Tyger Tyger, burning bright

If you ever get the chance to watch a fire department burn down an old house, do so. It’s a strange and ferocious beauty unlike anything else.

I got to see such beauty at the end of June. (Once again, I am late in chronicling the adventure. C’est la vie.) instagram house burn

The homeowners needed the building down — the firefighters needed a place to train. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Though most definitely a training exercise, the burn had the air of a carnival. Spectators of all ages gathered — young children running through the yard, young women flirting with the firefighters, and everything from apple pie to Gatorade piled high on a nearby trailer. (I have learned that where there are firefighters, there is Gatorade.)

I won’t go on at length about the burn. That story is told here.

I will only add this: firefighters are, at heart, poets. At least three burly, smoky men pulled me aside as the burn reached its climax to say, “Look there, through the flames. The moon is full tonight.”

Journalism and Rock ‘n Roll

I have a confession: my musical tastes change with the seasons. I dabble in a bit of everything, from Chopin to Garth Brooks. But there’s one sound that always tugs at my heartstrings and makes me want to try to dance — classic rock.

Sweet Revenge covered many classic rock songs at TGIF in Morganton on May 22.

Sweet Revenge covered many classic rock songs at TGIF in Morganton on May 22.

Tonight I got out of the house and ventured downtown to check out Morganton’s annual TGIF summer concert series. It was pretty rad. With the aid of a fellow crime reporter from our sister paper in Hickory, I danced to covers of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and of course, “Crazy Train.” We completed the Americana experience with milkshakes from a local burger joint.

Though the concerts may be familiar enough to Morganton residents, this was our first time. As new transplants to the area, it was exciting to get out and be around people.

I also learned that my headbanging skills are very rusty.

Oh! The places you’ll go!

Students at my alma mater can be a cynical bunch. Though the university has won many accolades and continued to expand its campus and programs, there’s a lingering suspicion that Radford University is where people go if they can’t get into Virginia Tech.

My experiences post-graduation have told a much different story. During my final semester, I applied for — and landed — a Dow Jones News Fund internship. DJNF culled through roughly 600 applicants, and chose only 86 participants. I trained with student journalists and recent graduates from such schools as Virginia Commonwealth University, Arizona State University, and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Perhaps that sounds boastful. I don’t mean it to be. The reason I write this, and the reason I cherish the memory, is that it lets me know in no uncertain terms that Highlanders can stand proud alongside students from the best universities in the United States.

Entering the workforce full-time has reinforced that belief. My first reaction upon landing my current gig in North Carolina was one of relief — those student loans didn’t seem quite so daunting with the promise of a regular paycheck in my future. After settling in, I took stock of my situation.

Once again, I found myself surrounded by a smorgasbord of reporters. Some came from public universities. Some came from private universities. Some came from Ivy League universities.

They hailed from all parts of the country. Some were natives of the Tar Heel state. Others came from the north. Some came from small towns, and others from urban centers. The great equalizer? They all came here to get their feet wet doing journalism.

There’s a pervasive impression among college students that the institutional name on one’s degree will set one’s future in stone. It’s encouraging to discover that this impression is false.

As tends to be the case with generalities, I’m sure there are flaws in this one. I could run amok with disclaimers and caveats, but what would be the point? This blog is, after all, a running chronicle of my own experiences, and nothing more.

I’ll end by saying this: it’s a pleasure to look at my degree as a starting point, and not a definitive road map.

Of manhunts, murders and monkeys

If blog posts had alternate titles, as do some books, this one would be December 2014: A Recap. Life kicked into high gear the last month of last year, and I failed horribly at keeping up a running record. A belated summary — admittedly colored by the passing of time — must suffice.

December was a time of firsts. I got to tag along on a manhunt for the first time. I covered a murder for the first time. I photographed a living, breathing monkey, full of Christmas spirit. I drilled holes in the walls of my apartment.

Spanky the monkey tells Santa what he wants for Christmas.

Spanky the monkey tells Santa what he wants for Christmas.

That last one won’t get much space here, formative an experience as it may have been. Suffice it to say, at the urging of my fiancee, I now own (and can sort of operate) a power drill.

More important, as far as my journalistic endeavors are concerned, was the manhunt. Early one afternoon at the beginning of the month, I got a call from a veteran reporter from a local TV station. Our outlets are news partners, which means we exchange info and tips, and I get a chance to learn from someone who has been in the biz for a while.

As was our luck that afternoon, someone had broken into an old piano manufacturing plant — presumably in search of copper wiring. I rushed to the scene immediately. After a dramatic search involving police dogs, multiple agencies, and a daunting display of weaponry, deputies with the sheriff’s department led a handcuffed suspect from the building.

It was more exciting than any Tuesday has the right to be, and it was the first time I really felt a tingle of danger while on the job.

Mere breaking and entering was not all December had in store, however. Toward the end of the month, what started as a missing persons search for an elderly man turned into a homicide investigation when he was found buried in his own yard.

I learned how to request a search warrant and an autopsy report (though I still haven’t gotten the latter yet). I dealt with investigators from the State Bureau of Investigation while at the crime scene.

The investigation is ongoing, so this story doesn’t have a neat conclusion, but I’m learning as it continues.

On a much more upbeat note, I also got to photograph a monkey while he climbed all over Santa Claus at a local animal shelter.

December was many things, some good and some not-so-good. At the very least, it was certainly never boring.

Getting out of the house and into the comic books

I got to let my inner geek run rampant on the job last weekend. Clad in my best “Whedonist” t-shirt, my job was to get photos at the Morganton Comic Con, happening just across the street from the newsroom.

Morganton has a surprisingly active geek community for a small mountain town. (I use “geek” as a catch-all because the fandoms on display at the con ranged from Doctor Who to anime.) It felt nice to be in the middle of a bunch of people so caught up in something fun — I haven’t been in such a setting since a juggling festival some years ago.

Even though this was my first comic con, it felt familiar — probably because everyone there shared a love of the characters and stories with whom I’ve spent a large portion of my free time.

A diminutive yet sharp-witted Jango Fett.

A diminutive yet sharp-witted Jango Fett.

I snapped several photos for the newspaper while meandering about the community center which had been transformed for the purposes of the con. One young lad of perhaps 10 years old, when I complimented his Boba Fett costume, put my Star Wars knowledge to shame. “I’m Jango Fett,” he replied.

The belle of the con was certainly Ladi Loki, complete with a headdress larger than some camping trailers. The clown had to be Deadpool, capering about with a small arsenal strapped to his person. The two met during the costume contest. Each contestant had to do or say something in character with his or her costume.

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“I rule over you all,” Loki proclaimed with a grand gesture.

Before anyone knew what was happening, Deadpool had darted across the room and thrown himself at her feet.

I couldn’t resist spending a few bucks to add to my collection, and ended up with some “Sandman” issues, a couple issues of Joss Whedon’s “Runaways,” and a copy of “Runaways” Vol. 3 #9 — purchased for the Wolverine variant cover, despite my loathing for what Terry Moore did to the series in that volume.

Favorite part of the afternoon: mutually assured destruction with Deadpool, pictured below.

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Bravo, Morganton Comic Con. I’ll be back next year!

Tiny tracks and big ideas

Today I learned that quality model trains cost $300 to $500 a pop. Playing with trains sure ain’t kid stuff anymore!

Tucked away in the tiny mountain town of Valdese is a railway museum, filled with photos, old railway items, and of course, model trains. These are precise replicas, carefully machined, and computer chipped so they can be controlled from a smartphone. Members of the public only get to see them run three days out of the year.

All aboard! This is one of the models on display in Valdese.

All aboard! This is one of the models on display in Valdese.

Tomorrow is one of those days. During the town’s “Christmas in November” event, members of the Piedmont and Western Railroad Club will turn the trains on from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., taking them over mountains, through tunnels, from tiny model North Carolina to tiny model Tennessee.

I got to check out the display yesterday for a preview story.

The club members are all volunteers, so they have to work showtimes around their day jobs. In addition to the three scheduled days each year when the trains run, folks can schedule private appointments at no cost.

To explain where I’m going with this, I’ll have to diverge from trains for a couple paragraphs.

My fiancee hasn’t had a chance to see the new place yet. The last time she was in the States, I was working an internship in Alabama. She’s flying in come Christmas.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I’m hoping to impress her with the Tar Heel state. We’ve scoped out plenty of local diners and wineries, and I’ve got more than a few cool date ideas tucked up my sleeve.

This is where the trains come in. While the mountains are cloaked in snow and the Christmas decorations are everywhere, I’ll schedule one of those private appointments — and they’ll fire up the museum, just for her.

Days like this, I really love my job. To quote a great man: “Oh! The places you’ll go!”