Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Irene Diaries: Friday Night Lights

Windy PierBy nine o clock, the mood at Molly’s had changed. Gone were the drunken swimmers and sober-eyed cops. Missing too were more than a few camera crews. With Hurricane Irene churning just off shore, more than one affiliate had ordered its people off the island. Those crews moved quickly: no one really wanted to drive their satellite truck over that bridge after dark. Not with the wind howling like God himself had a hemorrhoid. It’s just one of the many reasons Weaver, Sheeka and I had decided to stay put. Irene would strike overnight. We wanted to be here when it did. So we hounded the hotel lady for the safest place to park. Other stations did the same and soon all the TV trucks clung to the old Sheraton like frightened pups huddling under their mother during a storm. Inside Live 3, Weaver and Sheeka worked on a story for the next newscast while the top-heavy truck rocked back and forth on its tires. I, meanwhile, unfurled fiber-optic cable across a parking lot turned tidal pool. At least that’s what I think I was doing. Truth is, my glasses were so fogged up and my rain-suit so twisted I wasn’t sure if I was setting up a live shot or doing the underwater lambada. All I know is that it was raining up my nose and not just because I was bent at the waist wrestling . Up ahead, a couple of strong spotlights lit up my next destination. Molly’s, the beachside bar and grill whose covered patio had become the media’s situation room. Minus Wolf Blitzer, of course.

Beach WatchNo, I’m not sure who was the guy outside the CNN truck. Blame it on the rain. Once Irene started spitting ocean water at us, everyone pulled on their plastic. Soon even the glossiest of correspondents got lost in a sea of rain-suited strangers. (Except one. NBC’s Kerry Sanders rocked a giant NBC peacock on the back of his bright yellow coat. It was awesome and I told him so a day later outside a port-a-potty. No law was called.) I pulled my own hood tight and followed a particular strand of the thick black cables running toward the shore. Most of it ran under water at some point and as I shook water off the end of an extension cord before jamming it into a sandy receptacle, I found myself wondering what they talked about in all those middle school science classes I slept through.’ No bother’ I thought as I splashed across the parking lot. I’d swapped my flip-flops for a pair of rubber fishing boots and at the moment my toes were the only body part not wet. Once under Molly’s roof, I fought the urge to shake off like a dog. Had I done so, I would no doubt have incurred the wrath of a Fox News Channel photog and for a slender blonde woman, she looked like she could rip your lips off. Nearby, a local crew took turns taking pictures of each others, their wisecracks and nervous squeals punctuating the wailing wind. It may have been a slow night at Molly’s, but the atmosphere was electric and as I stood there dripping in it, a weary grin appeared beneath my visor.

Duo RainWhole cooking shows could be built around the taste of a hurricane. I like it best off the rocks, wedged into the stairwell of some concrete hotel with a protected doorway from which to point my camera. That would come later, but for now I’d take advantage of the few minutes I had for before the newscast started and simply soak it all in. This would be easy to do, as I was wet from stem to stern. Back in the truck, Sheeka and Weaver were putting the finishing touches on the interviews we had shot earlier. It wax dry in there and more than a little fragrant, so I chose to stick it out at Molly’s for awhile. With my camera and cables now seeing eye to eye, there was nothing left to do but vedge, something I’m particularly gifted at. Besides, the rain was utterly hypnotizing me. Hurricane rain is like that: it comes down in  cockeyed curtains, whips upward when you least expect and preforms the kind of aerobatics people cough up good money to watch. With the high powered lights pointed toward the pier, the rain put on a performance worthy of a flashback, each buoyant orb its own Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I stood there for a long time, the cackle of the neighboring news crew falling away as I focused only on the falling water, the exploding surf, the tortured wail of the wind. You’d think a hurricane was coming…

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