Is it just me or do all weather reporters go slap-dab crazy when a hurricane approaches?
I'm not talking, now, about the local meteorologists who remain safely back in their respective studios, along with their maps and diagrams and extreme sense of urgency. No, I'm talking about the folks who put on ponchos and baseball caps and stand out on the beach somewhere while pieces of hotels fly around their heads.
The most recent examples of this media lunacy - and I realize that mating "media" and "lunacy" in a sentence is a bit redundant - accompanied Hurricane Ike to the Texas coast. All week we had heard that Ike was coming, and unlike his namesake, we didn't like him. We weren't sure where the storm would hit, but we knew it was coming. And all week, public officials from Key West to Brownsville warned their residents to flee or face the wrath.
Take the governor of Texas, for instance. I just like the way they do things in Texas. You've got to admire a state whose motto is "Don't Mess with Texas." He told all the Texans living along the coast that they needed to evacuate. Then he told them that if they didn't evacuate, they should at least write their names or social security numbers on their arms so rescuers and clean-up crews could identify the bodies.
That would have sort of hit home with me.
It didn't impress Geraldo Rivera, though. That sucker stood on top of the seawall in Galveston, with a strong Category 2 storm swirling all around him, talking into a microphone and waiting for the eye to pass over him. Now what would posses a fellow to do something like that? Is he that starved for attention? Or maybe he was just looking for ratings. I am sure that some of the same folks who watch NASCAR hoping to see a big crash were watching Geraldo, hoping to see him swept out to sea by a giant wave or something.
Or maybe Geraldo just has a death wish. I've heard that he's had a hard time getting over the time he found Al Capone's secret vault empty.
I have always been fascinated by hurricanes. It just does something to me to see the power of nature unleashed. Don't get me wrong. I don't wish hurricanes on anyone or enjoy seeing the destruction they leave, but I am fascinated by their power and have been known to sit in front of the television and stare at news coverage about them for hours on end - and for days at a time.
But honestly, I'm not watching to see someone decapitated by a Howard Johnson's sign.
The first hurricane that I remember being intimate with was Camille. I had heard talk about Betsy and David and a couple of others, but when Camille hit the Gulf Coast, I was old enough to appreciate the enormity of the event. A few months after her destructive journey, I actually drove down to Mississippi to see the devastation for myself, and I will never forget it.
I paid a lot of attention to Hurricane Hugo, too - primarily because it struck a part of the world that is near and dear to me - the South Carolina Lowcountry. Hugo, you might recall, was an enormous storm that took dead aim at Charleston back in 1989 and did a tremendous amount of damage as far north as Myrtle Beach and Little River. My family and I were regular vacationers along that stretch of coastline and watched with horror as it took its toll on some of our favorite stomping grounds.
I also remember that Erk Russell's Georgia Southern Eagles were playing their first ever televised football game, on a Thursday night, as Hugo approached. Coach Russell insisted that the game be played and in my mind's eye I can still see him pacing the sideline in his T-shirt as torrential rain and gale force winds swirled around him.
And then there was Andrew and dozens of others in this millennium - including Katrina, which will remain the measuring stick for all other hurricanes for a long, long time. And with each new "weather event," the newscasters seem to get bolder and bolder as they stand out in the elements and bring the storms right into our living rooms - while telling the rest of the world, of course, to "stay away" and "seek cover."
So far it seems to be working out for them. None of the newsmen - or women - seems to have been seriously hurt, although the aforementioned Geraldo did get a few cuts and bruises from flying debris last week.
I just hope they don't have to learn the hard way, because I, for one, have no interest in witnessing an on-the-air fatality. And if anybody ever wants me to cover a hurricane, I'll do it from a bunker, 50 miles inland. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, my mother really and truly didn't raise a fool. I can't speak for Geraldo Rivera's mama.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.