Monday, November 28, 2005

Fans and Family

Are we really thankful for the things we have? For many people Thanksgiving is a day off to stuff their belly with food, either with family or alone. This year is different for many people.

As I have noted in previous posts, Hurricane Katrita significantly changed lives here, including mine. What I am most thankful for this year is the ablility to gather with my family in places that are familiar. Gathering in my grandfather's house for a noon-time meal is a needed step toward normal in the New Louisiana. Unfortunately we didn't have the traditional turkey at this meal. The plan was to order the meal from Robie's Grocery, a local store that does an excellent job. Last year we had no problem getting one, this year they sold out very early, but we can roll with it. Instead we have sausage-stuffed chicken, with all the trimmings. No big deal, meat is meat, after all.

After dinner we replaced the ceiling fan in the living room, which was almost as old as I am and leaking oil. My sister says it's not a true family gathering if there's not a big project to be done. In the post-project recovery, the conversation turned to movies. The older folks recounted stories of the drive-ins of the past, and that someone could make some money if they opened one now. The rationale is that people are looking for nostalgia, and with today's technology they can get the sound in their car on crystal clear FM radio.

My grandfather joins in with the story of how he and my grandmother got married at the drive-in. Apparently the Justice of the Peace was also the projectionist, and the only free time he had was between reel changes. After 27 years of life, I'm finally hearing the great stories. It could be that I needed to reach an age that I could appreciate them, but I know I've never heard these before.

Before long we are on the road to meet my in-laws. They have turkey, both smoked and fried, and we get along very well. No really great stories here, just good times visting with family.

In the end that is what I'm most thankful for this year. Even though my childhood home has been swept away by tidal surge and my parents are living in a hotel room, we are all healthy and able to gather together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Ah, the dubious honor of being the on-call photog. In addition to the daily workload, that person also gets the oh-dark-thirty wake-up call for whatever calamity just happened.

I'm staring down the barrel of my second on-call stretch in three weeks. Why so soon? Thanks to my little vacation in Denver last month, and the photog shortage, my week from last month got switched. That was two weeks ago. This is my regular week.

It's been five years since I took up the lens, and when I started I looked forward to each week of call. Not only did it mean overtime, desperately needed to keep a roof over my head and ramen in my belly, but I was a night-owl anyway. Few people know the serenity of cruising the streets at 2 a.m., when the signals only flash yellow or red, and the lanes are devoid of traffic. Everything was a new experience, just waiting for me to get there. How could I ever tire of that?

Now I'm hitting the five year mark, and the wall that I've heard other photogs talk about. It could have something to do with being married, which means that I'm not the only one roused from sleep's sweet embrace when the phone rings. Like the other photogs in my shop, I look at call as a necessary annoyance that comes with the job. The good news is that our morning producer has been in my shoes, so when he calls it's usually worth the trouble of tying them.

It's the weekend that receives the most loathing from our ranks. From the end of the late newscast to nine a.m., the newsroom is deserted. This is usually when I see the most activity, since no one is at the station to check the validity of the call. Car accident in Plaquemine? Guess I'll have to drive the hour to get there. If I don't and Brand X does, the reaming will be worse than the lost sleep.

That's what gets me out of bed now. I can't just roll over and go back to sleep. The fear keeps me awake. Will this be the one time that costs me my job? Once I'm in the car the anticipation of what lies ahead usually supplants those thoughts. It's a shame, really.

Let's not forget about the people who are affected by these calls. One is a mother who just lost a child, either to a murder or a car accident. There are others who have lost a home to a fire, and if they're lucky, that's all they've lost. These people are the real reason I don't look forward to taking call. In the end their story is why I'm out there, so I treat them with the respect I would expect were our roles reversed.

Hopefully the pager stays silent this week.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Egg Nog and Pumpkin Pie

It's been a while since dropped some crumbs, but I'm back.

It's funny how the smallest things can trigger memories. On the surface the last couple of days have been fine, but not really. Yesterday started out fine, but soon went downhill. I think I scared a couple of coworkers with a brief loss of control. Today I almost lost it again, but in a different way. It could be the stress of the last couple of months, or it's just built up over time and now has to find a way out.

Anyone who hasn't felt some stress in this part of the world lately is on some outstanding drugs. My job does nothing to relieve that. In fact it can add a lot more, usually in a hurry. Let's just say they got their money's worth out of me on Friday.

Today was mostly stress free. Grocery shopping was going along just fine, until we got to the dairy aisle. This time of year is one I look forward to and is somewhat embodied by the annual appearance of egg nog. It's just not the holiday season if I haven't had some at least once before the New Year.

As I looked at the bottle in the store I was swamped by memories of holidays past. These happy memories are all centered in Cameron Parish, the place I grew up, and now recovering from the wrath of Rita. The ghost of Christmas past reminded me that those familiar surroundings of the past 27 years are no longer familiar to me. The home that I thought would always be there has been washed away. The living room that has seen so many happy times is inches deep in muck and the furniture tossed around haphazardly. I stood in the store, fighting back tears. I thought I had gotten over the worst of it, but the pain is still there.

Moving through the rest of the store, I discovered a strong desire for pumpkin pie, another seasonal favorite, and usually very comforting. This brought on more memories, and my eyes filled once more. I suppose I will find myself in more moments like this as the year continues.

Now we must look toward the future and make new memories, all while cherishing the old ones. I know I am not alone in this. Families across the Gulf South are struggling with this as well. My family has already made plans to have Christmas at my new home. I'm hoping that everyone who has lost so much finds solace in just being together with loved ones in the coming weeks. Maybe a few will even discover the reason these holidays began.