Final thoughts on Dallas

February 8th, 2011 at 1:29 pm by under Super Bowl XLV

I’ve had a bit of time to digest my thoughts on our Super Bowl XLV trip (and catch up on sleep – at least a bit).

The roads in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were covered in ice for much of the week

Overall, it was an amazing experience. It was a lot of work for everyone, and those who are here at the station today sound very tired. But we accomplished an incredible amount. It was great to read and hear the nice comments from viewers through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and in person. It was a long week, but that was because we packed in an awful lot. And brought home a Packers victory!

Aside from the game, the biggest story was the weather. Tuesday’s ice storm was just the beginning of three and a half days of cold, ice and snow. Clearly, snowplows and road salt are in short supply in North Texas. The best they could do was put down sand on the roads. While that did give drivers a bit of traction, probably the bigger effect was to turn streets, sidewalks and people’s cars brown. It was cold, too. Wind chills were below zero one morning, and local newscasts said it was the coldest weather the area had seen since 1996. Some of the parties hosted by big-name celebrities were also canceled because of the weather. To be fair, the crews who arrived on Saturday said the weather was beautiful that day, so much so that they ate dinner outside. It was also nice the first Sunday and the following Friday, Saturday and Super Bowl Sunday morning. While the area received a lot of negative reaction to its handling of Super Bowl week, a historic winter storm really could not have been controlled.

Now that I’ve been to the area, I would like to check it out sometime when it’s warmer. Not too warm; we were told temperatures routinely top 100° in the summer. The Fort Worth Stockyards seemed especially interesting. I’m not much for “cowboy” stuff, but the western wear shop we visited Thursday morning was a lot of fun. So was the saloon across the street. Those two establishments have been in business for over 100 years, so there is some authentic history there. The rest of the stockyards also sounded interesting, with live cattle drives and other events like rodeos regularly scheduled there.

Dealey Plaza and The Sixth Floor Museum were also interesting. I won’t rehash my thoughts on that here; you can read my previous blog post for that.

Several of the FOX 11 crew work in the media center during Super Bowl week (courtesy Rachel Manek/Facebook)

Our home for the week was the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Dallas. It was the officially-designated hotel for media, so there were many features right there.

The biggest, of course, was Radio Row, where many sports talk radio shows set up camp for the week. It was also the destination for several celebrities and ex-players who came in to be interviewed. Off the top of my head, I can remember seeing Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Hugh Jackman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jerome Bettis, Archie Manning, Adam Sandler, Jamie Foxx and Herschel Walker. (Click here for a video tour of Radio Row)

Next to Radio Row was a media work room that was our second home for much of the week. Each station was set up with electricity and an Internet connection, so we were able to do all of our story writing, video editing and website updates right from there.

To actually do our reporting, we were on our own to get where we needed to go. The station rented seven cars for the 13 people on the crew, so we were able to be represented in a lot of different places at once. We had heard the Dallas-Fort Worth area is spread out, and that’s an understatement. Fort Worth is about 40 miles to the west of Dallas. Arlington, where Cowboys Stadium and Rangers Ballpark are, is about halfway between the two main cities. The airport is another 25 miles or so to the northwest of Dallas. And the metro area doesn’t feel like Milwaukee or Chicago, where you drive through several continuous suburbs when you’re going to or from the city. It seems like each community in the area is its own separate entity. I also found driving in downtown Dallas to be somewhat of a challenge (especially compared to Fort Worth, whose streets seem to follow a grid system much more closely). You can read more about that here.

The Packers are recognized as Super Bowl XLV champions on Cowboys Stadium's giant scoreboard

After all that, it can be hard to forget we were there for a football game. While I didn’t get to the see game in person (read more about that here), I was inside the stadium. I was also on the field for Media Day and part of the postgame show.

From what everyone said, the giant scoreboard makes it seem like you’re watching the game on your own TV, especially if you’re up high in the stadium. I didn’t get up to that area to see it for myself, but I believe it. Overall, the stadium still has a “new” feel to it, which isn’t surprising since it’s only two years old.

The scene outside the stadium before the game was also exciting. Both the Packers and Steelers have passionate fan bases and were well represented at the game. It was fun to see the back-and-forth cheering between the two sides.

All of our time cards for the week showed similar totals

So it was a fun, yet exhausting week. Most days were 12-16 hours of work. I was up before 5:30 a.m. every day, and some days didn’t get to bed until 11:00 or midnight. On game day, we left the hotel at 5:15 a.m. and didn’t get back until about 1 a.m. the next day. Many of the staff still had work to do after that, so we were all very bleary-eyed on the flight home the next day.

Still, it’s been a privilege to bring the Super Bowl to FOX 11′s viewers back home in Northeast Wisconsin. We hope we gave you a good sense of the experience and an idea of everything that was going on.

For me personally, it’s also been fun to keep you updated on this blog. I appreciate the comments I’ve received through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Thank you for following along, and if you have any comments to make, don’t hesitate to leave them below.

Now on to Super Bowl XLVI!

Getting around Dallas

February 5th, 2011 at 12:36 pm by under Super Bowl XLV

What did we ever do before GPS?

You may have caught my story on Thursday night about people using mobile devices to find their way around town. (If you missed the story, you can see it here.) The idea for the story was born of experience – mine. Driving around any big city’s downtown can be difficult, but I’ve found Dallas especially confusing. Besides the typical abundance of one-way roads, there are a lot of streets that seem to veer off at angles, making it difficult to determine which way to go to stay on the road. Plus, as I remarked to Paige Pearson last night while we were driving to the location for the FOX 11 News at Five and Nine, it seems like every traffic light is red when you come up to it. Add in icy and snowy roads, and it makes for a tough time getting around.

Enter my smartphone.

I’ve only had it since June, and, while I knew it had Google Maps, I didn’t know if it had turn-by-turn directions. Monday morning, I didn’t have time to try to find out, and I was late for my first live shot in Fort Worth. I must have gone about four different directions on the interstate by the time I figured out which highway I needed to be on. Luckily, I discovered my phone does in fact have turn-by-turn navigation, and the rest of the week has been much smoother.

It’s amazing how much power people are carrying around in their hands now. And how much it changes. Just a year or two ago, most people would have needed a separate GPS unit for their cars. Now, it comes standard on a lot of phones.

It’s truly a changing world.

The weather…again

February 4th, 2011 at 3:16 pm by under Super Bowl XLV, Weather

I know I said I’d tone it down about the weather, but it just continues to be a big story here in Dallas.

The Fort Worth Stock Yards woke up to a fresh coat of snow.

We were forecast to get a half-inch to an inch of snow today. In reality, we probably got that much overnight, and flurries are still falling here at almost 3 p.m.

It was quite the drive for me out to Fort Worth this morning. Fort Worth is about a 40-mile drive west from downtown Dallas, and I had to be in place at 6:30 a.m. So that meant a really early start.

There weren’t a lot of cars on Interstate 30, which is a six-lane road between Dallas and Fort Worth. Some of bolder drivers were moving at about 40 miles per hour or so,  but others had their flashers on and were going 25 miles per hour or less.

A look out the window at the White Elephant Saloon gives this sign an ironic twist

What’s normally about a 45-50 minute drive took me more than an hour on the way there. On the way back, it took close to an hour and a half with rush-hour traffic.

Still, today’s snow wouldn’t have posed much of a problem in Wisconsin. The difference is, plows and road salt are apparently in very limited supply here in Texas. So whatever snow falls stays on the ground. To make things worse, there is still a layer of ice on many roads from Tuesday’s storm.

Besides the precipitation is the cold. It’s still cold outside -  cold even by Wisconsin standards. The thermometer in my car read 19 degrees as I got in the car to head back to Dallas.

Who knew I should have packed a snow brush?

Still, we had a fun time at our live shots this morning. We went to the Historic Stock Yards area of Fort Worth. Basically, it’s a bunch of really old shops and, as the name suggests, a livestock yard in the old part of town.

Chuck at Fincher’s White Front Western Wear was a lot of fun, and he even showed us how the creases are put in cowboy hats.

We then moved over to the White Elephant Saloon, where kitchen manager Rockland Mann made us feel right at home. That’s another fun, historic place – it was the scene of a shootout in the frontier days.

Rockland said it best – this Texas weather comes out of nowhere. It can be beautiful one day and miserable the next.

Wait, where have I heard that before?

The view from my hotel window Friday morning

Rachel Manek and Photojournalist Mike Raasch get ready to tell Northeast Wisconsin about the weather in Texas

I thought this sign might have been an omen for Sunday

Dallas at night

February 4th, 2011 at 6:59 am by under Super Bowl XLV

Sorry for the lack of posts yesterday. I had one all written at the NFL Experience, but I lost my phone signal, so I couldn’t post it.

(As an aside, I’d just like to say I love the WordPress apps for both Android and BlackBerry. If you’re a blogger, I’d definitely recommend them.)

Anyway, here are some shots of downtown Dallas from last night. It’s really too bad the weather’s been downright frigid. I think there would be a lot of cool stuff going on outside.


Thoughts on Dealey Plaza

February 3rd, 2011 at 11:38 am by under Super Bowl XLV

The Kennedy assassination.

Few events of the 20th century evoke as much emotion, controversy and questions.

Dealey Plaza and the former Texas School Book Depository building

Yesterday, I went along with the FOX 11 crew that visited Dealey Plaza and The Sixth Floor Museum, the site of the assassination.

We first checked in at the museum, which, as its name indicates, is located on the sixth floor of the former Texas School Book Depository building. (Most of the building is currently a county administration building.) Investigators believe Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots from a corner window on the sixth floor on November 22, 1963. The area from where Oswald shot is enclosed in glass, while boxes of textbooks have been placed in a recreation of the “sniper’s nest” that was found after the shooting. While it’s not possible to look out the same window Oswald looked out of (in the photo to the right, it’s on the far right, second from the top), visitors can look down on Dealey Plaza from the next window over.

The rest of the museum includes exhibits on topics such as how news of President Kennedy’s death spread, a look at the camera Abraham Zapruder used to record the famous film footage of the shooting, Kennedy’s legacy and, of course, conspiracy theories. (For the record, it was clear from talking to the curator that he accepts the official finding that Oswald was the lone gunman). On the seventh floor is an exhibit on Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner who fatally shot Oswald.

FOX 11 Photojournalist Don Steffens and Reporter Laura Smith interview a visitor to The Sixth Floor Museum

Visitors are generally not allowed to take photos inside the building, however, news crews were allowed to take limited pictures. I was able to put together a photo gallery, which you can see by clicking here.

Moving outside to Dealey Plaza, I was struck by the austerity of the place. The only indications that it was the site of one of the most transformational events in American history are a small historical marker on the curb and a marker painted on the pavement at the spot where the fatal shot hit the President.

The rest of the plaza is more or less an open, grassy area that’s easily recognizable from photographs or documentaries you might have seen. The only buildings on the site are three WPA-era structures on the north, south and east sides, commemorating the founding of Dallas. The underpass that the presidential motorcade famously sped through on the way to the hospital still exists. As the curator told us, aside from a few street lights having been moved and the natural growth of trees, Dealey Plaza has changed little since 1963.

An "X" marks the spot where the fatal shot hit President Kennedy

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the place, except for its history. But the place’s importance in history can’t be overstated.

What if President Kennedy had not been assassinated? Would history remember him as kindly? Would the rest of the 1960s have been as turbulent? What would America’s involvement in Vietnam have been? And how would Americans have viewed the war differently?

And those questions are completely separate from the question of why did the assassination happen in the first place? Was it the act of a single person whose reasons died with him in the basement of the police station? Or was it a larger conspiracy meant to redefine world events?

Historical marker at Dealey Plaza.

Historical marker at Dealey Plaza

People searching for answers will find few clues at Dealey Plaza. Still, it is the site of an event which was immediately an integral part of our nation’s history. Seeing it first-hand can be a bit eerie if you stop to think about it, but it was an amazing experience to be at the location where the world changed that November day more than 47 years ago.

Punxsutawney Phil, you’re my friend!

February 2nd, 2011 at 7:30 am by under Super Bowl XLV, Weather

Given the location of Punxsutawney, Pa., I’m guessing its most famous resident is a Steelers fan, but after walking outside today, I’m a fan of his. I’m sure glad he didn’t see his shadow. I don’t think anyone wants six more weeks of this winter.

FOX 4 in Dallas said last night that this is the coldest the city has seen since 1996. Temperatures overnight were expected to be in the single digits – with wind chills below zero! And I can tell you, it sure was windy yesterday. I think, even though this would not be anything remarkable back home, it feels colder here because I’m not expecting the bitter temperatures. And I didn’t pack a true winter coat, so it’s going to be rough for a few days.

Worse than the cold, though, is the ice. Even though we haven’t seen significant snow since about 7 a.m. yesterday, the roads are still covered with a sheet of ice about an inch thick. Traveling back from Arlington yesterday, Johnnie Gray and I saw lots of cars on the side of the road and a lot stuck on off-ramps that went uphill. It was just too slippery for them to make it. Schools are closed today for the second day in a row. And crews have been out spreading sand or gravel on the roads. Obviously, they don’t keep a lot of salt on hand, but I did see some on the sidewalk outside the hotel this morning, so I know they do have at least a little bit.

As I thought about it, I realized there really wasn’t a whole lot of ice. In Wisconsin, it probably would have been cleared up by early in the afternoon yesterday, but it caused major problems here.

Speaking of major problems, I heard Pete this morning talking about Winter Storm Connor. I also got some e-mails from the Wisconsin DOT talking about highways being shut down. And I saw UW-Madison canceled classes; having gone there, I know it takes a MAJOR storm for the university to do that. So I hope everyone is staying safe in the storm. And know that we feel your pain, although in a little different way. I am not looking forward to brushing the accumulated snow off my car when we get back on Monday.

OK, enough about the weather. Today, I’m following a crew to Dealey Plaza for a little history lesson. Of course, Dealey Plaza is the site of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Being a bit of a history buff, I’m looking forward to finally seeing the place I’ve only seen in pictures and on TV. I’m planning on posting a photo gallery later this afternoon.

Also, if you haven’t already, take a look at my story from yesterday about Packers players discussing the pros and cons of Twitter. It’s something a lot of athletes are using to connect directly with fans. Two of the team’s “tweeters”, Desmond Bishop and Tim Masthay, had some interesting things to say about the service. And I could tell from talking to them, they’re well aware of both sides of the issue.

All right, I’m out for now. Stay warm, everyone!

Cold and snow in Texas

February 1st, 2011 at 8:07 am by under Super Bowl XLV, Weather

Aren’t Super Bowls supposed to be held in warm-weather cities?

While you’re dealing with Winter Storm Connor back home, the Dallas area was also hit with a big storm. It shut down schools, even the airport.

It was treacherous driving this morning on the way to Cowboys Stadium for our Media Day previews on Good Day Wisconsin. What’s normally about a 30-minute drive from our hotel in downtown Dallas took Justin Felder and me more than an hour.

And then, around 7:30, the snow stopped and the wind picked up. It is bone-chilling cold right now. It’s supposed to be like this for the next couple of days, but warming back into the 50s by game day.

Packers record first touchdown in Dallas

January 31st, 2011 at 4:20 pm by under Super Bowl XLV

It wasn’t a football touchdown, but the Packers have landed at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

The team was scheduled to land around 3:30, but was delayed about a half hour because of de-icing in Green Bay.

The Pittsburgh Steelers arrived earlier today, so both teams are now here and ready to go. Let the hype begin!

I’m hoping to publish a photo gallery of the team’s arrival later tonight, so be sure to check for that at fox11online.com.


Behind the Scenes: Super Bowl Report

January 30th, 2011 at 10:23 pm by under Super Bowl XLV

Here are a few pics from tonight’s Super Bowl Report. We’re live at Vernon’s Grille, a Packers bar right here in Dallas.

I sure hope you’re following me on Twitter (@WLUK_SH). I’m sharing lots more photos there!


Planes, Trains and Automobiles

January 30th, 2011 at 4:38 pm by under Super Bowl XLV

Well, not trains so much. But we’ve spent a lot of time on the other two.

Our departure from the station didn’t quite go as planned. Seemed the car we rented wasn’t nearly big enough for four people packed for a week, along with our camera equipment. So we ended up taking a station vehicle and leaving it in Milwaukee. Best-laid plans, right? Oh well, if it’s the worst thing to happen on this trip, we’ll be lucky.

Our flight was on time and pretty uneventful. Lots of Packer fans, and some of the crew from FOX 6 in Milwaukee. Oh, and we got cookies.

So now we’re waiting for our bags and then grabbing our rental cars (2 this time) and heading for the hotel. Looking forward to meeting up with the rest of our crew and starting our work.