Monday, April 05, 2004

What’s in the trunk?

PJs tend to have cluttered cars. This clutter is partially to camouflage our expensive equipment. Newspapers are light and cover a lot. I use two black queen-sized sheets to cover everything. The rest of the clutter is all the stuff we occasionally need but never know we need until we need it. So, we carry everything every day.

I started my pro PJ career in a 1968 Volkswagon Bug packed with all kinds of things. The title of this blog mentions a trunk. Bugs don't really have a functional trunk. I simply threw all this stuff - along with tripods, light stands, etc. - in the back seat and the funny-little-clown-car space over the engine. Now, most of us have SUVs. So for the sake of this blog, let's count the whole vehicle as our storage space. OK? Cool.

Duct tape
First, two words: DUCT TAPE. Technically, we use "professional gaffers tape." It's matte black and little more expensive, but it does the same job. There is no underestimating the importance of duct tape for holding down wires, keeping items together, sealing holes and being extra hands.

Gaffer's tape is waterproof and leaves less residue when removed. It's also harder to spot in images because it's black and non-reflective.

Cell phone
Equally important is a mobile phone. Even if it's a pre-paid, use-only-in-emergencies version, get one. I lived without one for years. Now I can't. It's a literal life saver in some instances.

Auto safety
Before I go too far, I'll give a note of caution about theft. As equipment has gotten more expensive and easier to use, the underworld has started targeting news vehicles for smash-and-grab theft.

Consequently, an alarm is required equipment on a PJ's vehicle. It's a tax deduction as well, so there's no reason to be without it. Many newspapers reimburse PJs for the expenses when the bean-counters hear the one-time $300 system is protecting $20,000+ equipment.

As an additional protection, some PJs bolt steel cases with locks and padded interiors into their trucks to protect equipment from theft.

Another car-related side note is to always keep headlights turned on. I've covered many horrible wrecks and many could have been avoided. Headlights allow other preoccupied drivers to see your car quicker. They also trick drivers into thinking your car is closer than it actually is.

Seat belts and airbags are good once you're in the wreck. Headlights prevent the wreck. I prefer the latter.

Since we're talking about light, flashlights are extremely useful. I keep at least two (one is rechargeable). They are useful from car repair to finding stuff hidden in the pile of junk we are talking about today. In an absolute worst-case scenario, tape it to a light stand and get the shot you need when your flash dies.

Keep detailed (atlas version) map books of any common metro areas you cover. There are several different city guides for Texas metro areas. I have many of them. PJs also need state and national maps or atlases to cover breaking news during emergencies.

First aid and tools
We all need some emergency items. Keep a first aid kit. I'll dedicate a future blog to this topic. We also carry road flares, a heavy-duty jack, jumper cables, a tow rope, a can of Fix-A-Flat, fuses and a well-stocked tool box. Many times, we carry these items to help other people. But when we need them, they are handy.

Food and water
Next, we tend to always carry food and water. Bottled water is best. I carry a case of small bottles so I can offer it to people as needed (reporters rarely carry water for some reason).

Food is wide open. As a general rule, carry something that can withstand extreme heat, cold and won't rot.

Obviously, canned food is best. Remember to rotate your supplies (replace cans with newer cans) fairly frequently because a car isn't a nice place for anything. Put canned foods in a larger plastic box to keep them from rolling around or becoming projectiles if your vehicle gets hit.

freeze-dried food are the best for long-term use. These are the best foods to throw in the trunk and forget until they're needed. They're also light weight and easy to carry to breaking news or the sudden assignment on a military base (where you can't buy anything without a military ID).

On the down side, these almost always require water to reconstitute. They also tend to be rather pricey compared to hydrated food.

Hard hat
A hard hat is a good purchase. You know where it has been (as opposed to those offered at construction sites - the pink ones for contractors who forgot theirs). These are really cheap and available at most of the super-duper home improvement stores.

I suggest investing a buck or two extra to get one with a comfortable headband and a foam pad between your scalp and the webbing. The one suggested above is the only OSHA approved ventilated hard hat.

Remember the brim interferes with a flash, so you might consider the ball cap style (worn backward). It's easiest to remove the webbing and reinsert it backwards. If you have great access to fires, invest in a more expensive firefighter hardhat.

Personally, I prefer to spray paint mine matte black to avoid reflections, but some worksites demand bright colors (white, yellow, orange) and may create some hassle.

A bright orange mesh safety vest with reflective tape is useful when you're too close to highways. It also makes you look like the other construction workers in areas where you might be shooting without explicit permission. *wink*

Although some people keep an entire change of clothes for last-minute funerals and such (I know, but it really happens), I only keep a spare shirt. I also carry two jackets: one leather and one hooded waterproof windbreaker (in a stuff bag). I have a third coat I actually wear, but these two jackets are normally in my truck. I have often needed to offer my jackets to other people.

Although some people prefer nylon jackets for their animal-friendly approach, I had one torch right off my back when I rode atop a Zamboni and leaned against the exhaust pipe. I've also had a few suddenly-off-the-motorcycle experiences and was thankful for the extra layer of skin.

I also carry waterproof pants (in a stuff bag). These are more helpful than you might imagine for sports. As an added bonus, the bright yellow makes you look so fashionable while covering roadside fatalities. I was too tired to take them off one night and Fayrouz literally fell on the floor laughing at me (she had never seen me actually wearing them).

I also have several pairs of gloves with slightly different purposes. My favorites are trigger mittens from my Army days. They are long mittens with wool liners and leather palms and a finger section protruding from one side. There is an arctic version of the same with fur and serious liners, but I haven't ever seen a pair for sale.

In the old days I carried a sleeping bag and tent, but I have never needed them for myself. However, I think a blanket is a good idea. In a pinch a blanket can be made into a litter to carry injured people.

Step stool
An item of great use is a step stool. A heavy-duty 4-foot ladder (the four-footed, freestanding version) is popular with many photographers. This will let you shoot over walls, crowds, or get a different angle on something mundane.

Place the step stool on a piece of plywood if you don't want to find yourself slowly sinking into the mud on location.

Power inverter
Electronically, a 400 watt or greater power inverter has become a necessity in the last few years. I use it to charge batteries between shoots and power my Mac laptop when I have to transmit from the truck.

I also have an older Sportcat scanner to let me know what's happening around me and where to follow breaking news. The daily chatter will drive anyone nuts, so I don't listen as often as I should. However, it is really helpful once I'm on breaking news.

Another good idea is to carry a tiny, inexpensive television set. With breaking news, the helicopters normally get to the scene first. The live images from them can help steer you to be in the best ground position. Sometimes their shots will even let you know how best to avoid police roadblocks or paths through natural disaster areas.

I am not suggesting it is a great idea to keep up with the daily soap operas, but the "emergency television" is a functional tool if you still had some room left in your stuffed car.

Another item of importance is hand sanitizer. I keep both bacteria-killing wipes and hand sanitizer with aloe in my car. Sanitizer is important.

One of the staffers was covering a several-million-gallon sewage leak this week. He was walking in the soft, brown muck. He slipped. He fell. He was able to catch himself and support the entire weight of his body on one finger until he could regain balance. He used an entire bottle of sanitizer to clean his finger, hand, arm and anything else that might have been splattered with ooze. Sanitizer is important.

Insect repellents
Repellents are a must. Repellents with DEET are favored. I keep a can of Deep Woods Off because I love the smell. ;-)
Another itchy problems include sunburn (solved with a bottle of medicated aloe vera - the blue one). It takes the pain away when you feel like a piece of hard bacon after a long S.W.A.T. standoff.

If you live in the south, it might also be wise to carry some sulfur in a sock. Pat it onto your legs before you go into tall grass to keep the chiggers from making your evening into a scratchfest.

Back-up camera
Lastly, consider keeping a back-up film camera, an inexpensive lens and a roll or two of film in a cooler. I have wandered out my door with my equipment and gotten to the shoot to realize I forgot the camera bodies. OOPS!

I had a battle-damaged FM hidden under a seat, and it did the assignment. I was the only one (until now) who knew anything was wrong.

Some of the other staffers use consumer point-and-shoot cameras as main cameras when it's pointless to use the big rigs (hurricanes and sandstorms come to mind). Extremely rarely, getting "the" image is more important than the quality. I can't believe I wrote it, but I know it's true.

Enough for now,


XTL said...

To temporarily "light up" matte black hard hats, I wonder if a bright helmet cover would do. A piece of cloth essentially that fits on top of the crown or possibly the entire hat and attaches somewhere with elastic, velcro or such. I believe many army systems have these for camouflage and the idea seems reversible.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Hardhats are cheap. It would probably cost more to make a cover than to buy a 2nd hardhat.

photo_ranger said...

Interesting how I carry much of the same as mentioned above.
Additionally I carry a box of garbage bags (30 gallon) which I can use to make a rain poncho (in a pinch) or as a base to sit on in less than dry areas.

I favor clifbars for snacks (but any powerbar will do) they can last several years, and can endure well until found.

I like to have a portable power center - Mine is large yellow plastic box with four car adapters on the front. It has a electric air pump, lights and jumper cables built right in. I can use my power inverter directly off of it instead of making my battery stale.