It took the motel alarm clock several beeps to convince me to open my eyes. When I did, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was. But the rumpled co-workers shaking off sleep in the lamplight along with the freaky howl of the wind triggered some inner synapses and it dawned on me I was finally inside Ophelia. Then a colleague clocked me with a pillow and someone snapped a towel, setting the tone for the rest of the day. The four guys I’d rendezvoused with the night before - seasoned professionals who took their craft very seriously, were like myself equally capable of Grand Larceny Grab-Ass. I wouldn’t have it any other way personally, but I don’t always get a say. This time though I felt lucky, as all the jokers assembling gear and cracking wise around me were most agreeable - even at this ungodly hour in the morning. With the first of Ophelia’s Class 1 winds lashing the balcony, Wes squeezed through a gap in the sliding glass door to power up the lights he’d bungee-corded to the railing the night before. When he did, the a curtain of horizontal raindrops lit up like a theatrical backdrop - which of course it was. When Danny opened the hallway door to head for the sat truck downstairs, a slicker-clad Chad Tucker entered the room rubbing sleep out of his eyes. Meanwhile I donned my own protective suit of shorts, shirt and sandals. Joe, not due to run the truck for several more hours, lay in bed and questioned everyone’s lineage. Sensing all was well with my colleagues, I jammed a soggy ball-cap on my bed-head and hit the stairwell.
The heavy metal door on the ground level almost broke my nose when I tried to push it open. It gave way at first before a sudden gust of saltwater and warm air slammed it back in my face. I cursed as the driving rain soaked one side of my face, pointed my chin to my chest and jogged across the dark, wind-scoured parking lot. As I did, Danny poked his hooded head out of the sat truck’s rear door, half eaten Pop Tart in one hand, the other wrapped around a cell phone. He shouted something, a smart remark probably, lost in the din of the approaching hurricane. I answered with a one-fingered salute as I ran past, before stopping in front of trusty unit four to fumble with the car keys. By the time I climbed behind the wheel, I was soaked from head to toe. Jamming the key into the ignition, I thought of how I used to dress for hurricanes: heavy boots, two piece raingear, hood pulled tight. Since then, I learned that trying to stay dry during sideways rain was as annoying as it was futile. So I embraced a certain minimalism, choosing a wardrobe much like that of any other beachgoer. It was all gonna cling to me like a second skin anyway I reasoned as I dropped the Ford Explorer into REVERSE and backed out of the spot. Besides, I thought as I pulled out onto the deserted, rain-choked streets.
Zipping up and down the streets of a deserted beach town while a Class 1 hurricane whips sheet metal and shingles across the hood of your two-door SUV is nothing less than intoxicating, affording one the type of buzz familiar to hardcore video-gamers. But since there were more than pixels flying through the air, I leaned into the steering wheel and tried to stay focused. Back on the third floor of the hotel, Chad manned his windblown balcony perch and talked into Wesley’s lens. As he went live (!) for our station back home and countless affiliates across the country, I squinted through a bleary windshield and looked for icons.
It didn’t take long to find them. Stop-lights wobbling in the wind, fountain-worthy water formations arcing off the corners of shuttered buildings, flashing traffic signals swaying on their wires like laundry snapping on the line: everywhere I looked I saw the images I needed, so I parked my news unit’s nose into the wind and with a just a tinge if hesitation, leaned into the door. Outside, stinging darts of rain peppered my face and legs as the screaming wind tried to rip the raincoat off my body. Under the tailgate, I found solace, as well as quite a bit of camera equipment. I grabbed my tripod, plopped it down in the fives inches of stormwater swirling around my feet and placed the Sony on top of it. With a flip of a switch, light erupted from the viewfinder, bathing the camera’s eyecup in a soft blue haze. Leaning in, I squinted through the lens, trying to decide which water droplets were on the front of the lens, which were pooling up in the eyecup, and which were streaming down my fogged-up glasses. I twisted the focal tube and dabbed the lens with a balled-up t-shirt. As I did, a loud metal screech rang out behind me, snapping my head in that direction.
Twenty feet ahead , a twelve foot section of gutter piping skittered across the pavement, driven by the winds toward my truck. Yelping out a curse, I hopped up into the back of the cargo bay as the razor-sharp piece of sheet metal passed a few yards by me. As it clattered out of sight, I sat there in the dark, knees to my chin, laughing nervously. I was wet, sleepy hungry - yet pumped - the exact conditions I’d dreaded as I crossed the bridge the evening before. Climbing back down to my camera, I popped off a few bleary shots of windblown streetlights and flash-flooded streets As the wind drove raindrops up my nose, I couldn’t help but think the same thing I did the first day of boot camp:
‘I volunteered for this?’