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Guns In My Backyard

The other night while having dinner on our deck on a warm summer evening we heard automatic weapons fire.  We live in the suburbs of Denver, about a mile as the crow flies from the Family Shooting Center in Cherry Creek State Park.  We often hear the peppering of gunfire as people shoot and train with handguns and rifles.  It is background noise for us, just like the planes flying over our house as they line up to land at nearby Centennial Airport.  But this night was different.  It sounded like we were on the front lines in Syria or Afghanistan.  The shooting went on forever.  Non-stop uninterrupted automatic weapons fire.  I called the Sheriff’s office and they said they were getting numerous complaints.  Then I called and left a message at the range, saying they were being insensitive and not being good neighbors, especially in light of the recent Aurora shooting which left so many people dead, injured and on edge.

Much to my surprise, the next evening, the proprietor of Family Shooting Center, Doug Hamilton, called me.  He was very earnest and apologetic that we were disturbed.  He was certain it was an unusual confluence of atmospheric conditions that carried the sound all the way to us.  He told me they were having a special demonstration event for the staff that they do once a year.  He said he was calling back everyone who left a number and wanted to assure me that they were good neighbors.  He even told me about sound buffers they were installing.  We had a good dialogue, but when I suggested to him that perhaps they do not need to fire off automatic weapons at the range, or if it was essential to have this event annually, perhaps his staff could take a field trip to the country, he went silent.  He listened politely to my feelings but when we hung up I wasn’t sure he really heard them.

And therein lies the disconnect.  I will be candid.  I am not a gun person but in recent years my stance has softened dramatically.  My car dealer has his concealed carry permit.  My son’s best friend hunts.  I visited the Tanner Gun Show and understood why some women felt they needed to have a handgun.  I get that people want guns for recreation and protection.  I have learned to respect their rights.  I believe I am being very reasonable.  But I cannot understand why we need to have automatic weapons in my neighborhood or in any neighborhood for that matter.  When I posted my story on Facebook the jaws of my friends in Canada and Australia dropped.  They couldn’t get their heads around an evening in the suburbs listening to automatic weapons fire or even the irony of a place called Family Shooting Center.  They have such a different world view from ours.

Not long ago in another direction a mile away from my house a new business opened.  It is a gun store, with a built in range, and the owners intend to turn the empty lot across the way into a gun club.  Right across the street from my Starbucks and Einstein’s in an upscale suburb of Denver there is now a gun store.  I must confess when I first saw it I had a visceral reaction.  Not in my back yard.  But I’ve accepted it.  The only thing I wish is that since we are sharing common ground, perhaps we can reach some common ground.  Can’t we all at least agree that there is no reason to have automatic weapons around here?  What good comes from them except to kill people?  Can’t we just leave them to those who fight wars?  It seems like such an easy compromise to make and one that many reasonable people are calling for.  It seems like our country and our communities would be so much safer.  It would certainly keep me from losing my appetite during warm summer evening barbeques on my deck in Colorado.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

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How Hunter S. Thompson Looked for a Job

There was never a dull moment with Hunter S. Thompson.  He wrote this cover letter in 1958.  Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times shared it today with his Facebook fans and remarked that it was the best job application letter he ever read.  It also appeared in the Fear and Loathing Letters Vol. 1.  We miss Hunter S. Thompson in Colorado.  When he died it kind of took the high out of our high country.  Don’t think his chutzpah led to a job with The Sun though.

Vancouver Sun

TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN

October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City

Sir,

I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.

Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.

By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.

I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)

Nothing beats having good references.

Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers.If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.

I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.

It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.

If you think you can use me, drop me a line.

If not, good luck anyway.

Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson

 
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The New Normal: Moose in Newfoundland

When I’ve produced stories in the past I’ve always been on location with my crew.  But times in television, well sometimes, they are a changing.  This story about the serious problem being caused by an overpopulation of Moose in Newfoundland was a collaboration between cameraman Greg Locke of Straylight Media in Newfoundland and me in Colorado.  We met via Google. I set up the story and found the characters, he was the field producer, cameraman and sound man, and I wrote the story, did the rough cut and even recorded my first voice over ever.  It’s the new normal. I’m proud we managed to tell an important story about how moose in Newfoundland are so abundant that they are causing deadly collisions on the highways prompting a class action lawsuit against the provincial government.  I wish I had been able to go to Newfoundland to produce this story for HDNet’s World Report but I guess we showed it can be done.  A Canada/USA co-proproduction, with two people who never met and still managed to make a difference.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

 


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Favorite Friends I’ve Never Met

Several of my friends and even my family think social networking is a waste of time.  They won’t Facebook, Twitter or read blogs and can’t really understand what I get from it.  I’ve found the most vehement opposition from my tango dancing mother and my friends who are cyclists.  These are not ladies who exercise casually, but rather women who compete on the dance floor, do 100 mile bike rides in the Rockies and think it’s fun to race up Mt. Diablo in Northern California.  Their buff bodies speak to their passion.  My flying fingers speak to mine.  They are my bricks and mortar relationships.  But because of social networking I have a new circle of virtual friends who I enjoy and respect, even though we have never met or for that matter, may never meet. 

First there is Susan MacCaulay.  She is a Canadian living in Dubai.  I stumbled across her website Amazing Women Rock (http://amazingwomenrock.com) when it was quite new.  What seems to have started out as a place to go for moderate Muslim women has morphed into something much larger and universal.  She is a champion of women around the world and has a large following now.  The first thing you notice about her is her passion for pink, her platinum blonde hair and her trendy get ups.  On one occasion she turned the camera on herself in a Riyadh hotel room and talked about how strange it was being a woman on a road trip to Saudi Arabia.  Then she posted it on YouTube and endured the threats from those who felt they were disrespected.  She has an elderly and opinionated mother who she adores somewhere back in Canada who reminds me of David Lettermen’s mom.  I am such a fan of hers I even contemplated a trip to Africa through Dubai just so I could meet her.  She hollers about injustice towards women and celebrates their achievements.  Susan rocks! 

Second is Dr. Qanta Ahmed.  She is a striking British national whose family came from Pakistan.  What’s interesting about virtual friendships is you often forget what brought you into someone’s universe.  I think I crossed her path doing research on a story for HDNet’s World Report but I’m not sure.  She had written an article about her transformative relationship with a rabbi who made her fall in love with Judaism while she lived in Charleston, South Carolina.  The irony came at the end when you found out she was a Muslim.  She is one of the most articulate voices for connection between people of all faiths.  She told me about her book “In The Land of Invisible Women.”  I ran out to buy it.  She wrote about the time when she couldn’t renew her visa in the United States and had to leave the country even though she was a doctor practicing medicine.  She moved for two years to Saudi Arabia and tells the story of the culture shock for a professional woman under the kingdom’s repressive laws.  Even so, she had a remarkable journey, had great stories about Riyadh and the Hajj, and got in touch with her Muslim faith.  I was stunned by her writing ability.  She has an amazing eye for detail and there was an extraordinary richness in her voice.  I still don’t know how she finds time to practice medicine with so much social networking.       

Third is my filmmaking friend, Zippy (is that the greatest name or what?) Nyaruri.  I met her via email when I needed a fixer for a story on the monetization of food aid in Kenya.  A fixer is a producer on the ground in a foreign country who helps set up a story and takes care of arrangements.  Without a fixer it is next to impossible to handle all the logistics and relationships.  Our story fell through but we have kept in touch through Facebook.  Through Zippy I see Africa.  When I first was introduced to her she was bouncing back and forth between Kampala and Nairobi.  Now she lives in Capetown, South Africa and recently she posted pictures of herself in Namibia.  She is developing a documentary about one of the few women truck drivers in Africa.  She introduced us to a fellow filmmaker named Godwin Opuly who runs sound and second camera for us when we are doing video production for BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org.)  Even though I have never met Zippy, when I considered visiting Capetown for the FIFA World Cup, she invited me to stay in her home.

Fourth is Caroline Jones.  She actually found me when she saw a story I produced about an acid attack victim called Juliette.  She was so moved she asked if she could use a photograph of her as the foundation for a painting.  Caroline’s ambition is to help others through art.  Her inspirations are women facing obstacles and the book “Half the Sky” by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn.  Caroline has created a body of work she calls Nguvu http://nguvu.artworkfolio.com.  Nguvu means strength in Swahili and her exhibit is this August in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  She will donate 50% of the sale from each work to the organization selected by the photographer.  She also builds boats, has a daughter and is a vegan who blogs about tasty recipes for other vegans.  That’s all I know about her.

Finally there is Karen Daniel.  She is a freelance television producer just like me who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.  She’s loves NASCAR and drives a truck.  She idolizes Dolly Parton and Linda Ellerbee.  She is the kind of person that you recommend even if you don’t know them because you know she gets it.  She’s been described as fearless and like me she wished she moved to New York City right out of college.  She has grey hair and the last time we chatted I told her that models dye their hair grey now.  It’s the new hip thing.  We also have a mutual acquaintance.  I met Ashton Ramsey trying to book Neil Wanless for the Today Show.  He’s the impoverished young cowboy who won a 200+ million dollar lottery in Winner, South Dakota.  Talk about a small world.  Both Ashton and I know Karen Daniel.  Once again, I can’t recall how it came up but imagine my surprise when I’m sitting in a small town bar and we both know my virtual friend.

Of course my virtual friendships aren’t anything like the ones I have with those who I grew up with, break bread with, go to book club with, and take Sunday walks with.  Those are the lasting friendships of my life.  But my virtual friendships are enriching my life and broadening my circle and I’m learning and pondering things that I never would have considered if I weren’t running across these amazing women around the world.  My college friend, Margaret Hoeveler’s mother, Griff, used to say at the end of the day you can count your true friends on one hand.  I think that’s wise but I also have a circle of special social networking friends I can count on one hand and they assure me the energy I spend doing this is not a waste of time.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Tim Horton’s Coffee Commercial

Just another couple of days and I’ll be heading home from Vancouver.  Didn’t want to leave the Olympic city without sharing this commercial with you.  Over the course of the games, out of the corner of my eye, I kept joining this television ad in progress.  I never quite grasped what it was about because I didn’t see it in its entirety until tonight.  It comes from Canadian coffee chain, Tim Horton’s, and like it’s brew it will warm your soul.  What a wonderful spot and way to promote the brand.     

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Olympic Moments

It’s hard to believe that the Olympics are almost at an end.  It is already Day 15.  Soon the closing ceremony will be here and the torch will be extinguished and it’s all over.  Vancouver will be back to its old self with perhaps a wicked Olympic hangover.  It happens every time a city returns to normal after being the center of the sporting universe.  The life cycle of this event is extraordinary.  It’s like a rare moth cocooning for an extended period then it is born as an spectacular creature and within 17 days it dies.  But during those 17 days the entire world is touched by the things they see and experience and others are touched by the things they missed.  Of course we all shared in the triumph and tragedy of Joannie Rochette, who skated through her pain to a bronze medal after her mother died upon arrival in Vancouver.   Joannie will always be remembered for her courage and the legacy of inspiration she leaves behind.  We had a bit of a life altering experience on our team too.  One of our editors, John, came in yesterday morning all shaken up.  His wife had gone into labor the night before and gave birth to his first child, a son.  I suspect they rolled the dice thinking the baby would wait until he got home but he lost that bet.  Instead he gained an extended family who hugged him through his tears, offered him parenting advice and supported him while he worked through what must have been an incomprehensible roller coaster of emotions.  Just seeing him in the morning and hearing how he received the call on the train to work and sobbed all the way in got me all choked up.  I had to take a walk just to ponder the sacrifices that people make so they can be here.  Today I passed John in the hall.  “How’re you doing today?  Top of the world.  I’m a dad.  I’m happy.”  Soon John will meet little Aiden and I trust that someday he’ll have the first of many Olympic moments to share with his boy. 

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com


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Hockey Night in Canada

I was in a beer garden in Vancouver’s Yaletown when a guy draped in an American flag strutted in.  He was carrying on like Superman, all layered up in red, white and blue and making lots of noise.  Boy, did he rile up the Canadians.  After all today is the Canada versus USA men’s hockey match and as friendly as we are with our neighbors to the north, this is war.  The crowd started hooting and hollering and singing “Oh Canada.”  I was talking to my new friend, Scott, and he explained it to me.  Every little kid in Canada, no matter what their circumstances, believes that they can grow up to be a hockey icon like Wayne Gretzky.  If you think there is pressure on Canadians to win gold at these Olympics, consider the hockey team.  Hockey is right up there with mom and Canadians are getting revved up already for the big showdown.  Anything short of a gold medal will be a crushing defeat in this country.

On Thursday night when I was coming back to my hotel I noticed it was particularly celebratory.  I assumed Canada had won some coveted gold medal.  But no!  What really happened was the Canadian hockey team barely escaped the incredible humiliation of being beaten by Switzerland at home.  They could not have recovered from such a disgrace and even if they won the gold medal, Scott told me, they would be reminded that they lost to the Swiss.  Canadians still have not forgiven their hockey team for coming in 7th at the 2006 Olympics in Torino.  It is hard for me to imagine what a scene it will be here in Vancouver tonight when one of the most anticipated matches of the games is played.  The 2010 Olymic winter games is being hailed as the greatest hockey tournament ever and already rowdy fans are banging a drum outside my hotel in anticipation of the battle that looms.  It’s hockey night in Canada.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Oh Canada

Walking down Granville Street in Vancouver tonight I saw something you hardly ever see  in the United States.  Twenty something girls playfully singing and strutting to their national anthem.  They were on the crosswalk and at the top of their lungs they were singing “Oh, Canada, our home and native land…”  Of course patriotism and spirit are running high at the Olympics but the Canadians also have a very singable anthem with an extremely catchy melody.  So catchy in fact, that John Furlong, the head of the Vancouver Olympic Committee, chose the English lyrics “With Glowing Hearts” and “Des plus brillants exploits” from the French version as trademarked slogans for the 2010 Olympics.  On the other hand, our Star Spangled Banner, composed when Francis Scott Key was watching the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, is set to the tune of a British drinking song and at one and a half octaves is more difficult to get right.  We sing it with all due respect at sporting events but always wonder if the vocalist will get through it without becoming pitchy or butchering it with some bizarre rendition.  The Canadian anthem, on the other hand, rolls off the tongue especially if you’re 20 something and maybe have had a couple drinks.  Purists thought young Nicky Yanofsky, who sang it at the Opening Ceremony, took too many liberties with the melody but I think it’s pretty no matter how you sing it.  So when Americans aren’t on the podium and Canadians are, you might be tempted to sing along.

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Why I Work at the Olympics

My 16 year old son is mad at me.  When I call home his anger is palpable.  He does not understand why I leave home for extended periods of time every couple of years to work at the Olympics.  He won’t listen when I try to explain so I’m putting it out to the world.  Being part of a production team at the Olympics is, well, like being an Olympian.  This is a pinnacle in broadcasting and all of my colleagues aspire to work at the games.  It is a global coming together of the best television professionals from around the world.  Every couple of years we rekindle old friendships and make new ones and try to fit in a beer here and there.  We learn the state of the art and the latest technologies.  We work around the clock in a pressure cooker.  Are we having any fun yet?  Hell, yes.  The work that is done to bring viewers the Olympics is nothing short of extraordinary.  We challenge ourselves to acheive feats in broadcasting that are remarkable and inspiring.  It is our Olympics too.  It always stuns me that years of planning and so much money and effort go into just 17 days.  Olympics transcend sports and for those of us lucky to be a part of the games, it is completely addicting.  It is a very unique culture. 

The other thing that makes me want to come back year after year is the way the Olympics inspire communities.  Today all Canadians are walking a bit taller, all decked out in red, for the start of the games.  You sense the pride and anticipation in Vancouver.  Low key Canada is showcasing what makes it special.  It’s enlightening to know how much talent it has given to the world.  And not to be all rah rah about Canada but this country has taken advantage of this moment, not just to offer meaningless apologies to its first nations, but to partner with them in the Olympics.  You will see in the opening ceremonies how the native Canadians are honored.  It is an unprecedented peace.  I might be a bit pollyanna here but I am also still inspired by the idea that the Olympics can foster understanding around the world.  Bring nations together and let young warriors hammer it out on the playing field.  Win for the country then shake hands and hug and if you don’t win at least you participated and made your people proud.

At the end of all this we are completely spent and wondering how we could possibly do this again.  Then we go home to our families and catch up with our sleep and as the next games are a year and a half away we are getting back in touch with our associates and raising our hands again.  I have been producing television for 30 years and I am still on fire about the Olympics.  This morning when I was watching NBC’s Today Show kick off its coverage of the games and I heard the Olympic fanfare I got all choked up.  The Olympics are here.  Let the games begin!  Get the party started.  And Kyle, if you are reading this, that’s why your mom is here.

For more information about Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Enlightened Canada

I walked out of my hotel room this morning carrying a plastic bottle of water and by the time I was at the front desk it was empty.  I handed it to the concierge and asked if he could throw it out.  Before I could correct myself a hotel manager did it for me.  Recycle!  From what I can tell, Canada is an enlightened country.  There are as many recycle bins as trash cans.  Cops ride bicycles.  Gay people can marry.  Citizens care about the homeless and even accomodate them.  There is universal health care.  And most impressive, Canadians seem very proud of their diversity.  Vancouver is a city full of languages and color.  I ride the bus with a man from Mozambique.  A Sikh guards the gate.  The city is full of Asians and French speakers.  Foreign accents are everywhere.  I’ve always been impressed with the way Canadians embrace their diversity.  People intermarry.  Not a big deal.  My cousin from the Czech Republic married a black woman from the Caribbean.  Just like America, this is a nation of immigrants, but Canadians are not caught up in discussions of race.  That is so yesterday.  Canada is a true melting pot and it’s moving forward in an enlightened way. 

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com