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Archive for October, 2015

(The city of Lenoir played host last weekend to the first Smoking in the Foothills Barbecue Competition and Festival, a new event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Though the event overall has been called a success, it was not without its rookie-year hiccups, including a lack of lighting the first night at the tent were people were supposed to sample chicken wings and vote for their favorite.)

The first sign that I had erred was the screaming.

It seems that in the impenetrable darkness of the People’s Choice tent on the first night of the Smoking in the Foothills festival, instead of a chicken wing I had grabbed a woman’s wrist.

I apologized as quickly as I could remove my teeth from her tender flesh, which though lacking sufficient smoke lingered nicely on the palate. As I said, it was extremely dark, so I do not know whom I bit or whether she actually looked like a chicken — though by her springy texture and light flavor I would guess she was in her mid-20s and would pair nicely with a medium-bodied white wine — but I could hear quite clearly, which is how I know my apology was not only not accepted but profanely rejected, despite my also complimenting her repeatedly on her seasoning.

After that, before I bit into any piece of chicken that night I first asked it how it was enjoying the food. If it didn’t answer, I assumed it was a chicken leg.

On the third try, though, I learned I had to listen more closely because that lady was still chewing and unable to answer except by a grunt, and by then my teeth had nearly plunged in. Unable to see how close she was to being a snack, she simply pulled back her arm and moved on.

Casting my hands about in the dark, I listened for the sound of foil, which I knew from the brief glimpse before darkness fell was a sign of where the containers of wings were. “One, please,” I said, and pushed one of my 10 tickets toward a slightly darker area that looked like it perhaps was one of the trick-or-treat pumpkins that had been placed around the table for gathering tickets, though once it turned out to be a man’s rear end. If it were not so dark, that would not have ended well, but he couldn’t find me any better than I could find chicken legs in that abyss.

I stumbled away from him as quickly as I could, bouncing against others who were similarly blind in the dark like we were one large, slow-motion mosh pit, and when I got what I felt was a safe distance, I lifted my last chicken leg and bit into it. It crunched dryly, and my mouth filled with the taste of carbon.

Emerging into light cast by a street lamp, I blinked like a mole and looked in my hand, finding what more closely resembled a charcoal briquette than a piece of meat. Perhaps it had been chicken at one time.

A couple nearby came blinking toward the light, and the man looked down into his hand and said, “No, it’s the white ticket we’re supposed to use for voting, not a red ticket for another chicken wing.”

“Who should we vote for?” the woman said.

The man looked back into the dark mass of people, where amid the bumps and stumbling I could still hear the slurps of eating.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t even know how to find the table.”

A woman walked up, rubbing her wrist. She stood directly under the light and held her wrist close to her face.

“I was right!” she yelled, turning to face a large figure in the dark as I started to edge away toward the end of the street. “These are teeth marks!”

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I can’t stand weather news.

Of all the kinds of news that can strike, weather is the worst.

The reason I can’t stand it is the same one that causes you to take an umbrella along even if the forecast says it probably won’t rain — everyone knows the forecast is usually at least a little off. Weather is broadly predictable, but in the nitty gritty details it’s still pretty unpredictable.

And when it comes to news, I can’t stand trying to report on things that haven’t happened and might never happen.

Weather is custom-made for television. Forecasters can tell it’s coming, and they can paint colorful maps to show what’s coming, and they can talk about it endlessly before anything ever materializes. Then it gets here, and someone can stand out in the weather and tell the camera what’s happening. Then it goes away, and even if it didn’t amount to much, someone can stand outside next to a puddle and tell the camera what did or didn’t happen.

And that range of unknowns ahead of time, the portion of it that is not predictable, is why TV loves to talk about it. There are multiple scenarios. It takes time to cover them, and you can draw a different map for each one.

I’ve had reporters who ask me, after TV has been hyping a coming storm for two days but the storm is still two days out, “Shouldn’t we do a story?”

I answer, “About what? When the story runs tomorrow, the storm will still be a day away. The forecast could change.”

Forecasters will tell you for several days about a potential weather disaster, such as a winter storm or a potentially tornado-spewing line of thunderstorms, or a hurricane, and what hazards may be involved.

After all that buildup, eventually the weather gets here — or it moves somewhere else. Whether it arrives or moves, the result is almost always less than the worst-case scenario.

WE COULD GET A FOOT OF SNOW! But we get 2 inches.

THE HURRICANE COULD MERGE WITH THIS HUGE STORM! But the hurricane slides off to the east.

Hurricane Joaquin was a Category 3 hurricane heading for the Carolinas, where it would smash together with a giant cold front. Then it was a Category 4 heading for the Outer Banks, Virginia or New York, there to smash with the front. Then it started heading out to sea, to smash with nothing.

Worst is a weather system that arrives with lousy timing. For any newspaper, “lousy timing” means after deadline, when it’s simply too late for us to get anything in the paper.

For a while it looked like the worst of this weekend’s weather might hit Caldwell County on Saturday night, well past the News-Topic’s deadline. I spent a lot of time worrying how to handle that, what I would be able to get on Sunday’s front page, whether I would need to ask an extra reporter to work on the weekend, whether I’d get in trouble for running folks into overtime pay by coming in on Sunday …

But then Joaquin started moving east. By Saturday afternoon, it seemed apparent the worst had passed.

By this morning, with any luck, the only people still excited about the storm will be on TV.

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