end of a second full day of jury non-decision.

When killing time in the courtroom, a bailiff sits by the door leading from the jury box to the jury room.  Whenever news comes from the jury, that doors is the conduit.  As a result, whenever the doorknob rattles, the folks chattering in the courtroom go quiet.  Frequently, it’s just a member of the judge’s staff, who sheepishly apologizes for raising expectations.

At least the shoes look good.

At one point, reporters from WGCL and WSB and I traded stories about the silly questions producers ask of reporters covering trials.  The best one is, of course:  When is the verdict expected?

Fortunately, nobody at WXIA has asked me that question this week.  In fact, this afternoon, I began volunteering an answer:  This jury will finish, one way or another, today.  It’ll either come up with a verdict (and based on the “we’re deadlocked” note sent earlier, I’m not expecting that).  Or, they’ll throw in the towel — and probably in plenty of time to get their weekend off to a solid start.  These folks have been at this for three weeks.   It’s now 2:15.  I’ve already told folks they’ll have a decision around 2:30 – 3pm.  Yes, I’m sticking my neck out.  Yes, I know better than to predict what a jury will do.  But hey – it’s Friday.

Don’t none of ‘em want to come back here Monday.  And count me among them.

The jury returned at 5pm deadlocked.  The judge dismissed the panel from the case.

Yes he can

Mike Thomas, WXIA-TV. He’s the guy to the lower right.

Your name is Mike Thomas.  You’re an elite news photographer of the local variety, a guy who assumed a managerial position at WXIA-TV years ago because of your sometimes breathtaking talent.  You’re a go-to when high-profile things happen and the coverage has to be rock-solid.

Clint Eastwood swiped Mike’s chair.

So it makes sense that you’d get sent to cover the two political conventions, one in Tampa and another in Charlotte.  You and anchor Melissa Long spent 24 hours of your lives inside of news vehicles commuting roundtrip from Atlanta to those two cities, agreeably saving the company the cost of air fare.  Your hotel space is not exactly in the convention core with CNN and the rest of the bigshot news organizations.  You’re in the ‘burbs, but you’re not one to complain.

Good thing.  Because when you get to Charlotte, you realize that you’ve got a situation. 

The producers back in Atlanta are expecting an abundance of material from you, more or less from the moment you hit the ground.  You’ve gathered the video.  Now’s time to put it together.

Providing encouragement: Melissa Long, WXIA

But it seems that the cozy workspace to which you’ve been assigned is actually a cramped and overcrowded nightmare.  You try to set up shop, but there’s no room.  You could waste a bunch of energy elbowing your way into nonexistent space.  Or you can find an alternative.  If you’re Mike Thomas, a man who looks thirty but is pushing fifty, your experience tells you to use your available energy wisely, and adapt.

So you find a hallway near the location where your nightly live shots will be.  You spot a priceless accessory in a wall — a working electrical socket.  You disregard the detritus that flecks the floor around you.  You adjust your expectations.  You plug your laptop into the wall, squat like Yogi Berra and get crackin’.

Because your space is common, there are distractions.   You assume a first-name relationship with the janitorial staff.  You barely flinch when FLOTUS walks by with a heavily-armed entourage.

And if the talent strikes what may or may not be a slightly impatient pose in front of you, you multitask:  You ease any concerns expressed about your upcoming shared deadline, while simultaneously positioning your cursor — no mouse pad for you! — with your touchpad, grabbing keyframes and making rapid-fire TV magic.

“I covered both political conventions in 2012,” you’ll say for the rest of your life.  It’ll sound a lot more glamorous than it really was.

Top photo by Melissa Long, bottom photo by Chris Sweigart.

The life of Ivan

Ivan

Ivan, the western lowland gorilla, died in August.  Hardly anybody noticed.  But I noticed.  I am the Ivan the Gorilla of local TV reporters.

Everybody knew Willie B.  Willie B was Zoo Atlanta’s trailblazer, the Alpha gorilla who symbolized the zoo’s resurgence in the 1980s.

With an eye on freshening the gorilla habitat’s gene pool, Zoo Atlanta acquired Ivan in 1995.  Ivan lived in Willie B’s shadow for years.   “Is that Willie B?” one could hear visitors at the zoo say, while pointing at Ivan.

Ivan’s higher-profile colleague / competitor sucked down all the star power at the zoo’s Ford African Rain Forest.  Ivan brooded in his shadow.

When I go out to cover news, I am frequently greeted by with politely-concealed disappointment.  When the 11Alive truck pulls up, the public wants to see Brenda Wood jump out.  Instead, they get me.

Like Ivan, viewers of Atlanta TV news frequently mistake me for other TV news silverbacks.

Yet Ivan had a back story that was more interesting than that of Willie B.  He lived in a display in a Tacoma Washington shopping center for 27 years, an object of wonderment and pity.  Petitions were presented to “free Ivan,” and his plight became a cause célèbre.  Yet he didn’t get sent to Atlanta until the shopping center went into bankruptcy.

Ivan wasn’t liberated.  He was liquidated.

Though Willie B and I were born a year apart, I relate more to Ivan.  He was famously awkward.  When he was first introduced to female gorillas at Zoo Atlanta, he more or less turned tail and ran.  The ladies scared him to death.

Willie B was named after an Atlanta mayor.  Willie B was immortalized in a bronze statue.  When Willie B died, it was almost as big a deal as Monica’s retirement.

Ivan will be memorialized at Zoo Atlanta Saturday.  Ivan will likely get no statue.

Yet second bananas everywhere will toast the life of Ivan.