It’s true. I am.
Now, the statute of limitations has far outstripped my crime, so technically, I’m not a thief any more. I was young, green, and angry. I’ve since mellowed, calmed, and gained more conscience.
But you have to understand something: I don’t regret the crime. In fact, having learned what happened in the years after it I am actually quite happy that I took what I did. Now, I may make this sound like I’ve committed the Brinks crime of the 20th Century but it’s really not anything that awful. In reality I took a couple TV station master tapes. The crime is now harmless because the remainder of those said masters no longer exist.
Let me go backwards and show you what I’m talking about.
In 1989 I began my first internship at a television station. That station was the model and prototype for what would eventually become the local cable news outlets like the News12 system in the New York area or Bay News 9 in Tampa. The station was created by TCI Cablevision out of Colorado and it was cable’s attempt at both gaining a favorable cable franchise agreement with cities and gaining credibility as being a local news outlet. I joined as an intern and within a month was getting a paycheck (which had no taxes taken out. $5 an hour minus SS and Taxes put me below the poverty level).
This is small market television at its absolute pinnacle. I would go out on good days and shoot 1 or two stories, come back, go to the control room, create the pre-production for the show and then direct and punch the 6pm newscast – our only show. On a bad day I’d shoot a story for a reporter, then a story for myself, come back, write and edit the piece and be done – hopefully – by 3pm in order to . . . do said preproduction and punch the newscast. It was stressful, exhausting, and a set of battle scars and friendship that really knitted people together. We would do election coverage up to 1AM and race across the street to the bar to drink as much as we could before closing at 2. I wasn’t 21 and when the health reporter told one of the managers they shouldn’t be serving me a beer he asked my age – when I told him 20, he said “he’s old enough to get drafted and die for his country he can have a brew. Drink up, Dave!”
It was into this world walked my wife. She was blonde, boisterous, excited, and . . . well I have to say it . . . beautiful. Yes, I noticed that. Yes, I couldn’t help noticing that.
Andrea wanted desperately to be an anchor and reporter. More anchor than reporter. I’m not giving away any secrets here, she liked the attention. But she wasn’t an attention-whore, not a person who’d have years later sold her soul for a reality show. She liked to write and talk to people. She liked features and Entertainment. Eventually, she got a paycheck like I did and began doing the station’s entertainment reports. This was, though, on top of doing regular reporting during the week.
She and I both learned innumerable balancing skills in trying to get stories each day and her segment on at the end of the week. I’ve recounted how her work helped her get an internship on the East Coast – one that she was unable to attend – so I won’t go into that again.
Every story ended up on a master videotape, a 3/4″ strip of mylar inside a large plastic cartridge. Most of you will never have seen a 3/4 tape. We shot on cameras – even then – that had tubes inside them for catching images, so you were not able to shoot lights, the sun, nothing, or it would burn a massive blue dot into the tube and you’d have that dot in every interview and piece of video you shot after.
The daily stories were on a series of tapes. One day you might be on Master 341 and the next on Master 220. However, there were segments that ended up having their own masters. Andrea’s Entertainment segment had one. Reporters would horde masters to use for all their stories, both so that they were easy to find and so that they could make resume videotapes for getting a new job. I was no exception. Neither was Andrea.
When the time came that I left my second stint at said small market station, I took one of my masters . . . and one of Andrea’s. I found them recently, having forgotten I’d even taken them. I always had a pang of guilt for taking them years ago because they were masters that contained a small snapshot of Council Bluffs, Iowa’s history. We shot stories and did news that was just that city – unless the city of Omaha was collapsing we weren’t going to cross the river to cover it. I remember checking to see there weren’t stories they’d really, really need, but at the end of the day it wasn’t MY tape to take. It was work product of that company’s and I’d never, ever do something like that today. I haven’t done it since.
But I don’t feel guilty anymore. There are two reasons:
First, the company who bought the company who bought us from TCI didn’t really want a news division. They acted like they did, initially, but their goal was always to move the group to Omaha and begin doing community TV. Not news. Right as I was giving my notice to leave and work for the NBC station they tried to get me to take the job of News Director. They told me who they’d give the job to if I said “no” and claimed that this person would not know how to handle it and it would then be my fault that they dismantled the operation and fired everyone. I told him, impolitely, to go fuck himself. I had a better job and he wasn’t going to blame me for his being an ass. They did dismantle the building, move everything, and then took more than 10 years of CB history on videotape and unceremoniously threw it in the dumpster. Every tape.
Second, and this is most important, those tapes are gone forever. If I’d never taken the tapes, the only visible evidence of my wife’s original career, her history would be gone forever. I’d have lost the moving images of her – frozen the way I choose to remember her: that beautiful blonde woman with the twinkling smile that spread across her entire face. The spark in her eyes as she was happy reaches through the TV and grabs you.
You may think this a minor crime, something not worth mentioning. For me, it’s a crime that now ranks with the greatest of art heists because I now get a small glimpse of things once forgotten. At 30 frames a second I get to watch that girl smiling at me . . . and sometimes she was, looking past the camera or through it into the control room, smiling because I said something in her ear. I remember and ache for those days because I can’t even re-live them with her.
Now, I just need to find a deck I can play them on.