“...Stewart Pittman is standing by live in Carolina Beach and joins us now, Stewart?”
I opened my mouth and began talking, but didn’t really listen to what I had to say. I’ve found that, for me, there’s no quicker way to mangle a live shot than to over-prepare or concentrate too hard. Back when I first began going live in the early nineties, I’d make the rookie’s mistake of writing out a script, only to fumble on a word, lose my place and somewhere in the process forget to breathe. This rarely made for a good performance and as a result, I have nothing but painful memories of my earliest attempts at live reporting. But time heals all wounds they say - even botched TV remotes. By the time the proverbial red light came on last Thursday morning, I tackled the assignment with nary a nerve on display. As I scrunched my toes in the sand and talked to Wes Barrett’s camera some two hundred feet away, my only real regret was that I’d rushed out of the hotel room without visiting the Little Photog’s Room. As a result, it was all I could do to stand and deliver the news without dashing offscreen to go desecrate the nearest sand dune.
Instead, I stayed on my mark and filed live updates for my own station, as well as Fox affiliates in Orlando and D.C. There really wasn’t too much to tell: Ophelia had taken her sweet time moseying through town the day before, toppling signs, ripping up shingles and flooding streets. But as anyone with functional vision could tell, that had all changed. With the sun poking through the clouds, a light breeze rippling off the ocean and seagulls swooping down on crustaceans, the day after Ophelia had all the markings of a beautiful day at the beach following a bad storm - which is exactly what it was. I’m not sure if it’s solely a matter of comparison, but the immediate daylight hours following a hurricane are some of the most tranquil displays of dazzling nature you’ll find on this heartless orb. Too bad you’re usually ready to pass out from sleep deprivation by the time it arrives. This time though, I was pretty well rested. Having made a beeline for the hotel as soon as I got my orders the evening before, I endured an ice cold shower in a pitch black bathroom before crawling on top of the covers for a fitful night of feigned rest in a humid room. By hurricane coverage standards, I was livin’ large!
Which is why I tried not to complain as I loitered on the boardwalk between live shots. Further up the coast, Eric White and Brad Ingram manned a similar post at Atlantic Beach, not far from where Ophelia had made a fine mess of my childhood vacation spot of Salter Path. I didn’t envy them, for while this latest hurricane was less than cataclysmic, covering the aftermath of even a Class 1 was work indeed. I’d much rather work the front end of a storm; as setting up electronic camp and screaming ’Here it comes’ is far less drudgery than churning out round-the-clock coverage of a community’s broken dreams. Been there, thank you very much - got the t-shirt, only to realize it smelled like feet thanks to being balled up in the corner of a sweatbox hotel room for three days.
No, I fared pretty well in the storm this time, I realized as I watched the sun‘s ray appear for the first time in days. Waiting for the voices in my head to prod me, I watched stalwart locals poke their heads outside, pick up shingles and carve one more defiant notch on their hurricane belts. That goes for me too, though I’m not quite as brazen as those crusty fishermen smoking discount menthols at the local store. I’m just a TV geek, one who loves nothing more than to suddenly race Eastward only to complain once I got there. I did plenty of that this time, though there in retrospect, there wasn’t THAT much to bitch about this time. Chances are, I’d once again toss my packed bags on the bosses’ desk the next time a marquee wind came our way. Until then, I’d man the sand at Carolina beach, tell the good people of the Piedmont what little I knew of Ophelia’s visit, before repeating the same message for Orlando, Atlanta and whatever other Fox affiliate that was jonesing for a satellite hit. I just hoped the Broadcast Gods would soon cut me a bathroom break, before I lost all control of my innards and made ‘The Daily Show’.