Among the luckiest people in the world are those who can say with some regularity, “I can’t believe people pay me to do this.” I’m one of those lucky people.
I love my work. It’s a bit hackneyed, but the truth is that journalists not only get to write the “first draft” of history, we also get a backstage pass to society — and often receive entrées into places where we really have no right to be. I’ve driven the late billionaire potato magnate J.R. Simplot around in his Lincoln with “Mr. Spud” plates while he napped, picked peaches with migrant workers in the south of France, and chowed down on goat’s head soup with Special Forces troops in Haiti. I’ve stalked elk with bow hunters in Colorado, hunted ringed seals with Eskimos in Alaska, trapped lynx in Quebec and witnessed a sting operation to arrest a Siberian tiger poacher near Vladivostok. I’ve had the incredible good fortune to report from four continents, and bear witness to some of the horror and a great deal of beauty that this planet — and its inhabitants — have to offer.
Here are perhaps my top ten memorable assignments:
10. Helicopter skiing with Laird Hamilton in Alaska’s Tordrillo range.
9. Flying on Air Force One and Marine One (the presidential helicopter) with President Bush after Hurricane Hugo.
8. Flying upcountry in Haiti in 1994 with Army Special Forces teams to secure the town of Gonaives, the birthplace of the Aristide revolution.
7. Seal hunting off the north coast of Alaska’s North Slope with Inupiaq subsistence hunters. (Salon.com)
6. Covering the 1989 San Francisco earthquake; I grew up in the Bay Area, and being able to visit immediately after the quake was very moving.
5. Traveling to Ghana and Indonesia to research a story on the modern gold rush.
4. Interviewing three of the first SWAT team members who entered Columbine High School after the shootings. Two of them had sons inside the building.
3. Meeting with former homicide detective Lou Smit in New Orleans to show Henry Lee evidence that John and Patsy Ramsey did not murder their daughter, JonBenet.
2. Hanging out with the Dalai Lama and his entourage for 10 days.
1. Being forced to pose as a Siberian tiger skin buyer in a Russian sting operation to catch poachers. We were surprised by a big, nasty man named Sergei and had to improvise.