— Kin Hubbard
U.S. cartoonist & journalist
(1868 to 1930)
Catching a few hours last week of The Weather Channel’s coverage of Tropical Storm-Hurricane-Tropical Storm Isaac reminded me of why I always wanted to be a weatherman. Too, it reminded me of why I never made it.
It wasn’t the unfathomable winds, the torrentially toad-strangling monsoons, the lightning and thunder, the ravaging floods, the suffocating avalanches of winter’s whitest carnage, and all those felled trees and broken buildings, nor was it Mother Nature’s unharnessed fury in breathtaking 3-D.
It wasn’t even the fear of being wrong.
It was the training.
As a late-blooming enrollee in the Jim Cantore School for the Weather-Minded & Wind-Blown, I flunked. Truthfully, I started too old when entering into this new interest and with much too much common sense. Yet, already well into a career in journalism, I was a man of the ages who wanted to test his limits. I wanted something more. I sought anything new. I craved the reinvention of my inner soul. I sought to go where this Rick had never gone before
So I picked meteorology and sought enrollment at the JCSWMWM.
The guy at the Office of Student Registration, himself a former understudy to Willard Scott, feigned a coy approach. But I knew. Momma didn’t raise no dummy. This front-office scout for onstage talent was studying my receding hairline and my midsection girth. A suspect gaze belied his objective approach.
“So, YOU want to be a weatherman?” he asked, a yellow, No. 2 lead pencil wedged between his right ear and skull. “We don’t get too many your — ”
“Height?” I finished his question for him.
“Well, no — ”
“Weight? I mean, I realize I’m no longer at my peak. But I’m dieting.”
“Well, no — ”
“Oh, the hair style?” I suggested. “You figure it’s a little too old-fashioned? Too short? Not quite mod enough for today’s jet-set of weather wranglers?”
“Well, what little you’ve got up top is fine ... but that’s not — ”
“The clothes?” I interrupted again. “Hey, I can dress to fit the occasion. You put me in a strong wind, I can wear loose shirts that wave like Old Glory. Put me in scorching heat, I can dress down to my boxers and crews. Put me in a blizzard, I can dress up to L.L.Bean in overdrive. I can be a Chameleon of weather fashion.”
He changed his tactic.
“Do you know what it takes to be an on-camera meteorologist?” the Willard-alike asked.
“You mean in the field or the studio?” I queried.
“Both,” he stressed, almost defiantly. “We’re not talking dancing in the rain here. You can take that Gene Kelly strut back to the farm. We’re talking get down in the trenches, wallow in the mud, engulf the ocean surge and anything that’s in it. Our grads learn to do it all — from studio think tank, to cameraman in hiding, to recognizing snow thunder.”
“Snow thunder?” I gasped. “Whoa! That’s Cantore territory!”
“You got it,” he agreed. “Around this school, we call him ‘The Greatest.’”
“I can understand why,” I nodded. “That guy is the face and voice of all that gusts and anything that pelts down on the unsuspecting people beneath. Reckon how long it would take me to be like the C Man?”
“Years,” my front-desk mentor advised. “Maybe even decades. I’m not sure you have that long because of your ... well, because it’s obvious you’ve weathered a few storms already in your lifetime. By school policy, I’m not supposed to ask this, but ... how old are you? I mean, most of our students come in here fresh out of high school. Frankly, you look like you’ve built a few high schools ... no offense.”
“None taken,” I assured him.
“Tell you what,” he offered. “Let me ask a few simple questions and that’ll tell us if you even need to bother with an application.”
“Fire away,” I countered, my confidence renewed.
“Have you ever spit in the wind?”
After a short pause, I answered truthfully, “No. It’s unsanitary.”
His eyes rolling, I could make out, “... not a good start,” under his breath.
“Have you ever sat outside in a wrought-iron swing watching the approach of a massive lightning storm of historic proportion while everyone else fled for the safety of the house?” he asked.
With bowed head and shuffling my left foot against the front of his counter, I admitted with a sheepish shrug, “No. I’m always the first one in the door.”
“Have you ever risked drowning by talking into the full force of a hurricane-like deluge?”
Recognizing where this was headed, I muttered, “I always turn my face against the rain.”
“Have you ever spoken into a camera standing in knee-deep water when dry, higher ground is just a few feet away?”
My eyes burned in untempered disgrace. “No. I don’t even own rubber boots.”
He sighed and slowly shook his head.
“Have you ever encouraged others, ‘Send us your weather video ...,’ and then trailed off, ‘... but only if you can do it safely?’”
I was shamed. “No. I have always told others to think safety first, and video second.”
He cleared his throat and stared at the door behind me.
“Can you ask me just one more?” I pleaded. “Surely I can get one right. My future depends on it.”
With a sigh, he acquiesced.
“Have you ever held onto a light pole, a fence or a small tree to dramatize a camera shot?” my inquisitor asked.
A tear streamed down my wincing left cheek.
“No,” I offered in quiet meditation. “Never. I’ve not even leaned into the wind ... for fear of falling.”
Straightening his back, he removed the No. 2 Lead pencil from his ear and checked a paper form indicating we had talked.
“Friend,” he suggested. “Go home. Enjoy your cushy job in journalism. And leave the weather to the professionals.”
Faced with stark reality, I offered only, “No chance I could at least meet the C Man? He’s a demigod to people like me, you know.”
“Not today. He’s in the wind tunnel.”
“Even the pros have to practice?” I asked.
“Even the pros,” he answered. “Practice ... practice ... practice, whether it’s the NFL or the TWC.”
“I’ve always admired a good work ethic,” I smiled. “Tell the C Man a big fan says hi. Maybe one day I’ll get to meet him.”
“If a storm rolls in and the tide turns your way, my friend.”
“What are the chances?” I asked.
“About 30 percent.”