My adventures as a temporary reporter in Monroe, Louisiana.

Monday, October 03, 2005

the (International) Noise Conspiracy

Sometimes I think about what I'd be doing if I were in Kansas City. Most of the times its a vague idea at best, but I know exactly what I'd be doing tonight.

I'd be having fun at the (International) Noise Conspiracy show.

t(I)NC melds a 60s garage band sound with a lot of radical left politics. I've seen t(I)NC once before on their first US tour in 2000. It was the best show ever. The music was good, but the band really sold it. The whole band had great energy and syncrhonized jumps, but singer Dennis Lyxzen stole the show. He used to be the frontman for the hardcore band Refused. Now he's given up the screaming to be the Swedish James Brown, belting out tunes and dancing like his life depended on it. He swung the microphone around so much it was a miracle no one got a concussion. There were jumps, splits and other move that defy easy explanation. This wasn't just the best performance I'd ever seen, it was the best by far.

So I'm sad that I can't be in Kansas City tonight to go, but if you're in Kansas City, go you won't regret it. The (International) Noise Conspiracy is opening for the Bravery, which is a shame in my opinion, but at least you'll get home a little earlier. Here are the details.

WHEN: Tonight (Monday, October 3rd)
WHERE: The Beaumont Club, 4050 Pennsylvania, KCMO

Go have fun!

Sunday, October 02, 2005


I took a weekend trip to New Orleans.  Quite a bit of the city was open, but it was hard to find very many people, except in the French Quarter.  Here things were humming.  Everyone was there cops from all across the country, firefighters, the USDA, the FDA, national park rangers, and more.  The streets were filled with official cars.  There were a few different restaurants open, and lots of shopkeepers were there even if there stores weren’t open.  The French Quarter had electricity, sewers, and water that looked clean but wasn’t officially safe for drinking but was supposed to be okay for cleaning.

The most notable thing about the French Quarter was the stench.  Imagine a dumpster in an alley behind a restaurant filled with rotting meats, seafood, fruits, and milk.  Now imagine that dumpster hasn’t been picked up for a month.  That’s the smell.  I never quite got used to it.

We weren’t allowed into some of the hardest hit areas, but one place we went was Lakeview.  It was a mess.  The area’s very near the lake and was under twelve feet of rushing water.  Tree limbs were everywhere.  Everything was everywhere.  One house was completely washed off it’s foundation.  Boats were in trees.  Cars were washed onto lawns.  Even the streets were buckled and washed out.  All the plants were brown and dead.  Everything was brown and dead.

A few miles away in Metairie, it flooded but not nearly as much.  The water was only a few feet tall, but this was enough to ruin people’s furniture and carpeting.  Everyone’s belonging were mixed with tree branches and piled in front lawns.  It’s hard to describe the sheer amount of things being thrown away.  Maybe half a mile away in the commercial part of town, it seemed like life as normal.  People were driving around, shopping, and eating at restaurants.

It’s odd from going from seeing picture on TV to seeing the city in person.  I’m not sure I’ve processed the whole weekend yet.

I’ll post some pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A pictures worth a thousand words

I've finally put the pictures up. I've run into some silly technical problems between blogger, flickr, and the wifi connection at the hotel. Well, there posted below in the Alligadeer post. Enjoy!

If you want to see a few more pictures, check 'em out on my Flickr page.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It's coming through the air...for all of us to hear

Or not…

Nothing been going through the air on the KEDM airwaves. Yep, that’s right folks we were off the air again. I thought I was just having trouble tuning it in on my clock radio, but when I got in my car to drive to the station—KEDM was definitely off the air. I had the fun job of calling the groggy engineer at 5 in the morning. This is the third time in four days the station’s not been broadcasting. The first time was because of Rita on Saturday. The second time was because of doing a few repairs because of the power outage yesterday, which ended up being longer than expected. Then again sometime overnight yesterday something blew, and the signal.

Most of the station is automated, meaning no live person is actually there on the air. It’s all pre-recorded and plugged in. So for most of the people at the station, they just go about their normal day. In news, it seems really frustrating. News by it’s nature can’t be automated, so that means a real live person there. This time the power company needed to come out and replace a transformer at the transmitter.

There wasn’t a very accurate estimate of how long it would take, so my morning was spent getting prepared to do nothing. I had to have newscasts ready to go. So after I had enough newscasts prepared to fill in the first hour, I pretty much sat around listening to white noise with a very faint signal from Mississippi Public Radio occasionally making an appearance. I tried logging some tape, but got completely paranoid that I’d miss coming back on the air, and having the constant static play in my ear while trying to listen and type was driving me nuts. So I spent an hour or so weeding through my inbox…it should look good for a day or two. I contemplated making some phone calls for the noon cast, but it seemed like it would be an exercise it futility. And in retrospect it would have been, the station didn’t come back on the air until 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

The funny part was all the station staff that came in would stop a second or two after walking in the door. Listen for a few seconds and ask, “Are we off the air?” If you here static instead of NPR, it should be obvious...the station is off the air. Morning Edition doesn’t often play an extended Ode to Static instead of the latest news. Plus, it made me wonder—just how much does the staff listen to the station?

There are two or three other station that use the same tower including the student station, KXUL. It was on the air while KEDM wasn’t. Apparently, they have a backup generator. Not having a backup generator doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I’m not paying the bills so what do I know. Actually, the student station is both the best and worst student station I’ve ever heard. Except for it’s lack of commercials, most of the time I wouldn’t know it was student run. It plays the same songs as any alternative/modern rock station, and it’s pretty constant in what it plays. There aren’t any oddball death metal hours thrown in for fun. Also, there aren’t any awkward pauses and the announcers sound pretty smooth.

But…all that weirdness is why I like college radio. That sense of randomness and never quite knowing what you’re going to hear. Also, it’s so great just having people play music that they have a real passion for. Plus, where’s my Belle and Sebastian? I mean I can’t imagine buying a Belle and Sebastian album. Maybe downloading a song or two, but I love it each and every time I hear one of their songs on the radio.

On a personal note, I’m zonked. Since Friday, I’ve had a mild soar throat, or more accurately, half a mild soar throat. One tonsil has been all icky and soar feeling, but the other is just fine. It’s really been nothing, but I think it’s been zapping my energy. Fortunately, I think it’s almost gone.

Tonight, I went to Enoch’s with news director Sunny Merriwether. Enoch’s is Monroe’s Irish pub. It seemed like a decent pub, but it had this weird contingent of people who seemed way to dressed up to be at a pub. I mean one or two dressed up people seems acceptable, but when more than half the people look like they’re there to be seen then to throw back a few Guinesses it kind of gives the place a weird vibe.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Live, Late Breaking, Investigative

Okay, Rita came ashore overnight and proceeded to march up the Texas-Louisiana border today.  As far as Rita went here in Monroe, it just seemed like a blustery day.  There’s been no thunder or lightening to my knowledge, but the area is under a tornado watch.

I went into the station at six this morning to help cover Katrina.  Oddly, this felt like such a luxurious hour compared to getting there at 5 am. K-E-D-M usually doesn’t have a live announcer on air, almost everything is pre-recorded and automated.  That’s how they can have so few people that work at the station, but deviation from the standard course requires a meeting and way too much pre-planning.  Thank you K-C-U-R announcers for being there, having a brain, and being able to change things quickly and easily when needed!  Anyway, it seemed like it was a big deal to have someone with news inserts in the morning on the weekend when it’s usually pretty much straight network stuff.
Somehow, I’ve become the default live anchor for our special Katrina coverage.  Yeah, I’m not sure how this happened, but it’s been kind of fun.  We did an extra newscast at 5pm Thursday (yes, a meeting was needed for that).  At 3, I wasn’t sure there would be enough local stuff to fill a five minute local newscast, but by newscast time, there was more than enough.  We didn’t have time to pre-record any wraps, so it was kind of odd tossing it to a real, live person instead of a computer file…a little like TV news.

This morning I did a newscast at 7 and did a short phone interview later in the hour with fellow news gal Cynthia who was at the parish’s Emergency Operations Center.  We did have a live anchor doing weather as well as doing interviews with someone from the campus’ meteorology program.  That first hour was hot!  I was surprised that I was enjoying it.  See, I’m a logistics person at heart.  I like to have a plan, things written out so I can see them.  With live stuff, the details worry me.  What if I don’t go back to the network at the right time?  What happens if a cut doesn’t play?  What if I suddenly forget how to read or speak?  But the past few days, I was so completely pleased with how each newscast turned out that I was ready for more.

So there I am two newscasts under my belt and ready for more.  Then, we go off air.  It was raining and there was some wind, but if this is all it takes to knock the station here off the air.  I’m not sure any station in Kansas City would every broadcast anything.  So, I stuck around waiting for us to come back on air.  Apparently, the power was out at the transmitter.  I left around 11:30 that morning.  We still weren’t on air.  It’s almost 8 this evening, and the station’s still not broadcasting.  

There were some small power outages throughout town and small branches down, but for now that seems to be the only damage from Rita.  I’m alive, safe, and almost caught up on sleep.

Friday, September 23, 2005

I hear the voice of rage and ruin

It’s been a long week, an early week, and one that’s not over yet. Thank you, Rita.

Monroe is nowhere near the coast, but Rita’s expected to bring lots of rain and has already sent lots of evacuees are way.

Last week, about 1,000 people were living at the Red Cross Shelter. In less than two days, that shelter filled up with a total of 2,300 evacuees. Two other shelters opened up and were turning down people within hours. When the Red Cross opened up a third shelter this afternoon, it was already instantly filled with about 200 people within hours. If my addition holds, there are about 3500 evacuees in Monroe. Now, the Red Cross is basically saying Louisiana doesn’t have room for anyone else. Luckily, Arkansas is just next door.

Another sign of Rita, the hotel I’m staying in is totally packed, and by the number of families, I’m guessing most people aren’t here for the Louisiana Society of Paralegals conference. I have a room close to the pool, and the place is packed today. The kids are showing off their belly flops and blindly chasing each other in games of Marco Polo. Meanwhile, parents stand at the side, sharing stories of traffic jams and comparing Rita to its sister Katrina.

Now and for the week and a half I’ve been here, one of the more common questions I get is “Where are you from?” Now, I know everyday my accent announces that I’m not from around here or Louisiana. But, I think even without the accent everyone would ask because there’s more to the question than it seems at first. There are really only two answers—here or there. Here is simple. Monroe, West Monroe, Ouachita Parish. There is more complicated, especially with Rita. New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, Slidell, Chaumette, places I’ve never heard of. Or now Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Lafayette. Kansas City isn’t on the list.

It’s us and them, on both sides, and I’m neither. Say where I’m from, and people tilt there head to the side in a silent question. Tell them I here as a reporter and the head stays tilted. See, there’s a third category—relief workers—that’s doesn’t raise too many questions. Relief workers are a smaller group from all over the country, but they’re all here with a common purpose. It’s not all that different than why I’m here. They’re here to help evacuees. I’m here to help cover evacuees, but even this requires clarification, usually a rambling speech about CPB emergence funding. I require an explanation here in Monroe and sometimes I wish I didn’t.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

No pictures...

I'm sorry everyone. I'm having problems posting pictures to the blog at the moment, but I'll try to get that fixed/figured out later today.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I finally got some wheels…a silver Chevy Malibu. It’s a little bigger than I’m use to so it makes me feel a little bit like a grandma, but a hotrod grandma. The car has some get up and go.

I loathe the necessity of having a car, but I love having one. Go figure.

So this weekend, I drove to Black Bayou Lake. It’s just a few miles north of Monroe and is a National Wildlife Refuge but lives a secret life as the city’s secondary source of drinking water. As I looked down at the stagnant algae filled water, I vowed I’d stick to bottled water for the next five weeks. I mean just look at this place…

More bayou

I went Sunday morning, so the environmental visitors’ center was closed, but they did have helpful signs telling me what animals I might see. Raccoons, ducks, and various little birdies all seemed too common place. I was hoping for an alligator. I’ve seen alligators in zoos and the only thing I remember was how boring they were. They just lied around and didn’t move, not even to flick their third eyelid closed, but I’m pretty sure wild gators wouldn’t be so fat and lazy. I mean no crazy Australian guy is just dangling raw chickens in front of a wild alligator. No these alligators would be hungry. I was sure of it.

So I trekked all the way out to the end of the handicap accessible wildlife viewing deck and waited to see my wild alligator. And waited….and waited. So after five long minutes of scanning the waters, I got bored and took a few pictures. Here they are…

Look at those cypress trees!
Cypress trees

Well so far, I was coming up short in the alligator department, but the place was thick with dragonflies, butterflies, and other unidentified bugs. It’s hard to convince an insect to sit still for snaps, but here’s one of a dragonfly.


Okay, so that was enough wildlife photography for now. I decided to set out in search again of my alligator. Alas, he wasn’t here at the observation tower.

More trees

Nor could I see him looking out from the duck blind.

Black Bayou Lake 002

Or was he?

I’m walking back to my car, looking up at the sunlight coming through the tree leaves, when I hear something in the bushes. What the hell was that? It sounds huge. I flash back to all those episodes of the Crocodile Hunter…

A big toothy jaw suddenly appears from nowhere, clamping down on my leg and the alligator starts spinning in a death roll. I battle back against the swamp beast, punching it in it’s ugly mud-colored nose. That doesn’t work, so I bit the gators thick leathery skin. Surprised by how I used the gator’s own maneuver, it let’s go of my leg and I crawl back to my car. I drive to the hospital, and pass out as soon I stumble into the emergency room. I make the “weird news” section of every paper from Germany to Florida with my girl bites alligator story. With appearances on morning talk shows and an ill-advised Springer episode, I launch a public campaign against the lurking menace of the alligator. In a year, some young starlet realizes her career in Hollywood isn’t turning out the way she thought it would as she stars in the TV movie version of my life.

Okay, so none of this happened. But dammit, I heard something! I look around. No gators. And then I see it. A white tail springs up in the air. It’s a deer! I fumbled for my camera, but by the time I turned it on, it had sprung out of sight.

Don’t ask me how I could confuse a deer with an alligator, but I swear I scared that deer more than it scared me.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Too tired to blog

Sorry about not posting for awhile. I’ve been waking up before the sun has even thought about rising, and by the end of the day, it’s all I can do to take off my shoes and brush my teeth before falling asleep, much less head out to the lobby to use the wireless internet and post something.

Thursday and Friday morning, I shadowed the morning newsperson. The news at KEDM for the most part is a one man band situation, or more accurately a one woman band starring news director Sunny Meriwether. There’s a little complication at the moment. Sunny is out after hand surgery, which is part of the reason I’m needed here. Her replacement Cynthia has been showing me the ropes. I’ve had a good time working with Cynthia, but she’s only been doing the news at the station for two weeks, so sometimes I have questions and she understandably doesn’t know the answer.

The news department does more newscasts than I’ve ever done before.

Here’s the schedule:

*One minute news headlines at 5:59, 6:59, 7:59, and 11:59
*Four minute
newscasts at 6:06, 7:06, 8:06, 9:06 and 12:06
*Two minute newscast at
6:33 (featuring a pre-recorded garden segment), 7:33, 8:33 (sometimes replaced
by a 9-minute long interview)
*There are also 2-minute pre-recorded
newscasts somewhere in the 10
o’clock and 2 o’clock hours

It seems like a lot of local news, and it’s literally rip-and-read from the AP wire. They have a 20 year old printer. It’s the kind that uses paper with the strips at the sides with a series of holes. The AP prints directly to it, you rip it off and read it. Also, the newsperson includes weather in the newscast and runs their own board. Thankfully, I’ve always been at stations where the newsperson did not have to do things with the board. I’m a little nervous about that part even though it isn’t hard. I think I’m afraid I’ll forget some part of routine.

So the plan, as I understand it, is that I will start doing the newscasts up until 8ish. Then Cynthia, who is part time, will do the rest. The bad part is waking up at 4am. The good part is that I’ll be free to go report during the day. I think this plan will lead to napping.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

First day, no time to play

This morning, the general manager Mark Simmons picked me up at my hotel, and I went to the station for the first time.

It’s amazing how small KEDM is, and I mean that in only the nicest way! KCUR probably has some two dozen full time employees; KEDM has five. Despite this, they manage to get a lot of programming on the air. They have quite a bit of local music programming produced mostly by part timers. The station seems to have a pretty good network of these people, but there are so many people in and out each day that I’m always meeting someone new.

Right off the bat, I was on something called the Lagniappe (sounds like lan-YAP). It’s basically a nine-minute interview segment that’s thrown a few times a week in place of a newscast for a little something extra. I guess, as the person who came in all the way from Kansas City, today that was me. Due to some technical difficulties, only the first two minutes of the Lagniappe were recorded and most of that was theme music. Otherwise, I would post it up here for everyone to share in.

I felt weird being on the other side of the microphone, especially when I was asked about how people reacted in Kansas City to Hurricane Katrina. The only thing I could think about were some of the awful pictures of people struggling through murky, black water, stranded on rooftops, or worst of all in my mind waving a hand for rescuers out of a window. No one deserves to go through such an awful situation, and I was grateful to be sitting safely at home. At the same time, I was deeply grateful that it wasn’t me.

That’s enough for now. I had to come back to the station this evening to help run the board for the Governor's address. Day one wore me out, and I’ve got to get up early tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Moseying into Monroe

I arrived in Monroe today. The trip here was an uneventful medley of waiting in airport terminals and sitting in cramped plane seats. The big highlight was I was pre-selected for the special screening. I didn’t I feel so special. I think in exchange for being felt up by an old lady in a TSA outfit I should get some sort of door prize. Or maybe they could just tell me I may have already won a million dollars.

So far, Monroe looks both very different and very much the same as any town in the Midwest. There are strip malls and road construction. That part is not exactly pretty, but it’s not unusual. Monroe is different in the sense that it’s “the South” There are parts of town with large, old houses that have a genteel southern flair. More disturbingly, the familiar eco- and geological markers aren’t there. It’s flat...very flat. I haven’t seen a hill since I got off the plane. Compared to the Ozarks where I grew up Kansas City is as flat as the proverbial pancake, but Monroe is making Kansas City look like the Rockies. Add this to the occasional palm tree and and a bayou landscape that I’ve only seen in pictures, and it just has a different feel than the Midwest.

You're going to have to wait for beautiful pictures of the wall view from my room. The wireless internet connection in the lobby is being strange.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Final Udipi Run

So the plans are final. There's no turning back now.

Tomorrow morning at 11:12, I leave for Monroe, Louisiana, where I'll be spending the next six weeks. I've never been this far south of the Mason-Dixon line before, and I'm not really sure what to expect out of this whole ordeal.

Last week, I'd never even heard of Monroe, Louisiana. Now, I'll be living there for the next six weeks. Crazy.

Kelley and I went to my favorite restaurant last night, Udipi. I'll miss you Udipi and your delicious, vegetarian Indian food. The food seemed extra wonderful, especially the vegetable and mushroom curry. This dish makes me reconsider my Switzerland like attitude to mushrooms. The mango lassies at the end we're perfectly sweet. The best in KC. It may be six weeks until I can eat again.