My (not so secret) life as a weekend rock star

By Patricia Nilsen (with Kiki Kim)

Patricia Nilsen

As a lifelong fan of Mötley Crüe, the glam-metal band that became famous in the 1980s, my dream as a child was to someday meet the band. In the mid-2000s, an inspirational Mötley Crüe reunion show at Madison Square Garden in NYC gave me this wacky idea to start an all-girl Mötley Crüe tribute band. The fact that I played zero instruments seemed just a minor detail at the time. A friend of mine — blonde, like the Crüe’s lead singer — loved the idea and said she could sing. I thought: “Done, here we go!” And Girls Girls Girls was born. I asked my husband for a bass guitar for my 31st birthday, and he obliged with a shiny pink bass and the words he would probably one day come to regret: “You better actually play that thing.”

I was working as a full-time federal official in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan — a pretty busy gig, if you’re not familiar with it. Lacking the time for lessons to start with the fundamentals, I essentially learned online. I also couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use a pick — my fingers had always been fast on the machine, so I went with what I knew.

I had been noodling at home for a few months when I saw an ad for a ladies’ rock camp, which seemed like a good place to meet my future bandmates. Most importantly, I needed a guitarist that could really shred. Sadly, the guitarists at camp were more Jewel than Lita Ford. I did, however, meet a wannabe drummer who did finance by day and just came for fun: Kiki Kim. She and her friend invited me to ditch camp at lunch to get a beer – rock ’n’ roll already! Over drinks, I told her my idea, which she probably laughed off as a “Sure, I’ll join your (finger quotes) band.” We exchanged business cards, and that was likely the last she thought she’d ever hear from me.

To find the last piece of the puzzle, my graphic-artist husband photoshopped our faces over an iconic photo of Mötley Crüe with a blank over guitarist Mick Mars’ face and the words “YOUR FACE HERE.”I used the picture in an ad containing the same language Mars used for his own ad in search of the band that would eventually become Mötley Crüe: Seeking “loud, rude, and aggressive [fe-male] guitarist.” Months went by with no reply, and I was ready to hang it up when I finally got the call. Denise “D” Mercedes, who had played in a famous influential punk band called The Stimulators in the 1980s, hadn’t played in 20 years but loved our ad so much that she said: “I just gotta see who these chicks are!”
We were now a full band, and it was time to play. In contrast with my sweet and innocent idea of practicing in my city apartment, D, our lone professional musician, knew how to find rented rehearsal-studio space. And, boy, could she shred. My friend couldn’t sing over the loud guitar and was gone by morning. My finance-professional beginner drummer took one look/listen at D and wanted to follow suit. Fortunately, my powers of persuasion were as strong as my will to start this band, and I convinced her to stay at least temporarily (spoiler alert: she stayed for good). And now we were on the hunt for a new singer. The three of us continued rehearsing for months until we found one.

Our first gig was at a club in Jersey, where we played the owner’s birthday party. We hired a party bus to shuttle our friends from New York City for the show, and it was an incredible time! Little did I know that what seemed like the culmination of a dream was only just the beginning. Over the next two years, we played almost 50 shows. I spent two to three weekends a month in a van, visiting new cities, making new friends, and rocking my heart out.

I was living three distinct lives: Patricia, band manager and court reporter; Patty, wife, New Yorker; and Nikita Seis, Goddess of Bass. My life as a court reporter wasn’t much different except that I took more Fridays off and spent Monday watching the black nail polish slowly chip from my nails, in a daze, with a smile on my face and bags under my eyes. We had enough adventures to fill a book. Our rise was fast, as was our fall. The potent mix of four women with strong and distinct personalities led to a dramatic breakup.

During our time off, one member moved on to form a different band, and I had my first child. During maternity leave, I created a photo book of our time together as a band that made us nostalgic and drew us back together, supposedly with new insight into what went wrong and how to change it. Three years after our breakup, a reunion show was in the works, and I was newly pregnant with baby number two. Four months later, I squeezed into my stage clothes (with much lower heels!), and we packed Brooklyn Bowl with a crowd as eager for our return as we were. Everyone was flying high, so I found a replacement bassist and continued just managing the band from home. Now that I had more time, I was able to take the management role more seriously and brought us to new markets, better money, the cover of The Village Voice, and our first international tour in Mexico.
But two years later, the wheels fell off again, and the band broke up for all the same reasons and more. In total, we played exactly 100 shows in 16 states before I moved to Nashville, when I thought that chapter had finally ended. In December 2018, I was a freelance reporter who hadn’t played in three years. Thanks to maintaining our presence on social media, we had continued to receive inquiries from random clubs and people who wanted us to play their brother’s barbeque for chump change. But then I got the email: Netflix wanted us to play a private party in Hollywood for the premiere of the upcoming biopic about Mötley Crüe, The Dirt. It was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off onus. Phone calls were made, singers auditioned, and the bass was officially out of the case. We landed the gig with about seven weeks to get our act together!

The film producers chose four songs and would decide if the crowd liked us enough for an encore — no pressure! Before the show, we were thrilled to hear that Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil and drummer Tommy Lee were in the house. We hit the stage in front of a capacity crowd at the world-famous Whisky A Go Go and ripped into our namesake song, “Girls Girls Girls.” The energy was electric; it felt amazing. During our fourth song, “Kickstart My Heart,” Tommy Lee and the actor who played him in the movie came dancing down the stairs and made their way to the stage, leading to the cue to play our encore, “Live Wire.”

Watching the drummer who made this music famous air-drumming to my band was a moment I will never forget. After the show, Tommy told us our set was “dope,” and we all went home smiling from ear to ear. I share this story because it all began as a crazy idea I had. The most I imagined was playing a gig for our friends at a real New York City venue. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would create something bigger than myself, and that 13 years later, it would still be going. As court reporters, we tend to think that our job is our life and that we don’t have time for anything else. But one of the greatest benefits of this career is the flexibility, and we can do what we choose in our off-time. Choose big. Dream big. And don’t be surprised when your dreams come true.

Patricia Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter with Alpha Reporting in Nashville, Tenn. She can be reached atpatricianilsen@alphareporting.com. For more on Girls Girls Girls, check out the band at www.girlsgirlsgirlsnyc.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/girlsgirlsgirlsnyc. Girls Girls Girls drummer Kiki Kim helped with this story.

New Professional Spotlight: Amy Yarbrough

Amy Yarbrough

Amy Yarbrough is a CART captioner and freelance reporter in Neptune Beach, Fla.  She serves on several committees and the board of directors of the Florida Court Reporters Association.  In her spare time, she enjoys biking and running on her local beaches.

JCR | What was the hardest part of transitioning from school to the real world?

AY | Entering a very competitive job market.  Northeast Florida is full of talented reporters.

JCR | What do you know now that you wish you’d known when first starting out?

AY | Practicing to dictation is not just for students!  Short, clean writing will be a lifelong pursuit and should always be the cornerstone of your focus as you grow professionally.

JCR | What’s the most exciting experience you have had working in the profession?

AY | During the 2016 presidential race, I was asked to provide CART during a campaign rally President Obama was headlining.  The energy in the room was electric.

JCR | What was the best piece of advice you’ve received from another court reporter?

AY | Always be prepared.  Perform regular maintenance of your steno bag to make sure you have plenty of pens, paper clips, and exhibit stickers. And never, ever arrive late!

JCR | How has involvement with state and national reporting associations benefited you so far?

AY | My state association has given me friendships to last a lifetime.  The support and camaraderie of our colleagues is very special and something to be cherished. Having seasoned reporters to lean on for advice and encouragement has inspired me to always do my best, and I believe we bring out the best in one another.

NCRA member promotes court reporting in news story

On June 4, KDKA Channel 2 in Pittsburgh, Pa., aired a story featuring NCRA member Mary Beth Johnson, CRI, court reporting program coordinator for the Community College of Allegheny County, about what it takes to be a court reporter.

Watch here.

NCRA member wins spot in 2019 National Small Business Week contest

Balboa Capital, a leading lender that specializes in small business loans and equipment leasing, announced in a press release issued June 6 that NCRA member Diane Emery, CMRS, founder of Executive Reporting Service, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla., was awarded $500 as a runner-up winner in its 2019 National Small Business Week contest.

Read more.

Aunt Jill’s hot fudge sauce

Recipe from Lynette Mueller

Aunt Jill's hot fudge sauce
Aunt Jill’s hot fudge sauce

Viola Lundberg Stafford remembered

Viola Lundberg Stafford passed away May 23, 2019, at the Medical Center of Aurora, Colo. 

Stafford was an active member of both NCRA and Colorado Shorthand Reporters Association (CSRA) for many years. Her membership at NCRA began in November 1969, and she was a member for at least 30 consecutive years before retiring from practicing as a verbatim stenographic reporter. She then became a Lifetime Retired Member. Her tenure at NCRA included earning the Certificate of Merit, the symbol of a court reporter who took her craft seriously and proudly. Her service at CSRA as treasurer and chief examiner spoke volumes of her dedication to the profession – she was involved, passionate, and committed.

Shining a light on NCRA members

Isaiah Roberts, RPR

There’s no doubt about it: NCRA members take on some exciting, fascinating, and downright inspiring work. At the beginning of June, NCRA launched a new Web page as part of NCRA.org and our NCRA 2.0 effort to capture some of these stories highlighting our members. Recent additions to the site include Isaiah Roberts, RPR, and Stan Sakai, CRC, and their work captioning Coachella; Lisa Migliore Black’s experience with a Project Innocence death row case; and the fun of being court reporters on film from Helga Lavan, RPR, and Kate Cochran, RPR.

The purpose of the page is to shine a light on all NCRA members – court reporters, captioners, legal videographers, scopists, proofreaders, teachers, and everyone else – who have an inspiring story to share with other members. Too often, people in this profession are noticed only when there is a mistake, and the high standards you hold yourselves to may some days feel self-defeating. Let these stories remind you of the many great opportunities these professions offer. Whenever you need a reminder of all the cool things that you can do with your skill set, please take a look.

And if you happen to have a story about a great experience of your own, please share it with us at pr@ncra.org.  The great stories you offer about your work can be help more people understand how exciting and important your work is. NCRA will consider all submissions for one of NCRA’s publications or possible use on a promotion website maintained by NCRA.  

Sharing steno in Taiwan

By Logan Kislingbury

Logan Kislingbury

In late May, I had the pleasure of introducing stenography to a class of freshmen students of sociology at Fu Jen University in Taiwan. I was vacationing there when a good friend of mine, who is a professor at the university, invited me to teach one of her classes about stenography and my life as a court reporting student.

The students had never heard of stenography or seen a steno machine before, and the curiosity on their faces was showing. I started out by explaining why we use steno machines, which is to capture the spoken word and accurately transcribe it. To do this at high speeds, writing one letter at a time, such as on a QWERTY keyboard, wouldn’t be possible.

I opened my CAT software and overlaid my live stroke monitor on the screen. This is a Lightspeed feature that shows a live view of your keys, which change color when pressed. I showed how the keyboard had multiples of certain letters such as S, D, and R, and lacked other letters, like Q or M. I explained how we use multiple keys to write letters that the machine is missing.

Then, I wrote some basic sentences, and the students were enthused by how entire words could come up instantly. I then showed them phrases such as at that time, do you remember, and would you agree. They now understood how we can keep up with speakers by writing entire words and phrases instantly.

Next, I wanted to show off the upper limits of briefing and phrasing. I showed them the popular phrase “ladies and gentlemen of the jury” in one stroke. For the coup de grâce, I asked who knew the longest English word. To my surprise, one girl actually knew it and pronounced it well. I asked the class to guess how long it would take me to write this word. After seeing my previous demonstrations, they knew it would be fast. Some guessed 5, 10, 15 seconds. I quickly stroked my way of writing pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, which is NAOUM/NAOUM. In less than half a second, the longest English word popped up on the screen to the amusement of the students.

Lastly, I wanted to show the students how we aren’t limited to only writing words we know. My Chinese skills are very limited, but I asked for a volunteer to slowly speak Chinese to me for about 15 seconds. I sounded out what I heard as best as I could and read back from my steno notes. Apart from the tones, I read back nearly exactly what the student had said. I understood less than half of it, but apparently I did well because the class burst into a surprised applause.

After I was finished, students came up to look at the machine and ask some questions about steno. I couldn’t believe how interested they were! It was such a wonderful experience to show them, and maybe they’ll be able to work with steno in the future. 

Logan Kislingbury is a court reporting student attending the Mark Kislingbury Academy of Court Reporting in Houston, Texas. He can be reached at logankislingbury@gmail.com.

2019 class of Fellows of the Academy of Professional Reporters announced

NCRA has announced the 2019 class of Fellows of the Academy of Professional Reporters. The recipients will be recognized during an Awards Luncheon at the 2019 NCRA Convention & Expo in Denver, Colo., being held Aug. 15-18.

The 2019 class of Fellows are:

Susan M. Horak, RDR, CRR, an official court reporter from Columbus, Ohio, and Marjorie Peters, RMR, CRR, a freelance court reporter and firm owner from Pittsburgh, Pa.

Horak began her career in 1976 and worked as an official court reporter for the Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus Ohio, from 1983 to 2017. As a member of the Ohio Court Reporters Association (OCRA), she contributed numerous articles to the membership publication, The Buckeye Record, and worked on key legislative issues, including modernizing the language in Ohio’s Revised and Administrative Codes regarding court reporters. Horak also held several positions at OCRA, including serving as District C Representative (2006-2008), Secretary-Treasurer (2008-2010), and President (2010-2011). She joined NCRA in 1976, serving for many years as a Chief Examiner for NCRA testing in central Ohio. Horak currently serves on NCRA’s Skills Writing Test Committee and the Proofreading Advisory Council.

Marjorie Peters

Peters and her firm cover complex realtime and various types of litigation, large and small. Beginning in 1999, she joined the Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association’s (PCRA) Board of Directors as a district representative and has served on numerous committees. She also has been a continuous supporter of the Community College of Allegheny County Court Reporting program. Peters has been a member of NCRA since 1991 and has served on several of the Association’s committees. She currently serves on the Education Content Committee.

Membership in the Academy symbolizes excellence among NCRA members. The designation of FAPR represents an individual’s dedication to the court reporting and captioning professions and expresses the highest level of professional ethics.

To be nominated for membership in the Academy, candidates must be a Registered Member of NCRA with at least 10 years of professional experience and have attained distinction as measured by performance in at least three of the five performance categories. This performance could include publication of important papers, creative contributions, service on committees or boards, teaching, and more.

Careers in court reporting: From Grandma’s diner to Rick Springfield

Aaron, Adam, and Kenneth Alweis

By Heidi Renner

Brothers Adam and Aaron Alweis recently each reached career milestones. They were both named the chief reporter for their respective courts in the New York State Unified Court System this year. Aaron, RPR, CRR, CRC, is chief in the 6th District and Adam, RPR, in the 5th District, but their careers as court reporters started well before 2019.

Their father, Edward, was a court reporter who retired in 1989, and they also had two uncles and an aunt who worked in the profession. It can all be traced back to their grandmother who owned a diner in Miami Beach in the 1940s. One day a court reporter came in, sat down, and ended up telling her all about his job. She decided it sounded like a great opportunity and told her children that’s what they should do. Their father had just started in court reporting when he went in the Army and worked in the Judge Advocate General Corps. They say it probably saved him from going overseas to Korea.

“We grew up in the profession,” Adam said. “We had some involvement most of our lives. It sort of just happened that way.”

Aaron said their father thought it was very important for them to have a marketable skill. They also say credit must go to the tremendous support their mother, Mary, has given to their father and how encouraging and supportive she has always been to her three boys.

“I was typing transcripts for my father since I was 12 years old,” Aaron said.

“I got out of school and within 12 hours, I was doing my first deposition,” Adam said.

At one time the family owned a freelance reporting agency and all three brothers worked for it. The third brother, Ken, is now a lawyer and partner in the firm of Goldberg Segalla.

Both brothers remember their father saying: “Thank God I found this profession; otherwise, I don’t know what I’d end up doing.”

Aaron went to graduate school for business, which he said has worked very well with being a court reporter. He was looking for a marketing position after college but didn’t find one, so he went back to court reporting and has stayed there.

Both Adam and Aaron started official court reporter positions and have been working in the courts for years.

They talk to each other often about their jobs.

“We bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Adam said.

Aaron has taught his children to scope, but he said none of them have wanted to start a career in court reporting. They both say they are in a profession where you are never bored.

“You’ll never find another profession where you are continually challenged by the material in front of you,” Adam said.

“It’s fascinating, it’s better than TV, it’s a front-row seat to history,” Aaron said. It’s a tremendous field. You can come into the field from any background. Whatever you bring into it adds to your knowledge base.”

Aaron said he remembers the first time he offered realtime in 1992 in a case involving a defendant who was deaf. Back then, offering realtime involved carrying a 50-pound computer into the courtroom. They also set up a viewing area for people from the community who were deaf and wanted to watch the proceedings.

“The advantages today are just tremendous,” Aaron said. “I recently did a CART assignment (outside court) where I sat with a hearing-impaired person at a conference. They were so appreciative to have access to what was going on. It’s because of the court reporting profession that people can do this. You make a difference in people’s lives.” Aaron also said he has been “incredibly fortunate to have the support and love and understanding from my wife, Miriam, through all of the very long hours involved in being a court reporter.”

“The advantages are far more than when we started,” Adam said. “We didn’t have realtime or captioning. Now with the technology, there is so much people can do with us. We are dying to have new blood come into the profession. This is a great field to get into; people should really think about it.”

While every day brings something new in their careers, both brothers have some cases that stick in their minds more than others.

Aaron remembers a case involving the death of the former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin and through that meeting some very interesting people.

Adam Alweis taking the testimony of Rick Springfield

Adam remembers an unusual case involving singer Rick Springfield being sued.

Adam said when Springfield got up to testify, he was fascinated at what Adam was doing and asked how he did it. Adam told Springfield it was like writing music, and the keys are like putting notes together.

“If it helps, you can think of me as the rock-and-roll court reporter,” Adam told him.