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I live in Brooklyn, NY and I love it here.  I came here for my career in 2009 and haven't once looked back. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Guadeloupe...

It's the first morning of the year where the sun is far enough north in the morning to pierce my office windows.  Spring is coming. It feels good. It was ridiculously mild this weekend too. I mean, I was walking around with my jacket unzipped for crying out loud.

Even though this winter has been milder than most up here I've still reached that point where a tropical vacation is looking pretty good (Let's face it, that's been happening since I got back from Nica last March). So, I've been planning one. You know I have.

This one: Guadeloupe. In the Caribbean, not Mexico...the Mexico one is not even spelled the same. Just focus. Here's where it is on Google maps in case you have no idea. Why Guadeloupe? Several reasons. I've never been to the Caribbean before and have wanted to go for as long as I can remember...though I've never been interested in the typical Caribbean vacation: cruises, resorts, touristy shit. Nope. Not for me. So, then, Guadeloupe happens to be the easiest one to get to that is off the beaten path and not covered in resorts. No, in fact, there are rain forests, volcanoes, deserted beaches (some of them all nude), rum distilleries, hiking, organic tropical fruits, world class diving, an underwater nature reserve, probably monkeys and French and Creole speaking people. Yes, Guadeloupe is a French overseas department still so I'll get to use my French a little, if not a lot. Excited? You bet I am.

It all started with landing on articles like this, this and this while searching for seclusion and adventure in the Caribbean. I had originally zeroed in on Dominica for a destination.  It had everything. Beaches, jungles, volcanoes, wildlife, history, French speaking people, and it was off the beaten path for sure. But it was too off the beaten path. Flying into the place took two to three connections on most itineraries that were popping up and, in some cases, overnight stays on another island. That had me initially considering going ahead and making this a two or three island visit. I even considered making the second leg of the trip a ferry ride instead of a flight as there is a pretty extensive network of ferries that go between many of the islands.  The method became, find a direct flight from NYC to one of these islands and then take a roughly two hour ferry ride over to Dominica.

So this is how I landed on Guadeloupe (Gwada as the locals affectionately call it). There were flights to Barbados, Montserrat and Puerto Rico that were direct and I figured I could fly from any of these over but Montserrat and Guadeloupe were close enough to ferry and Guadeloupe seemed like it had enough going on that we could justify staying a few days there. There were even several smaller islands that are all a part of Guadeloupe, reachable by the same ferry system.  In fact, people usually consider Guadeloupe an archipelago of five islands and that's if you don't consider all the smaller atolls and sand spits surrounding it but I digress. I started to really discover Guadeloupe and become intrigued by it...and I also discovered that the ferries are shit. No one anywhere on the web had anything good to say about them and where they did, it was only generic reviews. The worst ones went from detailing the all too common delays and cancellations and the difficulty in getting a refund in the case of delays, all the way to people vomiting in bags due to rough seas.  No thanks.

So back to Guadeloupe itself, I also became intrigued by Soufriére. the semi active volcano on the jungle side of Guadeloupe, the larger island called Basse Terre. Easier to hike than Concepción in Nicaragua and featuring countless fumaroles and mud pits and hot springs and waterfalls. I was sold. I might make this a thing, hiking active volcanoes.

The next phase of planning had us scanning Airbnb's on the island. I ultimately decided we should split our stay between opposite sides of the island just for the sake of not having to drive an hour to get to and from the airport but also so that we wouldn't have to drive an hour to get to the trailhead for the volcano hike.  We settled on staying in Le Gosier, just outside the town where the airport is located, for the first few days, exploring the flatter eastern island of Grand Terre. Then we will move to Basse Terre to a little town called Saint Claude on the flanks of the mountainous region where we will explore Basse Terre, its national park area, the zoological park, the rum distilleries and the mountains and waterfalls. And of course, hike the volcano.

I can't believe it's happening in ten days. I'm already doing packing dry runs and seeing what I can fit in one bag, since we're taking a direct from JFK to Point-à-Pitre and I don't want to check anything if I can help it. Among the things I will be cramming in my bag? Camera equipment. A few months ago, I was walking with a friend outside the Barclays Center and stumbled on a GoPro Hero 3 camera on a monopod laying on the ground. It had obviously fallen out of the bag of some hapless tourist. I immediately swiped it up because I figured this person probably just got right on a train and could potentially have not even realized where and when he dropped it. So naturally, someone was probably going to pick it up long before he could get back there and it might as well be me. Knowing how much that would suck to lose a pricey camera like that along with all the photos and videos on it, I tried my best to figure out if there was any way to get in touch with this person. All I could determine was that this person was most likely French and had done a mud race in Lyon months prior and had come to New York, seen the sights and then dropped his camera right in my path. I tried Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter but I ultimately gave up...and then purchased a pack of GoPro accessories to have fun with while we're on vacation.

So expect not just pictures but HD underwater video. We leave on March 2nd and return on the 11th. Hopefully by then, I'll be getting even more sun through my office window.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Back from Manchester...

So, New Hampshire was a blast. At times grueling, at times exciting, at times boring, at times snowy, and even at times fun. Manchester is an interesting town. You can drive across it in about 10 minutes. It has a rather quaint downtown and a gorgeous wide river flowing through it, its shores dotted by old mills repurposed as various cafés, condos, university buildings and so forth. But where I was staying near the airport, and near the Mall of New Hampshire, seemed like it could have been any town.

Turns out the reason they threw me a curve ball by asking me to go up sooner than they originally had was so I could help with two separate town hall events that they had planned last minute.  The first was with Sanders and Clinton and the second was with Donald Trump. All in all the trip was quite enriching and I learned a lot, getting my feet wet doing audio out in the field for the first time in ages. The veteran tech guys were superb at their job and incredibly helpful. And most importantly, everyone treated each other like professionals. As soon as I realized that, it was a lot easier to do my job.

The first morning they had scheduled me to mix audio for New Day which I talked about in my last entry.  The night before, right after I landed, and before I even checked into my hotel, I went over to a café by the water, called Waterworks, where they had started setting everything up. Camera, lighting, audio. Everything cabled through an open window out to a satellite truck outside. It was incredible what they had done with only a few hours. And they wanted me to help set up the board! I only really needed a few minutes to wrap my head around what I was doing but it was intimidating at first. This is where it gets a little technical so if you're not inclined, skip past this part.

Basically, they wanted to isolate the two hosts and the guest mix so that they could mix back in New York. So I was still mixing the guests, just sending that mix out separate from the two hosts who were on the first two channels. Then they were taking those three separate mixes and sending them out the outputs of the cameras, which themselves were on their own incoming lines in New York. But of course, someone changed their mind and wanted to embed the audio after the camera in the signal chain. Which we tried but then realized we had a problem with one of the embedders and had to quickly switch everything back.

I took a look at the board and thought for a minute and then scrambled to unplug and replug cables to get everything set up the way that was going to work...and this minutes before the show was going to start, normally a time when I hate to be unplugging anything! The moment I realized that my setup had worked warranted a fist jab and a semi silent triumphant, "yes!" The rest of the show went fairly well considering I had put the guests on an Auxillary send output and needed to mix them with knobs instead of faders.

It was a heck of a way to start off my trip but it certainly boosted my confidence for the rest of the week. For both town hall debates I was really just helping pin microphones on guests and taping cables to the floor so no one would trip but it was great experience and a necessary role.

For the Clinton Sanders debate they had us set up in the balcony of the for Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett's shows and we had several quick swaps.  My coworkers in New York were watching the incoming lines and seeing everything going on between commercial breaks, congratulating me every time we pulled off a narrow swap. Often times Erin Burnett would be talking to one camera and I'd be just outside the frame prepping the next guest, pinning ear pieces and microphones and hiding wires. Oh and did I mention we were essentially on the front row of the mezzanine where there was really no railing and only a two and a half foot wall between us and the potential to pitch right off the balcony.  At one point, David Axelrod was using my shoulder to balance as he stepped down.

The following day was Donald Trump doing his town hall in a diner during which I hardly had any role except sitting in for the lighting guys and winding cables. We set up a three camera shoot with a fourth handheld camera and did everything live to tape, with some 40 diners and us, all in a tiny tiny space. I don't know how we did it but I saw it later on the air and it looked good.

That Friday was the snow day and I had no assignment but ended up hanging around the workspace they had set up at WMUR until I just decided I didn't want to get stuck there in case the snow got worse.  Well, it got worse and I almost wound up stuck at my hotel. But driving in the snow is something I can manage even though I never get to do it. I feel like I've read one or more articles like this recently anyway, which while not the same as practical experience, can keep all the more important points in the forefront of your mind. I also noticed this weird light on my dash in the Kia Soul I was driving flickering on and off while driving in the snow. So, I just Googled it out of curiosity and sure enough the car has built in stability control.

After the snow day, my last four days of work up there were at the station and I was again, mostly pinning mics. For the last two days I was basically both running the board and prepping guests for Early Start and New Day...which meant being there at 3am. Ugh. But somehow, I managed to get around and try out a few cool local spots.

The first place of note I went, Republic, was a cool Moroccan inspired joint with a fantastic wine list and amazing food. I came here a few times throughout the week as they were open for brunch and lunch and had great coffee (it was ok...I mean it was probably the best coffee I had all week considering I had been drinking diner coffee and preground mess out of stryofoam cups at the station mostly). I even ran into a few other journalists here and made some friends (one of them I ran into on two separate occasions). I swear the town population must double when all the news crews move in to cover the primary election.

I also tried a nice seafood restaurant, Hooked, where I ordered lobster and chatted with the bartender most of the night and narrowly avoided a political discussion with the owner of the restaurant who came over when someone mentioned the Donald Trump rally going on down the street at the Verizon Wireless Arena. I think everyone in every diner was talking about politics the whole week though.

The coolest place I tried though was the speakeasy everyone had been talking about, 8one5. It was on the second floor of what looked like a regular apartment building. I had to find out the password on Twitter and speak it into an intercom in an old timey phone booth, randomly wedged into a wall, after which said wall moved away and the hostess let me in. It was a Tuesday night and the place was virtually empty save for the bartenders and hostess, at first. But the cocktail menu was creative, as was the bartender who made me a few concoctions of his own.

So that was my final night and the following morning I awoke to snow but fortunately no airport delays.  After having breakfast at the Purple Finch Diner where I had found gluten free options earlier in the week, I trotted off to the airport, dropped off my car and headed in, where I ran into at least 6 old co workers of mine from NY1 who were all heading back on the same day. It's amazing how small the news business is sometimes.

Here are pics of the week.






Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Manchester...

I'm typing this blog from a hotel suite near the airport in Manchester, NH.  What the hell am I doing here? Don't worry about it. I'm getting to it. I just first want to make reference to that bit about me being the time management ninja. I time managed. I ninja-ed. And all went according to plan.

The gig with Ryan and Jordana went swimmingly and was super fun to boot (there's some video on FB). And, already in awe at how the previous weekend timed out, in that I was able to use the disruption of the blizzard to our rehearsals as a way to push forward on the News Literacy Project's music, I was supremely awed at how it just happened that the night of the gig, I finally got word from NLP that I could push ahead on the project. See, I had been waiting to hear some direction from them, and frustrating though that can be sometimes, it was quite a boon in that I could meanwhile focus all my energy on rocking the F@$% out at the show and, as soon as it was done, shift my energy to writing the music for those educational videos.  The timing of everything was impeccable, in that nothing was simultaneous. It was all sequential and I could devote all my energy to one project at a time.

Fast forward: My boss had previously mentioned to me the possibility of doing some field work as I had shown some interest in getting out there and trying something new. He did, in fact, also mention that these things can get sprung upon him at a moment's notice and, bada-bing, bada-boom. But I was surprised that something came up so quickly.  They needed an audio tech out in the field for the coverage of the New Hampshire primaries and my boss offered it to me.  After all, I can audio. I can tech. So I said hell to the F@#$ yes! Then, the day before I was finally going to get time to finish the NLP music, I get a call that, rather than go out on the 5th of February, they wanted me there as soon as the 1st and still until the 10th.  !!!

The girlfriend didn't like it but I obliged because when else? (Incidentally, this is something my boss says to me and my colleagues a lot...when else?)  So, I had two full days to wrap up work on the music for NLP and pack my bags before I had to catch a plane to Manchester. And I knocked it out. Just under the wire. I didn't even have my flight booked until two days before it was supposed to happen and I had to borrow a bass guitar from a friend to get everything done.  Sidebar: I'm buying a bass guitar soon.

What a freaking whirlwind this year has been already, am I right? Sheesh! But I am loving it. You know how much I love travel and adventure.  Day 1 was pretty intense already.  I flew in yesterday and went straight to the anchor location for set up and then had dinner with one of the producers and the photojournalist. Then I had to go check into my hotel (a suite with a full freakin' kitchen!) because I had to be up at 3:30am for a 4am call time. Our first hit was at 5:30am.

They had us set up inside a cafe for New Day (CNN's morning show) and we had to basically turn that place into a news studio, complete with lighting, in the space of a few hours the night before. But CNN has an entourage of professionals that are on this shit and everything looked great. Meanwhile, I was thrown in on an audio board I'd never seen before with a set up I heard described to me in an email I read while waiting in La Guardia International Airport for three hours because airlines still can't get their shit together. So, that was quite fun. Once I got my feet wet, and twiddled some knobs, I started to feel much more comfortable...but then comes the shit storm of audio issues that you get when you have too many hands stirring the pot. Ultimately, we got everything on the air and I got the hang of what I was doing.  And I remembered that, on some level, I enjoy this work.

After we took everything down though, I started to realize that I had no idea where I was going next. And I think that is going to characterize the rest of this week. Last minute assignments. This is why they gave me a rental car. Tomorrow, I finally found out, I'll be heading to Derry, NH where there will be a town hall style Q&A session with both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (one candidate after the other) and I'll be running the audio. Which means I will probably be pinning a lapel mic on both candidates.

It's amazing what can happen in the space of a week. More to come!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My cup runneth over...

At the end of 2015, say around November, I hadn't had much in the way of voice over or music work. I had previously even stated that I was okay with it since I had been devoting so much time and energy to taking advantage of the opportunity that had presented itself at CNN.  Now, somehow, in the wake of a quick job for Mohammad writing a track for his reel, I now find myself positively saturated with work of the kind that I love and enjoy and, in fact, live for.

Here goes: News Literacy Project got in touch with me about writing a track for their latest series of educational videos. Then, last Friday, Edge Studio got in touch with me about doing the voice over for a handful of TV and radio spots; and it turns out to be the biggest pay day I've had from a voice over gig to date. And then, as if all that wasn't enough to be going on with, I got a call from a friend with whom I had been jamming last summer.  We had been on hiatus while he and his wife finished school but they got a gig next Thursday the 28th at the Emerson in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn and asked me to join them. So now, I gotta learn a bunch of songs in a week and a half. Solid.

I'm buzzing with excitement right now and simultaneously trying to wrap my brain around how I'll manage.  The VO gig will be a quick hour long engagement tomorrow, then I have the rest of the day off. NLP should be giving me some direction tomorrow and we have until the end of January to write, record and polish off the track. My entire weekend this weekend will likely be devoted to rehearsals for this gig. But who are you dealing with here? Yes, that's right. The time management ninja.  I will kill this. Just watch.