Dress shoes and nice slacks aren’t the best gear for running down highways. Trust me. I know this from experience.
Monday afternoon got off to a quick start when I arrived at the Daily Telegraph’s newsroom. We were hearing police scanner traffic after some kind of traffic holdup, but we were having a hard time pinpointing it. Sometimes we pick up scanner traffic from well outside our area. One time I thought a hazardous chemical spill was underway on Interstate 77, but it turned out to be in Raleigh County.
Then Editor Samantha Perry realized were we hearing some radio traffic between Bluefield Area Transit (BAT) drivers, so I called up transit headquarters and learned there had been a truck crash along Route 52 in McDowell County. I called McDowell County 911 and got better directions, we called photographer Jon Bolt, and we headed for Eckman.
Pictures: bridesmaid dresses
Photographers generally wear clothes that are more suitable for crash scenes and fires, but reporters are usually expected to dress office style. Dress clothes and ties are good for press conferences, but they don’t work very well when walking along a highway.
Jon and I found the scene, parked and started walking. Motorists were being rerouted, and we rarely can park our cars right near the crash, anyway. We got out and started hiking. Cinders crunched underfoot and passing vehicles whipped up dust. I think we walked at least a quarter mile before we got as far as we were going to get. A yellow fire line tape had been strung across the highway. We weren’t going any further. The action was just behind a curve.
Sometimes we get so close, but still so far away. The tractor-trailer was hauling fuel, so there were concerns about sparks and safety. One firefighter said if we went back and went under a bridge and down another road, we could get a good view of the wreckage. I asked if there was any way we could talk to the fire chief in charge; I knew that wasn’t going to be right away, but you often have to be patient.
I was wearing dress slacks, a dress shirt, a tie and what you could technically call dress shoes. I bought the shoes on sale and opted for ones with thick soles and no real shine I had to worry about. Walking down a highway wasn’t what shoe designers had in mind for them, but that’s where my job took that pair. When I went home, those shoes were covered with dust, and I doubt my clothes were in better shape. I try not to buy really expensive attire for that very reason; not that I could afford a closet full of the latest fashions. I’ve never been tempted to buy anything like fashionable sunglasses for that very reason. They’re too expensive and I’ll probably lose them anyway.
Smoke is another problem when it comes to wearing dress clothes. When a structure burns, it puts out this stinking black smoke that soaks into everything. Anyone who goes to a fire scene carries the odor with them all day. One time I took time to take off a cherished scarf when I got to a fire scene because I didn’t want it smelling of smoke. Sometimes the odor lingers for days, so all you can do is be patient and do laundry.
And then there is the mud. One time photographer Eric DiNovo and I had to find a crime scene in Tazewell County. The ground was soaked from a recent storm, and we had to walk up a muddy hill to reach our destination. Of course, I was wearing dress shoes because we left the newsroom as quickly as possible, so I didn’t think to bring any other shoes. I probably carried away a pound of mud on each shoe, and getting them clean again took a while. It helps to have an old pair of shoes you don’t mind throwing into the trash.