Ringleaders and big tops | VailDaily.com

Ringleaders and big tops

Wren Wertin

It’s a high-tech shantytown.

Truck-mounted satellite dishes and the occasional RV share space in the Gallegos lot, while white tents bordering the street flap in the wind. Most news organizations used the Eagle County Justice Center across Chambers Avenue as a backdrop, visible on television behind their anchor people.

MSNBC went one better, setting up potted pines and firs, price tags still attached, to give that authentic mountain flair. All for a 7.5-minute court appearance by Kobe Bryant.

“This is a zoo,” said Kelly Burke of Fox News. “A well-organized zoo.”

Burke is based in Denver, and occasionally has made the trek home since Bryant’s arrest a month ago.

“This isn’t routine,” he explained. “But we’ve done this a lot.”

As people milled about, crossing the street between the Justice Center and the media lot, chances were they’d be stopped to answer a couple of questions by somebody. Anchors and reporters, in full makeup and camera dress under the beating sun, kept a wary eye on each other, trying to make sure they weren’t getting scooped.

Anybody walking around seemed not only fair game, but wanted game.

Despite reports of presidential-like security, people drove in and out of the area with ease – discounting braking for pedestrians. One wound-up man made a couple of victory laps, horn blazing, yelling for people to go home.

Such a response may be a common sentiment among Eagle residents, but most kept those feelings to themselves. Some even welcomed the visitors.

“It’s been really nice to be here,” said Gillian Sheldon, producer and publicist for Celebrity Justice, in between cell phone calls. “Most people are really nice to us. I think the town is ready for us to leave, but I think they all realize that this business puts food on the table for our families, just like their work does for theirs.”

Part of her good vibe from Eagle County is a direct result of good restaurant recommendations she’s had.

“Sato’s has better sushi than some places in L.A.,” she said. “We’ve also eaten at Juniper, Sweet Basil, Terra Bistro – all really good. Even the Eagle Diner was great.”

“I’ve been eating the Broadway Bar and Grill’s Italian nachos, and Gore Range Brewery’s got great pizzas,” enthused Jim Trenton, better known as “The Poor Man.” The radio and television personality flew out from Los Angeles for a two-day trip a couple of weeks ago.

“I’ve had to buy clothes,” he said forlornly.

He’s also hoping to buy some land in the area for a “poor man’s house.”

“I think it’s beautiful here,” he said. “I don’t think there’s racism at all. It’s just Kobe grasping at straws.”

He’s been hanging out with a couple of local kids, including Jesse Zatarain, who took him four-wheeling and tubing.

Michael Roberts, the media columnist for Denver’s Westword, isn’t able to file a breaking-news story on Kobe for this week, as Westword hits the stand Wednesday afternoons. So he decided to spend the day following Mike Cacioppo, “Ye Olde Publisher” of Speakout, as he covered the media extravaganza.

“Mike’s a pretty colorful character,” said Roberts. “I thought it would be a good thing spending the day with a knowledgeable guide.”

“What they say about me isn’t true,” chimed in Cacioppo. “I’m really much worse.”

Roberts began writing his column in August 1999, and his first column coincided with the first day back to school at Columbine after the massacre.

“In some ways, this feels like old home week,” he said. “Since that one started with a huge media event. In that instance, we get to see the difference between how the local media people who knew the area dealt with the story compared to national media people. We have this opportunity again today.”

“What you have here – CBS, CNN, FOX – we all do the same thing,” said Van Cooper, cameraman for BET in Detroit, a division of CBS that facilitates the feed among affiliates. “We’re all the traveling squads. … If we get a chance to talk to each other, we do.”

They’ve got three shifts for round-the-clock coverage. Cooper worked the Columbine and O.J. trial stories, too. The scene at the Eagle County Justice Center isn’t anything new to him, he said.

An overflow media tent on the Justice Center lawn was put to use by various people, who brought in laptops and connected to one of the 20-plus phone lines. Tables with an assortment of information, including tips on adjusting to the altitude, an aerial map of Eagle and various rules, lay stacked in neat piles in front of local volunteers.

“CenturyTel has hooked up 115 phone lines in the last few days,” said Becky Gadell, assistant county administrator who has worked from the county end to try to keep things as organized as possible.

She estimated there were 400 media folks in town, from cameramen to producers and writers. People working security estimated there were a total of 1,000 people milling about, media included. Though it was a small space for so many people, the crowd was energetic but behaved.

Gadell appeared unfazed by the various people who came in search of information or favors.

“I’ve seen public hearings much bigger than this,” she said.

Mexico City correspondents were spotted catching a quick lunch at Mi Pueblo, and Tokyo press and the BBC rolled in mid-afternoon. Z Deli set up shop, dishing out sandwiches and baked goods, across the driveway. But they had to compete with free samples from various restaurants, including Cambria Coffee Company’s bag lunches and Marko’s pizza slices.

Olivia Keegan, 8, and her brother, Tyler, 10, roved through media central with cold Evian, Creamsicles, popsicles and Fudgsicles. The duo raked in $65 after expenses Tuesday, and $24 Wednesday.

“Most of the people seemed busier today and didn’t have time to eat,” said their mom, Sara.

But they had time to touch up their makeup. The public might not have turned out in large numbers, but they’ll likely tune into the news. Judging from the amount of media represented, there won’t be much else on.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.

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