A Quarter of a Century…

In 1992 O&A host Roger Martin and I celebrated the first year of going Out and About with a special segment detailing the events of the first year. The segment was entitled “One One- Hundredth of a Century” and the ten minute compilation of clips from the previous year’s segments took us from our very humble first episode, right through episode 26. Who could have guessed that this modest compendium of clips would be just the first in a long line of Out and About adventures that would take us north to British Columbia, south to Arizona and New Mexico and as far east as Illinois. In the more than twenty five years of going “Out & About” we have learned that southern California offers an endless array of opportunities for travel and adventure, for exploration and education, and more than ever, an appreciation for everything we encounter from the mundane to the profound and all things in between.

Shooting the sand dunes of Daeth Valley, California
Click, click. I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my right eye while I feel and hear a slight flutter of wings. Two more of them: click, click. In the darkness at the mouth of the cavern I can see them silhouetted against the jet black sky. Counting bats as they entered and exited the cave was one of the duties we assumed during a trip to Yuma, Arizona joining world-renown bat biologist Pat Brown to study and count California Leaf-Nosed Bats which make their home inside abandoned mine shafts. It is around 11:00 pm and as I click the button on the “bat counter” I hear a rustling sound from behind. The sound seems to travel from different sides of the mine shaft behind me, and I soon detect a low growling. At that moment I realize that there are more than just bats in this particular cave.

Our Out & About journeys began on a Catalina Cruise whale watching boat with the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. Though it was the very first segment we would shoot, it was eventually edited into the third episode that aired. We always traveled light: a small camcorder, tripod and external microphone. The Super VHS format was our recording medium of choice, since it was compact and inexpensive. We would videotape all of our footage in the field, including interviews and B-roll, then edit onto ¾” tape, adding music, narration, credits and titles to form a completed episode that could be aired. While shooting on location we often rubbed shoulders with the local TV affiliates that covered the same events like museum openings, art exhibits and the latest zoo attractions. I noticed we always had a smaller camera than our competitors; the local stations always possessed the latest state-of-the-art Betacam set ups which dwarfed our Super VHS equipment. For decades this was our standard shooting method until we graduated to a digital DVCam format where the camera was much larger, and the tape much smaller.

Giant Rock in Landers Integratron in Landers
It is 7:00 pm in the evening and the desert heat is a blistering 80 degrees as we gaze at the pink-hued horizon. We are visiting “Matthew”, George Van Tassel’s grandson to learn about the Integratron and “Giant Rock”, two desert monuments to the New Age and UFO movement of the 50s and 60s. We spend the early part of the afternoon visiting the huge boulder in the middle of nowhere known and “Giant Rock” and Matthew late takes us to the Integratron and explains the aura that surrounds it. The elder Van Tassel had a storied history of drawing followers to these two monuments, claiming to channel UFOs and space travelers to these mystical sandy outposts. After soaking in Matthew’s colorful stories of space travelers and new age mysticism we return to his desert home. As we stand in the twilight standing next to Matthew’s four foot above ground swimming pool, he anxiously stares at the eastern portion of the sky. At one point his anticipation increases. “Here they come” he eagerly shouts, “watch there”, pointing to the east. No more than a few moments later, three bright pink streaks of light shoot across the sky, one after another, in perfect formation, then vanish into the horizon as quickly as they appear. I sit there my jaw on the sandy pavement and my video camera 20 feet away packed away in its case.

“Out & About” quickly found its way onto numerous of stations throughout the Los Angeles area. The program was broadcast and distributed on ¾” format tapes which were “bicycled” around, a term used to describe the process of sending copies of a program from station to station, usually in some type of rotation, and in groups of four so that a new episode could be shown each week. This involved additional expenses as tapes needed to be purchased, copied and mailed to numerous stations. Soon, the ¾” tapes were replaced with smaller, less expensive tape formats like DVC Pro or DVCam, then later to DVD discs. As the digital age swept over the broadcast industry the physical assets were no longer needed since digital files uploaded to stations replaced tapes that were shipped or sent by messenger. Soon many of our shows found their way onto You Tube where they could continually play to a global audience.

Treasures from Neverland Treasures from Neverland
In the Spring of 2009 host Roger Martin fields questions to Darren Julien of Julien’s Auctions as they prepare for a short interview segment. The Out & About crew is setting up to cover the opening of singer Michael Jackson’s auction. The King of Pop is auctioning off furniture, statuary, and memorabilia from his Neverland Estate and the former Robinsons-May site is decked out with colorful displays of eclectic furniture, bronze busts and full sized statues, gold records, video games and full-sized figures like Superman, Spider-man and the robots from Star Wars. As the camera rolls and Roger is into his first five minutes of an interview, Darren Julian’s phone rings. “I must take this” he states as he glances at the phone. After a few nods and “uh huhs” and “yes, I understand”, a look of frustration settles on his face. Julien eventually says goodbye and ends the call, before stating that the auction is off: “There’s nothing I can do” he reluctantly explains, “That was Michael on the phone and he’s changed his mind.”

Although the bulk of our stories included places to explore, and art and museum openings we didn’t shy away from serious subjects. There were episodes covering the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake, and Roger joined thousands in a city hall march when Occupy LA joined in the national protests supporting the 99% movement in 2011. Out & About covered numerous UFO shows, metaphysical events and searched for Bigfoot in Canada during their annual Sasquatch Convention. Long before the internet became a breeding ground for conspiracy theories we discovered that cable access TV was a mecca for fringe programming and it gave us a chance to explore controversial locations like the Area 51 in Nevada as well Roswell, New Mexico, long considered ground zero for the modern UFO subculture. A highlight of our UFO- themed episodes included an unforgettable interview with Travis Walton, known for his alleged extra-terrestrial abduction as depicted in the feature film “Fire in the Sky.” And we were lucky enough to include on our program some of Hollywood’s past and present stars, including William Shatner, Lou Ferrigno, Dee Wallace, Rick Baker, Bela Lugosi, Jr., Sara Karloff and “I Love Lucy” writers Madelyn Pugh and Bob Caroll, Jr. Dignitaries of the art world who made appearances with Roger include street artist Robbie Conal, Horton Plaza and CityWalk architect Jon Jerde, urban architect Paolo Saleri of the famed Cosanti and Arcosanti sites in Arizona, and world-renown artist Christo who shared with us the symbiotic theme of his massive two-continent “Umbrellas Project.” Pioneers of the scientific world making appearances include Primatologist Jane Goodall, paleontologist and “Jurassic Park” advisor Jack Horner, astronauts and American heroes Rick Searfoss and Mae Jemison of the Space Shuttle program, Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham, Scott Carpenter, member of the original Mercury 7 program and Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to have walked on the moon, or as an optimist would say, the most recent one to walk on the moon.

Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona
The weather in Oracle, Arizona is dry and cool as we wait outside the imposing metal door. With a twist of a circular handle resembling a steam valve, the airlock clicks open like a bank vault and our small group of four step inside, passing through the threshold that would welcome us to Biosphere 2. The subject of much debate and controversy in the early 1990’s the hermetically sealed, self-sustaining metal and glass structure was built as a living laboratory to test mankind’s ability to survive harsh environments that would normally not sustain animal or plant life, like the moon or another planet. As we pass through the doorway we notice the air inside is warm and humid. The two hour visit takes us to several different habitats or “biomes” including one representing the desert, a section devoted to agriculture, a rainforest area complete with simulated rainfall and finally an ocean lagoon containing a living coral reef and tropical fish. Making our way through a greenhouse full of exotic plants we cannot help but feel that we are among the privileged few who are fortunate enough to have entered this special place. As the tour winds down and we leave Biosphere 2 to re-enter our own natural world we are left humbled by the magnitude and complexity of it all, with a sense of determination to preserve and protect our own planet Earth, the fragile Biosphere that we call home.

The technology has shifted over the past two and a half decades. The large bulky equipment has been replaced by small, lightweight cameras that capture more exciting and dynamic images which are wearable on your sleeve or on top of your head. There was a time when our modest camcorder was the smallest of the cameras we would see at any event, but now it appears to be one of the larger ones, almost too big and cumbersome for any practical use. But for our determined group the obsession was never on the technology, but always on the subject we were exploring. Wherever we were and whatever subject we covered we treated it like it was the most important and interesting thing we had ever seen. And although we eventually shifted to shooting on a digital format to yield a sharper picture, we never wavered when it came to focusing on the subject and the story which was always placed center stage.

Santero Benjamin Cruz in his New Mexico studio Carving  of Christ by Benjamin Cruz
Thirty miles north of Santa Fe New Mexico in the town of Espanola, we hike through the woods or “the bosque” with Cruz Lopez, a second generation “Santero.” Like his father Benjamin, Cruz is an artist and a wood carver specializing in creating holy figures and saints from wood, an art form that is prevalent in this community known for its group of Santeros. Known as “La Esquelita” or the little school, the artists carve and paint precious wooden figures of religious icons like St. Peter, St. John, St. Jude, as well as figures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. The exquisite works are as much a testament to skill as they are a reflection of Faith which runs deep in this quiet Christian community. Cruz stops and picks up a piece of driftwood. Studying it closely from all angles, he soon places it in his bag. When asked what he looks for in a piece of wood meant for carving, he hesitates, then humbly responds: “I look for the piece in the wood. I can see it before it’s carved; it calls out to me.”

Throughout our various travels we have been blessed with having a faithful crew to accompany us and we acknowledge the small band of volunteers who have been with us since the beginning. Friends like longtime location manager Dianne Wohlleben, contributors like guest-host Konrad Monti who often serve as Roger’s on-camera foil, and friend and colleague Ann Palmer. And special thanks go out to Amanda Martin, Roger’s frequent and very capable co-host. It has been and will continue to be a privilege to have them along on our adventures. Over the years people often ask us where we get the ideas for these shows, and occasionally we worried that we would run out of ideas or events to cover. What began as a modest project at Beverly Hills Television Station BHTV soon became an all- encompassing obsession to discover interesting persons, places and activities, and now after more than twenty-five years and 320 episodes, host Roger Martin and myself continue to explore adventures and activities in and around Southern California and the Southwest. Everything from the mundane to the profound and all things in between.