Friday, September 02, 2011

The Irene Diaries: Friday Afternoon

Storm ScrumWanna make those camera crews contract? Just add water. That's what happened at Atlantic Beach on Friday, as the outermost rain bands of Hurricane Irene began lashing at the shore. What had been a loose knit confederation of lights and lenses strewn across the Sheraton parking lot was now a clot of photogs and reporters huddling under the roof of the pier-side bar. Sure, it got a little crowded, but rubbing rain-suits with the competition beats still beats setting up a karaoke booth inside a car wash. That's kind of what it feels like to shoot video on the edges of an approaching hurricane. Though to be fair, I've never set up a karaoke booth, in or outside of a car wash.

Too Many CrewsWhat I have done is point a TV camera at everything under the cloud cover and for my lack of money, few things are as satisfactory to target as a fishing pier under duress. Yes, what had been our stage just hours earlier was now safe to use only as a backdrop. And what a backdrop! Every time one of those ten feet seas crashed into it, the old pier groaned, swayed and threatened to collapse into the surf. This of course made for a fabulous measuring stick and Sheeka and I spent the better part of both newscasts expecting it to crumble and fall. But even if that waterlogged wooden walkway exploded into a million splintery pieces, not all the camera crews present would have caught it.

TwittertogNot with all those angry birds flying about. Throw in some words with friends and you got a couple of reasons why grizzled journalists in head-to-toe rain gear were stealing glances away from nature's fury to check their Twitter feed. That includes me! In fact, the biggest difference to modern day storm coverage is by far the wonderful handheld devices everyone seems to be staring at. Whereas you used to feel kind of isolated waiting on a storm everyone else has run from, now it's just another chat-fest. As an insatiable communicator, I love it, but I can't help but wonder when we'll have the first hurricane death caused by electronic distraction. Oooh! That would make for a cool status update! 

'Scuse me, won't you...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Irene Diaries: Friday Morning

Attention on Deck"The news crew awoke before dawn...they put their boots on." Actually, we went with flip-flops. That hussy rainmaker known as Irene was still was doing her make-up off shore, leaving us the better part of a day to pretend to be tourists. But tourists rarely rise before four. They don't rig the business end of a fishing pier in wire and lights in hopes they'll lure in viewers. It's exactly what we did. Taking a stance behind my sticks, I traded gazes with reporter Sheeka Strickland as distant co-workers chortled in out earbuds. Across the parking lot, Chris Weaver hunched over some buttons in our television transmission truck and tuned in the bird.

Surfer InterviewBird. That's tee-veese for satellite. Without them, we couldn't beam our signal back to the Greater Piedmont Googolplex. But it wasn't just our homeland we were about to slather in storm warning. No, we were gonna hook up every step-sister station down the line with breathless remotes on the coming or Irene. It sounds tawdry but it's not. Once Sheeka wrapped up our local report, she and I stood down while Weaver dialed up another affiliate. Like magic, new voices poured from the tiny speakers wedged in our ears. Soon a voice would address us directly, tell her we were about to go on air with Susie and Chet, Brock and Sasha, Bert and Ernie. Sheeka blinked away the introductions, until the booming sound of an out of town anchor began mangling every fact they could find.

Rainy Pier"Hurricane Irene is barreling toward the South Carolina coast, Streeka Shickland is on the Outer Banks there and joins us from Atlantic City." This went on for hours as Sheeka's image bounced from Phoenix to Florida to Connecticut and back again. At some point I lost track, if not consciousness, of the places we visited while standing on that pier. All I knew is that the bigger the market we beamed into, the cheesier the game-show voice in my headset sounded. Four hours later, we were just about done, which was a good thing since our immediate surroundings had sprung to life. Cops, surfers, carpenters and reprobates milled about the place, each one marveling at the darkening skies and newly erected spotlights. That's when the industrial-strength raindrops began to fall.

It would not stop raining for twenty eight more hours...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Irene Diaries: Thursday

Weaver SunsetA 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.

Camp IreneWe 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.

Look AwayThe 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...