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This blog post is a look back at one of my favorite stories from my newspaper career. It happened in July, 2004.

The call came from the news editor on a routine Sunday afternoon : “There is a bull loose in North Salinas.”

The tone in Katherine’s voice indicated that she was certain about the situation that was unfolding. I headed north with the appropriate urgency, my police scanner filling in details.

When I arrived on the scene, I saw a large agricultural field, some emergency vehicles, a few pickup trucks, and a few hundred yards away, a lone person on a horse facing off with a very large bull.

Salinas is well known for its annual rodeo, a hundred-year-old tradition called California Rodeo Salinas. Less well known are the occasional small rodeos that are held at the Sheriff’s Posse Grounds. On this Sunday in July 2004, a bull managed to jump over a fence and head south, toward town.

When bulls are used in rodeos, a rope is tied around the animal’s flanks, applying pressure intended to persuade it to jump, buck and spin. The bull that was standing in the field in front of me still had a rope tied around it. It was pissed. I grabbed my cameras and ran down a farmhouse driveway, toward it.

Salinas is an agricultural town, literally an island in a valley of lettuce and other crops. Where the town ends, fields begin. The transition is abrupt. And it was in one of these adjoining fields that people from the rodeo had caught up to their fleeing bull. They were making a stand in front of a farmhouse in the middle of this field — they had a truck with a livestock trailer, several rodeo hands, and the young cowboy on the horse.

When I got close enough to take pictures, I watched as the following scene unfolded: The bull was encouraged to enter the livestock trailer, it declined, and decided instead to knock down and gore the cowboy, who was no longer on his horse.

After I shot these photos, the bull stopped, turned, and looked at me. I ran up a tree.

I did this not only because looking into the eyes of an angry bull is extremely frightening, but because I had seen many rodeo cowboys climb fences or whatever else was near them when trying to get out of the way of an angry bull. It worked, the bull turned and headed west toward another field.

By this time my coworker (and bandmate), reporter George Sanchez had arrived. We figured the only way to really follow the action was to be on the livestock trailer, so we asked the (very harried) driver if he’d mind if we hopped on. He told us not to fall and drove off after the bull.

As George and I clung to the back of a dirty livestock trailer on the trail of a angry bull that was only a few hundred yards away from rampaging through densely populated neighborhoods, we had a moment to pause, look at each other, and consider what we were doing. “This is awesome!” we said, grinning.

By the time the truck got to the stretch of road that separated the fields from a Home Depot parking lot, police had arrived, and they were armed. They had made it clear that their job was to prevent the bull from entering the parking lot, which was currently packed with a Sunday crowd hoping to get a look at the loose bull. The rodeo hands redoubled their efforts at finishing their job, knowing that if they failed, their valuable animal would be shot dead in the street.

The bull headed west until it encountered a major road. I watched as it turned and ran alongside a car for a few seconds, probably giving the driver reason to change his or her underwear. The rodeo hands managed to redirect it back toward the livestock trailer, where the following scenes unfolded:



By the time the bull broke free of the lasso around its horns and headed toward the Home Depot parking lot, I had moved into the bed of the truck for a better view. George had the good sense to get off the truck and behind the police. When the gunfire began, I was directly in line with the police (who were shooting) and the bull (who was absorbing a lot of bullets). As I was taking photos, it began to dawn on me that I was, as they say, in the line of fire.

“One in the truck! One in the truck!” I heard the Sergeant yell. I realized she was talking about me, jumped out of the back of the truck and ran down the road as quickly as I could, covering about three miles in just under two seconds. Not really, but I was scared enough to run faster than I had ever run while carrying cameras.


While the Salinas Police Department is a heavily armed force, it was a Sheriff’s deputy that eventually brought down the bull with his long gun. (I learned years later that this led to a joke within the police department: The Sheriff’s Office is the best at shooting the bull.)

Soon the bull was on its side, dead in the road. The rodeo organizers looked over their slain animal, the gored young cowboy was taken to the hospital and the crowd at Home Depot began to disperse. As one onlooker pulled out of the parking lot, he leaned out of his truck and said to a nearby cop: “You didn’t have to shoot it!”

Sure, buddy. You try catching a loose bull.

The story ended with a trip the next day to the hospital to visit the gored cowboy. Turns out he was a teenager who grew up on a ranch in Mexico and was used to lassoing animals from horseback. The bull’s horns got his arm when it knocked him down into the bushes, but he was recovering. Someone had given him get-well gift of a stuffed animal, which sat next to his hospital bed.

It was a bull.

Coffee, commute, paper, burrito, shooting, gas, meet with the boss, pack my stuff, beers with friends, bagel, coffee, morning in the office, more coffee, going away lunch, quitting tie, empty my desk, final mileage, leave Zork in charge, turn in gear, commute. My final days at the newspaper, told in iPhone snapshots.

Not to split hairs, but my nine-year career at The Salinas Californian covered eight full years and two half years, which leads me to this top ten list. I chose one favorite photo that I shot for the paper from each year I worked there.


02-13-11 — Tim Sawyer of Santa Cruz makes a turn Feb. 13 during the Central Coast Cycling Club mountain bike cross country races in the East Garrison area of the former Fort Ord.
 
 


03-23-10 — A suspect looks out from the back of a police cruiser Tuesday on Oregon Street after a shooting in which a child was killed in his home by a stray bullet. Five suspects were taken into custody on Oregon Street.
 
 


07-17-09 — Jake Pratt of Ellensburg, Washington, rides out of the chutes to a time of 14.7 seconds in the tie-down roping competition at Friday’s California Rodeo Salinas.
 
 


07-15-08 — Trevor John, 5, of Prunedale, winner of the Best-Dressed Cowboy award, takes aim before Tuesday’s Kiddie Kapers parade in Oldtown Salinas.
 
 


09-21-07 — Cody Vaughn does a chest pull Friday in Pacific Grove.
 
 


07-03-06 — Roman Schlick, of Gilroy, cheers for The Scorpions Monday night at the Salinas Sports Complex. Schlick has a Scorpions tattoo on his right arm, which he said he got in hopes of one day meeting the band and having them sign it — a dream he fulfilled before the concert Monday.
 
 


05-22-05 — Brittany Duyao accidentally runs over Amanda Volle after Volle fell just before the first turn during Sunday’s Golden State Nationals at the Manzanita Park BMX track in Prunedale. Both girls got up from the spill and rode away.
 
 


08-19-04 — Irmgard Wynn, 70, an member of the band the Alpine Echoes, shows off one of her accordions in her North Salinas home Thursday.
 
 


02-04-03 — Greenfield’s Carmen Salazar gets his face buried in ball during a first-half header in Tuesday’s game.
 
 


10-31-02 — Kala Robinson, 7, of Salinas, reacts while walking through the “Scary Corner” at Hartnell College’s Spooktacular Halloween Celebration Thursday night.


   Today I quit the best job I’ve ever had.
   There are a lot of people who will call me crazy for doing this. As a full-time newspaper staff photographer, I was among a declining number of people to hold a very coveted job. I get paid by a publication to make pictures for a living, a job that gives me steady pay, health benefits and front-row seats to some extremely compelling events.
   But my job, like many newspaper staff jobs across the country, is going away. Not tomorrow, but sometime. Newspapers are losing circulation and advertising and I’m not convinced that the industry has a solution. So instead of going down with the ship, I decided to make a little life raft and paddle away on my own. I’ll be an independent photographer, earning a living with my camera on my own.
   The decision to do this was made in the fall of 2008, during a discussion with my then-fiancĂ© (now wife) in our kitchen, around the time my newspaper prepared to lay off fully a third of its staff in one fell swoop. Back then, I was pretty convinced that my job would be eliminated soon, too.
   But I’ve held on, as has most of the newsroom staff since that initial round of layoffs. And I’ve discovered that my prognosticating about the future of my industry has been largely off the mark, so I stopped guessing. Except for one hunch: Someday, my job will cease to exist. And I’d better prepare.
   In discussions with industry colleagues since that decision was made in 2008, I’ve heard a variety of reactions. Several freelancers told me to hang on to my staff job as long as I could. One signed off an email with a simple plea: “Keep your staff job.” A former staffer who got laid off and found himself suddenly freelancing — fairly successfully, by all accounts — took his old staff job back when an opening arose. Others said I was right to prepare, and a widely circulated blog post by the insightful Chip Litherland endorsed the path I was on.
   So, around the beginning of this year, after two and a half years of preparing to be my own boss, I finally found myself with enough work, savings and preparation to make the move truly happen. August 11, 2011, was my final day as a staff member at The Salinas Californian — nine years, one month and 11 days after I started.
   During the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of blog posts looking back at my newspaper career. I’ll be talking about the volume of assignments I’ve done, some of my favorite ones, about the emotional impact of newspaper work, and sharing some of my best frames.

Eileen is a wonderful lady who I met when she was just 99 years old. A reporter and I interviewed her at her home, where she smiled huge smiles and laughed as she recalled stories from her past. As we drove away, she rang a bell that hung from her porch roof. Just because. I smiled for a long time after our visit.

So I was thrilled to hear that we got invited to cover her 100th birthday party. It was thrown for her by a friend who had already crossed into centenarian-ism. She bought Eileen a “Secrets of Longevity” book, and everybody appreciated the humor.

At the end of the party, after Tongan dancers performed for her, the guests sang ‘happy birthday,’ and Eileen pretended to conduct an orchestra, smiling the whole time.

I’m happy to announce that the above image won a first place in the San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers’ Association’s 37th annual News Photography Competition.

The photo came from the scene of a fatal shooting. In this case, the death was a six-year-old who was killed by an errant bullet while he was standing in the kitchen of his apartment, the unintended victim of a drive by shooting. I don’t know the name of the young man in this picture, but to me the photo says a lot about the crime situation in Salinas: A person is killed, the police round up young suspects to try to get information, no one talks.

This photo was not among those that we published in the next day’s paper. Other pictures — police making arrests, the ambulance — were chosen to tell the story.

But sometimes a photo like this, which don’t tell the specific story of the day, tells a greater story about the community.

It’s not easy to win in the SFBAPPA contest. The quality of work in the Bay Area is extremely high, and we’re competing against photographers from the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, and dozens of other papers who photo staffs are stocked with talented shooters. The San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers’ Association is a great organization, and I’m honored to be a member and a winner this year.

The lands of the former Fort Ord in Monterey County are laced with trails and roads, perfect spots for riding bicycles.

I recently spent a couple days photographing races put on by the Central Coast Cycling Club, which has been staging races since 1995. I also wrote the story for my newspaper, a front-page piece that examined the pressures development is putting on the open space that cyclists now enjoy.

Here are my favorite photos from the story. Click the thumbnails to enlarge …


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