Hunkered Down

As I write this, my wife, mother and I are hunkered down in Central Florida, riding out Hurricane Irma. This is not our first hurricane, and — since we live in Florida (the fishingest and hurricaniest state in America) — I doubt it will be our last.

Hurricanes have a lot in common with other natural disasters. For one, the media likes to present them as apocalyptic with lots of end-of-the-world drama. After all, what’s the point of having a hurricane if it’s not the be-all, end-all weather event of the century. It must be talked about in biblical proportions, using graphics that would make a Hollywood special effects director blush.

For another, hurricanes bring out the apparently overwhelming urge of television news crews to stand outside in bad weather. You know the drill: a young reporter draws the short straw and must stand out in the rain and wind while the camera and sound guys are protected on the lee side of a building. The reporter shouts into his mic as palm fronds, deck chairs and a midsize sedan blow by.

Ordinarily, I do not root for the hurricane any more than I’d root for the shark in “Jaws,” but for these live storm reports, I wish a large piece of debris would take out the reporter, like an NFL linebacker slamming into a frail birdwatcher.

I might never stop laughing.

[By the way, if there’s any doubt in your mind about whether television reporters or radio reporters are more intelligent, you can find your answer during a natural disaster. There’s simply no way a radio reporter worth his headphones would go outside to report on a storm. He’d just look at the radar, glance out the window and add the appropriate sound effects. I don’t need to see Geraldo’s ‘stache whipping around in the breeze to know it’s windy out. The horizontal palm tree and boats sitting on rooftops clued me in.]

And if television-reporter-standing-in-bad-weather is the worst (or at least stupidest) job during a natural disaster, I have also identified the best job during these times. For those of you considering new career opportunities, I’m not sure what the technical name of the job is, but I’d check for “person-in-nebulous-uniform-standing-behind-authority-figure-at-podium.”

You know the people I’m talking about. They stand behind the sheriff or mayor or governor or animal control specialist in some official-looking uniform, looking earnest — concerned, but confident; challenged, but prepared. They’re basically disaster “extras,” and you can usually gauge the size of the storm by the number of these people on the podium. Figure on two of these podium people for every category number of a hurricane. I swear this is true. If there’s just one or two of these people, things aren’t so desperate. If you see four or five, stock up on bottled water and canned goods. If you run out of fingers counting, it’s time to evacuate.

Standing on the podium looks like a pretty easy job. The proper wardrobe appears to be the only prerequisite. You just stand there while the sheriff or mayor or governor or animal control specialist does all the talking and fields all the questions. I’m pretty sure these people have no actual responsibilities and that the uniforms do not represent any official entities. The only way to screw up at this job is to wave to the camera (“Hi Mom!”) or break into hysterical laughter — either of which would break the somber mood. But since those temptations would be great, I bet the job pays good money.

What does any of this have to do with fishing or retail? I have no idea, but the wind’s howling and the rain’s pounding, and I have a nearly irresistible urge to grab a mic and stand outside.