Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Week in Review (and some from last week, too)

Things I forgot to mention last week that bubbled up from the memory hole:

I had known for quite some time that I'd won an award at the Better Newspaper Contest run by WNPA, but I didn't know until Monday, Oct. 12, what I'd won. See, the awards ceremony was that previous weekend, and that's when they announced the winners. The first I knew what I'd won was when my co-worker who actually went to the conference congratulated me on my first place award. I'd checked over the weekend to see if WNPA had updated their website with the winners, but the information wasn't there. In case you missed it, I won first place in the state, in all four circulation categories, for a B&W sports action/feature photo. It's quite an honor, and it adds to my first-place feature photo in one of the smaller circulation categories from three years ago. I'm an award-winning photographer twice over, now. Yay, me. In addition, I won as part of the staff that worked on the two special sections that got second and third place awards. So I'm multi-award-winning journalist this year. Again, yay, me.

For the record, here's what I've won in the Better Newspaper Contest since I joined the Daily Sun News:

The editor also told me on Monday that he was impressed with my homecoming game photos. He said he was delighted with the quality of my photos despite the fact that I had to take a concert photo the same night as all the football and homecoming festivities. He pointed out this photo as a neat shot, with the quarterback in focus framed by two other players. He also enjoyed the circus catch photo I got from the game. Considering how much trouble I was having getting the camera to focus on players, I was just happy I got any shot at all.

Tuesday night (Oct. 13) while at the council meeting in Mabton, there was an executive session with action expected at the end. So I had to sit in the mosquito-infested courtyard. I wasn't entirely alone, though. A little black cat came up and rubbed against my leg. I gave it scritches, and it jumped up onto the bench next to me and demanded more petting. Then it climbed onto my lap, purring loudly. I told it I already have a black cat, and maybe it should go home. No collar. I was a little worried for its safety, but there wasn't much I could do. After I set it gently back on the ground, it proceeded to groom itself while sitting on my foot until the door to the council chamber opened and I was allowed back in. Then it sauntered off. The last I saw it was sitting under a streetlight delicately grooming a front paw as I drove home. Inkwell was furious when he smelt another cat on me. He claimed my shirt when I undressed for the night and curled up in it for hours.

About that photo I posted last week, of the skeleton playing the piano - yeah... the museum was being set up when I got there and they directed me to what they thought, and I agreed, was the perfect spot. I took my photo and showed it to the lady in charge, who looked closely and said, completely seriously, "You'd better take another shot. I think he blinked." The museum building is a perfect place for a scary tour, having served as a funeral home and morgue for quite some time. The folks at the museum had secured an old-fashioned "body bag" to use as a prop. It's basically a coffin-shaped wicker basket. When somebody died at home, which was common, they would place the body in the basket to take it to the funeral home. It was oddly chilling. And the basket was very nicely made and sturdy. A nice freaky thing for a deliciously scary nighttime tour.

Speaking of night, I finally got frustrated enough with not knowing what star/planet was glowing just below Venus each morning to look it up on Heavens-Above and was startled to discover I'd been looking at Jupiter and Mars. And if I strained a little, I could see Mercury almost on the horizon. That's four planets besides my own in one glance in the morning. Nice. I miss Jack Horkheimer, although the show he started is still going strong, it's just not quite the same without him. I've decided to embed Star Gazers on this blog on Mondays so I'll be sure to watch it myself.

Another interesting thing that happened last week... I was setting up a time to go visit Grandview High School to talk with the kids who are live-streaming high school sporting events. The teacher said to come during 7th period, so I had to write him a note that basically said, "Um, I don't know what time seventh period is...?" He apologized, saying he lives in the educational world and sometimes forgets not everyone does.

Huh. It's kind of amazing how much I remember once I have time to sit back and reflect. I guess not as much vanished down the memory hole as I expected.

Back to This Week

So, last Saturday, Inkwell attempted to wake up Eric about a half-hour before feeding time. Eric wasn't in the mood, and kicked Inkwell out of the bedroom and closed the door before getting back into bed and sleeping another two hours. Inkwell was NOT pleased with his humans. In fact, he was swatting at ankles for most of the morning.

For my part, I felt miserable, but the long sleep on Friday combined with a gentle sleep-in on Saturday morning helped me recover quite a bit from Friday morning. Eric made no demands on my energy... we watched some TV together and mostly relaxed. I got some dishes and bedsheets washed, but otherwise took it easy. Even the washing I took slow and steady to try to make sure I didn't get any more sick than I already was. Eventually I even got to the point where I could play with Inkwell a bit, though that took a lot of energy and he got bored quickly.

Sunday was equally lazy, although Eric pointed out that we somehow managed to get a lot of chores done for people who were doing nothing. I think it was all him, personally.

Timing It

Monday morning I had a little problem that made me late to work. During the summer, I'm not paying much attention to what Eric is doing, since he doesn't have to be out the door as quickly as I do, if at all. During the school year, I expect him to be up and going about the same time as I am, so I tend to time what I'm doing based on what he's up to at any given moment. This is normally not an issue, because he's usually running close to my schedule. But on Monday, he got in the shower "late". Not late for him, mind, just late enough that I got it into my tiny brain that it was a half-hour earlier than it actually was. So I took my dear, sweet time... and was almost ten minutes late to work as a consequence. *sigh* If this were the first time this had happened, I would have forgiven myself. But I've done it before, and I fear I will do it again.

I knew my writing was suffering on Friday, I felt like I was wading through mud to get words onto the page. I found out on Monday just how bad some of my writing had been when I got back a couple of the assignments I had "finished" before leaving on Friday morning. Ouch. The editor made them bleed. Stupid, little mistakes all over. The stuff I usually catch. I really don't like being sick. It makes me a crappy (crappier?) writer. Deadline wasn't too bad, and I headed home for lunch and did some reading on a book I needed to review for Friday.

Bad News After Lunch

After lunch the other shoe dropped. We've had the new publisher for less than three weeks, and he's been taking a wait-and-see approach, trying to understand how the newsroom here is run before making any changes. So far, the impact of his presence has been small. However, that changed on Monday. He called a meeting of all the reporters Monday afternoon and he and the editor broke the news: The editor is calling it quits. The editor who has trained me for the last four years is headed off into retirement-land for a bit, although I'm sure with his nature he'll be working on something before the year is out. His final day as my editor, though, is Friday, Oct. 30.

That wasn't the bad news, although it was pretty depressing. I have known for some time that the editor wanted to quit. I just figured he would give it a few months under the new publisher before he left. The suddenness of his departure surprised and dismayed me, but the bad news is that the interim editor is one of my fellow reporters. This is not unexpected, but it does put me in a difficult position. We'll be down one reporter, because I'm going to assume the reporter stepping into the editor position will not want to cover meetings and such. We'll also be taking orders from someone who has been a colleague. The short summary of the situation is: I'm really not happy.

I want to write. I love to write. Writing is what I do, it's what I am. I don't want to deal with personnel issues. I don't want office politics to disturb me. I just want to write.

I wonder if I can learn how to freelance?

Anyway, after the meeting I stayed to finish some work, then took off for home where I promptly set about trying to destroy any thoughts I had in my head. I read a book I'm reviewing for the paper, played a little Doctor Who: Legacy, teased the cat and generally turned myself off for the night. I don't require drugs to get into a different mood: music and books work better for me. I managed to completely forget about it that night, which was what I was aiming for. Call me a coward, I just didn't care to face reality.

Reality is that I've been a reporter for four years under a single system. I know how to do *this* job, but I haven't been exposed to other ways of working. I want to learn, but there are easy ways to learn and difficult ways to learn. I'm as stubborn as the next person about change being forced on me, and this feels very much like a change I'm not ready for. I'm just not pleased. Hopefully, I'll get over it.

It wasn't until I was in the shower Tuesday morning that I remembered Monday's news. My morning soured after that, although I had no deadline problems or extra stress. After deadline, I headed to Grandview to visit Bill's Berry Farm for a possible photo feature.


Now, if you haven't heard of Bill's Berry Farm, it's a working farm that's also a tourist spot here in the Lower Yakima Valley. They are known for their seasonal flavors of donuts, and as soon as I mentioned I was going a co-worker handed me $20 and said "get donuts". I was amused.

I've been down to the farm once, but I didn't get donuts then, so I didn't know what the big deal was supposed to be. All I knew for sure was that I wanted a nice feature with kids in a pumpkin patch and the corn maze. So I headed out there and arrived at the same time as about a billion preschoolers and their parents.

I'm exaggerating slightly. But they were all over the place. Suddenly four people held up letters, "A", "B", "C" and "D" and the children flocked to the proper letter while the parents tagged after them (and in some cases dragged the children). I picked a likely-looking group and joined them. I asked the parents if it was ok for me to take photos of their kids, and there was absolutely no objection from anyone, so I hopped on the hayride with them and we all went out to the pumpkin patch. I got a few good shots, then allowed the hay ride to leave without me. I got a good look at the corn maze, and decided to head back to the main area, get the donuts, then go to the corn maze to get photos.

I mentioned to the gal making donuts that I'd never had any and showed her the $20 the co-worker gave me. She said that would get me two dozen, then gave me a fresh hot donut to try. I took a bite and was in culinary heaven. It was a pumpkin spice donut, and it was really good. I texted my co-worker and asked if she wanted two dozen and she texted back, "DO IT!" So I waited until the fresh donuts were made, put them in my car, drove down to the corn maze and went to get photos of the corn maze.

I had never been in a corn maze before. In fact, I didn't think much of them. How scary is a maze of corn? In this particular maze, children needed to find seven markers with pictures on them. I, on the other hand, needed to find children to take a photo of. So into the maze I went, reminding myself of the trick to getting out of a maze as I went. I shortly ran across a group at one of the markers and took my photo, then decided to continue further into the maze to see if I could get a better shot. Ha. That was a dumb decision.

The entire remainder of the time I was in the maze I didn't see another person. I could hear them just fine, just around the corner, only there was no corner. Just through that wall of corn and pumpkin vines, maybe. But I could see the trail I was on and the corn and the sky, nothing else. I started taking every left turn I found, which I'd been assured would eventually get me out of the maze, but it was a long slog. I think I ended up walking the entire perimeter of the maze before I finally found the exit/entrance again.

I don't think I'll be trying that again any time soon.

Once back to my car, I opened the door to a heavenly smell. My car was pumpkin spice donuts. It was amazing. I drove back to the office in pumpkin spice donut bliss. I didn't eat any, but I felt like I was rapidly gaining weight just smelling them. I was very popular once I arrived back at the office with the donuts, and I did indulge in a second one before I headed home for lunch. Mmmm.

After lunch I had an interview with a local vet for our veterans section. We ended up talking about a lot of things besides his service, but it was a good interview and I appreciated him taking the time.

Volleyball and Mariachi

After the interview I headed home for a short rest before the volleyball game. It was the local high school against one of the state powerhouses, so I wasn't expecting much... but it was way worse than that. It was difficult to watch after having seen some truly great players on my other teams this year. After a full set, I decided I had enough photos and wandered over to the mariachi concert to get the sight of volleyball out of my head. I went ahead and took a couple of photos there, as well. Always good to have potential page-fillers.

Once home I stayed up and waited for my other volleyball coach to call. It was a relaxing evening. I had to elevate my foot as my heelspur decided to make a dramatic return after I'd wandered the corn maze.

Wednesday morning wasn't too bad, except for the Rotary meeting right in the middle of deadline. I headed over to the hospital for the meeting only to learn there was no guest speaker. There'd been a bit of a muck-up, and two guest speakers had shown up the previous week. I listened to the various talk between members and such and got a photo of the student representatives as well. One person said my article about the Burke Boxes had inspired someone to sponsor the boxes for next year, which gave me an unexpected boost. I love hearing that good things happen thanks to my articles.

When I got back a co-worker was rushing out the door to a fire. Having the police scanner up in the office is really annoying, but we do sometimes hear about things we wouldn't otherwise. It often tells us stuff we don't need to hear, but every once in awhile there's relevant information.

DeLorean Day

We also got a call Wednesday morning from a couple who own two DeLoreans, asking if we wanted them to come by for "Back to the Future Day". Heck yeah! I arranged for them to show up for a photo-op in the afternoon. I got pretty stoked about it, and told Ileana on the production team so she could see them when they arrived. I was thinking about "posing" the cars near the Bonnie Dunbar statue (astronaut/future?), but co-worker John suggested the Museum to tie in with the time travel concept. I agreed, especially since the statue would be very difficult to arrange. The town doesn't have a proper clock tower, though if school was out the clock at the high school might have worked.

The girls (the three female reporters) went out to lunch on Wednesday, too, to compare notes on the new situation in the office and discuss decisions and complications. It's clear that none of us are happy about it. But we had a good whine-fest with our Chinese food.

After lunch I waited around for the DeLoreans to show after finishing most of the work I could do. While I was trying to work through other assignments, I heard the police scanner crackle and an officer say, "There's a couple of DeLoreans on Lincoln Avenue." Thus I knew they were on the way. I alerted the folks in the office who gathered up front, and we greeted them with cheers. Then Ileana and I rode over to the museum in the DeLoreans. Yes, I rode in a DeLorean on "Back to the Future Day". It was ... just cool. Just so satisfying on so many levels. It was a short ride, but it was like the perfect dessert... it just hit the spot.

Also, it's a very comfortable, if very low, seat. The ride was gentle and smooth. They said the DeLoreans are great touring cars due to the comfort, and said they've gone on a lot of trips in them. The biggest problem is that it usually takes them awhile to get going in the morning because so many people want to take photos of the cars in the hotel parking lots!

While we set up the photos, people kept stopping to take their own pictures. One guy got his picture then jumped in his car and raced away with a squeal of tires. He was back a few minutes later with his son and bemused wife.

With some difficulty I finally got the photos I needed for the paper, then we stuck around for a short time in the parking lot of the museum letting people look at the cars and take photos. Ileana and I basked in the glory. It really was totally cool in a 1980s sort of way. Ileana also took a rather impressive selfie in the car with the flux capacitor, while wearing the hat.

We walked the couple of blocks back to the office after the DeLoreans left to get to a showing of the movies in Yakima. The editor later told me that he'd gotten a call from the owner of the car who told him my coverage was the most accurate of the three local papers that had stuff on them during the week. I noted that my coverage was probably also the shortest... but my editor was impressed anyway.

After the DeLorean ride, the rest of the day was a let-down. Well, not really. I was floating for awhile with the sheer joy of having ridden in a DeLorean on *that* day. I finished the book I was reviewing and slept the sleep of the just that night. By Thursday the excitement wore off, which was good, because I had a long trip Thursday morning after deadline. During "down time" I was able to finish my book review - that's how long I have to wait sometimes for my police logs in the morning. I was still in a good mood through deadline, and when my co-worker Julia and I had both finished all our morning assignments (including the DeLorean photos) we headed out to Bickleton.


Ah, Bickleton. It's not really that far away as the crow flies, but it's a longer drive due to twisting roads up into the hills. Bickleton is a small town, sort of, as it's not incorporated. We cover their schools and other major events along with the Goldendale newspaper. On Thursday, we headed out to report on the town getting a water system.

Before the water system, residents had to have their own wells. That's all good if your well-water stays healthy, but there have been more and more problems locally with nitrates in water and other issues. The folks in the town have been working for seven years at getting this system, so it was a big deal. Julia and I sat through the presentation about the water system, then went out and got photos of the reservoir and the construction on the fire department, had lunch, then headed back to the office.

Once back at the office, we had a little time to piece together a story. I had an appointment in Grandview that wasn't at a set time, so as soon as I could I dashed out the door. The interview was with a woman who is opening a dance studio, and the work she's done on the building is impressive. She and I had a good chat, and then I went home and pretty much fell over from exhaustion. I had to stay up and wait for my coach's call, but after that I feel into a very deep sleep.

Answering to the Scanner

I woke to the alarm on Friday morning. I usually am awake before the alarm, but Friday... nope. It was the alarm intruding on a dream that got me up. I got to work in good time and zipped through my corrections. I was just starting on the police log when a call came over the scanner of a structure fire. It was on a road that was totally unfamiliar to me, so I Google'd it. I realized it is actually fairly near, so I checked with the editor. He gave me the go-ahead, so I drove out that way.

The place I was headed is near Emerald Road, which winds through hops fields on our side, then becomes a road cut into a hillside as it reaches the next town over. It's also near the Yakima River, which means that at 7:30 in the morning in the fall it's very foggy. Oddly, the fog-banks were very well-defined, too, so I would drive through a clear-ish morning and then up ahead the road would be blocked by a cloud. As I got nearer to where I thought the fire must be, I went into a fog bank and started to feel frustrated about finding the place. Then suddenly I was in the open again, and right in front of me I saw the billowing clouds of dark smoke on the hillside above the road.

It wasn't hard to find from there. The location was up a gravel road, and when I got close enough to see the fire truck I pulled off the road as far as I could do safely, and walked the rest of the way in. It's a darn good thing I parked where I did, too.

When I arrived, there was one firefighter and one truck. Just one. Nobody else. I had my camera snapping away as soon as I was in sight of the fire. It was a heart-breaking sight. The house was completely engulfed in flames, totally involved. There were three folks on the road watching the fire, and I walked over. As I approached, the woman came over to me and explained that she'd called emergency services after spotting smoke coming from the garage. She said there had been a dog in the house, and it hadn't gotten out.

One of the men turned out to be the owner of the house. He said his son lived there, but nobody was in the house at the time of the fire. More fire engines started to arrive. Once they had a couple more hoses on the thing, they were able to knock it down. My car was parked just barely outside the zone of the fire trucks.

After I'd gotten some good shots, I called the boss and suggested he hold a spot on the front page for this photo. Then I took a photo of the fire with my phone and tweeted it to the newspaper Twitter account. It was not easy to turn my car around and get out of the area. There were just a few too many emergency vehicles by the time I left. I counted seven trucks and a police car. I passed another coming in as I left the scene.

Back at the office, I stopped to show the editor the pictures. He was chatting with the publisher, and they had me pick out two shots for the front page. I headed back to give Ileana the memory card and she noted, "you smell like smoke."


Once that adventure was done, cutlines written and in the file, the scanner woke up again. This time the fire was in town. Another possible structure fire, fairly near my house! I drove out there quickly. The fire was at an apartment building. One of the four buildings in the complex had burned down not too many years ago, but when I got there it was clear the fire wasn't in the same building that had burned before. I arrived before the fire department and was stunned to find people still in the building, ignoring the fire alarm. One kid asked me "should we all be getting out of the building?" and I think I also screamed "Yes!"

There was a woman in the window of the apartment above where the fire was supposedly in. She started yelling in Spanish that the fire was below her. I told her she needed to get out of the apartment. I had a woman who speaks Spanish tell her that. The woman told her, then turned to me and said, "She doesn't really walk at all." I was stunned and half-ready to go up and haul the woman down over my shoulder. I could smell smoke, and if there was really a fire, she was in a heckuva lot of danger. Then the fire dept arrived and I summed up what I knew to the fire chief quickly. He was in the supposedly flaming apartment in moments, and came out again looking less concerned. After he talked with the apartment manager and the woman upstairs for a few minutes, he gave some orders to his fire truck and crew, then came over to me.

There was a fire. It was in a pan on the stove. The woman in the upstairs apartment smelled the smoke and called the apartment manager. *first oddity, why call the apt manager first?* The apartment manager came over to check after awhile, and then went into the downstairs apartment. *second oddity, why not call the fire dept. if there's a risk of fire?* After seeing smoke, the apartment manager searched the apartment for the source, found the oven, and turned off the stove. *third oddity, why on earth would you go into what you think is a burning apartment, and keep going when you see smoke?!?* Add in the fact that a woman who apparently can barely walk is in a second-floor apartment, and I'm still shaking my head in utter disbelief at the whole thing.

In any case, the firemen entered the apartment that had the stove and checked for any other dangers, then set up a fan to clear out the smoke. The fire chief and I chatted a bit. He said the three older buildings in the complex have no sprinklers, so they take calls at this place pretty seriously. I showed him my photos of the earlier fire, since he hadn't gone out to it. Then I headed back to the office, still shaking my head at people who seemed to have no common sense at all.

Car Crash

I wasn't at the office all that long before another call came across the scanner. A head-on collision just north of town. I headed out again, letting the editor know where I was going. I got passed by an ambulance on the way, but I made fairly good time and was able to park near the wreck but still out of the way and get some photos of a victim being loaded up in an ambulance. I talked with the fire chief again. I said, "No offense, but I hope I don't see you again today!" He said, "Now you know why we need more people!"

The investigation still needs to be finished, but from what I saw, it looked like a teenager in a pickup truck didn't stop at a stop sign and was hit just at the front of his vehicle by the car on the road with the right-of-way. The teenager wasn't seriously injured, but the driver of the other vehicle was taken to the hospital. I heard him answering questions from the paramedics, but it sounded like he didn't remember what happened. From the path of the car and the marks on the road, it looked to me like the guy with the right-of-way attempted to swerve when he saw the truck run the stop sign, which resulted in him doing a terrifying u-turn into a dirt lot. A few feet to his left and he would have hit a pump. A few feet to his right and he would have crashed through a ditch. In any case, I'll be checking the police logs on Monday for more information, and to see if my guess is correct.

Home again

Lunch was quick, and I was back at work and getting through Monday's stuff before I knew it. Once the day was done, I went home and pretty much crashed. I slept about three hours, maybe three and a half, before I woke up and had dinner. Eric left this morning for Seattle, while Inky is patrolling the house protecting me, and sometimes coming up to inform me it's feed-the-cat time. I expect to be extremely lazy today.

A couple of odd notes for the week...

Inkwell knocked down my Halloween flag from the front window and ate the string that was holding it up. He's had an upset stomach from it, and has been passing "cat seeds" that are tied together. There are times I really wonder why we have a cat.

A woman came in looking for the paper that had photos of the mariachi band. Apparently my page-filler actually sold an extra paper. Yay, me!