“What’s the longest lens you have?” said John Ohara, a San Francisco Chronicle photographer.
“I think I have a 180(millimeter lens)”
“Can I use it for a minute?”
We were at the window of the pressroom on the 20th floor of the San Francisco federal building waiting to shoot a press conference with Sonny Barger, the president of the Hell’s Angels. Barger had been brought up on federal charges of racketeering, but acquitted by a jury that afternoon.
The federal building pressroom is a large corner office facing north and west, with windows all around, the view of San Francisco is spectacular on a clear day. From there you can see all the way to Marin County, and out to the Farralon Islands.
I gave John the lens, assuming he was going to shoot a picture of the view, but he pointed his camera out the window and almost straight down. “There are some naked people on a rooftop across the street, and I think they’re going to have sex”.
Huh? It was the middle of the afternoon, and they were on the roof of a three or four story building; they had to know that people could see them. John shot a few frames out the window and said, “I’m going down to my car to get a longer lens. This is too good” and handed my lens back. I put the lens on my camera and took a look out the window. Yep, naked people, and yep, they are doing it. I shot a few frames of my own.
This caught the attention of another photographer, Sammy Houston from the Associated Press. Sammy was in his late fifties and still frail from throat cancer he had a few years earlier. He spoke through an electronic thing he held up to his larynx. In a flat, robot-like voice he asked, “What’s going on?”
“People on the roof across the street having sex”, I said. He quickly pulled out his camera and the longest lens he had with him.
The couple on the roof were not people having just basic missionary position sex. These two were experts. They changed positions every few minutes and were doing things that would make a porn star blush. As a new position would manifest itself, both of our cameras would go off, almost spontaneously.
All of this picture taking caught the attention of one of the TV cameramen who was setting up for the press conference on the other side of the room. When he saw what was going on, he brought his camera over to the window. There were now three of us, watching and taking pictures.
Ohara got back from his car in record time still huffing and puffing, which is weird, since there are no stairs to climb to get to the pressroom. John took his place at the window with a much longer telephoto lens.
As more TV cameramen showed up, they too would go to the window. There were now at least eight photographers capturing every movement.
The only sound in the room was the distinctive sound of Nikon f2 motor drives, and the occasional comment.
“Hmmmm, nice one”
“Which one is on top now?”
“That looks uncomfortable”
“Think she’s double jointed?”
There were a few more, but not as printable.
The couple changed positions and a TV cameraman said, “Is that his HEEL?” Sammy Houston came back immediately through his electronic voice box, “YEAH, THEY LOVE THAT!”
Someone behind us said, “Is that couple screwing?” (he used a different word). A TV reporter turned around to tell the latecomer what was happening, but stopped. Sonny Barger, his wife and his lawyers were all standing behind us wondering what was going on. The other side of the room, set up with chairs and a table for the press conference, was completely empty. Sonny elbowed his way through the crowd to the window, as we all slinked away to our posts. He watched for a while until one of his lawyers suggested that he come over to the press conference.
During the press conference, Barger said the case should never have gone to court on such flimsy evidence. When he was asked why the government did pursue his case, he answered, “They were trying to do to me what that guy out the window was doing with that woman”