A spectacular boat crash gets me hired


These are the photos that got me hired as a Bakersfield Californian photographer. I was in my sixth month as a sports writer at the paper in June, 1981, and really wanted a transfer to the photo department. To prove my worth, I began shooting all of my sports reporting assignments. I was assigned to cover a boat drag race at Lake Ming in Bakersfield. I was working from the bank near the finish line, when I noticed a boat start to wobble. I raised my camera, a brand new Nikon F3 with a – you’re not going to believe this – Vivitar 400mm f5.6 lens (it’s all I could afford, I was right out of college, ya know?) and didn’t let up on the motor drive. Of course, this was the film days, so I had no idea what I had recorded. Remarkably, the driver, Lat Combs (I never forgot his name) not only survived, but he walked away without a scratch. Because I was assigned to do the story, I got an interview with him. When I got back to the paper and developed my film, I saw what I had photographed. I prepared a 5 picture sequence for the paper. Then came the fun part. Felix Adamo told me the Associated Press would love these photos. And so, for the first time, I moved pictures to the AP. It wasn’t easy like moving pictures today. Back then, each regional section of the AP could only receive one picture at a time from their region. That meant Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and anywhere else in the Western region could only send one picture at a time. You had to convince the AP that your picture was worth moving, then had to wait in line to be called. It took 8 minutes to move a black and white photo. AP agreed to take my photo, but I had to wait in line to be called. Our AP transmitting machine was in a closet in a corner of the newsroom, and I waited with Felix for hours (at least 3 hours) until I was told I could move my photo. They had no idea who I was, didn’t really care about a boat race in Bakersfield, so I wasn’t much of a priority. When they finally called me, I told them I had 5 pictures. That didn’t go over well. They told me to pick one and send it. So I picked what I thought was the best one and moved it. After they received it, they were back on the line. I’ll never forget the words: “Bakersfield, move the other four.” The Major League Baseball strike was underway, and newspapers across the country were starving for sports art. The pictures ran in almost every newspaper in the country the next day. The Californian’s editor told me those pictures were what got me the job in photo, which I started less than 3 months later. And that’s how it all started for me.