Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The End of the A-Team

Note: I was originally going to make this an entry entirely about what I really thought of each show, but then I realized that talking about how much I liked most of them made for a really boring entry. So I decided to make the whole entry about a single show that a lot of you are not cool enough to have seen have never even seen. I made the opinions on the shows into a seperate entry that you can find right below this one.

As a few of you may know, we at Island Television¹ will no longer be showing any syndicated programming after this week, and will be switching to mostly locally-based programming. The one exception is SAW Wrestling, because they let us air that² for free.

So thus ends my favorite part of the job: Getting to sit back and just watch the shows, the way nature intended. One of the shows that I'll miss the most is The A-Team. There just aren't enough shows that are so awesomely good and awesomely bad all at the same time. Nothing combined so much great action, memorable characters and theme music while simultaneously being awesomely dumb and the most formulaic show on TV since Scooby Doo. Seriously, one time we were preparing to shoot thehosted segments that go in-between the commercials and the pieces of episodes, and the following exchange occured:

Larry: What's the plot for this week's A-Team?
Me: (Reading) "A mob kingpin threatens a restaurant owner to sell out to him or be destroyed."
Larry: Wasn't that last week's episode?
Me: Nope, last week it was a coffee shop.

And it's even educational! Here are just a few things that I learned from watching it:
  • Once a stolen plane has left the ground, there is absolutely no way of pursuing it further, and everyone chasing it will give up.
  • If the mafia or a band of thugs is harassing you and your business, don't bother going to the police, just go directly to a group of people wanted for war crimes.
  • If you're finally captured after escaping from prison, years of resisting arrest, firing at military police and destroying things in order to get away, you will only be in trouble for your original crime.
  • An attacker who is knocked into water is absolutely, positively incapacitated and will not attempt to get back out and take another shot at you.
  • Mercenaries on the lam can allow reporters to tag along with them for months at a time and continually publish stories about them without fear of being captured. Also, the military will never think to find said reporters where they work and trace said mercenaries from there.
  • Even if you're wanted by the military for war crimes, nearly all of the public will automatically be on your side. This includes large corporate entities that have to keep up a pristine public image, like Carnival Cruise Lines.

And those are just the points that I picked up myself. You can find a much more complete list of valuable lessons from the A-Team here. Teachers take note!

Another great thing about this show is that after watching as many episodes as I have, I feel like I can write entire episodes by myself. All it needs is:

- An evil person of power such as a mob kingpin, drug lord or corrupt devloper attempting to extort the owners of a small business.

- The victims being screened by a disguised Hannibal.

- Murdock getting under B.A.'s skin.

- A good-looking woman who is in some way related to the victim. There will be chemistry between her and Face that will ultimately go nowhere.

- Lots of bullets will being fired, but no one ever getting hurt. Bad guys thrown through windows or out of helicopters conveniently fall into dumpsters or into the ocean.

- The A-Team disguising themselves to get inside the villain's lair and learn that there is actually a more nefarious reason behind their plot.

- Their cover blown, the heroes get locked inside a room that happens to include a blowtorch and a ton of metal objects that can be used as weapons.

- Hannibal extolling the virtues of a plan coming together.

See? What am I doing here? I should be in Hollywood writing episodes for major network shows!

I'm giving A-Team a pretty good sendoff; I had Joey and Larry extend its run to Friday (we were going to end all syndicated shows on the 31st), so I could show an episode that is considered one of the best. So yeah, if you happen to be living on the island, you should stay in Friday night and watch TV this week. This one actually breaks nearly every rule I've listed above. Shocking, I know.

Finally, you should watch this, because it's the most relevant, awesome, and nerdy thing you will see all day:

¹ Me.
² "Air" as in "dirty socks"

Out of Syndication

So I'm finally free to say what I really think of all the shows that I've been getting paid to watch for over a year now. However, my predecessor sometimes got way ahead on certain shows, so I barely ever got to watch them. But without further ado, here is my personal, thundering, take-no-prisoners, industry-insider's critique of every show that we aired:

Roseanne: Eh, it's OK.

Will & Grace: "Your shoes are ugly!" *Laughtrack* "Not as ugly as yours!" *More laughtrack, Repeat for 22 minutes* Bleh.

Baywatch: It kept having multi-part "dramatic" episodes where someone would get injured and have to summon the courage to get through rehab. I think one of the producers didn't understand why people watched this show.

The West Wing: I've actually been on the set of this show (no, really). Outside the studio, they had a sign listing all of the awards it had won. It was ten feet tall. They deserved every one. Too bad I didn't get to see more than a few episodes.

My Name is Earl: Funny, funny show. Works even better if you grew up around white trash in the South or elsewhere. And there's an episode that mentions American Samoa. Be sure to go back and watch every single episode until you've found it.

The Office: One of my current favorite shows on TV, and the only one we showed that's still making new episodes.

Everybody Loves Raymond: I actually almost never watched this show because my predecessor had ripped EVERY SINGLE EPISODE. It has nine seasons, we show them in order, and we're not going to get past season three. Yeah. She really liked that show.

Northern Exposure: Awesome, strange show. When someone moved here from New York City, my first reaction was to ask him if he had seen this show.

The A-Team: See most of this article.

MacGyver: I've been told that this one is even more awesomely cheesy than The A-Team. Tragically, it was one of the ones that my predecessor liked a lot and I only got to see a few episodes of. Oh well. At least you have this.

Walker, Texas Ranger: You know, after you get past the whole joke thing with the famous Chuck Norris Facts, this is actually a fairly dum-*POW!*

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Manuia le Christmasi!

Somewhere, an ASPA¹ manager is crying.

I filmed,² edited, and uploaded³ it all myself. And there's 6 more clips of it here on the station's YouTube channel. Don't say I never worked way too hard to give you something for Christmas.

¹The island's power company.

²Pretty difficult, considering that the whole display was about three shots wide, and that I never knew which section was going to light up next. I think that's why all the good Christmas light shows on YouTube can fit into a single static shot.

³As anyone living here can tell you, this was easily the hardest part, since the Internet connection is powered entirely by a single hamster wheel. And they couldn't find a hamster, so they used a gecko. And geckos don't move very much without motivation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Blog Miniseries

Those of you old enough to remember when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, or maybe just that remake of The Prisoner last month will know that in the TV business we have something called a "miniseries." It's when a TV show, instead of having a full-length run of several years, is intentionally made with the short lifespan of a few episodes that shows get in lesser countries.

Here's a link to a blog miniseries of the wacky adventures of a few researchers who came here in 2005 to try and install stations for studying earthquakes or some other silly potentially lifesaving nonsense. At least one of them happens to be from a university that I totally visited once. I'm sure at least one of you has heard of that school.

Be sure to read the entry on Mt. Alava, which I finally got to hike this past weekend.

This should keep everyone happy while I work on another long blog entry talking about the aftermath of the tsunami. Not as long as the one on when the tsunami hit, but longer than those lousy entries where I just write a little bit and leave everyone a link.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Year on the Rock

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it may be hard to believe it, but as of today, November 16th, 2009, I have been here an entire year. And I mean that in almost the most literal way possible- I’ve spent a totally of roughly 48 hours of that year off of the island, and most of that was in Upolu, the next island over.

I’ve decided to mark this occasion with an educational experience for all of you, and so here is my list of:

Random Facts About American Samoa

  • John Williams, the first missionary to the island, landed in Leone in 1832. His statue is one of the only things in that village to have fully survived the tsunami, despite being right next to the water.
  • He later drew on that experience for inspiration while composing the musical score to the Star Wars films.
  • Due to the 25 MPH speed limit and the existence of only two or three passing zones on the entire island, it is very common for a dozen drivers to get stuck behind a single SUV with flame decals going 17 MPH.
  • All of the traffic problems are actually caused by a single really slow driver. He started on the east end of the island in 1997 and just recently made it up to the mini-mall in the middle.
  • Apollo 10, 12, 13, 14, and 17 all landed in American Samoa waters. All of these astronauts flew out of here via Pago Pago International Airport.
  • According to some rumor that probably isn’t true, LBJ Hospital was built mostly with said astronauts in mind. Although that would explain why they built when it was and why no one seems to care about it anymore.
  • Wikipedia seems to think that this map does an adequate enough job of showing everyone where Tafuna is.
  • Speaking of Wikipedia, there is a Samoan language version of it here with nearly 400 articles. Please contribute if you can.

  • Water is really, really powerful stuff.
  • A solid ¾ of all world maps either cut off the Samoan Islands entirely or mark Pago Pago with a star that covers up the entire island.
  • The ads for KSBS-FM are actually made by an LSD-using gecko who thinks the chipmunk effect is the funniest thing he's ever heard.
  • Most Google results for "chipmunk effect" are instructions for how to avoid making audio sound that way accidentally.
  • The territory consists of five islands and two atolls, for a total area slightly larger than Washington, D.C.
  • According to legend, Ottoville, the village where I live, was founded by the original Otto Haleck of Haleck Enterprises. Depending on who you ask, he either got the land by immigrating here from Germany and basically squatting it in the late 1800s, before it was really sorted out by any colonizing Western governments, or got it through a series of debt defaults. Or so the legend goes...
  • It is very bad for one's sanity to be confined to an area that size for more than six months at a time.
  • No matter where you are in the world, there will always be a neighbor who will wake you up at 7 AM on a Saturday mowing their lawn, be it with a lawnmower or a weedwhacker.
  • Visitors to the island can do just about everything there is to do here in about a week, and this includes things like the all day hike up and down Mt. Alava.
  • The average monga-monga, or Samoan cockroach, is big enough to terrorize a Japanese city for several hours.
  • Pisupo, despite its pronunciation, is not pea soup, but corned beef. And Samoans will never tire of eating it.
  • I’m not at liberty to say how I know, but CNN is not done with G.A.S. just yet.
  • With the destruction of the Leone post office and presumed layoffs of the people who worked there, at least half of the mailboxes on the island have been removed. I now have to drive 20 minutes just to mail something. Take a moment to look to the end of your driveway or maybe even your front porch and be thankful for at your at-home service.
  • At least one of the doormen at the Tradewinds Hotel does not know the difference between a real mailbox and a cardboard box for sending Christmas cards to troops stationed overseas.
  • Someone somewhere decided that people here were driving too fast and that there weren’t enough bumps in the road, so they had speedbumps installed.
  • The Governor's personal assistant was shocked, SHOCKED to learn that not everyone likes him. More on that one another time.
  • Sitting on the porch at dusk and watching bats fly overhead is really fascinating.
  • The first Google result for "American Samoa facts" goes to a site that appears to have been written by a failing middle school student. One that used really outdated sources. Either that, or the U.S. Navy has retaken possession of the territory.
  • Said student also heavily confused American Samoa with The Independent Nation of Samoa™, and just went downhill from there. Either that, or "Queen Elizabeth the II is the most famous New Zealand member of the Crown."
  • It's also written like a string of random facts, with almost nothing connecting them. I mean, who does that?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What did the Thumb say to the Middle Finger?

Some of my readers may not be familiar with the phrase "Oh snap!" Allow me to explain its proper usage:

And here is an example of someone "getting told." In this particular situation, it's GAS (Government of American Samoa), getting told by CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin:

And here is the CNN-US version, where he walks through the parking lot of the building where I work:

I actually had a hand in producing these, kinda-sorta. The bigger version that aired on TV included an interview with Congressman Eni (yes, the same one that was on the Colbert Report), which was filmed in the Mr. Joey's Cartoon Club Studio.* So now I can say I've filmed two things that have aired on CNN. Watching a high-ranking individual affiliated with ASG actually get asked tough questions was a thing of beauty. Eni actually did a pretty decent job, answered all of the questions, and was a really great guy in person.

On the other hand, I would have paid to have been in the room during that interview with Governor Tulafono, who normally has some really strict conditions for interviews and doesn't make a lot of media appearances besides his weekly radio show. Which is another reason why seeing him get publicly taken to task was such a thing of great beauty.

Governor Tulafono also likes to complain about all the mean things that people say about him on WVUV's weekly call-in show.

That's all I have to say for now. Except that Duke sucks.

*The back wall in my office.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Adam's Story

Before I begin, I'd like to put this map of the island here so that this blog entry can make at least a little sense when I refer to all of these villages. I live near the star mound site in the Tafuna area:

I was awake that morning a little earlier than I planned on being. Rolled over, tried to get back to sleep. 6:45 AM, still have 15 minutes before I have to wake up.

Then, the whole apartment started shaking violently. Surreal moment #1. Could it be a low-flying helicopter? I wasn't that far from the airport. No, it's lasting too long to be that. Has to be an earthquake. Am I safe here? Is my air conditioning going to fall on me? Probably not. Should I be filming this? Yes. Maybe some people's instincts would tell them to evacuate the building, but not mine. My reporter's instinct kicked in and I ran into the kitchen and grabbed my new still camera and started filming.

Knowing that their might be a tsunami and that my apartment was not only on the third floor but on a village that was too high to get walloped, I stayed right where I was. I turned on Island Info Channel 13, which I just so happen to run, to hear what they were saying about it back at the station. "Get to higher ground, there might be a tsunami coming." Don't know why, but I really didn't expect one. Probably because we had had a tsunami warning a few months ago that didn't come to fruition. I just kept getting ready for work, expecting things to go back to normal soon, like last time.

Took a shower and got dressed. Dad called and has already heard about the earthquake. I tell him I'm fine, only one small aftershock. I go back into the kitchen/living room and Channel 13 has gone off the air. Why?

In fact, both of my channels and government-run KVZKs are off the air. The other local channels are still showing filler footage of Flag Day 1997 as always. I turn on the radio and all of our stations have gone off the air. Some sort of after-effect of the earthquake? Rival station KSBS is still playing music and filling the breaks with something in Samoan long enough to be important. A lot of good that does me. I try to call into work to see if I should be coming in, but the cell phone system seems to be overloaded.

I watched coverage of it on CNN International for a while. Reporters on a major news network actually talking about American Samoa? Really? Surreal moment #2. Soon after, the Internet, which had momentarily gone out, had come back on. I uploaded my video to CNN's iReport.

In the week since then, it's garnered almost 7,000 views, not counting all the times it aired on TV.

I'm watching it upload when a REALLY static-y call comes through on my phone. It's Joey. With the boxes representing static/dropped-out moments, it sounds something like: "▒▓░▒▒▓▒▓▓You OK?▓░▒▒▓▒▓▓Wh▓t?▒▒▓▓▓ Everyone here is fi░▒▒▓▒. Ca▓▓▓ou go se▓ ▓f Muana lef▓ ▓or work ▓et? Thanks. ▒▒▒▓▒▓▒N▓, you don't nee▓ t▓ come in toda▓.▓▓▓▓▓░▒▒▓.

With that, the call dropped and the cell network absolutely refused to let me call them back. I think that they must have also told me that a tsunami had come and gone, but hadn't elaborated on that, so I assumed it wasn't that big. Muana is Joey's girlfriend who lives at his place a few blocks from here. I was about to go over and check on her when I was hit by Surreal Moment #3: A CNN producer emailing me asking about my video and what I knew. I told him everything I knew, which was next to nothing. I went out and checked on Muana, who was fine. But I couldn't tell Joey, who was reachable only by non-working cell phone.

I went back to my apartment and continued watching CNN for my video and talking with CNN producers (!) via both email and Skype. The main one that I had been talking to mostly just wanted me to confirm or deny that there had been one village destroyed, at least two more underwater, and there were a handful of deaths. Kinda hard to do from my apartment. I gleaned what I could from Facebook and KSBS's 15-second English segments, and let her know about them (Most what she had heard turned out to be true).

About the same time, I got a Skype message from John, our morning show host that had been out sick that day, asking if I wanted to go with him up to Pago. As much fun as it was telling this CNN producer everything else I knew (nothing), I decided to go, especially as the tsunami warning had just been lifted.

John came by in the 93KHJ SUV with his family and picked me up. I told him about the CNN producer I had been talking to, and he told me about the producer from the CBS Evening News he had been talking with, his interview with them, and several conversations with a few other major news outlets. No, he wasn't joking. Surreal moment #4.

We tried to stop and get gas from the first station we came upon, but they didn't have any. Went to a bigger place a bit down the road, and got in line for it, something that's pretty rare here. John was on the phone with a CBS producer (!) and passed the phone back to me to talk to him (!!!). Moment #5. He wanted to know if I could send him any pictures or footage. "John says there's no power in Pago and we can't turn around and go back to Tafuna now." But he has to have footage RIGHT NOW! Do I know anyone who may have something they can send him? I go through my phone and give him the names of six or seven different people. Later I learned that he called them out of the blue and didn't bother giving a single one of them the slightest hint as to how he got their numbers, which was kind of awkward for them. Yeah, it was probably me who gave it to him. Hope you didn't mind.

The ATMs and credit card readers were down, so John had to borrow a little cash from me for enough gas to get us to Pago and back. We drove down the road past Coconut Point into the curvy section of the road in front of us to discover how everything was so shockingly different.
There...was...SAND IN THE ROAD!

I took lots of video.

Lucky for you, it takes too long to upload them, so I won't trouble you with scrolling past them. The amount of debris strewn everywhere grew higher and higer as we neared Pago. When we got to the Samoa News building in Fagatotgo, traffic came to nearly a dead halt. This didn't stop me from taking pictures and video anyway.

Finally getting tired of waiting, I jumped out to see if we could go any faster on a semi-legal side street. and took more pictures and video on the way.

Yes, that's a chair in the middle of the parking lot. There's actually a little flooded area off to the right, but that picture didn't come out right or something.

The Matai Restaurant, mostly spared from the tsunami, was the target of looters.

Firefighters cleaning up.

The first store cleanup begins.

An aiga bus, enduring symbol of American Samoa, damaged by the tsunami, then vandalized. Sad.

Part of the reason for the gas shortage.

Almost a month later, this boat is still there. I took two pictures of this and my camera's memory card filled up. Perhaps I shouldn't have taken all that video of the sand in the road. Turned out that this was just the beginning of the really heavy damage. I switched to my camera phone.

Around the time I took this picture, John's SUV had gotten through the traffic and had managed to catch up with me. I guess that's OK, because it let me take more pictures and notice things like how the piles of rubble were massive enough to make it impossible to walk along the road in some places.

Big chunk of drywall from what used to be someone's home or workplace.

Outside Pago Plaza, the building where I work. The security guards were standing outside the front entrance, but they let me walk right in.

Downstairs of Pago Plaza. A total loss.

I wondered if those steps were even safe to use, or if someone would stop me. Could I really just walk right up them, the same way I had every day for the last 11 months? Sort of. It involved a lot of carefully stepping around what was left of the National Park Visitor's Center, a lot of which ended up on the landing.

I made it into the station to find that, aside from the power and running water being out, it was surprisingly normal. The highest part of the wave had hit about two feet from the ceiling of the first floor. A small roaring generator was in the hallway, allowing Joey and Lupe to keep a very limited broadcast going on WVUV, which we happened to have installed an extra antenna for on the roof just a month before.

Joey was, as someone else put it, "in Spartan mode." You could tell that he had been through a lot, but was determined to keep the station on the air and the public informed on how to stay alive and what to do next. When he got the chance, he gave us all things to be working on. He handed me the station's main video camera, and told me that there was some really priceless footage on it, including some of the actual tsunami coming in. I was to capture this on my laptop for the world to see. In the meantime, I was free to run around and get footage of the damage in the area while John was to drive around and see how far the station's signal went.

I went about 10 feet past the door of the station before I found the first bit of destruction: The hallway below.

It didn't take long for me to find more destruction. The second part of this clip is the restaurant where I had been filming a commercial and and eating lunch just the day before:

Notice all the traffic that I was talking about.

An attempt at a still from some fairly busy video. Either these guys had won two bowling tournaments in a row and had decided to celebrate by fishing, or they had been looting.

I walked across the muddy debris-strewn space that used to be a park, ducked under a downed powerline, and found Joey's car lying in the middle of another parking lot, still upside-down. Entire SUVs were thrown about like toys, one with a coconut in its grill.

Dead fish baked in the tropical sun. Bay Hardware was now nothing but a concrete slab.

"POLICE! POLICE! THE POLICE ARE COMING!" a man yelled, frantically throwing his arms around and running toward a boat that had washed up onto the sidewalk 50 yards away. Kids jumped off of the boat and scattered. I grabbed all the footage of this I could, then asked him what was going on. He barked, "THEY WERE LOOTING! AND YOU LET THEM!" as if I hadn't just made it abundantly clear that I wasn't even close enough to know what was going on. I guess some people lash out at others when they're under stress. And some people are just jerks.

Still wearing my good work shoes, I sloshed back across the field to Pago Plaza. I checked to make sure John hadn't come back, then took a look at the actual shops downstairs.

In the middle of filming how the maintenance building was now mostly just a spot where the porch abruptly dropped off into the car-filled ravine, I got a voicemail message that I couldn't listen to, due to cell phone service still being overloaded. I went back to filming the reason we had gone off the air: The building's generator, despite being half the size of a shipping container, was now in the ravine as well (Sorry, I don't have any good still pictures of that, just some video that would take a while to upload).

I checked to make sure that John hadn't returned yet, then went to the front side of the building and interviewed a few survivors and the CEO of BlueSky Communications.

This end of the ravine was filled with even more cars, one of which I later learned still had a body inside. Across the street, a tow truck was pulling an agia bus out of the ditch, with a driver behind the wheel. An interview with him showed that he had not been the driver at the time of the tsunami, and that the guy who was had gone missing.

Having filmed just about everything close to the station, I went back inside and waited for John to return and take us all back. On my third try, I managed to hear that message on my phone. It was from the CBS producer, wanting me to call him back ASAP! I frantically tried about 30 times to call him. When that didn't go through, I tried another 50 times. I saw that I had a missed call from home, but couldn't get through to there either. Pastor Rocco's family (the same one from the previous entry) came by and were awesome enough to bring us some much-needed food and water.

John came back, having discovered that the station covered pretty much the harbor area and nothing else. But the important part was that we got to leave. John and his family took myself, Andrew, and Lupe back to our respective homes.

Once back, I STILL COULDN'T CALL THAT CBS NEWS PRODUCER! Had to find a landline phone, fast! Neighbors didn't have one. Maintenance guy Jamie had one...that could only make local calls. Called David, the pastor of my church (getting through on the fourth try), to see if I could use his phone. He's fine with that. I race down to his home in Illii. On the way, I get a call on my cell phone from my parents. Amazingly, it goes through fine. I tell them that I'm OK and a little about what I know, and who I'm racing to go talk to as I bounce over an unpaved back road.

I arrive at the Willis's house, thank them for letting me use their phone, explain to David how that CBS News producer got his number that morning, and start dialing like mad. On the fifth or so try, I get through. The guy is delighted to hear from me. He happens to be from The Early Show. I tell him what's going on, what kind of footage I have and that he should talk to Joey for a really good interview. I call Joey on my cell phone and do a lot of mediating between the two. Surreal moment #644. Lots of media-politics on whether or not we want the footage to be a CBS News exclusive. I get to talk to two other producers (!) who tell me to begin uploading footage from my laptop at home. Joey also wants me to make him an email-sized clip of the tsunami coming in.

I rush back home and set up my "media command center" (my laptop and two external drives on my living room floor, in front of the TV and next to the radio). I then capture THE footage that Joey had told me about. And it really is that incredible:

A lot of that night is an extremely fast-paced blur of media fame and photos of tragedy, but here's about how it went:

While editing that, I had started chatting with the CNN producer on Skype again, and was simultaneously exchanging emails and the occasional phone call that made it through with the CBS producer, who is trying to explain to me how to use their FTP server. Chugged Sprite straight from a 2-liter bottle because the tapwater isn't safe to drink anymore. I was also making several more video clips into something that I can send to Joey and others. In the middle of all that, I get a Skype message from Australia's Seven Network, who also want to interview me, but first I had to send them some pictures or footage to to air while I talked. Found them something, stopped all my other uploads, and did the interview via Skype videochat right there on my living room floor. That came out pretty well, even if it was heavily edited and most of the pictures were taken by someone else:

Wrapped up that interview and went back to the madness. Joey sent Muana over to pick up my clip of the wave on a flash drive. But before she came over, the CBS producer called to ask about Joey's interview with their show. Apparently Joey has gotten an offer from Good Morning America and is thinking about interviewing with them instead. And apparently they steal the Early Show's guests all the time. I started to explain how I really couldn't do much to change Joey's mind on that, but then I got an incoming call from Lupe who had seen my kitchen rattling on CNN and was wanting to know what was going on with all these media interviews (Did I seriously just put a CBS producer on hold? Holy crap, I'm a serious bigshot now!). I wrote down her number and closed my phone when I was done talking to her, accidentally hanging up on the CBS producer (making me a REALLY serious bigshot?), who called right back. Then I continued my Skype conversation with a new CNN person who said that I was backlit, could you please turn on that desklamp or something? Then Joey called to say that the clip I had given Muana was too big to upload quickly. Could I cut it down to a smaller clip for emailing? Almost simultaneously I had email exchanges with a different person from CBS who wanted to know if Joey could do the interview via Skype at my place? He doesn't have Skype of his own. Ran to the bathroom to brush my hair and straigthen the work clothes I had been wearing all day. Shut off all uploads again. Took a swing of Sprite.


Did the CNN International interview right here, in the very same kitchen/living room that I'm usually watching it from this time of night. Talked to the world via the teeny little built-in webcam on my MacBook Pro. Told them that there wasn't a lot of panicking, except panic-buying of gas. Told them that the destruction in Pago was the same sort of thing I had seen in Texas after Ike, just on a smaller area. I told them about looting and Joey's car. I told them everything I could think of. I had my moment on the world stage.


Back to media madness. CBS production team member is now also saying the two-minute version of the clip was taking two long to load, could I send a smaller one? (I guess they've finally learned how ear-bleedingly slow Internet connections are around here) At the same time, I had to scarf down something for dinner and wonder why my cable TV went out an hour ago. Get a call from my friend Alden, who had also been taking pictures of the cars in the ravine. He says he's been talking to the BBC, and they're looking to do a phone interview with someone who was in Pago at the time of the tsunami. I find Lupe's number in front of me and make her an international media star as well.

Kept going with that same sort of insanity until things started to calm down around 11:30, then I finally went to bed around around 2 AM. By that time, I had done two interviews with major news outlets, sent Joey about ten clips of footage, responded to about a zillion Facebook messages asking if I was OK, had agreed to do another interview tomorrow morning for Seven Network's morning show and still had to email back someone from the L.A. Times. Joey ended up appearing on both the Early Show and Good Morning America.

I finally climb back into the bed where this bizarre day had begun. So much, pain, destruction, excitement, and chaos rolled into a single 24-hour period.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Joey's Story

Hi all,

Right now I'm just really grateful to be alive and still in possession of a function home and car, something a lot of people don't have any more. Like I said on my Facebook status, yesterday was a day where I woke up to an earthquake and went to bed with my world rocked.

Since then I've been doing interviews and uploading pictures and video to so many news sources, from CNN International to Australia's Seven Network. As you know, it takes me a while to write out major blog entries, as I like to cram in as much detail as I can. So until then, I present to you the tale of Joey, my boss, which is a lot better than mine anyhow. After all those media requests, he finally just typed out a long email to send to all of them. Below is that, unedited.


Very dreamlike.
John Raynar called in sick this morning and I am so glad he did because I would have been on the road to work when it hit. I was sitting in for him on the morning radio show on 93KHJ when the earthquake hit about 7:50am. It lasted several minutes. we immediately sent out an EAS earthquake warning to tell everyone to stay away from possible landslide areas. we were in quick contact with the EOC and other emergency personnel to find out about a tsunami that might be coming. They advised that no tsunami was reported but to direct everyone to go to higher ground or to the second story of a building. We also asked school to initiate their tsunami plans to get kids up the mountains. We sent a tsunami warning EAS message 10 minutes later as we saw the first rising water. We stayed on the air as the water reached three or four feet in the parking lot. Our building Pago Plaza is located deep in the belly of Pago harbor close to seal level. The water stayed at that level for many minutes until it surged fantastically to around 15 feet. Tree, cars, buses, boats all rushed by in a river of mud just outside my window. I actually saw that my own car... a VW new Beetle was surprisingly boyant when floating on ut's roof. We continued broadcasting for people to move to high ground. for the next 5 to ten minutes until the batteries on our back up power system died. There was lots of panic by the office staff and it was struggle to keep everyone calm while i was still on the air. When we went off the air and I grabbed a video camera to try to capture some of the action. The first thing I caught was the second wave and me and Lupe praying. I'll post video later. All of the staff at the station went outside to the second floor balcony to see what was happening the air was filled with screams. The whole downstairs was completely washed out. The devastation was complete. Tables, windows, jewelry, trophies, dvds and bottles water lay strewn across the murky floor. The villagers immediately started looking for trapped survivors. I dedicated myself and my staff to helping those that were hurt and gathering food and water. I put out a call on the handheld EAS network walkit-talkie asking for a generator at my location then hooked up with two guys from the government to survey the damage in the area and look for gas leaks and live power lines. Debris was everywhere. Broken furniture mixed with old tires and trees. Children's clothing and road signs crushed under telephone poles. All under a thick layer of much that smelled like chemicals and deisel. Two more lesser waves came but they were equally scary. We screamed for people to run up the mountain but they just ran down the street away from the wave rather than make a sharp left and up the steep mountain just feet away. We walked down the road only to find that people that weren't trying to help had already begun looting the stores. Teenagers roamed the area with spray paint tagging buildings and overturned cars with meaningless scribble. We set up a security perimieter around our building and confirmed with plaza security that noone was trapped inside. Large fishing boats were washed up on land. The cars were washed into the harbor. I found my own car about 300 yards down the road upside down in the middle of a tennis court. I got a generator from a friend and got one of our FM's back on the air about 3 hours later. John and Adam our TV guy showed during this time and helped get things situated, We performed our broadcast on low power over the next 5 hours just spreading information. Keep the roads clear. Beware of falling debris that may have shifted during the earthquake. Dissuade the looting. Body counts kept piling up. News from other islands was very sporadic. The cell phone networks were only working intermittently. Details were they say. And talk about sketchy. By the time I finished my second or third patrol of the area, I was wigged out. I watched a slew of Taiwanese fisherman trying to get off a 100 ft. tuna boat that was leaning against the sea wall. School buses full of kids that were bring shipped back home were smiling and waving at all the excitement. Behind them were pick up trucks with two bodies in each of their beds covered up by lavalavas. Their feet were hanging out over the tailgate and I remember noticing that there was no mud on their feet. Everything is so nasty here. The other FM stations on the island were also on top of the situation so around 5:30pm, I signed off and sent everyone home with John and I caught a ride from some friends Rocco, Debra and Robert from the local Christian station KULA-LP who came to check things out and bring us water & food. As we drove through the area I saw more and more horrible things. The photos attached are from Rocco's camera and some are from my camera phone. The place has changed. Where i buy my morning snacks is a concrete slab and Marge Crispin, the lady who makes the most delicious meatpies, is no badly injured at the hospital. The new day spa that my girlfriend Moana works at is no tiliting precariously on it's foundation. The Korean store is gutted. The store where I get my lambflaps for lunch has a truck in it. The Sacred Heart aiga bus has a telephone pole skewering it like some sort of crazy shishkabob.Gas storage tanks at the fuel stations were carried off and leaking. Water mains are probably still gushing. The power generation plant near the canneries was badly hit but back up portable units were on the way in on big 18 wheelers. As we got further out of the belly of the harbor the damage was less and less noticeable. The radio station was ground zero for the worst natural disaster in recorded American Samoa history.
After grabbing some food, I took shower at my apartment and have been checking email and trying to spread as much info as possible on what happened. I've received calls and email from the USA, Canada, France, England, Australia and I think I'll be on TV on the network morning show in a few hours. I can't keep up with who I've talked to. The phone has rang every three minutes fot the past 3 hours..... I've been writing this email for two. It should have taken 15 minutes.
Video will be put here when finished uploading:
It's only half finished uploading currently.
Joey Cummings
General Manager
V103 (WVUV-FM)
Island Info Channel 13
Island Music Channel 10

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Helen's Story

From: HELEN <he******>
Date: Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 1:25 AM
Subject: hello
To: Art Leonard <artl*********>

Travelled around the two biggest independent islands, Upolu & Savii which are both less than 200 kms in circumference. Spent time in Apia, the capital looking at the food & flea markets and generally walking around the streets. Five km’s out of Apia is where Robert Louis Stevenson’s lived and died in an old large wooden residence with a lovely large garden & grounds. It has now been turned into a museum. Robert lived his last 4 and half years in Samoa as the climate was kinder to his medical problem. Walked 45 minutes along a steep path up a hill to his grave site and was rewarded with great views over Apia. Travelled by local bus to a few beaches on the southern coast & spent time walking, reading and doing a bit of snorkelling. Rained some of the time and the middle of the day was usually uncomfortably humid/hot even though it is the coolest time of the year in Samoa. Took a ferry across to Savvi the other island and stayed in a place called Manase at Janes Beach Fales. Did a day tour, approx 180 km’s around the islands and saw most of the main attractions. First stop was a large Babylon tree which you could climb up stairs which lead to a Canopy walkway which on the day we went they decided that we couldn’t walk across it which was disappointing, apparently some days they let you & some days they don’t. Second stop was Alofaaga blowholes where they put coconuts in one of the blow holes & the coconuts shoot up into the air. The ocean around this area are very rough. Third stop was a nice waterfall with a pool below which we went swimming in. Fourth stop was the lava fields which were formed in approx 1911 with the eruption of Mount Matavanuthen, saw a Church which the lava came right through & a crater which is now covered with grass. Fifth & last stop was swimming with the turtles in a turtle enclosure. With a bit of Papaya in your hand they would come up to you and take it out of you hand which was neat.

The rest of the time on the island was spent walking & reading, a little bit of snorkelling. The weather wasn’t the best for swimming as it rained some days, was windy some days plus it wasn’t pleasant when the tide was out.

Samoa is one of the least visited Pacific Islands and the cheapest to visit. We paid around $35 for a Fale which included communal breakfast & tea. Samoa is relatively cheap but it is 3rd world and more expensive than South East Asia but not complaining as I spent less than $800 for the 2 weeks. Western goods are very expensive as they import most things, same as Vanuatu. Approx 80% of the tourists are from New Zealand. There were some religious singing groups visiting, seems the ideal place.

My holiday in Somoa was tragic as on the third day we were there Ruth drowned when we were snorkelling as we got caught in a channel at Lalomanu beach. There was a sign on the beach which warned of strong currents when the tide is high or going out but not of channels. I found out later that where we were there were 3 channels all going out the same place in a gap of the corral reef. We swam for about 10-15 minutes then hit the channel, Ruth was taken out a few feet, swam to her & from then on Ruth panicked and held onto me. For approx one & a half hours I tried to swim with Ruth holding onto me but I would swim forward with the current then we would be brought right back again, I could only hold ground, not gain any distance. I didn’t know what we were in and kept looking for a way out but the waves seemed to come from either side & all around. Ruth kept saying she was sorry and I kept trying to persuade her to swim, she also kept asking me if we were closer & I would say yes to try and give her confidence. After 30 minutes or so it was dark so even if there were people walking along the beach they would not have seen us. We weren’t getting anywhere & I was tiring so I decided my only option was to try & swim to shore by myself & get help. I had no idea that it would take me over an hour to reach the shore, we were inside the corral reef and not that far out but it was going from high tide to the tide receding, which is the worst time. It was a nightmare swimming, constantly swimming towards shore, getting taken out again, getting dumped, even trying to float for some respite but then a wave would go over my face. I ended up getting really determined as I knew I couldn’t keep this up for a lot longer and one time when the current started to take me out yet again I saw a rock about a foot high and wedged my leg against it and then when the current came in again I swam quickly to gain some ground. When I got closer to shore I held on to the coral on the bottom of the ocean when the tide was going out, sometimes the coral would break & sometimes it held but slowly I inched my way to shore bit by bit. Ended up getting to shore after 8 pm, I was pretty exhausted. Went for help, they sent out 2 kayaks first then I went out with a fishing boat from the next village with the locals to no avail. After 2 days Ruth’s body came to the surface, her hair had been caught on the corral until then. The locals and some of the tourists were very kind and I felt really bad as they made a fuss over me and telling me how strong and brave I was. They told me how lucky I was to get out of the channel & I think it was the fact that I swim regularly & I am strong minded & very determined. The fisherman that recovered the body had air tanks & they said that they had to go on the bottom of the ocean & pull themselves along to get out of the current. Four people have died in the channel in the last few years but they still won’t put up danger signs where the channel is or put buoys in the water and say don’t go past this point. I suggested it to the police, owners & different people. The owners said they told us of the dangers but they didn’t nor did they tell other people as I asked different people. I had to identify the body at the hospital chapel, the face was hardly recognisable. Spent some days walking around in disbelief, trying to rationalise the situation, thinking of all the ‘if only’. Ruth only has a brother (and a sister whom she dis-owns) and other than her brother I will miss her the most as I am the one that did everything with her, going to the pub, camping on long weekends, holidays etc. The Australian Consulate in Samoa took care of the arrangements of transporting Ruth’s body to Australia. Took awhile and the funeral was nearly 3 weeks after her drowning.

The day after the drowning Ancilla an English South African girl who is living in Auckland as a primary school teacher came to my room and asked if I needed a friend, we had met her the first night we arrived in Apia as she stayed in the same place as us. I wasn’t sure if I would go back home or not but I ended up deciding that whether I was in Australia or Samoa I still had to get my head together & try and cope. With Ancilla’s friendship and support we travelled together for the rest of my holidays. Ancilla viewed the body with me and was a good person to talk to and she kept reassuring me, I was luck to meet her.

When I got back to Australia I got bacteraemia (bacteria in the blood, not normally dangerous) from the corral cuts I got on my legs on the day of Ruth’s drowning. I thought I was nauseas from the plane but it went on for a few days plus getting shivers and fever. I was feeling a lot better 3 days later but one of the cuts was oozing so went to the doctor and had to take antibiotics even though the doctor thought my body had got over it.

All I can say is that we never know when our time is up so we need to make the most of every day of our lives.

Bye for now,



We met Helen on the tour of Vailima, Robert Louis Stevenson's place, and she joined us on our hike up to his grave on the top of the mountain. Along the way, we learned her story and were moved by it. This was the day after her South African friend left and the day before she was scheduled to leave, so it was good that we were there to give her someone to talk to. Back to posting pictures and such next time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009



No, not the Klondike Bar commercial, the thing after that.

(Actually, I'm not even sure if that link works anymore, because it gave me an error two of the three times that I tried to watch it).

And, because people keep asking, no, I was not involved in any way with that show's production. Though I really wish I was.

Also, there is no way that one show with the host standing in front of the giant wave is real. Oh, awesomely dramatic waves like that happen here all the time, but it would carry him away if he were really standing there.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Touring the Vampire's House

As you may recall, we were about to take the tour of the home of some fellow name Robert Louis Stevenson.

Have the tour guide show us how Robert Louis Stevenson was straight up gangsta.

Lots of guns and liquor. He may also have been a cowboy.

Or perhaps some sort of model. Or maybe Buddha's right-hand man.

In this one, he looks like he could have been a vampire. One who collected pointed sticks, perhaps to keep them away from those who wanted to drive them through his heart.

Even in the days of the gangsta-cowboy-model-Buddhist-vampire-werewolf, white people living in the Samoas had to have lots of things shipped to them in order to get by.

A really big front yard. Possibly to allow plenty of space for spotting random people at night before swooping down on them and biting their necks.

Mr. Stevenson, while trying to frighten a small boy, tragically discovered that the new look he has been modeling doesn't work as well as the traditional vampire cape. Or maybe he's teaching his stepson history, like the caption says.

Oh yeah, definitely a vampire. And possibly a model, going by the pose on that statue.

All that shiny silverware and he could never see his reflection in it. What a waste. What a waste.

This? Oh this is just a sculpture on Robert Louis Stevenson's porch about a story where the king of Samoa nearly ate his son.

No, really. Click to see a version that I think might be big enough to read.
It's actually a pretty good story.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


So it seems that after decades of doing things the American way, those Communist Nazis in Western Samoa have decided to switch sides!!!

I have obtained raw video that starts at the exact moment that the switch took place. Clearly there was chaos in the streets!

More coverage here.

(Seriously, I'm mostly just excited that the international press noticed this part of the world).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More of that Vacation We Took More than a Month Ago!

Thursday, July 23rd

Eat a giant lunch at Hong Kong Palace, then head on over to wait for the commuter flight to The Independent State of Samoa™.

For about seven hours.

Yeah. We were already leaving a day later than we wanted to due to booking issues, and then our flight was delayed by three hours. Then a bit more time. Then there seemed to be a holdup for no apparent reason. At least we weren't wishing that we had spent the day seeing the island, as it was pouring down rain the entire time. Heavily enough to cause at least one of our delays, actually.

So FINALLY we got to board our plane, which was now headed for the much farther away Faleolo Airport, because Fagali'i, the airport where we were originally supposed to arrive, doesn't have lights.

Arrive in Samoa somewhere around 10, still without having eaten dinner. Hire a taxi to the hotel and ride with a fascinating guy who works for Starkist and is absolutely certain that they aren't leaving American Samoa anytime soon, which is awesome. Learn that in a rush to get us out of there 15 minutes earlier, the airline won't bring the checked bags until tomorrow. Learn that we put everything in our carry-on bags, but that our new friend is down to whatever he has in his carry-on bag in the trunk.

Which the bellhop took out with our bags when we arrived at the hotel. Which we didn't notice until the taxi was long gone. With absolutely no way to contact him. Oh well.

Leave his bags at the front desk and check into our awesome bungalow. Order room service for dinner because everything else closes at eleven. Dad's facial expression really says a lot here. Kind of a tired, excited, and relieved face all at once.

Or maybe I'm just posting this because it's one of the only pictures we took the entire day.

Thursday, July 24th

Wake up and see what our bungalow looks like from the outside.

Take a cab to Vailima, Robert Louis Stevenson's old place. Convince the cab driver who must really be having a hard time finding passengers that he does not need to wait for you there all day. Stand on the front porch and take a classic cheesy waving shot.

Decide that it's better to stop and go to bed now rather than in the middle of the tour.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Really Cool Story that No One Knows About, but You Will After you Read this Post with a Legnthy Title!

Well, I was totally going to keep on blogging about that awesome vacation I had over a month ago, but breaking news events tend to derail everything that I'm doing, and tonight some political figure of some sort appears to have passed away.

So as promised, I won't go more than a week without posting something, so I present to you the tragic tale of (kinda-sorta relatively) nearby Howland Island, which went from a tiny abandoned speck, to a poop-mining center, to a fledgling colony, to the center of an international tragedy, to the target of little-known follow-up attacks the day after Pearl Harbor, to a base hosting around 1,000 Marines, and then back to an abandoned speck. Really quite an interesting read for something I just happened to look at because I saw it on a map in the office.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Still Updating!

I'll tell you what, nothing seems to derail my bloging habits like a multi-part entry. Or is that entries? Or...yeah, let's just get back to it.

We left off on the nearby min-island of Aunu'u, with that wild-looking tree.

Wednesday, July 22nd, Continued

From that tree, take a fairly intense hike through the jungle to a really big tree at the top of the mountain.

Meet a nice local man who lets you take a shortcut through a giant, mostly water-covered, taro plantation.

This is just a little less than half of it.

End up in the back of the village, where no white people are ever seen. Meet a small Samoan boy who points at your dad and exclaims "Palangi!" with awe, like it's the first one he's ever seen. Because it just might be.

Ride another "ferry" back to the main island. Deal with some jerk from Parks and Recreation who can't give you a ticket for parking in the space he considers reserved for him, so he double-parks you in.

Forget about that and go to the umu feast at Tisa's Barefoot Bar.

Enjoy free entertainment while you eat.

Finish another fun-filled day on the Rock with a nice 45-minuite drive back to my apartment.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Let's start something!

All right, I've been a bit lax on the blogging lately because I've been working on the script for an episode of a new local miniseries. Perhaps I'll post the screenplay, but what I'd really like to post is video of the finished product.

Anyhow, I'm going to start something new on this blog. As you may have noticed, sometimes I'm just too busy to make a real post. From now on, when I don't get the chance to blog for just over a week, I'm going to post a link to something interesting/entertaining, preferably something about the Samoas.

So as high school football season begins (which you can now hear on V103 FM, by the way), I don't think there's anything more appropriate than this article on football and poverty in American Samoa. I'll admit that I haven't yet had the chance to read the whole thing. Includes a video for those of you with off-island Internet connections, or like a whole hour to wait for a 7-minute video to load.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yet Another Update!

Let's see, where did I leave off?

Sunday, July 19th, Continued

Go snorkeling while at Two-Dollar Beach.

Monday, July 20th

Take a vacation from your vacation and relax for a day while Adam is at work. Visit the Star Mound Site and try to figure out what it's supposed to be without being allowed to go on the big viewing platform, because it's apparently decaying.

Tuesday, July 21st

Visit the Turtle and Shark Site, because it's easily one of the most beautiful places on the island and has lots of waves crashing dramatically into lava cliffs, and that makes for good picture-taking.

Get hit by a giant wave while standing up there and then immediately see a shark. Catch it on shaky still camera mpeg video.

Drive all the way down past Leone to That Place that Adam Likes to Take Pictures From.

Wednesday, July 22nd

Drive down to the East End to take the ferry to Aunu'u. Teach Mom how to pronounce Aunu'u correctly (OW-nu-ooh). Discover that the ferry is just a handful of small boats over extremely choppy waters that don't give out life jackets. Go anyway.

"You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought."

Briefly look at the one village on the island and then begin hiking on the closer loop of the figure-8 trail on the island. Check out the entire lake of quicksand.

Throw rocks in that light brown area and watch them do a weird sandy splash thing. Drop one a thicker spot and watch appear to do nothing at first, then sink down into a bubbly dent in the sand.

Keep following the trail and get a great view of this cool outcropping and more dramatic waves crashing into it.

Also take a look at this, uh, unique tree right on the same beach where you can watch that from.

Decide that this is as good a time as any to end this entry and go to bed.