Tracking the tracker
Tracking the tracker
He’s been likened to Michael Jordan, inasmuch as Jordan has changed the sport of basketball, The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore has forever altered the field of weather forecasting. Whether it’s a blizzard in the northeast, a tornado in the mid-west or a Category 4 hurricane, like Katrina, on the Gulf Coast, Cantore has been there.
So when WWL Radio interviewed Cantore Friday morning, the second day of hurricane season, and announced he would be a special guest at a Cox Cable-sponsored hurricane preparedness seminar at Clearview Mall, in Metairie, on Saturday morning, I thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I could get an interview with the guy.”
He is, after all, a professional storm tracker. If anyone might have answers about these monsters that have been spewed out of the Atlantic, and into the Gulf of Mexico, the past few seasons, it had to be Jim.
On a separate, side note, Andrea has been threatening (Jokingly of course. At least I think so.) me since…actually since last August when he arrived in Mississippi to cover Katrina, that she was going to jump ship, abandon Alex and I and go have a not-so-secret rendezvous with Cantore.
Anderson Cooper too, but don’t even get me started.
Well, being the good husband that I am, and oh so secure in my masculinity, I figured what the hell. We’d go as a family to track down this infamous hurricane tracker.
We arrived at Clearview Mall at around noon or so. We had an interesting ride into Metairie.
We were about two or three blocks off of the Causeway when I noted, “It’s starting to kind of look like normal here.”
My astute observation was met with a snort of derision.
“You must need your glasses,” Andrea replied.
“What?” I said. “It is, just look.”
“Where at that lamp post that’s bent down to the ground there on the median,” she replied. “Or how bout that sign that’s blown out at that gas station. Oh look, there are some busted out windows. Yeah, it looks pretty normal. Should I start a list.”
Women. You gotta love’em.
I told her that wouldn’t be necessary and then, as we neared closer to Veterans Boulevard, I informed her I was going to get off there, rather than taking I-10 down to the Clearview exit.
“Why?” she asked.
“I don’t like the Clearview exit,” I told her. “It’s hard to navigate.”
Which is true. I’ve never liked that fucked up exit. Even when I lived right off it, I still used Veterans, or Cleary as a way to get there. She muttered something about us missing Jim and I told her traffic wouldn’t be that bad. It’s only a few blocks down Vets to get to Clearview, easily navigable.
And it was. Within a few moments, we were parked and walking into the mall.
I had no idea where, in the mall, Cantore was going to be set up at. But we rounded a few corners to a large open area near the food court and sure enough it had all the markings of an event. The first thing I saw was a large-screen TV, with some WWL DJ talking about hurricane stuff. Tables were set up all over the place, Cox Cable, WWL and Weather Channel personnel manning them.
It was about that time that I saw THE LINE.
Oh yeah. The line like totally wrapped the circumference of the entire area. It was like groupies waiting to get back stage at a rock concert to see Tommy Lee, Kid Rock or whoever it is the young girls are drooling over these days.
Lucky me. The guy the ladies, young, middle-aged and old, were lined up to see was none other than Cantore. The first thing I saw was the sunlight streaming down (the ceiling had one of those what are they called, sky-views) glittering off…well Cantore’s head. It was shinier than Nagin’s head, no small feat.
I caught myself though, muttering to myself, “be nice” as these thoughts filled my head. Was I actually getting jealous of a weather man? Of course not.
“He’s awfully damned short,” rang out the little ugly voice in my head.
Madness I tell you, sheer madness.
I got hold of myself though, got Andrea and Alex into line and decided to go see what was up. It was time to go play reporter. I say play reporter because I had (still have actually) a pretty good idea that my publisher wasn’t interested in a non-St. Tammany event.
And, unfortunately, Jim Cantore, storm chasing god or no, signing autographs at a mall in Metairie probably didn’t qualify as a St. Tammany event, no matter how I approached it.
“Hmm,” came that ugly little voice in my head again. “Maybe I can whack him over the head and drag him across the Causeway, to Mandeville, and then interview him.”
The only flaw with that logic being that the dude might just decline an interview if I whacked him over the head. Not too mention the felonies that would follow. It would get ugly. Especially if his legions of female fans found me out. They’d hunt me down like a bleeding boar. Mace me, do terrible things to me. Did I want that kind of ugliness? Of course not.
This was, after all, a family event.
I approached the stage, and snapped off a few pictures and then approached a Cox Cable lady. I told her I was with the local media (which wasn’t a lie), showed her my press credentials and told her I was interested in interviewing Jim. The Cox Cable lady then turned me over to a Weather Channel PR lady.
Ann was a nice lady who told me she would try to get me a few minutes with Jim after he was finished with autographs and pictures with the folks in the line. To kill time, I walked Alex to the bathroom, then made the rounds collecting hurricane stuff; tracking maps, those small plastic garbage bags that are the perfect car size; I even seized what I thought, at first were pens, but ended up being small pen-shaped tubes of hand sanitizer. I walked Alex to the food court and bought him a pretzel. The line was creeping.
Did I mention the line was creeping? Every now and then I would walk back up to the stage, snap off a few shots and talk to Ann, just so she wouldn’t forget about me. Somewhere in the midst of all this Andrea tells me to go fill out a card for the drawing they were going to have. Apparently they were going to be handing out a variety of different door prizes.
It was a way to kill a few more minutes, so I took Alex with me, walked over and filled out a card. Certainly no really thinking I was going to win anything.
Finally, just finally, the line was moving a little quicker; but only after the announcer told everyone to keep autographs and prolonged dialogue with Jim to a minimum, so that everyone would get a chance to be photographed with him.
Andrea was about maybe ten people away from getting up on stage with Alex, to go see Jim.
I was chatting with Jim’s PR lady and now, Jeff Morrow, another Weather Channel personality, though clearly not the star of the event. I kind of felt bad for the guy. It was kind of like bringing Alice to a Brady Bunch reunion show, when the only person people really cared about getting close to was Marsha.
Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, oh how it sucks being the ugly middle sister. Huh? Where did that come from? Go away.
But yeah, I kind of felt bad for poor Jeff, so I was chatting with him too when all of a sudden they start announcing winners for the door prizes. I really want paying close attention. The announcer guy couldn’t have been but five feet away from me, but I was focused on Jim, and Andrea and Alex’s place in line.
Suddenly the announcer says, “And now, the winner of a complete set of golf clubs is, well, Ashton..Ashton, What’s this last name?”
“Daigle,” I muttered as I looked up at him.
He squinted at the slip of paper and cocked his head sideways, kind of like how my German shepherd does when I fart, or when she knows I have a snack in my hand.
“Yeah I guess it could be Daigle,” he said.
Bastard. Why didn’t he just announce to the whole mall, “Damn man, you’ve got the worst damned penmanship on the whole freaking planet dude.”
I was excited though. Barring a hundred bucks I won once off a scratch off lotto ticket in California back in when, 1993, I’d never won anything before. It didn’t matter that I didn’t play golf. I lived near a golf course. I could learn.
But there was still a slight logistical problem. I still had to interview Jim. Andrea and Alex got their picture taken with Cantore. And suddenly, a few minutes after the event began to break up. Cantore and his “handler” began walking away, like on the other side of the stage. I abandoned the golf clubs, made a break to try to head them off on the other side, and nearly flipped over a metal folding chair in the process. A state trooper looked at me like I was drunk, or crazed.
I’m not a celebrity stalker, I’m not a celebrity stalker, I was almost chanting to myself; but the state trooper could care less.
I rounded the corner and headed them off. There was general melee as some network news type, some young woman who had a really big vein bulging out of the side of her head, near her temple was trying to get to Jim. Jim’s handler looked around, saw me, nodded and said, “He was here first.”
Talk about feeling vindicated. Not only had I won the golf clubs but I had been there first.
“Nanny-nanny-boo-boo stick your head in poo-poo,” I wanted to say to the network news girl. I restrained myself though. I am, after all, a professional.
The handler turned to me and said, “Look Jim’s really on a tight schedule. How much time do you need?”
“About ten minutes,” I said.
“He doesn’t even have five minutes,” the handler tells me.
My elation began to fizzle out. What kind of chicken shit crap was this? She said it herself, I’d been there first.
My mouth moved before I could even think.
“You said Jim’s going to be doing live shots in Biloxi tomorrow morning?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Look if you an get me time with him there tomorrow, I can meet him. I live in Mandeville. It’s only about a 45-minute drive for me,” I said.
“You don’t mind?” she asked me.
“Not if I can get time with him,” I said.
She paused, obviously thinking this one over. She then grabbed Jim, who suddenly was being grilled by the network news girl, and quickly and quietly conferred with him. She then turned back to me and said, “Jim is going to speak to you real quick.”
He walked over and we shook hands.
“Man thanks for coming out,” he said. “I will be doing live shots all morning from the Ocean Springs bridge near Biloxi.”
“The one that’s crashed in the water domino-style,” I said, wanting to make sure I had my post-Katrina landmark correct.
“That’s the one,” he said. “How much time do you need?”
“Not much, but more than you have now,” I said.
“Yeah I’m sorry about that,” he said. “I kind of over-extended myself here. My producer is going to ape shit if I don’t get myself over to the Gulf Coast ASAP.”
“What time will you be there?” I asked.
“I start at 11, your time,” he said.
“Should I be there early, right after 11 or a little later?” I asked.
“Give me some time to get my head in the game, say about 11:45 or noon,” he said.
“Yeah, cool,” I said. “I’ll be there then.”
We shook hands. It was a done deal – an exclusive with the man.
And I won golf clubs. Things were looking up.
To be continued…..