When you've been around as long as I have in this business you do a lot of what we call stand-ups: those on-camera moments in which the correspondent, hopefully, brings something important, original or provocative to a piece. Over the years I've stood on the beach (surfing), inside Carnegie Hall (musician), and on countless streets (serial killer, government waste) to help tell a tale.
But I broke new ground on our white supremacists story that airs today.
The ground in question was a strip mall parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska, site of a cocktail lounge that was home to a local white power gang led by one Jason "Skin" Hawthorne. His eight-man crew used the bar to set up deals for drugs, guns and ammo, which for the purposes of the undercover ATF agent involved in the case worked out rather well when it came to shooting surreptitious video.
So there I was on a late Monday afternoon figuring out how I'd "walk and talk" my way through a 13-second "stand-up bridge." The parking lot was virtually void of cars. At that hour it was just me, our cameraman, producer Laura Strickler and a little life insurance that had met us at the site - in the form of a couple of ATF agents. Both in their own way were rather bad-ass looking dudes. Not that we expected a gun battle or anything but the idea of publicly pointing out "the ATF agent met with white supremacist gang members here at this hang out" was slightly, shall we say, unsettling. Thus, the protection.
Truth be told, it wasn't long before a hard-looking waitress poked her head outside the door and asked what we were up to. Followed by a harder-looking character, this one male and more inquisitive, beginning with "What you all up doing?" and "Who do you work for?"
I obliquely informed him of our intentions - "working on a story." That only served to peak his interest.
At that point one of the ATF agents took a small step forward and told him in no uncertain terms, it was none of his business what we were up to. After a brief moment in which time stood still and I envisioned a parade of biker boys spilling out of the bar -- pool cues and brass knuckles in hand -- the inquisitors in question quietly stepped back inside the building, letting the door close on their interest.
My heart rate back to normal, I knocked off the stand-up in a couple of takes, adding one of the most unusual story locations to my list.
Be sure to check out the rest of my story, tonight on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.