The Best Worst TV in Texas

THE AMBULANCE ATTENDANTS HAD ALREADY disappeared inside the dismal little bungalow. Ed Bragg, camera in hand, pursued them up a short flight of stairs to the front porch; at the same time a cop scurried out of the house and down the stairs. “It’s a family matter,” the cop said without breaking stride. “If they don’t want me, I don’t want them.” Evidently, an argument between brothers had ended when they went after each other with knives. It was 11 o’clock at night.

On the porch, not far from the doorway, one brother stood holding a crumpled newspaper against his slashed forearm. Ed rushed past him and through the doorway, but pulled up just inside. The second brother was already on the stretcher. He had been stabbed in the neck and the shock of the wound had driven him to frenzy. He screamed curses and flailed his arms as the attendants tried to strap him to the stretcher. Ed Bragg started filming the scene. The two arc lights attached to his camera covered everything with brilliantly white, brutal light.

Around the edges of the tiny room stood an old man in brown khaki shirt and pants, an old woman with a black scarf around her head, several small children wearing once-white underwear and looking unperturbed. In one corner sprawled a pile of dirty clothes. Toys—yellow plastic ducks on wheels, a pink doll with one arm—lay about the room. Newspapers tacked across the windows made curtains; wadded sheets and mattress ticking made beds. A ragged couch dripped stuffing on the floor.

It was the kind of situation where ten years of filming television news in San Antonio had taught Ed to be wary. There were two other newsmen covering the story by now—a film man with another TV station and a reporter from The Express-News—and that was better than being alone. But the cop was gone, and taking film inside some strangers’ house where blood has just been spilled is a risky business. The air seemed heavy, charged with violence. When he had arrived at the house, Ed had noticed small groups of neighborhood people, attracted by the commotion, standing in front of the bungalow.

Filming constantly, Ed and the other reporters backed onto the porch to let the stretcher by. The wounded man, screaming still, tried to lift himself off the stretcher when he saw his brother standing by the door. Ed’s camera followed the stretcher down the stairs and toward the ambulance. The on-lookers outside parted to let them pass. The man with the wounded arm jumped into the front seat of the ambulance as if he were entering a cab. But the man on the stretcher kept jerking his head back and forth, wailing constantly. He was still screaming as the ambulance pulled away.

Ed walked, not quickly but surely, to his car parked a few yards down the street. He started the engine. The reporter from The Expess-News was in his own car ready to go, but the other television film man was having some trouble with his camera. He had opened the car’s door and now stood in the glow from the courtesy light. The people in front of the house watched the three cars. The old man in khaki burst out of the house, moving faster than Ed would have thought possible for him, and took off in a battered pickup. Several of the lingering groups came together in a loose huddle. Arms gestured in the dark toward the house and toward the waiting newsmen.

“Dammit, hurry up,” Ed murmured. The other television reporter was inside his car now. When it finally started moving, Ed and the man from The Express-News started driving away, too. A long-legged boy split off from the huddle and threw something at the cars. It missed.

Safe now, Ed was content that the tenseness had been in the air. Sometimes the film captured those undertones and made the story stand out when it was broadcast on the news.

Ed Bragg had filmed hundreds of similar scenes. He first came to San Antonio from Birmingham, Alabama, during a stint in the Army. While stationed at Fort Sam, he started substituting for a sergeant who worked the same job on weekends for Channel 12. Ed returned to Birmingham for two weeks after his hitch was up, then came back to San Antonio and has had this job ever since. Nice-Iooking, likeable, reserved, just now past 30, he has been married but presently lives alone in a duplex, whose front room is dominated by a regulation pool table he recently bought on time. In the ten years he’s been a newsman, he’s won nine Sigma Delta Chi awards for his work.

But the special skills that won him those awards might not be in such demand outside San Antonio. Television news in San Antonio is uniquely idiosyncratic, like the city itself. Of all the cities in Texas it is the most Latin (being far more important in Mexican history than El Paso), the least Southern, the least ostentatious, and except for two large breweries, several military bases, and one small cigar factory, the city with the least visible means of support. After Latins, the most important ethnic group among early settlers were diligent Germans, which explains why a city with a street named Dolorosa also has a street named Savings.

Nothing there is new; everything is old or used or forgotten or yellowed, as if all has conspired not to make the Alamo look outdated. Illogic abounds. Among the streets circling the central business district very few run parallel to one another and very few are perpendicular. Drivers on a one way street are occasionally confronted across a stoplight with drivers on that same street coming one way in the opposite direction. Then all are forced to turn down streets running at odd angles to the directions they wanted to continue. Along these streets are the Pulse Ambulance Service, the Liberal Loan Company, the Nix Alignment Service, the Hardy Nursing Home, and

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