You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy.
The FORTUITOUS GODS OF JOURNALISM.
I’m standing in front of the hospital, waiting for my cue. In an instant, the craziness of the last 30 minutes flashes across my mind like a neon infused highway billboard.
It’s been balls to the wall of high speed driving, sirens blaring, shots fired, and ambulances screeching to an emergent stop at the E.R.
It starts as a shots fired call at the Opry Mills mall. There are reportedly mass casualties, somewhere between OLD NAVY and AUNT ANNIE’S PRETZELS.
YIKES. another attack on the fabric of America.
The scanner burps this news like acid thrown in a puppy’s face.
It is corrosive and hard to digest.
It’s a Thursday scanner call nobody wants to hear. It cuts through the newsroom like chain saw pulverizing rancid meat.
Nashville has just been assaulted by a madman at a Waffle House. A young man who hears demons in his head walked into the morning breakfast venue and opened fire with an AR 15. 4 people died. Others were injured. Several are still in the hospital recovering.
Now it’s happened again. Or so the scanner seems to indicate.
“We need you to go to Opry Mills,” the executive producer says.
I’ve seen her face like this before. It is sad, but steadfast. I want to say no. Instead, I push away from my work station.
A second ago I was editing what was the lead at 4pm and 6pm. Now?
I grab a note pad and pen and join my trusty photog at the side door.
“This is crazy,” he says.
Nobody likes to be jerked away from their job at 2:30 in the afternoon.
We’ve been working for 7 hours on a story about cartel members stealing electricity from the grid to power a clandestine marijuana grow house. That story will die on the vine.
Suddenly, all the effort, the words, the standups, the pictures, the promise of what we will and will not say to undercover agents is a burp in a cyclone.
“What do you think?,” I ask my photog as we approach the exit for Briley Parkway.
The TDOT Sign reads: Exit 11 closed.
We have about a quarter mile to decide as cars begin stacking up on the exit. We pass one of our own responding news units.
“We could go around the airport,” my photog suggests.
So much crazy happening so fast. It’s like being trapped inside of a hive with angry honey bees waiting to sting your brain.
“Go Briley,” I say tepidly. “We’ll figure it out.”
We take the ramp and blue lights begin swarming the interstate.
“Cops coming up behind us,” my photog says looking in his rear view.
I check the side view mirror and see one of Metro’s finest bolting down the break down lane. Suddenly he is on the ramp approaching us we wind around the circular on-ramp.
My photog and I share a brain in situations like this. He already knows what I am going to do, need to do.
He rolls down his window as he slows and pulls to the right to allow the speeding police car to fly by.
My phone is out and I push record as my photog squeezes back into his driver’s seat allowing me maximum space. I thrust the camera past his chest, shooting out the window.
“WAAAAAAA,” The siren wails as the cop car speeds by.
I track it through the front windshield as it speeds down Briley Parkway toward the mall.
My photographer is not timid. He’s been in this situation before and he accelerates getting behind the squad car, following aggressively, but from a safe distance.
I zoom into the police car and hold the tiny iPhone as steady as possible.
The footage looks like a camera on a space shuttle retro rocket during re-entry.
Suddenly the cop veers to the right, cutting through stagnating traffic.
We stay in the left lane as I video tape the cop car zip down a closed ramp.
“What do we?,” he asks.
I survey the situation. The answers are limited. None of them are ideal.
Traffic is coming to a halt on a four lane highway. Exit ramps are closed to try and preserve this massive crime scene.
“Now what?,” my photog asks, maneuvering adroitly in and out of traffic, wheels half in the breakdown lane.
The obvious choice is to pull over. It’s the safe choice. It’s the choice that most TV Journalists would make.
The idea of doing what other TV Journalists would do, makes me queasy in my core.
I look at the retraining wall and how far away the mall is from this location. I might as well be going live from the Dark Side of the Moon.
I hate the idea of pulling over. I hate it. I hate it. But the options are seemingly limited.
The phone rings.
It’s the assignment desk.
“We need a live shot as soon as possible,” the frantic voice on the other end screams.
I’ve been on that end of the equation before.
Inside the newsroom, people are losing their shit. They are inside people, working a mass shooting in a building with no windows. They are connected only by secondary elements. They are listening to often wrong scanner traffic and talking to sources on telephones and staring at their smart phones and computer screens hoping that the pictures to this massacre in the making will somehow materialize.
BUT THEY WON’T MAGICALLY SHOW UP ON THEIR SMART PHONES AND TV MONITORS TILL OUTSIDE PEOPLE LIKE ME AND MY BOY GIVE THEM THE GOODS, THE PICTURES, THE STORY.
WE ARE THE JOURNALISTIC EQUIVALENT OF 1ST RESPONDERS.
We are foot soldiers in this journalistic assault. We are the marines who jump out of the ship, crash into the surf, and try and survive an onslaught of enemy machine gun fire.
And if we get to the beach with all our parts, we hunker down and start gathering facts and pictures and send it back to the hungry people at the station who wait inside a building with no windows to know what it looks like, what it feels like, what it smells like.
Our comrades in the newsroom will be informed the minute we fire up the tools of the trade and beam the miracle of spot news back to the mother ship.
My photog looks at me. He knows the tick tock of the clock is like a bass drum in my ears.
I’m leaning toward pulling over and getting a live shot up for the sake of establishing a live shot.
That’s when we see new lights swirling through 4 lanes of congestion. Red and blue emergency beacons announce a change in the immediate situation.
I stare at the on ramp and suddenly see an ambulance churning onto Briley Parkway, heading away from the mall. The ambulance is flanked by two metro police cars. One in front, one behind. It looks like 2 fighter jets escorting a bomber to the target.
The 1st responders are driving fast and hard.
In a nano second, it becomes obvious to me that this has to be a victim from the shooting at the mall.
The ambulance and 2 police cars accelerate onto Briley Parkway Northbound.
My photog looks at me. He is already accelerating as he asks, “Should we follow it?”
Like a Texas Instruments calculator computing a mathematical equation in an instant, I mull over options.
We can pull over and point the camera at the mall from a 1,000 feet away. We can shoot through 4 lanes of oncoming traffic. We can shoot through shrubs and trees and parking lot lights. We can zoom in and hopefully show a portion of the front of the mall. We can hope that SWAT trucks, ambulances, a hundred police cars stacked up in the front of the mall don’t block our view. I can get a live shot, for sure. But how good will it be? I’ve been in this scenario before. I know it will look like tiny ants in a fire. I will guess at what is happening. I will hypothesize on events as the anchors, winded and tired of talking from a studio with nothing to show, toss the live shot to me over and over and over, expecting me to unravel the mysteries of the universe in 2 minutes.
Then, in a fortuitous gift basket of opportunity, as they always have in my career, the Gods of spot news give me another option.
“We’re heading to Skyline Medical Center,” I shout into the phone. “I think we have a shooting victim.”
“Ten Four that, go for it!,” The assignment editor shouts.
He is a grizzled vet. He trusts us, and he knows that we are onto something good. He knows that other reporters and photographers are right behind us and they will do what they all do. They will stop at the place on the ramp and shoot that live shots from a 1,000 feet away.
The next five minutes is a high speed chase. I video tape the ambulance and 2 police cars flying up the highway.
The emergency vehicles exit at Dickerson Pike, hang a quick right turn and suddenly we are on Hospital property.
The Photog ditches the car in a parking spot.
He needs a minute to assemble his equipment.
I don’t. I have an iPhone. I jump out and zoom into the emergency bay door.
I watch as the EMT’s jump out of the ambulance and the E.R. doctors rush out to meet them.
I can see chest compressions as a cloud of medical personnel hover over the victim.
I am 50 yards away, but I can tell from the outline of the moment that whatever has happened to whomever this is, is bad.
By this time, my photog stands beside me and with a lens that is 10 times what I am holding. He zooms in to the gritty, visceral moment that defines life and death.
He captures a half a dozen first responders wheeling the victim into the E.R.
And like that, it’s over.
The scene is gone. The one moment in time, that you either get or don’t get, has vanished, like a pop up rain storm.
I look around the E.R. driveway for another news crew.
It’s just me and my boy.
He smiles a silent smile. He extends his fist and we bump hands.
Without saying a word, we know that we made a million decisions at light speed that lead to this single moment that gave us a picture that nobody else in Market 27 will get.
As it turns out; this was not a mass shooting event. As it turns out, this is probably a gang fight between two young men with misguided visions of right and wrong. As it turns out, the 2 young men know each other, got into a beef, and one shot the other in the neck inside a crowded mall.
It’s horrible. But not a mass shooting.
As it turns out, there will be only one victim who is shot and dies.
That victim? The guy we chased in the ambulance and video taped going into the E.R. with a bevy of 1st responders trying to sustain his life.
We establish a live shot and wait for our cue.
I’ve been sick as hell. I am literally breathing thanks to Publix Brand Nasal Spray and generic antihistamines.
I have been blowing my nose, coughing up green death, choking on my fluids.
I have been so sick, I probably don’t even realize how many times I have sneezed, how many times I have coughed, how many times I have cleared my throat. My ears hurt, my head feels like a lead balloon. My nose is clogged like a New York City subway car.
The sounds I am making to sustain viable breathing are honestly horrific.
How disgusting? Like stepping in doggie doo doo in bare feet!
I am doing these live shots on pure adrenaline. Several times I consider checking myself into the hospital and asking for an IV bag.
I do my best to tell the viewers what has just transpired. I describe the highway, the chase, the phalanx of emergency crews racing up the road to emergent care.
While every other crew in Market 27 shows static shots from outside the mall of a scene that is in slow motion, we show frenzied, hurried, excitement happening at the speed of news.
It is exclusive, different, energized.
But somewhere along the way to breaking news and risking our own safety, the douche bags who sit at home in the safety and comfort of their own living space, commandeer the internet and critique our efforts.
Some guy named JASONANDGREG on Twitter wrote this:
@AndyCordan please don’t hock loogies on live TV. Nasty man! I had to change the channel. @WKRN I’m trying to watch your coverage but this guy, dang!
I am sweating and barely hanging on to consciousness. I read this and it is deflating. I wonder who this mutton chop is? Is he Jason? Is he Greg? or is he some kind of circus freak, half man half man. I wonder if they share the same dick? I wonder if he has to sit to pee? Jasonandgreg. Just his Twitter Handle makes me want to spit into his throat. There you go JASONANDGREG, enjoy that green, gooey, lugey.
PLEASE. CHANGE THE F$%^ING CHANNEL. You are as important to me and what I do as the bug that splatters on the windshield at 70mph.
You are smeared who cares.
Then there is ROBERT. He is the FACEBOOK Troll who for a decade only shows his little tiny penis on line when something irritates him.
This pasty faced troll writes: Anybody else have a problem with Andy filming while driving and driving on the shoulder of the interstate?
I respond to this butt bristle with the following: Hey Robert. To borrow a line from an old movie, Kelly’s Heroes; why you always hitting me with those negative waves? Here’s an idea that’s positive and proactive. Find a new channel to watch. It won’t hurt my feelings and perhaps it will make you feel better. Take Care Robert.
Like anything else, this too shall pass. I won’t check my Facebook page. I don’t care what the penis troll or circus freak think.
In the end, I will do a dozen live shots. I will never have any more information than I gave after my 1st report.
The victim on the stretcher was from the mall. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
All the other TV stations watched our report and within 30 minutes, they are all at the hospital standing beside us.
They are all cordial and friendly, but they all know it is over. The guy getting wheeled into the emergency room was the space shuttle exploding in the clouds. You either shot it or you missed it.
They missed it. We shot it.
End of story.
The Gods of TV Journalism once again reward me for some reason that is not yet apparent.
Meanwhile, the douche bags who troll and criticize from the dark existence of the internet continue to multiply like gangrene fungus in a petri dish.
With the exileration and the excitement of chasing the story, comes the instantaneous TWITTER spew that can cut like a scalpel if you let it.
My hope is that one day I get to knock on JASONANDGREG’S circus flap and perp walk their troll asses into a police car for some kind of heinous farm animal sexual misconduct.
And you know what? I bet the Gods of News will make that happen for me.
Because life does happen at the SPEED OF NEWS.