Chapter 10

Capital Episodes

Even Nosey Photographers Sometimes Get Cold Feet

WASHINGTON, D.C. was freezing. And so was I as I lugged my heavy movie camera and tripod up the ice-crusted steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Luckily it would not take long to get the movie footage I needed of the great Lincoln statue dominating this marble-floored memorial. As wintry gusts swept into the great open-faced hall I set up my tripod and started shooting.

"Stop! Tripods are not permitted."

The voice of a uniformed guard coming from across the great open space in front of the statue almost startled me. But my answer came quickly. "I'll just be a minute. I've come all the way from California to get this picture."

"Stop! These marble floors—tripods scratch them. They aren't allowed."

I was desperate. I had to have some footage of this great Lincoln statue. "I'll only be a—" Before my sentence was finished, the guard was upon me, threatening me with another kind of sentence for breaking the rules, and motioning for me and my tripod to be gone. Meekly I lifted the offending tripod from the floor.

Now that the guard and I were close to each other, there was a chance to talk without shouting. I explained again the distance I had come and the urgency of the situation. He mumbled something about how many Californians came to visit this place. I almost imagined that his face and tone of voice expressed touches of sympathy. "Sorry," he said, in a slightly gentler mood. Then he looked down at my feet. By now I had cold feet in both a literal and figurative sense. But he seemed to be interested in something else.

"You've got rubbers on. Last year another photographer used those. If you put your tripod legs in those rubbers, they won't scratch the marble."

He was offering a possible solution to my problem. But a three-legged tripod, and only two rubbers. Now, however, I was beginning to see daylight. In an instant I took off one shoe and put the third tripod leg in that. Taking some movie footage from one angle, I tossed my two rubbers and shoe over to another location, for a different shot. It was like a man pitching horseshoes in a backyard contest. Except that as I stepped across that freezing marble floor to reset my tripod each time, —well, all I can say is that, if I had had figurative cold feet before, now my feet were almost literally freezing—especially the one protected from the icy marble by a thin sock—a sock which, as I observed for the first time, had a hole just beginning to show at the toe.

As I finished with my filming and started to put on my shoe preparatory to leaving, my benefactor looked down at the sock and smiled. There was a friendly handshake as I departed.

Abraham Lincoln was a man of the common people. If he had seen that hole in my sock, I think a compassionate smile would have come over his face.

Defying the Capital Police

A tripod, it seems, is more of a menace in Washington, D.C. than an enemy spy. Now it was summer in the nation's capital; Helen and I were still working on that motion picture production that required film shots in many parts of the city. I started to set up my tripod right up near the Capitol Building itself, to get scenes of the great dome. Out of thin air, a policeman appeared. "Permits are required for professional filming of the Capitol Building," he explained in a gentle voice. It seemed that anyone using a tripod was considered a professional. In the same gentle voice he told us where, inside the Capitol Building itself, a permit could be obtained. We thanked him and he wished us Godspeed as we headed to get the permit.

Getting it took nearly two hours. The light was no longer right for shots of the Capitol Dome, but some threatening clouds had been replaced by bright sun. With filming conditions ideal for shots on the other side of the great structure, I sat up my tripod and began shooting scenes of dozens of tourists—and perhaps even senators, who knows?—streaming up the rows of steps leading to the Capitol entrance.

From a distance, a stern call. Another policeman. But the voice of this one was not gentle. Waving in the general direction from which the voice came, I never took my eye from the view finder, and kept the camera running.

Another stern call, now much closer. "Permits are required for filming here," said the voice. I waved my arm in response, and kept on filming.

Now the voice was right at my side, sterner than ever. "I told you permits are needed to film the Capitol," said the voice. I knew it was the police officer, although I had never stopped filming long enough to see him. Reaching into my pocket, I took out the permit and waved it toward him.

Sourly, he examined it, handed it back and, without a word, walked away.

Helen and I have learned two new interesting facts about this city by the Potomac where our nation's laws are made. First, use a tripod at your peril; second, two different police officers in the nation's capital can be as different as night and day.