Chatham began battening down the spiritual hatches yesterday afternoon, preparing for Tropical Storm Beryl to do its worst to our collective mood as well as to roofs, windows, and boats. Conversations finished up and down Main Street with, "Stay dry," and "Don't get blown away." A happy TV guy interviewing tourists out in front of the bookstore was thrilled by the possibility Beryl was going to knock us all six ways from Sunday and fill our shoes with water.
"I love weather!" he exclaimed to a couple he had frozen in front of his camera and he threw an arm over the woman's shoulder and pulled her to him for a hug.
At 10:30 last night I went out to find a cup of coffee and get a feel for what might be blowing in. The air was heavy and humid but there was no wind and although the sky was clouded over, the clouds were high, and there were breaks where stars shone through. But the streets felt swept of people, and the shops emptier and darker than usual for this time of night. And Daisy's, my late night hope for coffeee, had closed earlier, a handwritten note taped to the front door apologizing for that---insincerely, I thought.
Fortunately, the Anytime Cafe was living up to its name---it doesn't always, there have been plenty of times when I've gone there and it's been closed---and put into port there. There were no other customers. A tall, burly, boyish college worked the counter and a there was a waitress still on the clock, dark-haired, pale, with a comical grin, but pretty and with an air of practicality and skill---someone who knew how to do her job well and got a kick out of it. Both greeted me cheerfully, with no sign that they felt cheated out of a chance to close up early by the arrival of another customer.
While the counter guy was getting my coffee, another employee, another college kid, skinny, with thick wavy hair and wearing a long apron came out from the back room pushing a broom that he leant on for a second to watch the silent TV on the wall. Colorful arrows swirled and darted over a green map of the New England coastline.
I asked the counter guy if he'd heard the latest forecast. He said he hadn't been paying attention. The TV had been on mute. He, the waitress, and I had a short conversation about how trying to follow the weather news on TV can be maddening, frustrating, and useless. No matter how much you tell yourself that that this storm might be the storm, the weatherfolk and news chatterers have cried wolf so many times that you just can't help tuning it out.
The counter guy said that the news people are all afraid that another Katrina will blow up and they'll miss getting the jump on the competition in covering it. He remembered how a few summers back sharks were all over the news the way hurricanes have been this year. There'd been a couple of shark attacks in local waters and the TV news types went on Jaws watch 24/7.
Turned out, according to the counter guy, there were fewer shark attacks than average that summer.
Heading down Main St with my cup of coffee I came upon a small crowd on the sidwalk looking up at the second floor porch of a storefront where another TV crew had set up. A reporter was waiting to go live. The lights were on, spilling enough onto the street below that the crowd down there was as brightly illuminated as the reporter himself, and the cameraman was waiting with his camera shouldered and aimed.
The reporter was not the same guy I saw hugging tourists earlier. He was younger, thinner---very thin, in fact, with a narrow, sharp-featured face, all nose and long jawline under his baseball cap. He held his mic at the ready and was moving his jaw side to side, compressing his lips comically, loosening up his talking muscles.
A couple of long mintues pass and then, without any signal that we civilians could hear, the reporter wore an earphone, he started talking to the camera. He was good at it. He treated the lens as if it was the eyes of whatever anchor he was connected to back at the station---at one point he missed something the anchor said and, asking for the question to be repeated, leaned his head toward the camera as if it was talking and he needed to get in closer to hear it better.
Turned out he had nothing to report. All he could do was talk about the weather the Cape has had, the tropical wetness that turned New England into a terrarium all spring. "There's no correlation," he was quick to point out, not wanting to be caught predicting anything. "But it's often the case that the patterns of the spring will continue through July and August." Which was to say that hot, wet, muggy Junes have been followed by hot, wet, muggy summers during which there have been hurricanes and tropical storms and there have been hurricanes and tropical storms in other summers too and around here most hot, wet, muggy summers go by without the Cape sinking or washing or blowing away.
But in other developments: the reporter switched gears and topics instantly and smoothly. "We got to spend the day with the Harbor Master!"
Cut to tape.
This morning was cloudy and blustery with signs that there'd been rain in the night. I walked down to the beach. The storm, what there'd been of it, had left behind three TV news trucks, with their satellite dishes raised. There was a crew down on the beach, standing on the water's edge, a power cable snaking down the stairs and out to them across the sand. The crew from the second truck had gotten permission from the Coast Guard to set up in the lighthouse. The cameraman, a young man with a ballcap on backwards was away from his equipment, leaning on his arms on the glass and staring morosely out at the not very wild ocean.
The third crew were in their truck drinking coffee and glaring out at the beach and the awful bleakness of a non-story undeveloping before them.
By the time I came back with the blonde and the boys an hour later, the trucks were gone. The wind had died and the clouds were breaking up. There were some good sized breakers but that was just hide tide.
Seacoast towns and fishing villages like Chatham have to be wary of storms, and if a hurricane comes along forcing the Cape to be evacuated, it'd be a nightmare. But the weather news these days is just a matter of improvised storm watches. TV covers weather all the time as if catastrophe lurks in every stray cloud and any snowflake might be the start of a historic blizzard. I've often wondered who the audience for all this weather news is.
Now I know.
It's Tom Watson.
Tom, a self-confessed lightningphobe, is convinced that nature is out to get him, and it's out to get him with the most determination and most cruelty in summertime, as he reports in The Isobar Scene.