Tracking the tracker II

Tracking the tracker – Part 2

The day started out..Well, tardy. The night before we’d laid out a plan of action.

It was simple enough. We were to wake up early, sixish, in order to make it to mass for 7:30. I’d arranged to bring Alex to my dad’s house for a few hours. There were a few kinks there but it was agreed that we would bring Alex to Dad’s church in Diamondhead for around eleven.

I knew this would be pushing it, if I were to meet Jim for between 11 and noon. But I figured it would be smooth sailing.

No such luck.. I woke around 7:30, obviously too late to make it to 7:30 mass. But I was sure they had a 9:30 mass so we should have been cool.

I showered and climbed into bed to wake my tired little soldiers, Andrea and Alex. Well, I kind of sort of had them awake, but…Yeah, you guessed it. I fell asleep with them. So we all wake up around nine, rushing and busting ass to get out of there. Needless to say we didn’t make it to mass. We did, however, make it to the Burger King that is inside the Texaco station on Louisiana 59. But to our dismay the Burger King was closed, probably hadn’t re-opened since Katrina.

We zipped under the interstate and ended up at Sonic, where we were pleasantly surprised to find that they were still serving breakfast. Actually, they serve it all day.
We ate and hit the highway. We made it to my dad’s church for a little after 11, right on schedule.

I wondered what was going on and why this was going so smoothly. We’re not really accustomed to smooth operations in our household. It’s usually a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants activity, usually riddled with trials, tribulations – a whole plethora of life’s little jokes tossed at us in an effort to slow us down. Lost keys, plugged in irons, cat shit, missing papers, coffee stains, hang nails, global thermo nuclear warfare, you name it. Whatever can slow us down usually can and does.

But this simply wasn’t the case on Sunday morning. We were sailing free and clear, feeling alive and talking about feeling alive too. Andrea and I also briefly discussed questions I would ask Jim.

Andrea actually sprang this one on me Saturday night.
“Well, do you know what you’re going to ask him?” she asked me. ‘You just can’t go into this interview not knowing what you’re going to ask him.”

“Why not?” I asked.

It was a fair enough question. Or so I thought.

“You just can’t go in there with nothing,” she said. “Don’t you usually have questions prepared before you start an interview?”

“Not really,” I said.

Which is true. There’s a method to my madness. I like to let the interviewee do most of the talking. I may ask one or two warm-up questions, but then I let them take the reins. Only after they’ve babbled for a long time and I think I have enough hand-written notes for at least a good solid half-page of copy do I start asking questions.
The only exception to this rule is if they say something in mid-stride that demands further explanation.

“Well, the public works department is usually funded out of the general budget, except for that time we bribed that judge in Delaware.”
I think you get my meaning.
No. I just let them talk, and only when they’ve talked a lot do I start asking questions, to start filling in the holes of the story. My brain is like a big empty word processor screen when I interview people. Yes, I care about the questions I ask and the information I’m getting, but there’s a part of my brain that’s like a built-in word count, always keeping in mind how much I have to fill in to fill up those big blank spaces on the empty page sitting there, waiting for me in the production room.

But I digress.

Andrea wasn’t having this.

“Well you need to know what you’re going to ask, it has to come full circle,” she said. “You can’t just ask him stuff that’s going to make you look like a dummy. I mean duh, where were you during hurricane Katrina? Everybody who watched the damned Weather Channel during Katrina knows Jim Cantore as at the VFW place in Gulfport. If you start off asking him that, he’s just going to look at you like you’re a moron.”

Ouch. She had a point.

I knew what she was talking about though. The perfect interview.

I’ve only had a few of them in my eight-year career as a journalist. They are these freak abominations where everything just seems to flow smoothly. Transitions are flawless. The interviewee is cooperative, articulate, not hesitant, doesn’t use cliches. We begin with a topic, flow to other ones from there, and when it’s all said and done we do come full circle with some sort of comment recapping the first question-answer segment from the entire interview.

Perfect interviews are few and far between. For every one perfect interview you’re liable to have 50 not so perfect ones and at least 10 straight-up shitty ones.

I freaked out. In fact, I think this is the expression I used when I answered her.

“That’s too much pressure,” I exclaimed, placing my hands to my face. “I’ll

flip out out. I’ll sound like a babbling idiot.”

By Sunday, though, I’d calmed down and actually even had a few questions in mind to ask Jim.

While en route, Andrea turned the I-POD on, and I requested Snoop Dog’s “187 on an undercover cop”

It’s a good song that got me in a groove of sorts. As I listened, I could clearly recall the riot and looting scenes from the Big Easy during those first days after Katrina. I actually saw this playing in my mind as I drove, like a video. The hatred of the poor and oppressed for the law man in blue was almost palpable.

And then we exited onto Hwy 90, at the beach and everything turned kind of grim. The devastation along the Mississippi Gulf Coast is unreal. I’ve been looking at scenes of destruction, cars in boats, boats in cars, houses in streets, trees on houses, now steadily since last September.

While cleanup efforts on our side of the parish have everything almost looking normal, there are other places that are not too perfect just yet. It’s almost kind of like you get immune to it though, or at least desensitized. When you’re around it every single day, it sort of loses its shock value.

That is, until you hit Mississippi.

It’s just decimated. Places, landmarks that have ben there since I was a kid. All of it is just gone. In the immortal words of Benny Grunch and the Bunch, it ain’t there no more.

It’s hard to handle.

We made it to the torn up Ocean Springs Bridge, parked and I climbed up onto a broken section. Sure enough, there was Jim. He eyed me curiously at first, like he was trying to place me.

“I made it out here,” I said.

A flicker of recognition crossed his face and he said, “I see you did. Cleaned up, showered, and rested I hope.’

“All of the above,” I said, as we shook hands.
We walked off to the side, found a small section of sidewalk and sat down and interviewed.

“Do you mind if I tape us?” I asked him.

“No, I’m glad that you are,” he said. “I wish more people would. It’s a pain in the ass getting misquoted.’

With that we launched right into it. I was sure I sounded like a jabbering idiot, or that I was going to freeze like some awestruck fan or something.
But Jim cut an unimposing figure even if some of his comments came off as sounding kind of condescending in a spot or two. I let it slide though.
He is, after all, a weather expert, and understands some of the more technical aspects of the weather. He’s entitled to a little superiority.

Only one really odd thing happened in the middle of the interview. The mayor of Biloxi walked by and suddenly, without cue, Jim just starts talking to him , leaving me holding the recorder like a dumb ass.

The conversation didn’t last long and we jumped right back into it.
It reminded me, though, of an interview I had a few months ago with our Parish President, Kevin Davis at this economic development seminar we had here.

Kevin and I were outside of the Castine Center plugging along when all of a sudden he looked up to the sky as if he were momentarily confused. He then looked down at me, re-focused and said, “I have to go back to my office to pick something up.’
And with that he walked away. No goodbye. No, we’ll have to finish this later. He just zoned out, like he got a message from the gods (maybe he did) and walked away. It was downright creepy if you ask me.

Well anyway, Jim’s little diversion from the interview wasn’t that bad, but for a moment I still had that weird vague feeling of….dangling….

I got over it quick, though, and the interview wrapped up quickly.
Well, sort of.

Jim walked back up to the top of the busted up bridge. There were some people, two young guys and then an older looking couple, who were sort of milling around, looking, I guess, to get a little time with the celebrity weather man.
I had wandered back to where Andrea was parked.

“Did you get some pictures of us?” I asked her. ‘Did you see that? He pulled me aside and we went and sat down in private for the interview.”
Sickeningly enough, I was like a giggling school girl who had just had a close encounter with a teen heartthrob.

Sean Cassidy eat your heart out. Even in your highest hey day, you’ve got nothing on Jim Cantore.

I was a little disappointed at how it had all sort of played out, because I knew Andrea wanted to meet the guy. The picture taken the day before at Clearview of her and Alex, well, Alex sort of stole the show there.

“Come on honey,” I told her. ‘Let’s go up to meet him.”

“Well, wait a second,” she said. “ I don’t want to get in his way.”

“We won’t,” I said as I led her up the clay embankment leading up to the road and bridge.

Just as I got up there and began to snap another picture or two of the bridge damage Jim says, “Excuse me, could I please ask you to step away here, we’re getting ready to do another live shot.”

Then, suddenly, he realized it was me. I’m not sure, but I could have sworn I saw him shake his head. By this point he was probably thinking, ‘Damn guy, I’ve let you interview me, what else more do you want. I’m married. I’m not your type. Go away. Security….”

The ugliness of it all.

So we let Jim do his live shot. Like I really had a choice in the matter. Andrea made me quietly wait it out and then made extra sure he was done before I assailed him. Also on the bridge with us were the two young guys, the couple, a black camera man…
About the camera guy – At one point, right after our interview, he was bitching to Jim about something. It was only a small tiff but I was secretly hoping that fists and tempers would fly.

Cantore does have this John McEnroe-like intensity about him.
Maybe it’s common in folks who are into the high-adrenaline game – like world class tennis or storm tracking. Who knows?

But I could definitely see Cantore flipping out, smacking the burly camera guy around a little and then dumping him over the broken remnants of the Ocean Springs bridge, food for sharks.

Another mindless Katrina digression – After the storm, as I talked to more and more people from Slidell (One, being a friend of mine who rode out the storm at Hwy. 11, another being a girl I grew up with, who ended up going to work for one of our state senators) who told me of the strange things that came in with Katrina’s storm surge. Chief among the were very large fish, like sharks, tarpon and tuna and massive red fish. Michelle, the girl who works for the senator, told me they found several large fish in her grandmother’s house, which is a few blocks up from my mother’s house.

Cantore didn’t smack his camera man, though.

There was also another guy, a correspondent of sorts, who I first thought was with a local television station. It turns out he wasn’t though. He too was with the Weather Channel. This guy, tall, lanky and white spoke with a British accent. At least I think it was British. It wasn’t domestic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Well, as I make my move toward Jim, this guy steps in front of me and sticks a microphone in my face and begins asking me the strangest questions (none of them hurricane-related) I’ve ever been asked, by anyone.

I identified myself first, spelling my name. Then the questions began.

“So what do you think of summer?” he asks.

“It’s hot,” I tell him.

He might have asked me where I was from but I’m not sure, and if he did, I have no idea what I told him.

He seemed pleased with my “It’s hot” reply, though, and his face lit up as if he’d stumbled upon some sort of precious secret.

“What does summer make you think of?” he asked.

It had to be a trick question.

“Hot days, cool water, beaches and cold beer,” I said.

He obviously liked this answer. For a moment it looked as if he was chuckling to himself.

“Do you have any particular fond memories of this area?” he asked.

Aha, here was my chance to throw in some Katrina references.
But still, I had to wrack my brain quickly for some replies. I did, in fact, have many memories of this area. Since I was a child, the Gulf Coast had been a place of recreation, sun and fun for all day-trippers from New Orleans and the north shore.

My father’s second wife, her family had had a house right in Pass Christian, not six blocks from the beach.

I mentioned this to him, adding that it was probably reduced to slab by the storm at this point. A fact that turned out to be accurate. I later confirmed it that afternoon with Andrea following the interview.

I also recalled Fourth of July fireworks shows that were always held in Bay St, Louis, just on the other side of the Pass Christian – Bay St. Louis bridge. This too pleased him and we wrapped up.

After wrapping up, I began to make small talk with Jim again. The British Weather Channel guy the nabbed Andrea, so I snapped off a few more pictures. Once they were done, I had Andrea take a picture of Jim and I. I then, in turn, took picture of Andrea and Jim.

She was much more composed and tactful in the way she carried herself in front of a celebrity. Me, I was like a teenage groupie. Andrea, on the other hand, was cool and composed. It might not have bee a perfect interview, but it was pretty damned close.


Posted on June 8, 2006, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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