TSA Truce

November 1, 2006
Miami 12:37 p.m.

They pulled my carry-on bag at the airport. A search revealed shaving cream and a .75 oz. tube of Colgate toothpaste. The TSA worker offered me the option of going back through the line to get a clear plastic, one-quart-size Ziploc bag. I declined. She prepared to toss both items, but then a TSA supervisor stepped in. He was prepared to consider an exception. The tube of toothpaste, still in its carton, was about the size of my index finger. He explained the bag rule to me again.

"But even the small one?" I asked.

"I'm trying to explain," he said. He stroked a rust-colored beard, and with no sense of haste he explained that the toothpaste could go if it were in a plastic bag, but not if it wasn't. Several questions came to mind, but the message I sensed was, "Don't talk. Let him talk."

"I'm gonna make an exception," he said. He nodded to the screener, who returned the tube back to my bag. I thanked them both.

October 24, 2006
Miami 8:30 a.m.

There were 14,000 people at a race in Miami. Got a lot of tips, but I'd have to say the best one was about parking. Park far away and walk, that way you can get into your car and leave after the race is over.

The parking lot had a sign out front that said $5. As it got closer to the race, a man came out and tore off the big Velcro $5, and underneath it was a $10 sign. The man who tore off the sign smiled at me. The race was to raise money for breast cancer.

To avoid the crowd before the start of the race, I stood off the road on the grass. There was one middle-aged man there, stretching against a tree. He didn't look like the other runners. He had regular shorts on and sneakers, but not running shoes. He was slowly pressing both arms against the tree, stretching out his hamstrings. It was a brilliant, sunny morning, but he was by himself, not looking around. He had a small pink square of paper pinned on the back of his T-shirt, which read, "I am running in memory of my wife, Rosalita."

Video: Chavez Problem

October 19, 2006
Miami 9:32 a.m.

On the street in Venezuela, one young opposition mayor was talking to us, but kept getting interrupted by people asking to take his picture with their cell phones.

He would stop, put his arm around a young woman, and smile. He wore a baseball cap that read “Caracas,” which sat over his long, dark hair (with a few gray strands). The last time I talked to him, there was no gray. His eyes got a little wide when he talked about policy. He called to an aide who brought over a book with graphs on every page. One graph showed how Venezuela had the most gun deaths in the world, per capita, according to the U.N.

Sometimes you do one story, but another one gets in the way. A Hawaiian earthquake and a North Korea nuclear test blew out interest in Venezuela. That's how it goes.

One time I was in Afghanistan, waiting to do a live shot on the anniversary of 9/11, when a pizza delivery guy got blown up somewhere in the U.S. When the control room decides not to take your live shot they say, "Sorry, you're dead." A couple of times I asked them just to tell me, "You're bumped," but I don't worry about it anymore.

I remember standing up on a dirt roof in Kabul in the bright sun with a tiny earpiece in my left ear, and from faraway New York I heard the voice of a director come on and say, "Sorry, Steve. A pizza man blew up. You're dead."

So, you take the earpiece out of your ear, roll it up carefully, put it in your pocket, and walk towards the ladder to climb down the roof.

"What happened," the South African cameraman asked.

"I don't know," I said. "Some pizza man got killed."

October 17, 2006
Caracas 2:33 p.m.

"Have you ever interviewed a candidate for the president of a country?"


"I'm gonna tell you some things. They are simple, but I'm not trying to be condescending."


"First, when you talk to him, it doesn't matter what he says if it's not on camera. So your head needs to be near Whitey's lens — otherwise, we'll have a picture of his ear."


"And it's not like talking to someone on the street, calm and patient. You got to get in there, AMERICAN TV."

"So I should ask three questions?"

"You'll be lucky if you get in one question, but you got to say, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS, and stick it in there — that's all you'll have time for."

After a couple hours of Reggaeton and ice cream men jingling their four silver bells, three jeeps roared up. The back two had gunmen standing out of the open doors. The first jeep, which contained the candidate, paused for a moment near the circle of journalists. They showed their microphones to the window, and then suddenly the jeep sped forward again towards the crowd. The journalists ran after them. There were sounds of metallic things falling to the street in the dark.

"I lost my phone. I can't find Whitey."

"I'll find your phone. You go back and find Whitey. Get in there."

October 15, 2006
Caracas, Venezuela 10:45 a.m.

I'm sitting on a red chair in a tent, awaiting the president. The woman next to me is waving a black plastic fan, which occasionally strikes my left elbow.

Not only are the chairs red, but the hats and the shirts are red, too. Most of the shirts have slogans like, "The train is coming." The event is to mark the creation of a new train line, and the red crowd is massive. They were here four hours before the event.

"Why would anyone come out to celebrate a new train four hours early," I asked our fixer Jose. I saw stages set up for bands. Maybe that was part of it.

October 15, 2006
Caracas, Venezuela 10:36 a.m.

The driver's name was Jesus. Despite the heat, he wore thick, wool pants. I could tell from how he put his hands on the wheel that the Chevy Blazer did not belong to him.

It takes two hours and 45 minutes to fly from Miami to Caracas, but it takes three hours to drive from the airport to the city.

It used to take a half hour, but the road they built on a bridge collapsed one year ago, and it is still down today. It's bumper to bumper the whole way on the one lane road.

Jesus took us on a mountain route. It was longer, but we kept moving. There were the usual suspects along the route — shacks made of boards nailed together, barefoot kids with no shirts, and dogs about to get run over.

October 13, 2006
Coral Gables, FL 12:03 p.m.

The Biltmore is a giant, old hotel with a fountain. I was told it was a 30-minute drive, but it took me 70, with construction and one stall-out.

The conference was about Cuba and present were a senator, a governor, a congressman, and a congresswoman. My job was to ask the governor about something totally unrelated to Cuba — a congressional race in Florida.

There were eight politicians on stage. The first question was asked and answered in Spanish. Then, someone asked Sen. Martinez a question in Spanish. He answered in fluent Spanish, then took a second question, also in Spanish.

There were no questions for the governor, and he exited stage left.

I thought about how it would feel to return to the bureau with nothing. I tried to follow. He was big, just about my height. A guy with a microphone was talking to him as he walked down the stairs. I hoped Pores was behind me with the camera.

"I need some help," an aide said.

He probably needed help to block out the media. An unchecked man should not be able to enter a hotel and walk next to a governor. When we got outside, I cut left near the pool. The goal was to get in front of him. With Pores still trailing, I started to ask a question, hoping to slow him down until Pores caught up.

I heard a “whump” in back. Someone who was trying to catch up, hit a tarpaulin.

"Let's hold on a minute," the governor said. "Let's get to the place we have to get to and we'll stand there and do this calmly."

"Good," I said. We both nodded and walked in silence.

October 13, 2006

Little Haiti, Miami 1:13 p.m.

I am in line at the Social Security office. In the row of chairs to my right there is a small, old, black woman in a lavender suit with a small, round lavender hat. She is waiting with her son — a heavy man who sometimes sings for a moment, sometimes puts an arm around her chair, and sometimes stretches his legs and says, "Jesus."

She sits quietly with her hands open together on her lap. She waits. The room smells slightly of baby crap. Cell phones go off and people talk in Spanish and Creole. Walkers and wheelchairs slide by. A woman with a stroller tries the restroom door, but it is locked. She knocks once, then again. I look over at the woman in the lavender suit and the lavender hat. She is the only one dressed up in the room.

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