I OFTEN ENVY MY counterparts in New York or Los Angeles, imagining the sleek heels, sexy boots or strappy sandals they wear while covering, say, Fashion Week or a Hollywood premiere. I like to believe my gig as a television news reporter in Portland requires a more sensible (and complex) arsenal of footwear. And I have a trunkful of shoes to prove it.
My fleece-lined Sorel snow boots are always at the ready for those days I’m expected to announce the first flake on Sylvan Hill; I rely on my rubber hip-waders for February floods at Johnson Creek; a nighttime Forest Park report on illegal homeless camps necessitates Columbia Razor Ridge hiking boots; and I lace up my Adidas Supernova running shoes on days I know I’ll be squeezing into the backseat of a cop car for an undercover marijuana bust. You never know when you might have to sprint.
My sole savvy somehow lapsed the day the United States went to war in Iraq, though. On that particular morning, I’d decided to slip on a pair of uncomfortable brown pumps, and was subsequently forced to jog—make that hobble—through downtown Portland for almost six hours while covering the biggest protest I’d encountered as a general assignment reporter for FOX 12.
It was nearly 6 p.m. on March 20, 2003, when my photographer and I waded into the mayhem at SW 2nd Ave and W Burnside. Hundreds of protesters brandishing cardboard signs were blocking the streets and chanting slogans against President Bush. They stood face-to-face with about 75 grimly determined police officers, clad in full riot gear, who were ordering the crowd to disperse and, when it didn’t, dragging the most defiant individuals to a paddy wagon. Then the cops transformed into human street-sweepers, herding the crowd south, heading straight toward me. And so I ran. My photographer ran. And as I ran I called in a live report on my cell phone: “Um, now we’re running! I have to go!”
It was chaos. And chaos is news, especially in laid-back Portland.
Later, as protesters sabotaged our 10 p.m. live coverage by screaming “Fuck the corporate media! Fuck FOX News! We don’t want you here!” (while my feet screamed bloody murder), I felt the familiar, daily wave of humility wash over me. Ahhh, Portland. Always there to keep a local news reporter on her swollen toes.
My broadcast news career began much more quietly nine years ago in Eugene. After a brief stint as the evening producer for the ABC affiliate, I was eventually hired as a general assignment reporter for the city’s NBC station. At $7.50 an hour, my salary closely rivaled that of a burger flipper, and I endured the silliness requisite of any newbie reporter working in a small TV news market: “Escaped pet wallaby seen hopping through traffic on Main Street. Details at 11!” You get the idea.