Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Guessing Game

When Ryan Vitale of Salt Lake City, barrels around the left side of Mike Paproski, high above Golden, Colorado, he looks like a man, or more to the point, a teenager desperate to win, the Buffalo Bill Downhill Bloodspill.

Nobody atop Lookout Mountain, wants to see a challenger zip past them in this raucous long board race to the finish line, and it appears no wildlife wants to witness that either, as Ryan finds out in an eye-popping internet theater.

Just a few minutes into a practice run of this very popular annual event, Vitale is racing, then blinks, then finds himself hugging one of the locals, a fully grown Mule Deer.  Seconds later his body is skating, not his board, across the dust dirt and rocks of Lookout Mountain, as he is hit, at 45 miles an hour by that scampering mammal searching for food, but somehow stumbles with his hoofs tapping unsteadily onto the black asphalt and into a hipsters paradise, of brightly clad, helmet wearing teens, bolting around on long boards, and oozing words like "Rad," and "Bro," as they chug tall cans of Rockstar, and bump fists.  Vitale's mind-blowing collision is scary, but remarkably, he is OK, no broken bones, just some road rash, and some bruises.

Vitale's colossal collision is even more head spinning because we get to see it on line  A camera mounted to Paproski's  headgear is rolling and captures the entire, ridiculous crash.  Check it out below, but be warned there is some dirty words towards the end of tape.

By Monday the video is, as the kids might say, "blowing up," on line, and just about every boarder, long or otherwise is replaying, re-posting, and regurgitating it with their jaws, slacked.  After a short Google hunt, I discover, Vitale is a pretty accomplished skater, he even appears to have some association with a line of long boarder clothing.  An indication that he has a bit of a following in the mostly underground skater world.

I figure a monumental spill like this is something a kid like Vitale will love to spill about.

"Hello," Ryan answers, as if I might be his father on the other end, angry about a report card dusted in "D's and "F's,"  "Hi, Ryan, this is Chris Jones with 2 News, how are you?" After a tense pause, he finally breaths into his smart phone, "Yeah."  I'm taken aback a bit, this is the response I expect to  receive from a man accused of exposing himself at the park, not a kid who is part of an Internet sensation.

"Oh, uh," I try to regroup, "this is a pretty remarkable tape of you on the Internet,"  I chirp sprightly, "It's not a big deal," he retort, "I hit a deer on my board, got up, went to the hospital, whatever," he barks, annoyed that he has to talk to me.

"OK, well we'd love to talk to you about it if you're up to it," I suggest.  "Uh, can I text you back in a second?" he responds.  In my line of work, if someone says, "I'll call you back," or "I'll text you back," that is code for "I WON'T ever talk to you again."  People, I've learned, don't like to tell you "no," they don't want to disappoint others, and saying "I'll call you back," is a way of avoiding that discomfort, I've heard it a million times, and I begrudgingly get it.

Oddly in this case, Ryan does text me back, and proclaims, He is "overwhelmed by the attention the video is getting, and is "bugged," by calls from guys like me.

Meanwhile Mike Paproski, the man whose camera catches the collision, is "blowing up" as a minor, 15 minute star.  He is interviewed by websites, magazines, TV stations in Denver, even by ESPN. The attention he says is "unf#$ing believable."

I'm still to this day, stumped by the question of who will, and who will not speak to a reporter.  Paproski, revels in the attention, Vitale, skates quickly away from it.

I've found myself, over the years rolling up on far more tragic scenes than the one that spilled across the face Lookout Mountain.

I am often tasked with the heavy lifting of approaching family members, devastated by crime, disaster, and death.  Some people will wave you off with disgust and animosity, others will politely decline your invitations to do an interview.  Still others, and I would argue, the majority, will welcome you graciously and grant you your request.

What a surreal existence.  At least once a week, I have the unenviable job of rapping on the front doors of families who have just experienced something terrible.  As the GPS blips out directions without emotion, you know the emotion inside the home when you reach it will be palpable.

You also sense the address of the tragedy without glancing at your notes, because it is the home with cars surrounding the house, squeezing into the driveway, filled with somber well-wishers, gently delivering, flowers, potato casa-roles and hugs to the people inside.

As the news car creeps towards the house, I always steady myself with a deep breath.  This is without question, the most oppressive part of the job.

When the door opens, you find yourself face-to-face with raw, painful sorrow, the person creaking the door ajar has been weeping for hours, and facing friends and family at this portal for just as long.  And then, all of a sudden...Here I am.

Sometimes they usher you off, but more often than not, that person will invite you in, and stand you awkwardly in living room, as they search the house for a spokesperson who might be willing to talk to you.  There I am in my suit, an uncomfortable photographer at my side, lugging, a massive camera, large clanky tri-pod, and a bag full of lights and stands.

On countless occasions I've discovered myself propped up in the middle of a families most challenging moment.  Inside a house filled with people, all of them quietly looking at me.

You can see the disgust in the faces of some, as they push the funeral potatoes around their paper plates with a plastic fork, others will give me a gentle, forced grin, with weary eyes, punctuated with redness.  On occasion, a young child will buzz past me, perhaps a toy plane in hand, maybe rolling a Tonka truck over my loafers, someone will say, "that's his son," referring sadly to the person who has died, or is currently in the hospital.

After all these years I am unable to wear a stoic face, when I walk gently into sadness like this I still find myself absorbing the hurt that fills these homes.  It's reassuring actually, it's a note to my soul that my humanity is still intact even after years of taping countless interviews with countless families destroyed by murder, fire, and accidents.

Finally the door greeter has found someone reluctantly willing to speak to me.

I always ask people in these situations  "what do (not did) you love about your brother, father etc?" It is heartening, as they beam past tired, crying eyes, and tell you an anecdote, about a camping trip, a Halloween prank, or a show of charity displayed by a lost loved one.  I know, despite what some might think, that I give the heartbroken family member an opportunity to tell those in their community who never had the pleasure of meeting their father, brother, cousin or sister, that this person is important, that this person is loved, and this person mattered immensely.  Seldom do they crave the attention, almost to the person, they have one agenda, and that it to share the love they have for a family member with those watching the screen.

Ryan Vitale, didn't suffer a tragic crash, thankfully, and he also isn't in the mood of replaying the amazing collision, I would have never guessed that.  That being said, trying to guess who will talk to a reporter and his camera is almost as impossible as predicting when a murderer will spill blood, a tanker truck will explode, or a wayward deer will tackle a teenager.

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