Monday, October 7, 2013

ON Your Front Porch

"I'm too old for this," I say as I shake my head and attempt to step onto the fraying Astroturf splayed carelessly over a drooping wooden porch.  "Don't be a wimp, just get up there," says my photographer Randy as he stands at a safe distance.  "That's easy for you to say, you aren't entering the Temple of Doom." I dart him a look, as I balance, surrounded by hundreds of empty, brow beer bottles, half-filled pesticide containers, and a bail of insulation, bleached white by the sun, and melted into a brittle pile by the rain.

During an ambitious moment, the former tenants of this drab, sagging trailer home, intended to make this place livable by finally installing some insulation, but as evidenced by the filthy chaos on the collapsing porch, they gave up once again.

I rap my fist on the faux-marble, peeling mercilessly from the cheap plywood it hides underneath, as if the textured linoleum is trying to escape this weathered trailer as much as I want to.  There is no answer, and as I tip-toe over an old construction helmet and an empty utility bucket, I say with exasperation, "I'm done."

I'm in Eureka.  A tough little Utah town, once famous, and financially thriving thanks to the mining of gold and silver at the center of the Tintic Mining Distict.  During it's heyday, Eureka was home to mining barons, a bustling Main Street, and the second ever JC Penney's in the country.

Those days have since passed Eureka by.  In 1920, nearly 4,000 people called the mining town home.  In the 30's and 40's the gold and silver started to dry up, and the mining operations shutdown. By 1957 the last major mine shuttered it's door and in 2000, the EPA found alarming levels of lead throughout the town, and began a massive clean up effort, helping to drive the population down even lower. Now about 800 people remain in Eureka, scratching to make a living.

As we coast down Main Street, passing weathered, shuttered store fronts, I think about the place I was just a day ago.

Just 24 hours earlier I sat silently, adjusting my tie, and earpiece in a studio in downtown Salt Lake City, waiting to be interviewed by Carol Costello of CNN.  This after a story we aired in which Senator Mike Lee said, dispassionately, that he had every intention of taking his sizable paycheck, despite the fact that nearly 800,000 federal employees had been furloughed.

 "I'm working, I'll continue to get paid," he told me dispassionately over the phone.  The next morning all hell breaks lose as BuzzFeed and Huffington Post pick up the story, and Senator Lee's press team finds itself in damage control mode, unfortunately for the senator, their damage control steps only created more damage.  Brian Phillips, Lee's director of communications, tells our managing editor, that the senator had made some "muddy," comments and that he had intended all along, to "donate," his salary to charity for each day of the lockout.  No big deal, he implies, and asks us to update that part of the story which we do.  Here's where they fumble: Phillips then contacts BuzzFeed and tells them that we had gotten the story "wrong," and he had asked us for a correction.

The problem is, we had taped the entire interview, and we released the raw that afternoon, that's when CNN and MSNBC began to make an issue of Lee's back and forth on the pay issue.  I remember watching is shock as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, hammered the senator on the issue, playing long cuts of our interview, and thinking I wonder what I'll be working on tomorrow.

That's when Mistie Carlson enters the picture, I found her name while searching some court documents.  She could be a candidate for worst grandmother of the year.  Police say Carlson, was drunk, and went to her drug dealers house, with her 2 year old granddaughter in tow, after she scored some meth, police say she smoked it with the toddler strapped into the back seat of her car, and for good measure, cops say Carlson also had a handgun in the center console.  It was obtained illegally we are told.  That shabby shack in Eureka, was where her family may have lived according to people who knew her.

Senator Mike Lee, and Mistie Carlson, seem a million miles away from one another in almost every conceivable way, but this week, thanks to some clumsy moves by them, I found myself, figuratively and literally, on both of their messy doorsteps.

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