Wanted: Moderately intelligent individual with ability to communicate while beach sand is blasted between your teeth. Must be able to stand somewhat upright in gale force winds. Please submit photo of yourself holding microphone in one hand while gripping your hat in the other. Must be proficient using Adobe and Excel in a drenching rain.
Okay, so that's not my job description, but I know for a fact there are people convinced I lack the sense necessary to come in from the rain. I gave them pretty good evidence during the week I spent at the Gulf Coast dining on flying asphalt and big gulps of Hurricane Isaac.
Since arriving back home early Friday morning, I've fielded several questions with the same theme.
"Why do you do it?"
This afternoon, while picking up my daughter from school, one of her teachers was more pointed.
"I saw you getting beat up by that storm," she told me. "I don't understand. Couldn't you give us the same information from a dry room?"
I'm not the only one facing such challenges. This is a comment someone posted on Lester Holt's Facebook page:
"Dumb, dumb, dumb.... there is no need to put a reporter out in the elements like that to show how crappy it is outside, the fact that it is a hurricane is pretty self-explanatory."
First of all, I'm not crazy. (My mother had me tested.) I'm not a thrill seeker. I don't have a death wish. I don't consider reporting in a hurricane to be fun. I like my socks dry, thank you. I'd rather my laundry not smell like Bigfoot.
Part of a reporter's job is to go and experience. I can't really tell you Isaac's flavor without stepping out there and tasting it. You wouldn't hire an auto mechanic who doesn't drive a car. How safe would we be if all police officers tried to stop criminals from their nice warm office? Hey, Mr. Burglar? This is Officer Carnes on the phone. Put down that box of jewelry and turn yourself in. No. For me to do my job right, I've got to get a little dirty. And wet. Very wet.
Some viewers find it absurd that we're on television warning people about the dangers of a hurricane while standing in the middle of it. Just know that we're not going anywhere we're not supposed to be. If an area is evacuated, we leave. If there's a low lying area that's likely to flood, we head for higher ground. Most of us drawn to the coast by Isaac have covered numerous hurricanes before. We know where to go and how to protect ourselves. Believe me, if Isaac had blown up to Katrina strength, you would not have found us in downtown New Orleans.
Now, I'm not going to try to tell you I've never taken risks. A couple of times, I've been downright stupid. When Hurricane Emily hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1993, I got a little overanxious and attempted to cross the bridge to Hatteras Island in the dark. It felt as if the wind was going to lift my Ford Bronco and flick it into the sea. My trip was halted by a wall of ocean that covered the road. I was lucky to back out of that situation. Lesson learned. Don't cross bridges in high winds, especially in the dark.
By subjecting ourselves to the abuse of Hurricane Isaac and other storms, our hope is to give you an accurate visual, to bring you with us in a sense, to let you see and feel the hurricane without leaving your den. There are plenty of people who won't accept a sense of urgency based on a satellite picture or weather radar. Seeing is believing. Some reporters go to extremes to make their point. We try our best to immerse ourselves in the storm but stay smart. It's not always easy, but I've covered dozens of these things and I'm still around.
While in New Orleans, before my cell phone was washed away in Isaac's mess, my daughter Caroline sent me a text.
"Daddy, please be careful," she wrote. "You mean so much to me."
Don't you think my number one priority is coming back home? If it wasn't, I really would be crazy.