A pox on me for dropping off like that, but I’ve been a little busy. A certain homicidal cyclone has blasted my glass and zapped my synapses for the better part of five days. It roared ashore South of Cape Lookout - low, slow and overexposed. I was quite nearby at the time, passed out in a sand-infested bed on the fifth floor of the Atlantic Beach Sheraton. I sleep deeply. Thus I heard nothing when the tempest struck: the blithering wind, the airborne lumber, the off-kilter car alarms tripped by the passing killer. Can you blame me? I was two days into a bender of Gatorade, Granola and gear. That’s what it takes to create the flavor of these truly signature whirlwinds. Television News didn’t ordain the hurricane. It did, however, pay for The Reception - until the soaking wet storm reporter was as big a cliche as the best man giving drunken shout-outs over the banquet hall P.A.; But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.
We were almost to the coast when dirty weather set in. Sloppy raindrops came in at every angle, slathering our two vehicle convoy in pre-Irene precipitation. It only lasted for a few minutes, but it was enough to put reporter Sheeka Strickland, photojournalist Chris Weaver and yours truly in a storm chasing mood. Good thing, as that was our chosen mission. Actually, it was more like storm-waiting. With Hurricane Irene slowly barreling toward us, all we had to do was set up our TV trucks at the ocean’s edge and wait for conditions to get Biblical. Okay, so we needed to do more than wait. The desk expected a torrent of storm reports from the coast, starting with the very next newscast. That was just a few hours away, which is why Weave and I pulled over at the first shot-worthy thing we saw: the sunset. Tropical systems have a way of bringing out the best (and worst) in the horizon and we openly indulged in dusk before pushing on to the hotel.
The hotel: an aged Sheraton devoid of any tourists but far from empty. One look at the parking lot told us that. Satellite trucks littered the parking lot, the local ones wrapped in color-coordinated promises, the ones from the network bland and clandestine. Everywhere you looked, swarthy men and pretty women roamed from between vehicles, dragging cable, setting up cameras, shooting each other friendly birds. It’s the very milieu I came to bathe in, an ad-hoc gathering of journeymen and the occasional ingenue. Though I knew many of them, there wasn’t much time to socialize. There’d be plenty of that later. For now we had to establish our signal, plant Sheeka at ocean’s edge and send her image to a million plus living rooms. So we strung our fiber-optic cable from the truck to the battered pier that would serve as our stage. By ten o clock we were firmly ensconced and the first of our breathless reports began. By the time the first live shot was finished, we all felt a little better but our satisfaction was tempered by the fact that many, many more would follow beginning at five o clock the very next morning.
So we crawled up into our respective rooms and enjoyed the last bit of air-conditioning we’d feel in several days...