My job is not the typical nine to five gig. I’ve had those jobs, I’ve enjoyed some of them and I’ve done quite well financially in the past, but one of the best parts of my job today is its unpredictability. Reporting the news requires a degree of flexibility and the willingness to make sacrifices. My hours are, in large part, dictated by events that I have nothing to do with. It helps that I am at a point in my life where I can go where the story takes me, but I really don’t view my perpetual tentativeness as a negative - I like it.
On the down side, the pay could be better. I am not starving, however, and the upward mobility at my level is huge. I am just starting this, my fifth or sixth career - I must be patient. It is a virtue I have become more adept at in my middle age and finding and living a dream job in every other respect goes a long way toward mitigating any financial stress. Furthermore, the qualities that make my job so exciting are also poised to expand and will, in time, make the experience that much richer - whether or not is does the same to my bank account.
I was writing a very dear friend just the other day about the wildfire in South Lake Tahoe. Although it does not fall within my newspaper’s coverage area, it is very close and our parent paper did have a reporter on the story. It reminded me of how exciting this job can be. Last year I had the opportunity to cover a fire at Rollins Lake, near Colfax, Calif. It was a much smaller fire than the one currently burning in Tahoe and fortunately no structures were lost. I told my friend that I would tell her the story of that experience soon. As promised, my dear…
I was on my way home from Colfax to Fair Oaks. I was listening to KFBK radio news when a story broke about a fire at the Peninsula Campground at Rollins Lake. Peninsula Campground is perhaps the most remote of all the campgrounds around the lake. I called my editor to find out if she knew about the fire. She didn’t, but she did call her boss at the Auburn Journal to see if they had anyone on it. They didn’t. My editor called me back and asked if I could cover it - we already had a photographer en route.
I had just arrived at my home when I turned around to go back up. The Auburn Journal wanted the story for the Sunday morning paper and it was already Saturday evening. At the time, all of my experience was at the Colfax Record, a weekly, with deadlines measured in days, not hours. It was about 5 p.m., by 6 p.m. I was on the scene interviewing evacuees before heading into the fire zone. I met with our photographer who was on his way out - he was done - and the public information officer for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection who took me on a tour of the fire area.
It was still on fire! Now, I am not so amazed today as I was then, but when they say a fire is contained or controlled, that does not mean it is out. We drove through a veritable inferno. I could smell it, sure, but I could taste it and feel it as well. Fortunately that day the weather was on the side of the firefighters and the fire was limited to just 30 acres (at last report, the Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe stands at 3,000 acres scorched and more than 200 structures lost). It could have been worse.
I left the scene at about 7:30 or 8 p.m. By the time I got to Colfax, it was getting very close to my deadline - the presses were waiting and the photo was already placed - they just needed my story. The pressure was on like never before. I wrote like the wind… almost as though I was possessed, watching as my fingers flew across the keyboard. Shortly before my 10 p.m. deadline, my story was filed via email and I took a deep breath. In a matter of just five hours I accomplished so very much - and beat every other newspaper. The local TV news crews were there, but we were the only paper.
Fire season is upon us once again. It will be worse than last year and I hope that we get through it without any major fires. However, if one breaks out you can bet that I’ll be dropping everything to respond to the scene and write the story. It could be a story of triumph or tragedy, of heroism or arson, of tears and joy… no matter, I’ll be there to report it. I love my job!