Thursday, January 29, 2009

This Could Explain Something

I read a novel recently called "Big Stone Gap." Its protagonist, Ave Maria Mulligan, has read a book about Chinese face reading and studies people's faces hoping to divine their mental makeup from their facial traits.

I thought that if I read my father's face, I would be able to understand why he was so mean. It took a lot of study. Dad's face was square and full of angles: rectangular forehead, sharp jaw, pointy chin. He had small eyes (sign of a deceptive nature), a bulbous nose (sign of money in midlife, which had from owning the Pharmacy), and no lips. Okay, he had two lips, but the set of the mouth was one tight gray lead-pencil line. That is a sign of cruelty. When you watch the news on television, look at the anchor's mouth. I will guaran-damn-tee you that none of them have upper lips. You don't get on the TV by being nice to people.

My lips won't get me mistaken for Angelina Jolie's twin brother but, if the above is true, they are not nearly thin enough for me to succeed in my chosen field.

Holy Crap, I'm Old

The inevitable march of time has now stepped past 43 of my birthdays. Or, as I tell people, I have turned 34 -- and become conveniently dyslexic. Celebrating the anniversary of my entrance into the world is a challenge. As you know, I'm a partying dude and not many people can keep up.

So my parents came down and took me to Olive Garden, where the butter-slathered bread sticks and the five-cheese ravioli bathed in butter cream sauce undid much of the good my daily workouts had done. There was no birthday cake. This is still "No Junk Food January," which along with the working out every day of the month constitute my New Year's resolutions.

My sweet tooth has abated as I've aged but after meals I still often get such a sugar craving that I'll feel nauseated if I don't eat something sweet. Nutrition bars make the month a lot easier to survive. Even Snickers makes one but it tastes more like something that might be good for you than a real Snickers bar.

I did have a dream Saturday in which I had forgotten my vow and ate a cupcake. When I first tried going a month without junk food in 1994, by mid-month, ice cream, cakes and cookies routinely taunted me in my dreams.

As if you didn't think I was weird enough already.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I shot with a model yesterday. Sort of. My subject was not a professional model, which was fitting because I am not a professional photographer.

Looking for more things to photograph, I put an ad in craigslist offering to shoot photos of people for free if they'd sign a model release.

The ad began with the disclaimer: "There's a saying that goes 'you get what you pay for.' It's true! I am not an expert and there is a chance I will screw this up and have nothing for you. For a one-time event that you can't re-shoot, hire a pro."

So, of course, the first person to reply wanted me to shoot a wedding -- in January 2010, probably figuring that I'd have enough practice by then to get it right.

The second respondent was a 26-year-old woman named Jahara. She had appeared in a commercial for her company, enjoyed it and wanted to do more. She wanted some shots she could use to send to casting agents but she's not serious enough about it that she wanted to pay someone.

Convenient for both of us. We met in Ybor City yesterday morning shortly after 8 a.m. Ybor is largely empty in the morning we had the run of the place for most of the 90 minutes or so that we shot.

Jahara was a good subject for me as a first time shooter. I didn't give her a lot of direction. I'd suggest things, sometimes demonstrate how I wanted her to stand then I'd just capture natural reactions. She has a wonderfully expressive face that gave me so many different looks that it looked almost like I had more than one model.

She was also a good sport when I asked her to try to walk on a railroad track in her high heels.

We shot a lot of shots where she looked at the camera but my favorites, as you can see here, tended to be the ones where she was looking elsewhere. Her husband might have been a source of comfort for her. He gamely tagged along as we traipsed around Ybor City. She was looking at him in many of the shots.

I had the camera set incorrectly for some of the situations and a lot of the shots, including some that I would otherwise have really liked, came out blurry. But if you shoot several hundred photos, at least a few will come out well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Makeshsift Mittens

I posted this for the person whose story I related before one of my traffic reports this morning for WTSP. If that's not you, you may be bored by it. You might be bored anyway but, hey, at least I gave you the courtesy of prior warning this time, which is more than I usually do.

It has to do with the recent snow in North Carolina. That's why we hear the weather guy narrating video about snow before you see me.

Video Courtesy WTSP-TV

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No Snow in Tampa?

Despite temperatures forecast to be in the mid-30s overnight tonight with a front going through, our weather guessers say there is almost no chance that we'll get our first snow since 1977.

I'm not so sure.

Let's review recent history, shall we?

1. A commuter plane loses power and goes down in New York City with 155 people aboard. No one dies.

2. The Arizona Cardinals, an NFL laughingstock for most of the team's existence, make it to the Super Bowl.

3. Today we will inaugurate an African-American man with a Muslim-sounding name as President of the United States.

I'm not saying that means it's going to snow. I'm just saying that we shouldn't rule out the possibility.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, if recent trends from my Statcounter are correct, you probably got here from a Google search for Russell Rhodes' mug shot.

The best place to find it is the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office web site.

Seventy-eight people visited The Queue yesterday, a one-day record. My Statcounter shows me how people found my blog. Among the numerous searches for a TV anchor's mug shot was a Yahoo! search for Methacton class of 1984, of which I am a member. Methacton, FYI, is a high school in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

It's fun sometimes to follow the original search link to see what else the search brings back (and, truth told, to see how high my blog ranks in the search results).

OK, so I'm recreationally impaired. Yeah, yeah.

One of the things Yahoo! turned up for this search was the bio page for a Virginia Tech softball player from 2004. Jackie Fernandez, like me, graduated from Methacton High School. Unlike me, she did not graduate in 1984. She was born that year.

Jackie lettered only once in high school and the bio describes her as a "bullpen catcher," which means that she wasn't going to play in a varsity game unless the bus carrying the starting players rolled off I-64 and tumbled down the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In the "get to know" section, which lists answers to a series of questions, the last one reads, "When my softball days are over: I plan on getting double knee replacement with my best friend."

Yikes! Miss Fernandez is either looking far into the future, has a twisted sense of humor or softball is a far more grueling sport than I had ever guessed.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Reflecting on the Russell Rhodes arrest story in the post below, I should disclose that I once had an unflattering newspaper article written about me. You will have to forgive me if I don't search too hard to see if it exists online somewhere.

It had nothing to do with any interactions I may have had with police, however, none of which have ever ended either in arrest or with my face looking like it had been ground into the sidewalk like a cigarette butt.

My criminal record consists entirely of minor traffic violations. I have never been even recreationally handcuffed.

I can't say the same for someone who may be a distant relative.

Lonny A. McQuiston, according to the Bellingham (Wash.) Herald was "booked by the Bellingham Police Department for investigation of burglary, third-degree malicious mischief and a Department of Corrections warrant."

I learned about this allegedly miscreant McQuiston from a Google Alert that informs me when a McQuiston makes news. Most don't involve anything earth-shattering. This past fall I got many notices about a Skylor McQuiston who kicked field goals for a high school football team in Ohio.

Even if I stay on WTSP's morning show long enough that my arrest would make news, it should be easy for me to avoid Mr. Rhodes' particular situation. For one thing, I don't drink alcohol. For another, 10:16 p.m., the time of Rhodes' arrest, is way past my bedtime.


No one will rejoice the death of newspapers more than the TV personalities who occasionally grace their pages after run-ins with the law.

For as long as they still exist, newspapers will enjoy nothing more than showing the dark sides of the people who look so bright on television.

No shock, then, that the Tampa Tribune, the same paper that recently had to publish a denial of persistent rumors that it would stop publishing after the Super Bowl, would take one of its few remaining delights by reporting the arrest of a local morning show anchor.

WTVT's Russell Rhodes, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office arrest record faces charges of opposing an officer without violence.

(One might wonder what Mr. Rhodes' face, seen in his mug shot at left, would resemble if his alleged opposition was with violence.)

I'm not saying it's not news if someone who has appeared on local television for almost 15 years gets arrested after trying to stumble drunkenly away from a sheriff's deputy with his pants undone and belt unbuckled -- as the deputy reported.

I am saying there's no real news value in reporting the arrest the same night of a behind-the-scenes person at a different station for a routine DUI. But the Tribune did that, too.

April Wilson, pictured at right, is the executive producer of a program called "Daytime" that airs weekdays on WFLA. Hardly any of the Tribune's readers, of the few who remain, would know that and fewer of them would care.

I did notice that the Trib published Wilson's address but omitted Rhodes' even though both appear in their arrest reports. Mighty nice of it. But why is Wilson's arrest news at all? It isn't. As much as misery loves company, do newspapers in their struggle to survive still have the luxury of nursing such petty rivalries?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Real Sports Reporting

Forget those screaming heads blathering about nothing on ESPN. If you want insight into sports, read The Wall Street Journal.

No kidding.

Articles like this one about Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald's unique pass-catching ability give you a better look inside how the games are played than anything you'll see on the self-titled "worldwide leader in sports."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

This is Where News Media are Going

The first photo of the US Airways jet that splash-landed in the Hudson River was published on Twitter from some guy's iPhone.

I confess that I don't know how Twitter works so I don't know if only those who had signed up to receive Twitter updates from that particular person saw the photo or not but it gets clearer every day that when something happens, people in increasing numbers do not turn on their radios or TVs to learn more, they check their laptops or their Blackberries.

It is no wonder that Gannett, owner of newspapers and television stations, including USA Today and WTSP (where I am doing a temp job reporting the traffic on the morning show), announced this week that workers not under contract will have to take a week off without pay before the end of March.

Ybor City

Hear the weather forecast a dozen or more times a morning as I do since all my traffic reports for WTSP immediately follow the weather segment and I'm bound to remember some of it.

That's why at noon I was taking pictures under the layer of clouds that our weather guy said would help keep freezing weather at bay for another day in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa.

By the way, by "freezing" I mean actual bring-in-the-dogs, cover-the-plants freezing, though nothing like the -22 degrees they had in Minot, North Dakota made worse by a wind that made it feel like -48. Not that anyone outside when it's 22 degrees below zero is going to have any exposed skin to feel the wind-chill factor.

The freeze watch is only for nighttime. The daytime temperature was still around 60. That's cold for us but I understand your lack of sympathy if you're shivering under a blanket of ice somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Anyway, cloud cover is great for photography because it eliminates the harsh shadows sunlight causes.

Ybor City is a historic part of Tampa once known for its cigar factories but now a center of Tampa nightlife. It's also one of the few places around here where many of the buildings have brick exteriors instead of the ubiquitous stucco pastels. Some of the streets and many of the sidewalks are also paved with red bricks.

Ybor's distinctive scenery makes it a popular with area photographers. I shot there once before but couldn't find most of the places I'd seen in other people's photos of the place. That's not crucial except that I didn't find much of anything in which I could see good photographs.

Today I did. I took more than 250 photographs and a few could be mistaken for art.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ailing Deputy Dog

My latest effort for the pet-related website is up. It's about how police dogs who cripple themselves on duty get no help from their police agencies once they're no longer able to serve.

This was also the first story I shot using my new fancy tripod. Some of the video is hand-held but the shots of the newspaper clippings, photos and some of the smooth pans of the dog I could never have shot with my old $100 Best Buy tripod.

It's common for the police dog's handler to adopt the dog once it retires. It's also the custom for the person who adopts the dog to take on all costs of its care, even if the dog suffered its injuries in the course of duty.

This story suffered from a lack of action. That's why I included the shot of the rottweiler pacing outside. That gave the story at least some movement. I added the siren sound for a similar reason. There wasn't much ambient sound in the video I shot.

I could have arranged to shoot Deputy Raschke with her new K-9 partner but I had trouble reaching getting in contact with her and the story had been sitting on the shelf since I shot the interview in early December. It was time to get it out the door. I went with what I had.

Click here to read the text version I wrote on It has more details.

It's also one of the print-style stories that suffered the least amount of copy editing once I submitted it. I had complained after my last one that some of the edits made things either factually or grammatically incorrect.

I certainly want the people at zootoo to publish the story in a form they want. They're paying me, after all, not the other way around. I also want to ensure that what goes out with my name on it is something I'm proud to show off.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lowry Park Zoo Visit

I joined about 9,000 of my closest friends at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo today on $5 admission day. OK, so they might not have been my friends but they were close. A busy day for the zoo is 4,500 to 5,000 people, according to the employee/town crier standing outside telling people that they could not bring food or plastic bags but that water and soft drinks were OK.

The doors didn't open until 9:30 a.m. but I got there about 8:40 because last time I went on a discount day I had to park about a half-mile away and I deemed waiting better than walking.

I had my camera with me, including my 2X teleconverter, which I did not have on previous trips. Many of the shots in the slide show below were not cropped. A tripod or monopod would have sharpened the focus more but I was able to get much closer shots than I ever had.

The cheetahs were the most active I had ever seen them and I was glad that as soon as I got into the zoo, I went straight back to the cheetah exhibit, which is at the back of the park. I figured people would flood the places closest to the entrance first and slowly filter their way back. I guessed correctly.

Make a note. I was right. And it took less than half a month into the new year.

I have mixed feelings about the white tigers. They're certainly gorgeous and you probably got cute overload from one cub's brief venture away from momma. But I would would much rather have seen the more common -- although increasingly uncommon in the wild -- orange tigers.

Here's why: Although they occur in the wild, white tigers rarely survive because they have no camouflage. But they're enormously popular zoo attractions so this freak of nature is bred in captivity. On a visit to a sanctuary called Big Cat Rescue, which I hesitate to recommend because of the controversy surrounding it, our guide explained that all white tigers in this country descend from a single pair of tigers. That means they're horribly inbred and many are saddled with problems like cleft palates.

Worse, even if you breed two white tigers, you're still more likely to get orange ones than white ones. The orange ones are discards.

I feel bad for the cheetahs too. They don't have nearly enough space to approach full running speed. They don't need to run since they don't have to chase their prey but it has to be unhealthy for them not to exercise as they would in nature.

I didn't include any shots of it but most of the time I saw them, the cheetahs paced along an ivy and tree-lined fence bordering their enclosure. It took a little while to realize why. In the neighboring area, were some kind of prey animal probably too large for a cheetah to take down but the scent still had to be inviting.

According to this article, obesity is a growing problem among zoo animals. Too much food comes from too little work and the results are animals struggling with the side effects of carrying too much weight.

Sound familiar?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Date Has Been Set

For my high school graduating class's 25th reunion. I first thought that some nostalgic fool was doing some far advance planning. Then I noticed that the November 28th event happens this year!

All those people have gotten fat or bald or both and they're trying to drag me into middle age with them. Never mind that if I live another three weeks I'll be 43 years old.

The organizer of the event sent an Excel document listing the members of the Methacton Class of 1984. The Excel document was weird enough. Excel documents did not exist when we graduated. Was there even a Microsoft?

Then I noticed that there were only 347 names, which, thanks to Excel, I didn't have to count. There were 355 when we graduated. Have eight of us died already?

I scanned the names of the apparent survivors, 95% of whom I have had no contact since the day we did not throw our graduation caps into the air because the principal threatened to withhold our diplomas if we did.

I was geniunely happy to see that the girl who was easily the ugliest girl in our class and probably the entire school had a married name. Maybe there really is someone for everyone.

I don't know if the man she married was the one who knocked her up in high school, which was my first witness to the fact that even the homliest girl willing to have sex will find someone willing to accomodate her.

It was good to see an e-mail address for a friend with whom I'd like to reconnect and bittersweet to notice the e-mail for another I did meet again after more than two decades but have since fallen out of contact again.

Many of the names I can no longer associate a face. I honestly couldn't tell you if Carmen G. is a man or a woman without consulting my 1984 Methactonian. And I'm not entirely confident that Methactonian was actually the name of our yearbook.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I Think This is Real

I came across something (thanks, Ike) that looks like it's straight out of The Onion: This story about the latest industry to seek a federal bailout.

First there were the banks, then the auto makers and now another backbone of the American economy says it needs a hand -- well oiled, I presume -- from Uncle Sam.


Did I say "backbone" of the economy? I meant...

Hey, if reports it, it must be true. TMZ even got Joe Francis, the guy behind the "Girls Gone Wild" videos, on camera vowing to go to Washington to plead his case in person.

Francis and fellow paragon of virtue Larry Flynt, the paraplegic publisher of Hustler magazine, want five billion dollars of federal tax dollars.

(Magazines, in case you're under 30 years old, are where you had to get your porn before you could download it free from the Internet.)

"Congress seems willing to help shore up our nation's most important businesses," Flynt tells TMZ. "We feel we deserve the same consideration."

Porn DVD sales fell a GM/Ford/Chrysler-like 22% last year. Like the car makers, porn producers face, ah, stiff competition from cheaper and better made Asian imports and struggle under onerous labor costs. Coincidentally, union workers in both the auto and adult film industries make 75 bucks an hour to oil a crankshaft. Farvegnugen!

(DVDs, in case you're under 25 years old, are how you had to watch porn videos before you could download them free from the Internet.)

I wish Mr. Flynt and Mr. Francis luck. We can't have thousands of people accustomed to having sex for a living out walking the streets.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Screw You, Chuck Klosterman

It is fitting that I read most of his book Downtown Owl while riding the stationary bike at the gym. Like the bike, the book goes nowhere.

Chuck Klosterman, whose essays I enjoy in Esquire magazine, creates a bunch of characters and does nothing with them.

Don't worry about me giving away the ending in which a monster blizzard kills all but one of the characters. It wasn't really a surprise. Klosterman had no way to go and the storm saves him having to contrive an ending from what was not really a story.

He did some OK character sketches but the backstories merely brought us to a town in North Dakota where all the characters basically do nothing, dream of little and aspire to less.

Glad I borrowed the book from the library. And the time I spent reading it wasn't totally wasted. I did get some cardio done. I only hope that the next time Chuck Klosterman wants write a novel for the exercise that no one is suckered into publishing it.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

So This One Seagull Says to This Other Seagull...

This was at Tampa Bay Downs yesterday, where I learned that seagulls will fight each other for the right to eat horse manure. If one of these gulls dumps on you, it's like you've been crapped on twice!

I did capture a couple of good action shots.

I also wandered around a place called Weedon Island not far from WTSP-TV in St. Petersburg as well as a Hillsborough County park near the race track. If I unearth any decent shots from either place, I'll post them.

Photographs ©2009 John McQuiston