I was sitting at my desk, trying my best to look invisible, when my city editor walked by. That was not a good thing. His first question was even worse than his stopping. “How would you like to go to Charleston and cover Hurricane David?”
I can’t put here what I actually said, but: First, it is utterly impossible to “cover” a hurricane. Second, if the thing is worthy of sending a reporter some 200 miles to view, it’s bad enough that I do not want to go.
I’d rather be amongst a hostage to a bunch of convicts trying to get out of jail. At least you can talk to a convict. You cannot talk to a hurricane. You can’t even talk in a hurricane. You cannot talk after a hurricane.
Telephone lines will be down, for one thing, along with assorted telephone poles, power lines, trees, homes and businesses. In short, hurricanes are big business. And I have never been a business writer.
It was entirely too big for an apprentice liar like myself to attempt to cover. But I tried to be helpful.
”Why don’t I drive down to Columbia, get on the Interstate and try to talk to someone leaving Charleston?”
“Why don’t I call Charleston and try to find someone who is fool enough to be staying to ride out Hurricane David? That would be a good story.”
Back when the coffer dam collapsed at Lake Keowee I knew there was a church relatively close, but I didn’t know the preacher’s name. And I couldn’t find a number. So, I called a sister church in Pickens and asked for the other pastor’s name and number. And got it.
But the wife of the Pickens preacher had not quite understood everything I had said. Again, I explained. I then told her I was wanting to talk to the preacher near the scene of the disaster.
I had told her that a coffer dam was like a cylinder built in the water from the bottom all the way out the top. Then they pumped the water out, and had basically a hole in the lake.
It had collapsed, people were missing and presumed dead, and I wanted to talk to the preacher. The wife still really didn’t completely understand.
She heard, “Big dam! Lake Keowee! Collapse!” and her question was “Is the water headed this way?”
It was all I could do to keep from saying, “Yes ma’am, you are doomed. What I want for you to do is sit here and talk to me and explain to me what the wall of water looks as it bears down on your house. I might win a writing contest or something.”
But I didn’t.
Not only would that be mean and vicious, dirty and underhanded, but it would also be a lie. There was no wall of water coming. The big dam had not been compromised.
Now, Hurricane David is real. It has already killed hundreds of people while making its way toward Charleston. The prospects for more is entirely possible. If David touches land the prospects of more victims is likely. One of them is not going to be The Old Yarnspinner. I am not going to drive 200 miles, check into a motel, call back to the office and scream, “I can SEE IT COMING!”
But, if the boss insisted that I go, I would have done just like I did when I was just a kid and had been talked into taking a morning newspaper delivery route.
I got up that morning at 4 AM. I dressed and went out to get my bike and start my new job. But I quickly discovered it was cold, and raining, hard.
I went back inside and called the newspaper: “Do you know that little Fant boy that was supposed to start a morning route today up on the north end of town? Well, he QUIT!”
I quit that job just to stay out from in the rain.
Can you imagine what I would do to get out of a hurricane?