Every Year is Election Year

One thing that’s truly great about being a journalist in Virginia, as it may very well be in many other states: every year is election year.

And for the record, every statement in this post should have an asterisk with the footnote “all politics aside.” This is not a partisan post.

Every odd-numbered year is a Virginia House election and a Charlottesville city council election. Virginia senators are elected to four-year terms on the odd years. And then, of course, the even years give us U.S. House elections, the occasional U.S. Senate election and the ever-dramatic presidential election.

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Flying Patients on the Wings of an Angel

“It’s just like driving a bulldozer.”

Well, I’m glad I just got my bulldozer’s license renewed.

Charlotteville pilot Steve Sargeant invited me and my photographer buddy, Mike, on a sightseeing trip above the city. The plane ride was planned. My copiloting was not.

“You’re going to taxi us to the runway,” he told me. That’s when he mentioned taxiing the plane was like driving a bulldozer. Left means right. Right means left. There’s no steering with your hands. It’s all done with your feet.

And then he told me I’d be in charge of take up.

“Pull this back, and as you’re pulling back, push this up to 25. Then stop. Then once you get to 25, push it all the way up. And keep pulling back.”

What?

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From the Epicenter to the Eye

A text woke me up Thursday morning at 9:30 (it was my day to sleep in).

“You’re going to the Outer Banks tomorrow.” From my boss.

Less than 24 hours later, I was en route to Chocowinity, a small town in eastern North Carolina. CBS19’s sister station, WITN, needed a few extra hands to cover Hurricane Irene as the storm prepared to make landfall. Within one week, I covered a national headline-grabbing earthquake, and now I’m reporting on what’s supposed to be the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. in a few years.

I left Charlottesville early Friday morning to embark on the four-hour drive to North Carolina. Upon arriving, I was almost immediately sent to interview the interim county manager for Beaufort County. And then I shot a quick story on the supermarket running out of milk, bread and eggs as people began stocking up on supplies.

I left my hotel room shortly before 6 a.m. Saturday, apparently just minutes before it lost power. Hurricane Irene was in full force. I was first sent to a car wreck that was 20 minutes away from the station. After an hour and a half of navigating rural roads I’ve never seen before, I still can’t find the scene. I hit many roadblocks (literally) in the form of downed trees and power lines, flooded roads or some sort of combination. By the time I get close, a firefighter tells me the scene was cleared, but I interviewed him on the condition of the roads. The rest of the day was spent covering the storm itself before spending 12 hours in a powerless, humid motel room.

The busiest day by far was Sunday. The town of Washington, just north of Chocowinity, was covered with water the day before. I covered the damage — a toppled gas canopy, a few missing roofs, countless trees and power lines in the roads — before searching for the Belle of Washington. For that remarkable story, check out the video below.

After three days of 12+ hour shifts, I took had one final sleep in my air condition-less motel and headed back to Charlottesville. It was an eye-opening weekend spent in Mother Nature’s wrath, and I managed to return home relatively dry and with experiences many reporters dream of. (And yes, I did shoot a standup where I am getting dowsed by Hurricane Irene’s heavy rains while trying to maintain balance with the winds. You have to check that one out here.)

From the epicenter of the earthquake to the eye of the hurricane. Maybe the Weather Channel has an opening… (Kidding.)

From NC to NYC: Virginia Quake Shakes the East

I was sitting in my car after an Old Navy shopping trip and a Smoothie King stop. Then, my car started shaking.

I looked around, and no one seemed to react. I wasn’t sure what I had just felt, so my natural reaction — I tweeted. “Did I just feel an earthquake!?” My phone then exploded with texts from my brother and friends asking if I was OK or alive.

I rushed home, saw the CNN coverage and tried calling work. Couldn’t get through.

I swapped my shorts for jeans, put on my newly purchased Old Navy flip-flops and ran out the door to work. Within 30 seconds of stepping into the newsroom, I was sent to Mineral, Va., the epicenter of the earthquake.

What amazed me most about covering the earthquake was how eerily normal everything appeared. Sure, there was damage from the earthquake — two homes were destroyed, many others heavily damaged — but you had to look hard for the damage. Still, it was very easy to empathize with those who lost a lot, like the Brunson family I interviewed (in the video below).

Mineral is a small town between Charlottesville and Richmond. There aren’t many tall buildings, if any at all. That might not provide much comfort to those with damaged homes, worrying if insurance will cover the cost of repairs, but should something have happened closer to a metropolis like Richmond, there might have been more than the zero fatalities or serious injuries Central Virginia saw.

As far as news goes, it was exciting to cover a major event in our own backyard that had a national impact. But even one week after the quake, the cleanup continues.

Seven Stories in 14 Hours

As happens in smaller markets, people leave. At times, many people leave at once.

A side effect of this is temporarily being short staffed. Such was the case on Saturday, in which I obtained video for seven separate events. Fourteen hours later, I was ready for bed.

The day started with an emotional tribute to those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. People gathered outside the Albemarle County Office Building at 8:30 a.m. It was a very musical event, as you can hear below.

Following the memorial was the 2010 Memory Walk for the local Alzheimer’s Association, then the Midtown Festival, then the 2010 Beer Fest. When I finally think there’s time to rest, there’s a gun found outside an elementary school. As I head to shoot exteriors of the school, I find the road is closed. Turns out the house directly across from the school is on fire. So I got two birds with one stone.

The good news here — no one was injured in either incident.

I get back to the station with 20 minutes before the anticipated start of the 6 p.m. newscast. At 6:30, I leave to cover my final event of the day — a 7 p.m. black tie affair for the Jefferson Scholars Foundation at the University of Virginia. When I return back to the station after the event, I learn the 6 p.m. show never happened, thanks to the U.S. Open.

While I had no lunch break and got to bed immediately after returning home, it’s days like this why I love what I do. You never know what’s coming up next.