Hey did you hear? Diana Nyad set a world record Monday, swimming from Cuba to Key West, unassisted, achieving at age 64 a goal she first attempted in 1978.
If you heard it on NPR you might have heard it from me. No, really! For a couple of months now my house has been custodian of an Edirol, a nice little professional recording device a couple steps up from your average digital voice recorder, thanks to the good folks at WLRN. Who woke up Monday morning like everybody else on the planet to realize Holy sh*t, she’s still swimming! She might actually make it this time! And started scrambling for coverage.
Which in this case meant me. And suddenly I was not only WLRN’s reporter on the scene, I was NPR’s reporter on the scene. Holy sh*t is right. Not only are my reporting muscles woefully out of shape but I am terrified of relying on technology and in radio, you can’t take notes by hand. I haven’t played seriously in years and suddenly they call me for the Show?
Fortunately technology has improved an awful lot since the days of acoustic coupler uploads and crappy hand-me-down Toshiba laptops that required reloading the software EVERY TIME YOU TURNED IT ON so I mostly concentrated on making sure the recorder was really recording, that the levels weren’t blasting beyond fixability and that I wasn’t running down my cellphone battery. As Nyad reached the beach and the crowd got out of hand, I mostly concentrated on not dropping the recorder or my cellphone while simulatenously trying to record and photograph the arrival. I didn’t drop either, though most of what I recorded and photographed were the shoulders and backs of the heads of all the people shoving to try to get their own cellphone pictures and videos of Nyad.
Later, when she was on a gurney hooked up to an IV, I joined the scrum around here and did manage to capture a little audio of her, which you can hear in my piece for WLRN. See that guy in the blue button down shirt? That’s Kerry Sanders from NBC. See that hand just to Sanders’ left, holding out a recorder? That’s me! And I managed to restrain myself from elbowing Sanders in the gut, even though I have been waiting for just such an opportunity since about 1997. I think he was still with the NBC affiliate in Miami then and I was with the Herald. We were both covering a University of Miami scientist’s work on coral spawning off Key Largo. We were in a small boat. It was kind of a rough night. The boat stayed in the same place for a long time. I am prone to seasickness. By the time we were actually in the water, I was puking in my snorkel. I do not recommend this experience. We finally got back on the boat. We were ready to get underway. Then Sanders decided he just had to have one more shot of himself jumping into the water. This required his cameraman to suit back up in all his scuba gear and get the camera’s water housing all back together. Then Sanders had to suit back up in all his scuba gear. And jump into the water again. Which he’d already done, on camera.
In the meantime, I was dry heaving over the side of the boat with one thing going through my head: I hate TV.
Being on the big NPR, talking with Siegel, was kind of terrifying — so terrifying that I actually don’t really remember it and I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to it yet. But I’m told it sounded OK and that Siegel even managed to pronounce Klingener. I returned to my real life the next day, checking in moldy library books and giving out coupons for Internet access. But it was kind of fun to return, just for an afternoon, to that mix of terror and adrenaline rush of finding yourself on a big story with way less preparation than you’d like and little idea what you’re doing — and you go ahead and do it anyway.