Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I Am a Hurricane!

I am a hurricane!

And I am about to unleash some serious fury on a bunch sorry Mexicans. Check this out from the National Weather Service:

WTPZ31 KNHC 302336
500 PM PDT WED AUG 30 2006



Exactly what they did to incur my wrath I do not rightly know. Probably nothing. I spent a few hours in Tijuana once. Nothing happened to make me hate the place that I can remember. I don't harbor a particular dislike for Mexicans -- or anyone of Hispanic origin for that matter -- because I believe that there are enough perfectly good reasons to dislike people on an individual basis. Of the handful of TV channels I get since I have been too lazy and too cheap to order cable, two of them are Spanish language. Heck, Mexicans built my new home.

Yet I must destroy a bunch of theirs. That's the thing about us hurricanes. For all our destructive power -- and, believe me, you have not had fun until you have blown someone's house over -- we have no free will. We go wherever the wind takes us, able only to flail about in furious circles.

Please forgive me, as David Gray once sang, for I know not what I do.

Monday, August 28, 2006


I'm probably happier than I often appear to be on these pages.

I tend to write when emotionally agitated. Feelings overflow and spill onto pages. Anything to get them out of my head. Then someone stumbles across them and thinks that's all I am: a miserable, self-loathing nutcase.

Keep that in mind.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Two-oh-six a.m. The alarm is not set to go off for another 49 minutes. The chances I go back to sleep are about the same as my winning the lottery. And I don't play the lottery. I reach down and pet the cat, get up and go to the bathroom, come back to bed and pet the cat some more. At 2:48 I get up for good.

An hour later I stand outside the front door of WTSP-TV in St. Petersburg looking for a security guard. I don't see him. Wherever he is, I hope he's keeping an eye on the employee parking lot's exit gate. It's sitting wide open. I pull out my cell phone and call the newsroom. "This is John McQuiston. I'm filling in for Meredyth on traffic today," I tell the producer who answers the phone.

"You're at the front door?" she asks.


"And the guard's not there?" If the guard were here, would I have called you?


"I'll come up and let you in."

"Thank you."

And that's the glamorous part of the job.

I don't know in how many cities this happens but each of the stations in Tampa does traffic reports on its morning show. Each anchored by an attractive young woman. I won the job of substituting for the one on Tampa Bay's CBS affiliate by answering an ad on craigslist. Yep, that's me: The backup traffic twinkie.

I am not an employee of WTSP. A company called provides the traffic information as well as the person who delivers it. The station's news director had to approve my hiring but my paycheck comes from The company has an agreement with the state of Florida to put sensors along the major roads. They record the speed of passing cars and feed the data back to company computers. When I select a map, graphic representations of actual speeds cars are traveling show up automatically. I don't make the stuff up. If there are accidents, I have to manually add the icons to the map, render it, and repeat the process for the other map or two I'll use for that report.

I put on makeup as soon as I arrive. This is good because if I don't do it now I'll forget later. It's not so good because it feels like a refrigerator inside the studio right now and my nose starts to run. Now I know why women never blow their noses with gusto. It'll wipe the makeup off.

The studio will warm up when the crew turns the lights on.

I stay busy. From 5-7 a.m., I will appear near the top and middle of each half hour plus three other times in the show. Because the traffic information on the maps is in so-called "real time," I'm always rendering the maps and rundowns at the last moment to put the freshest data on the air.

That'll put a spasm in your bowel, especially if you're not used to the pace. Or if you're simply not used to being awake at all at 5 a.m. Or if you have hyperactive intestines to begin with. Or some diabolical combination of all three.

Five oh-two a.m. My first report begins with a shot of one of the traffic cameras instead of on me. Then when I refer to the map I intend to show after the live picture, I pop up on the screen. "Did I forget to set the computer right?" I wonder aloud as I turn to look at its monitor behind me. Nope. It's set correctly. Then the map comes up.

Not the smoothest start. If you're going to have a clunker, have one which you handle smoothly and, better yet, have one right at 5 a.m. when no one is watching. Not many are driving in the 5 a.m. hour, either. Most of what I have to talk about concerns which lanes are closed on what roads for construction and when they'll fully re-open.

Five fifty-seven a.m. I finish my final report of the hour, a brief narration over a live shot of Interstate 4 east of into Tampa, and blow out a big breath. I'm exhausted. I'm only halfway done.

Part of the stress comes from having so many times to report so little. In two reports, there were no indications of slowdowns anywhere in our viewing area. That's not abnormal for that hour but it makes me paranoid that I'm missing something. The live camera pictues help. In a couple of locations at least, they confirm what the computers tell me.

Traffic volume rises with the sun and, finally, I start to see some slowdowns. Sometime after 6:30 a truck hits a light pole in I-275 west of downtown Tampa. The accident gets moved to the median quickly but people slowing down to look will clog the Interstate in both directions. I'm sorry for the people inconvenienced but I'm grateful for the material. Besides, the stoppage doesn't come from something in the road; it's from idiots who have to sightsee!

By then I have lost the nerves I felt at the beginning but I still have no time to relax because of the constant rush to prepare the next report. One after another I get through them cleanly until I reach Nirvana. Or 7 o'clock, which is close enough. I'll have reports in each of the local cut-ins to the CBS Early Show but there's only one of them each half hour.

I buy a bag of pretzels from the vending machine and munch on them in a darkened corner of the studio. I've been awake for five hours, at work for three, and this is breakfast. With time to breathe, I can't recall much of the show. I don't know if the fear of missing something will ever disappear. I'm not going to do this frequently enough to get into any kind of groove. I did three days in June. This is the first of three days here in August and I'm scheduled for two more days in September.

That's enough. I don't miss the daily grind of television. And grind is the term for it. It wears you down. My health has improved a lot since I left my last full-time TV job in Cincinnati. It's unbelievable. If the right opportunity came along, would I consider it? Absolutely. But I'm off the TV career climb. My home is here and so am I.

Now it's off to work. I still have my regular job. Then I'm supposed to drive to Lakeland to shoot a story for the statewide sports show to which I contribute stories.

I'll sleep tomorrow. Maybe.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Tuned Out

I played guitar again this morning but my song selection was different. I wasn't going to risk accidentally romancing the cat again. Instead I serenaded her with a song that, lucky for you, you have never heard. It's a tongue-in-cheek county-rock sort of number I wrote about a dozen years ago. Its last lines go like this:

Last time I saw you
Was so long ago
Last time I knew you
Was even longer before

Oh, baby, what happened
What happened to us
Our love just left us
Went down and got on a bus

I should have seen it coming
but how could I tell
I was just a ding dong
Trying to ring a Southern Belle

I sure got a lesson
Hope I learned it well
About being a ding dong
Trying to ring a Southern Belle

I'm going to take it as coincidence rather than commentary that not long after I finished Annie puked on the living room carpet. But it's true that she never cared much for my sense of humor.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I had a little time before work this morning that I filled by playing my guitar. I strummed and sang a song I wrote years ago called "Go On." It's slow and sweet and I closed my eyes as I sang its last verse:

What you mean to me
I'm just beginning to see
Of all things you need
Please say one is me

After I finished I sat with my eyes closed thinking how wonderful it would be to have someone to sing those words to in earnest. I opened my eyes and there she was, staring right at me.

I had sung the song to my cat.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My Baby

Likely having no children of my own any time soon, I've adopted. She has a Japanese name but is probably Chinese or Malaysian in origin. She'll arrive here via San Francisco in about two weeks, I'm told. It's tremendously exciting. I can't wait.

Look! They sent me a picture!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

X-ing out the Ex

My friend "Sandy" wears her heart on her sleeve. When she's dating someone, she is fully involved, as fire dispatchers describe a house engulfed in flames. That's fitting since her relationsips usually wind up like the house: Burnt down to ashes.

She just had her latest flameout and announced it on a media message board we both frequent.

The hardest thing after a break-up? Not talking to that person ESPECIALLY when something really good or really bad happens. It's like second nature to want to share it with that person who used to be in your life 24/7.

She lists positives including that she can rent any movie or listen to any music she wants without judgement and that she can eat what she wants. "He was the pickiest eater on the planet, so I had to censor everything I's so nice to be able to eat sushi and seafood again!"

She concludes by asking for advice on how to move on. "I'm doing pretty well," she writes, "but there are those days when I need him like crack cocaine."

Sandy will survive. She always has. I've listened to a crying jag mourning a previous lost love and as soon as the tears dried, she had bounced back, ready for the next flame.

But it doesn't mean she doesn't need support. She gets plenty of replies to her message. I send mine directly to her:

If it didn't hurt to lose him, he wouldn't have been worth having in the first place. You have these jumbled feelings of being glad to be rid of him yet missing him and the confusion only makes you feel worse! If breaking up was such a good thing, you wonder, why does it feel so bad? Remind yourself why you broke up. Your crack cocaine analogy is apt: Just because you want something doesn't mean it's good for you.

From your "24/7" description, it sounds like you devoted yourself so totally to him that you closed yourself off from other people close to you. That makes the void he created by his absence seem even larger. In the future consider making sure you nurture your friendships outside the relationship even when it feels like the company of your "better half" is all you'll ever need. Close friends can be places to share successes, vent frustrations and just trade "girl talk." The outlet can improve things in your relationship. It can also be your lifeline if the relationship goes bust.

A real man will never make you feel ashamed about anything you like. No woman subjected to hearing my guitar or piano playing will get a raised eyebrow from me no matter what song she turns on. Nor will he dictate what you eat or when you sleep. What the...? I'm a finicky eater myself but if you want sushi, go for it! I'll get the beef teriyaki. How difficult is that?

I know you want him to feel as miserable as you do. But as much as misery loves company, it's not going to make you feel better. Not much, anyway. Set your sights on something or someone else and let that occupy the part of your mind you're using on him. Focus not on dragging him down but on lifting yourself up. I know it's not easy. If it were, it would put a lot of songwriters out of business.

Sandy writes back: "How come you never put these great responses on line?"

Now I have.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Numbers on Paper

NPR reported that the Israeli army was planning for a push 15-20 miles farther north in Lebanon. In the flash of a moment, the idea of being a soldier sounded appealing. A second later I came to my senses about my perceived joy of war. It should not be an elective activity.

But it's simple. You get up that morning and you try not to die. With all the worries about my house -- arranging it and furnishing it and the fun with the plumber (not!) I might have mentioned -- it sounded refreshing to think of breaking everything down to its elements. How much better might it be to throw off all possessions and think of nothing but staying alive and pushing forward? Nothing will focus you on what's important like literally having to fight for your life.

How much much of our lives do we entangle in trivial minutae? My new end tables are too big for the living room. I can't decide where to hang the pictures I have because they don't match the vision I have for the room. The new granite countertops have a dull spot I've waited weeks for the installers to come polish. Where will the digital piano I plan to buy fit?


Too often I'm penny-wise and pound-foolish, which is an English saying that makes a lot more sense in England. Here it sounds like pinching pennies makes you fat. But I digress.

If I absolutely hate the end tables, I can get rid of them. They cost $250 in the clearance section at Broyhill. It's not a tragedy; it's just numbers on paper.

Just numbers on paper. I'm lucky I can look at it that way. The house is paid for and I don't live paycheck-to-paycheck like so many people do. Only people who don't have real problems have the luxury to invent them by obsessing over details that really don't matter.