Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How getting police records was almost a comedy of errors

Today was one of those pile-all-the-doo-doo-on-you days. At work, I sat through 2-1/2 hours of training for a new interoffice computer program. That session made me fall very behind on all my daily duties. As I struggled to keep from having to stay overtime, I was asked at 4:35 p.m. to go pick up a 235-page police report at Tempe Police Station. Now, for you non-Arizona people, you need to usually take the freeway to get to downtown Tempe from downtown Phoenix. It usually takes about 15 minutes but at 4:35, there's no telling how monstrous traffic can be. And of course, the public records office closes at 5 p.m. And in my building, you have to take the elevator down, walk across the lobby to the garage, etc. Basically, losing minutes right there. It never ceases to amaze me at how these requests come at the worse time. But I had to give it a try.

So, I speed down there as fast as I can without getting a ticket. On the way there, my cell rings and it's my friend Leah. She wanted to know if I was free after work. I explained through some griping what I was up to and how there was no way I was going to get there before 5. She happened to be in Tempe too. As I got closer, I grew more anxious. I had never been to the police station in Tempe. When I got to a major cross street, Mill Avenue, I didn't know which way to turn. Here's a rough paraphrase of our conversation as Leah was still on the phone with me:

Leah: "I'm at that intersection too. I'll turn south, you turn the other way. If I see the police station, I'll let you know to turn around."

Next best arrangement to having a GPS. Sure enough, she saw the station first. So, I U-turned stat and pulled up in front of the police station. I bounded out of the car leaving the hazard lights going. I looked at my watch. 5:05. !@#*$

I went into the lobby and there was nobody there to check me in. A plain-clothes police officer opened the second door between the lobby and records desk.
"Can I help you?"
"I missed the picking up the public records by five minutes. Is there any way I can still pick up? I'm with the media."
"Public records? Nobody's here right now. Nobody will help you. Sorry." Am disappointed at how he's kind of curmudgeonly and straight-laced.

He went back inside. I wanted to kick something. I did not want to have to drive back here tomorrow right when they opened. Meanwhile Leah had texted me: "Watching your car so it doesn't get towed." Not willing to give up yet, I decided my best bet was to try and look my most vulnerable without turning on the waterworks. So, despite wearing a short skirt and heels, I dropped to my knees there in the lobby. I put the printout of our public records request on the floor. I pretended to stare in deep thought at it and at my cell and did my best to look utterly distraught. I mean I was distraught, just not "utterly." After a few minutes of staring at the ground, I got up, dusted off my knees and was ready to throw in the towel. I called the office and told a colleague to tell the news editor I wasn't able to get the records in time. As I hung up, I noticed the same police officer was waving vigorously. When I was sure it was me he was waving at, I walked back through the second set of glass doors.

Officer: "I don't normally work at this desk. But I guess if all the other media already picked this up, it must be pretty important. You better have it too."

I couldn't believe it...My pity party-of-one actually worked? He took my press credential and started gathering the 200-some pages. He said since it was after 5, he didn't have any change or credit card machine to use. I would have to pay cash. The total was $57.50. Despite having gone to the ATM yesterday and having $13 in ones in my wallet, I was still shy of exact change. I rang up Leah.

"Leah, do you happen to have any cash?"
"Yeah, I have some. I have some twenties."
"Do you have anything smaller? I need $4!"
"I have some ones. I'll bring it out to you. But I don't want to try to open the doors since it's after 5."

Two minutes later, I turn and I see Leah for the first time since we spoke on the phone. She's standing there sliding singles in a crevice in between the glass doors. Chuckling, I run over and grasp them all. I run back to the window and start shoving $17 in ones under the window to the officer.
"Um...guess I won't be going to the clubs tonight."
He actually smiled and I decide he's not so curmudgeonly after all. I tell him I want his name so I can send him a thank-you card or perhaps baked goods.

After all this, I get my reports. Since he couldn't print me a receipt, he wrote a very detailed post-it. I'll still have to go back for a receipt but at least I can go when it's convenient. He tells me all he wants in return is for me to send an e-mail to his boss (whose address he's written down) and tell him how he helped me. Still surprised at what I transpired, I shake his hand and run back out to Leah to thank her. We decide to meet up for dinner tonight because we can't stop chuckling about the whole thing.

I don't think Leah ever played a role in any of my work-related tasks. So, that was new for me. Now, I don't know if it was "wrong" for me to get so...um...theatrical. I've never tried to use feminine wiles to get what I wanted. However, I am not above a little emoting or looking vulnerable. I'm so happy that as one editor put it, "for the second time in two weeks, the news gods smiled on me."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Time to reflect

One of my New Year's resolutions was to get back into the blogging thing. I had planned last week to write about what I hoped 2011 would bring. I had spent New Year's and a few days after in Los Angeles. I had a wonderful time simply catching up with old college friends, going back to cool L.A. neighborhoods and eating vegan donuts at BabyCakes NYC in downtown. Boy, that all was a little over a week ago. Now it feels like another lifetime.

I returned to work on Wednesday, Jan. 5. It would be my first week working on a Saturday schedule. Everybody kept telling me Saturdays would be suuuuper sloooow and I would have a chance to play catch-up. And it was slow. Then around lunchtime, our office started getting a couple phone calls about some kind of shooting in Tucson. Well, by luck of my being the only reporter-type around, I was suddenly dispatched to drive down to Tucson. I have NEVER been the one who got sent to a breaking news story outside of Phoenix. I felt anything but prepared, journalism-wise and travel-wise. But I left...speeding eastward on the 10 as fast as I could without a speeding ticket. No toiletries. No change of clothes. No food. No clue where to go first. Just myself, my wallet, and an office laptop that I still wasn't sure would work.

Anyone reading this knows about the terrible shooting that happened Saturday, Jan. 8. Even standing in the parking lot the next day in front of the Safeway where the gunman opened fire, I couldn't quite believe it had really happened. On Saturday, I mostly spent the day and night stationed in front of University Medical Center, in case anything changed with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords' condition. I had to park myself on a hard cement ground until 2 a.m. with literally only a short-sleeve shirt, jeans and a new polyester-wool coat (which I'm now thinking about retiring) _ the same clothes I wore until Tuesday afternoon.

I've never covered anything like a mass shooting, and certainly not one that has been the top headline for so many days. It's been sad to chat with people in Tucson who have, understandably, taken this incident so hard. But it's also been humble and uplifting to meet people like Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped Giffords in those first crucial moments after she was shot. He is just as poised and articulate in person as he is on TV. He definitely has the makings of a charismatic politician/public servant. His phone is probably ringing off the hook now. When I was done interviewing him, I couldn't help but gush and tell him that I thought he was an amazing young man.

A reporter in our Denver bureau mentioned to me today that she covered Columbine on the day it happened and for a few days after that. She said you really do need time to stop and reflect in your own way. The three-and-a-half days of Tucson were like living in some kind of weird vacuum. Running on little sleep, each day stretched into feeling like two at times. If I wasn't driving from the shooting scene to the gunman's home and back to the hospital, I was trying to get people to interview on the phone or in person. I have to say, I just don't know if there's a way to ever get better at approaching people who have barely had time to grieve the loss of a loved one. And you feel like a major asshole no matter what.

Being in "reporter mode," I didn't have a chance to read any stories or see any photos related to the shooting until Sunday morning in my hotel room. That is when it really hit me the lives that were lost and the families affected. I started to tear up at times. Especially at the loss of the 9-year-old girl. She was the same age as the daughter of a family down the street I've become quite close to. For a moment, I wish I could have teleported my 9-year-old so I could give her a hug.

Times like this, you wish you could give something, do something to bring these people their loved ones back. Unfortunately, no punishment, no amount of debate is going to do that.

I'm writing about this because I don't want to sound like a reporter. I want to sound like someone who tries to balance being a reporter with being someone who has respect and compassion. If someone wants to lump me in with the "lamestream media," I can't stop them. But I know that I'm someone who aspires to be a reporter who is always trying to empathize with the people she encounters. And I carry that empathy with me at all times. Everywhere.