Friday, September 09, 2005

Evacuee Watch: Still Waiting...

I was loitering atop a live truck the other morning when a colossal orange orb rose from the Eastern horizon and ruined my shot.

“Son of a --”, I muttered as I reached for the iris ring on the focal tube.

“What’s up?” Jeff glanced up from his notes, a look of concern on the edges of his telegenic brow.

“Sun’s killin’ us, man” I said, twisting the camera’s flip-screen so he could see his silhouette in color. “You look like the first alien coming off the ship in Close Encounters.”

Jeff glanced over his shoulder at the sun’s blinding rays eclipsing the runway behind him, then looked back at the feeble spotlight atop my wobbly stand.

“What can you do?”

“Not much”, I said, adjusting the blue gel wrapped around the bulb’s outer casing. “You can’t out-light God.”

Jeff’s forehead crinkled as the voice in his earpiece talked about a storm named Ophelia. “True dat,” he said under his breath, “True dat...”

And so went the most meaningful exchange between Varner and I yesterday, as we manned a lonely outpost on the outskirts of Piedmont International Airport. For four hours we paced around the corrugated metal deck of the brightly-painted van, keeping a vigilant eye on distant tarmac and broadcasting the monotony every thirty minutes. The first rumors of Hurricane Katrina refu -- evacuees headed to Greensboro had surfaced over the weekend. Since then a series of phone calls and subterfuge reminiscent of Deep Throat had plagued newsrooms across the Piedmont. ‘The evacuees are on the way…no flights are scheduled out of New Orleans until tomorrow…Expect at least 500, if any at all…THE PLANE IS IN THE AIR!

Soon, assignment editors across the region were popping antacids and scratching out flow charts as rumors, misinformation and innuendo reeked havoc on their daily planners. I’d successfully avoided any involvement in this scheduled chaos until a midnight caller informed me I had less than five hours to sleep.

“Rumor has it the refugee plane lands tomorrow at eight. We need you and Varner at the airport by six thirty.”

Thus, I spent a brisk morning stepping gingerly around the many TV gadgets I ‘d piled on top of our newest live truck as Jeff shook the last vestiges of a two week vacation. As predicted, there wasn’t much to report, but that didn’t stop us from breaking into the endless anchor banter for breathless updates on how nothing had changed at the airport. At one point, more than twenty Greensboro police cruisers filed into the lot, making us believe a planeload of desperate evacuees was surely making their final approach.

That ended twenty minutes later, when, after mustering in a huddle at the far end of the lot, the Gate City’s finest piled back in their Crown Vics, shot us a variety of dirty looks and sped off to fight crime elsewhere. So much for my well-honed journalistic instinct. In the end, we chewed up several minutes of air-time, killed at least two camera batteries and held a bracing discussion about the effect of strong coffee on morning constitutions. As we left, Jeff and I both agreed that we probably woouldn't be returning to this lonely stretch of asphalt.

Until the next frantic phone call, of course.


John DuMontelle said...

Hi Stewart,

Once again I find myself unable to start my day without a quick check of your blog and thoughts...after B-Roll Online of course

Great pics too!

You didn't mention food or bathroom breaks during your long airport wait. Have you tried ordering a pizza and having it delivered to the truck yet?

Keep up the great work buddy and I'll keep checking in.

alena said...

Cool Blog, I never really thought about it that way.

I have a Hurricane Katrina blog. It pretty much covers hurricane related stuff.

Thank you - and keep up the thoughts!