broadsideblog

On Assignment!

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, travel, work on March 18, 2011 at 12:19 pm
The offices of The Gazette newspaper on Saint ...

One of my former newspaper employers...Image via Wikipedia

Are there any sweeter words?

Not for me.

I’ve been writing for a living since I was 18 and almost every story gets me excited, still.

Last week, barely off the plane from Vancouver after three weeks away from home, I drove three hours each way deep into the Catskills to visit a maple syrup producer in Harpersfield, NY.

I grew up in Canada so the stuff flows in my veins. I so love maple syrup I carry a container of it whenever we go to a diner for pancakes.

Here’s the story, in today’s New York Times.

These are a few of the stories from my 30-year career I remember most:

Best

Crewing aboard The Endeavour, a replica of Captain Cook’s ship, for a week between Norwalk, CT and Newport, RI. Slept in a hammock every night, climbed the rigging dozens of times a day to 100 feet in the air to work enormous square canvas sails while standing on (shriek!) a swaying narrow footrope. A paid journey into the 18th. century.

A day in the Arctic village of Salluit, while a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. We landed in a tiny prop plane on an airstrip of ice, greeted by members of the village of 500, including the mayor on his snowmobile. The story we’d been sent, at $5,000 expense to report, so pissed off the village that I had to go on the radio (a particle-board shack) to be interviewed in English, translated into Inuktitut, to placate everyone enough to even talk to me. No pressure!

Interviewing Patty Varone, the female NYPD veteran who was the bodyguard for former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani for nine years, and who helped to keep him alive on 9/11, for my book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.” Everyone thinks he was the hero, while it was her job — while dodging falling bodies — to protect him and find somewhere safe to run to.

Bird-dogging Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip for two weeks as they toured New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba. Such pomp! In the back of her car, a suitcase with one large red tag, with two imitable words: “The Queen.” Equerries, everywhere! A group of reporters were invited for cocktails aboard her (then) yacht Britannia and the engraved invitation, gold-edged, from the Master of the Household, still graces my kitchen wall. Her jewelry is gob-smackingly huge. Those are real emeralds and diamonds, kids!

Performing in “Sleeping Beauty” at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center with Rudolf Nureyev. I was a “super” (short for supernumerary, i.e. an extra), playing a Lady in Black, one of the retinue of Carabosse, the evil witch who casts the spell on the princess at her 16th. birthday party. Not being a dancer, not knowing the score (literally), not having had the benefit of a dress rehearsal (!?), I descended the set’s huge staircase about 10 bars too early on opening night. On another evening,  my costly, one-of-kind costume skirt got caught on a soldier’s sword as I was trying to exit. A traffic jam of pissed-off professional dancers behind me hissed “Hurry up!” behind me. Stress? Moi?

Worst

Grilling women who had suffered a variety of tragedies, from losing a husband to a heart attack in front of them to having their home burn down.

– Being sent on a “stake-out” to the Edison Hotel in midtown Manhattan in 80 degree heat and humidity to stalk and interview two Quebec female tourists, one of whom had been stabbed while crossing the street. This meant standing for 6-8 hours at a stretch, surrounded by a dozen competing reporters, on the dirty pavement and hoping to grab the girls, alone and first, whenever they showed up.

– Covering a bloody and horrific head-on crash between a bus and a personal vehicle, in Montreal on a winter’s night. The car windows were sheeted with blood. I had to take my drivers’ test the very next day. (I passed.)

I love the adventure, intimacy, travel and astonishing variety of people I’ve met on assignment — everyone from Prime Ministers to Billy Joel, convicted felons, Olympic athletes, politicians, physical therapists, Boy Scouts. I love stuffing a notebook and a few pens into my jacket pocket or bag and setting off to hear some new stories. I love the challenge of having to decide, on the fly with no direction from a boss, what’s important and what to leave out (knowing they can alway challenge me later!)

I love coming home with my head and my notebook filled with great details and quotes and sifting through them all to make sense of them.

Too bad that print journalism is a dying industry (and on-line writing pays much less.)

Have you ever read a story and wished you’d covered it?

Or — like Japan’s radiation crisis or the four missing Times journos in Libya, thanked your stars you weren’t there?

  1. Wow, what a life you have led! I envy you in so many ways. Have I ever read a story and wished I had covered it? YES! Daily. I wish that I hadn’t given into fears and doubts and pursued the journalism career I dreamed of long ago. Congratulations on living a life full of adventure and words. I know print journalism is struggling, but I think we don’t know yet what form writing is going to take.

    Your maple sugar story is making me homesick. Sigh.

    Lisa

  2. Thanks! I have been very lucky and been able to persuade editors along the way to allow me to do such fun things. Journalism can be awful and awfully dull, but when it’s fun it can be the most fun you can have and get paid for it.

  3. Every day I see stories I wish I had covered or thought about.

  4. Lovely, bsb. Wow, you have notched up some incredible memories.
    Sunshine xx

  5. Oh my, you’ve crewed aboard the Endeavour! Coincidentally, the Australian National Maritime Museum’s replica sets her sails today to circumnavigate the Australia: http://www.endeavourvoyages.com.au/

    I have spent the last year wishing I was one of the crew aboard, but it wasn’t something I could afford. Today I am sitting in an office on the other side of the country with the distinct feeling I should be somewhere else.

    On topic though, I’ve read many a story I’ve wish I’d covered. Most of them are in National Geographic. I’ve never been able to spend any amount of time looking deep into something that mattered to me personally because of other obligations. National Geographic’s excellence has always been something to aspire to.

    But today though, I’d give anything to have covered this one: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2005-10-02/news/18311885_1_tugboats-container-ship-first-mate
    :) Or closer to my present home, this one: http://www.afloat.com.au/afloat-magazine/archive/2007_August2007_TugstheworkerantsofAustraliasharbours.htm

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