Monday, October 6, 2008

The Real Weathermen

Stormy politics expected,
but a good chance for Obama

I asked the weathermen for their take on the presidential election – not the “domestic terrorists” that Cari-boo Barbie is trying to link to Barack Obama, but the guys who used to predict the weather at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The occasion Monday was the monthly breakfast gathering of a select group of federal retirees – the local National Weather Service forecast team and FAA air-traffic controllers.

They meet up the first Monday at the Glen Burnie IHOP, most ordering off the seniors menu, and discuss important issues of the day – as long as they pertain to sports. Politics and religion are usually not on the agenda.

Enter the invited guest – me. I don’t know the air-traffic guys beyond our meeting over pancakes, but I’d been talking to the weather guys for decades during my former life as a reporter at The Baltimore Sun assigned all too often to blather in print about heat, wind, rain and snow, not necessarily all at the same time.

So I’ll introduce them to you: Ken Shaver, a western Pennsylvania transplant whose perfectly modulated voice delivered weather radio broadcasts on WBAL and WNUV for years; Amet Figueroa, whose New York City accent might not fly for that kind of role here but was always loquacious and unintentionally funny when questioned about the steamy “good old Bermuda high;” and Fred Davis, a native Massachutan and level-headed meteorologist who was their boss as chief of the BWI forecast office.

These days, the weather forecasts come out of a centralized district office at Sterling, Va., and the trio’s been retired since the BWI operation was closed. Ken lives in Southern Maryland, Amet in Columbia and Fred in Pasadena, where he docks a boat named Bonnie Weather that honors both his vocation and his true love.

I polled the entire breakfast gang on who they’d likely vote for Nov 4, and the show of hands was about 7-5 in favor of Obama. (Yes, there are Republican sympathizers among the ranks these days, the FAA air-controllers’ 1981 strike and mass firing by Ronald Reagan notwithstanding.)

More importantly, I asked the weathermen their month-ahead predictions on who would win.

“Obama,” said Amet.

“Obama,” said Ken.

“Obama,” said Fred, with a cautionary look at one front that could put a wrinkle in such guesswork: Whether Americans, and clearly we’re talking about white Americans, will, in the privacy of the voting cubicle, accept the wind of change and choose a young African-American as their leader.

I hope so.

Odds and endings

Fred Davis and I have a little acting in common. Both of us appeared in Episode 6 during the final season of the HBO television drama “The Wire.” I have to unwrap my DVD boxed set and play it back, now that I know to look for Fred pouring tea for needy folks in a scene at the Baltimore soup kitchen Viva House where in real life he volunteers once a week. (In case you missed it, I was playing myself in the newsroom. And I don’t visit the newsroom nearly that often, since Sun retirees are made to feel less welcome than homeless men at a shelter these days.)

Spotted a lovely set of bumper stickers across the back of a Subaru Sunday, most of them with an anti-war sentiment. My favorite read: “What would Jesus bomb?” It was directly under a sticker calling for an end to bear hunting in Maryland. The peace sentiments went hand-in-hand with a ribbon-style sticker to “Support our Troops.” (Getting them out of Iraq would be a good start.)

Baseball news

It’s just as well the Chicago Cubs got swept out of the playoffs, since the team is owned by my former employer Tribune Co. and Sam Zell, whose ordered changes to The Baltimore Sun and other print properties are a journalistic nightmare. I would have loathed to see Zell holding the World Series trophy.

Speaking of baseball, I’ve never met Zell. But at a party honoring the huge Buyout Class of 2008 that shrunk the newsroom staff by about 20 percent, I whacked the celebratory Sam Zell Pinata with a baseball bat. A former colleague’s whack beheaded him like a bad scene at an Iraqi hanging. (Zell was full of it – molten chocolate coins and play money.)

About this blog

If you’re new to my blog, and that’s everyone since it’s just a week old, I’d like to introduce myself – David Ettlin, sunk to this opinion game after 40 objective years as a reporter and editor at The Sun. Since retiring in the Buyout Class of 2007, I’ve written half a dozen pre-season baseball stories for the competing Baltimore Examiner, filled in as an editor at the Baltimore Business Journal and Maryland Daily Record, written the cover story for the inaugural edition of the latter’s free monthly publication Exhibit A, and contemplated getting off my duff and writing a novel.

You can turn me up through a Google search doing a YouTube video about the first real tragedy I covered as a young reporter; telling tales at Stoop Storytelling (in June 2007 as Audience Storyteller No. 2, and as a featured speaker in that December’s annual “Holidays from Hell” spectacular); as a byline on a bunch but nowhere near all of the news stories I’ve written; and in tales of past lives by people who knew me back when.

I’m aiming to produce original material here, rather than (allowing for occasional exceptions) link after link to what others are writing on the Web. I’m hoping to post new material at least three days a week, after my daily-posting pace wears thin. And I hope, if you enjoy it, you message this link to your Internet pals:

Special thanks to folks at sites including and who have pointed out the Cyberspace path to some of to my initial postings here.

And thanks for visiting!


MitchHellman said...

I look forward to reading your novel-- provided that somewhere in it the hero opens up a fortune cookie and reads: "Your curiosity may mean your death, Earthling!"

Dan Thanh Dang said...

ettlin!! just found out about your blog through mcintyre's... so glad you're writing again. looking forward to reading more. the newsroom's not the same these days.

Anonymous said...

Good post.