With the ever popular wintry mix apparently on the way, I can‘t help but think of Snowgasms past…
ICY OVERPASS - Countless are the hours I’ve spent huddling outside a frozen Live truck and wishing for death. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but camping along some snowy embankment for hours on end can be pretty miserable. You try maintaining a positive attitude when your warm snug anchor team sips coffee in your earpiece as you spread chap-stick on a cracker and call it breakfast. The next time you see some talking-hairdo in a station parka blathering about ‘the white stuff’, think about the poor schlub fighting frostbite to keep all those gadgets running. Then call your local newsroom and demand they stop this insanity before someone gets hurt. Please.
THE LONGEST MARCH - One of the most surreal moments I ever experienced occurred in white-out conditions along I-40. A reporter and I were desperately trying to get to the village of Snow Camp to dig out all the clichés waiting for us, when the post-blizzard traffic came to a stand-still. After ten minutes of watching our deadline creep closer, I grabbed the camera and trudged out into the tundra. It was easy going at first, I plodded along briskly on the packed-down snow and grabbed shot after shot of the static line of cars and trucks reaching over the horizon. That’s when the flakes began to fall, fat ones at first followed by pelting sleet. By the time the reporter caught up with me a mile or so later, I sported the kind of frozen snot-cicles not seen since the Age of Exploration.
SLIP SLIDIN' AWAY - As a lifelong Carolinian (and reformed DownEaster), I don’t claim to be the King of Winter Driving. But seven years of Piedmont snowfalls have taught me a thing or two about turning into the skid. Be it an ice-encrusted surface street or a completely white winding country road, I’ve learned the hard way how to keep the rolling billboard between the ditches. My particular news wagon is a two wheel drive SUV with a high center of gravity. Driving it on ice is like pushing a high chair across a hockey rink. The Live Trucks aren’t much better, though their massive weight does help things a bit. My very worst encounter involved piloting one of these skiffs up an icy Highway 52 into the Virginia mountains. Going up was a lesson in low-gear grinding, coming back down was a crash-course in bowel control.
BOVINES ON ICE - Occasionally the snow-blind assignments aren’t so bad. A few years ago, I spent an incredibly scenic morning with a cattle farmer along the rolling pastures of Highway 62 in Randolph County. The farmer couldn’t figure out why I was there exactly. He just kept shaking his head as he drove his tractor out to check on his cows. I couldn’t really explain either, as the feeding of cattle in the snow holds no intrinsic news value. But that didn’t matter as I blew into my hands and squinted through the frostiest of viewfinder. Between the blowing snow, stoic farmer and hungry cattle the tiny black and white screen at the end of the eyecup looked like a Currier and Ives print come to life. We photogs endure months of ribbon-cuttings and ride-alongs to witness vistas like that.
NO-POWER TRIP - Of course the ice storm of a few years back wasn’t quite as pastoral. With my own wife and kids shivering by candlelight, I traversed the region in a quest for Those Without Power. They weren’t hard to find, especially when you learned what to look for. From tell-tale drop cords running under cracked garage doors to the familiar hum of store-bought generators, I mastered the art of spotting the powerless from behind the wheel of my precarious news chariot. Couple that with hunting down power crews on the run and you have the five day blur that was that particular blizzard. To this day, my seven year old gets antsy when the weather man predicts ice, for she will always remember sleeping by the fireplace and wondering why Daddy still has to go make TV.
HUNTING FROSTY - One day last year, when a flurry of phone calls boasting unique snowmen blew into the newsroom, I launched a hard target search for these elusive ice effigies. Too bad I only had ninety minutes before show-time to secure my bounty. Realizing I had to move fast to make my deadline, I carried an intern to terrorize along the way. After a couple of false starts, we hit pay dirt (pay -snow?), encountering snow families, snow dogs and even a conference of snow basketball players, complete with corresponding ACC team logo-wear. But my favorite snow figure was an eight foot ice sculpture of the Virgin Mary. Driving way too fast for the slippery conditions, I almost out the news unit in a ditch when I spotted the snow-white Madonna loitering in the rundown yard. When I grabbed my camera and started rolling, the half-dozen migrant workers responsible for the holy snow-woman poured out of a nearby house and eagerly nodded their approval. When one pointed to his watch with the universal gesture of ‘When will this be on?”, I proudly used all the pidgen Spanish I’d learned over all those college-age Coronas.
“Cinco”, I beamed, holding all five fingers up, “Cinco…o clock!”
So what wintry adventures await me this time? I won’t know until I hurl myself into the icy void about nine hours from now. Until then, I’ll be here in my toasty lair, looking for my station parka and wishing I sold stereos for a living.