Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Stranded at home; Lesson from Bob Woodward on using the description of weather in stories

This snow thing is now officially out of control. As I sit here the conditions outside my window are pretty close to a white-out. The snow is falling hard and fast and the wind is blowing it all over the place. How long the power holds out is anybody’s guess. Yesterday, when I tried to run errands, I had the sense that people were preparing for the Apocalypse. (the snow-palypse?)

Parking was close to impossible since there weren’t that many spaces to begin with because of piled up snow from the weekend and the whole world was out trying to get any supplies available. What was interesting was that no one was fighting over spaces or over food or even over batteries. It was as if a calm had come over everyone, a quiet acceptance that the next few days (at least) were going to be miserable and all anyone could do was hope for the best.

I’ve lived in Washington for more than 30 years and I’ve never seen anything even close to this. If you live in Buffalo you may have a sense of what this is like (except that snow belt places are far better prepared to deal with this sort of weather than we are) but otherwise you can’t imagine it. I certainly couldn’t.

Last weekend I escaped the first storm by leaving town Friday afternoon to drive to West Point so I could do the Army-Colgate game on TV on Sunday. That turned out to be a wise decision. There wasn’t a drop of snow up there and I saw a bunch of my Army friends and stayed in the Thayer Hotel where there was plenty of heat, plenty of food and no snow to be found. My trip home was a breeze—until I hit Baltimore.

Only then did I have a real sense of what had happened. The interstate was closed because abandoned cars (there had been a trailer-truck accident in the middle of the storm Saturday) were still being removed. I zigged over to The Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which was down to one, snow and ice-covered lane. The rest of the trip home was a nightmare.

We’re being told it will snow all day today. Given that travel was still very difficult yesterday three days after the weekend storm had ended, I can’t see the area being close to dug out before the weekend. It will, of course, be much more difficult this time because there is already so much snow piled up from plowing.

I would have loved to have gone to the VCU-George Mason game last night, which turned out to be a great game—Mason coming from 15 points down to win in overtime. I would have gone to tonight’s Virginia-Maryland game except there is no Virginia-Maryland game because it was postponed by the snow. Now, among other issues, I have to figure out a column for Sunday’s Post since one of those two games would have supplied me with a column of some kind. I’m supposed to do Bucknell-American on TV tomorrow night. Normally, AU is a 15-minute drive from here. I have no idea if the game will be played or, if it is played, if I’ll be able to get out of my driveway, off my street and to the campus. I just have no idea.

Back in 1985, the first time I covered The British Open, Bob Woodward dropped me a note when I got home. I still have it someplace. (I’ve kept any and all notes I’ve ever received from people I admire and Bob is at the top of the list). The note said something like this: “Great job on the British Open. Best thing you did all week was make people understand what the weather was like and how it affected everyone. You can never write too much about the weather: it affects us all and we can’t control it.”

Just as when Woodward told me a few years earlier that the key to any investigative story and most stories of any kind was, “getting the documents,” I remembered what he said. In fact, a year later, when I wrote ‘A Season on the Brink,” I almost always described the weather on a given day. If you go back and look, the first sentence of the book describes the weather.

Jeff Neuman, the editor who (after five rejections from other publishers) who bought my proposal for the book for McMillan and Company, kept trying to get me to take out all the weather references. “People don’t need to know what the weather was every single day you were there,” he said.

“Yes they do,” I said. “Bob Woodward says they do.”

To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of snow.

I know people romanticize it all the time, “winter wonderlands et al,” and if you watch movies like, “White Christmas,” you’d think there’s nothing better than snow. I just don’t see it that way. It may look pretty on TV and, I’m like everyone else, I remember sledding as a kid (In Riverside Park, right near the 79th street boat basin there was a great hill) and loving it. Now, snow is a nuisance at best and frightening at worst.

I don’t mind cold. The two mornings I was at West Point I happily got up in the morning and walked around the post for an hour in temperatures that never got much above 20 degrees. That’s fine. I also know there are people who will say, ‘hey, what’s wrong with a couple of days at home, sitting in front of a fire, taking it easy.

When I hear stuff like that I think of something Gary Williams said to me a few years ago. Maryland had ended its season with an embarrassing first round loss in the NIT at home against Manhattan. I called Gary that night just to see how he was doing. The next day he called me back.

“Hey, sorry I just got your message,” he said. “I drove right to my beach house (in Delaware) after the game to get away.”

“Good idea,” I said. “A few days just walking on the beach will do you some good.”

“John,” he said. “There are only so many days you can walk on the damn beach before you lose your mind.”

He’d been there 24 hours.

To be honest, I’m the same way. Sitting at home in front of a fire at night watching the Islanders (they finally won a game last night!) is fine. But one night in a row—maybe two—is enough for me. There are games to go to, work to be done, places to go.

I won’t be going anyplace for the next couple of days. No games, no work, nothing. I can’t stand it. And I still need a Sunday column.


Gunnar said...

In Seattle/Vancouver it has been almost 60 degrees and sunny. We are expected to cool off soon, if not it will be the Spring Olympics. The snow is coming via helicopter.

GerryO said...

Duke-NC tonight - the best rivalry in sports.

Mark said...

Ok John. Sorry you are snowed in, but here is an idea for a column. What about Steve Bisciotti?

You have always written what a great guy the Ravens owner is, and so he might be but I have some problems with his comments last week.

As you probably know, he came out and told us, as if we care, that a bunch of NFL teams are losing money. Really? He has access to all of their books? He take time from his duties to study these other teams financials?

Since I was a kid, I have been listening to sports owners whine about finances. Usually it is because they want a new stadium. In this case Mr Bisciotti wants a new labor deal. He says the last one (which he signed off on) was a bad deal.

Fine. I don't have a problem if he wants a new deal. What pisses me off is him, a billionaire, whining about his team not having enough profit. You know what? WE DON'T CARE!

I am sure John, you could write a great column on that.

Joe said...

Maybe you could just write a columnette.

Anonymous said...

The correct term is snowpocalypse I believe.

Anonymous said...

Come on John, man-up and stop the incessant wimpy whining about snow! It's very annoying and makes you come across as some sort of girlie man!

thedean said...

You can always do your tax return! I sent an email to Tony Kornheiser which got read while you were out of town. It was about an ad for Window Nation on the Super Bowl. It started with a close up on Tony shivering with a shawl on complaining about the draft. The camera pans out to Wilbon sitting next to him on the couch telling him to, "stop complaining Window Nation is coming soon." Finally the camera pans out to show the whole couch with you sitting next to Wilbon in your underware munching on chips...fade to black. I hope you liked the idea of a cameo apperance for Window Nation!

Mr. X said...


Today on TSR, Knoche told a great story about Johnny Holliday nearly missing the recent broadcast at Tallahassee due to mixed medications. Do you know the story and plan to write about it?