At 2:45 p.m., a beautiful pastel rainbow broke over the toxic waste dumps, landfills and refineries outside Newark.
I knew I had failed. Hurricane Gloria had escaped.
Oh, I had seen a few traces. The water in my Alexandria basement this morning; flooded parking lot in Wilmington; a stoplight out in Philadelphia; and a rescue squad in Elizabethtown, N.J.
But after seven hours of searching, Hurricane Gloria was nowhere to be found. I am not sure it exists except on television.
Following the news reports of Gloria almost makes one forget how little danger can be involved in a modern-day hurricane. With early-warning tracking systems, evacuation plans and minute-by-minute reports on television, only fools and sinners need to be caught in a hurricane.
Reporters are something else. We live for the warts on the world, the abnormalities of life. We're supposed to bring order that doesn't exist out of wars and hurricanes. Editors regard us as cannon fodder. The rain slicker, boots and flannel shirt in my suitcase had survived two floods, three hurricanes, a tornado and two presidential campaigns.
My search for Gloria began with a 7:15 a.m. phone call. A message: Find Gloria. Preferably somewhere in New England.
But all flights out of National were canceled. Next came the Minute Man, an Amtrak train bound for Boston. The name inspired urgency and speed. Peering out the window of the Minute Man, storm cliches began forming in my head: Hurricane Gloria crashes through New England uprooting trees, smashing windows, destroying homes and sending millions of people to higher ground . . . . "
Storm journalism is an exercise in cliches. Interview anyone after a hurricane or tornado and he'll tell you: "It sounded like a locomotive." Airplanes landing at National over my house sound the same way.
The Minute Man wasn't the way it sounded. It was slow. Slow, bumpy and unhurried. When I finally arrived in New York, more than an hour late, the headlines of the New York Post made it sound as though devastation was all about:
"A Turn for the Worse -- Gloria Socks It to the City," the front page headline said. "The Power of an Atomic Bomb," Page 2 said. "Get Out if You Live Near the Water," Mayor Edward I. Koch said.
At the train station, I found a girl from Levittown who said the storm had uprooted a tree on her block, and a man at the bar at Charley O's in Madison Square Garden said he had been on the 48th floor of a building across the street when the storm hit. "You could feel the whole building shake," he said.
But on Seventh Avenue the sky was clear and blue. The sunlight glistened off the Empire State Building. A few puddles stood on the street. It looked like a beautiful April day.
I called the boss. He told me to come home and "treat yourself to a good dinner on Amtrak."
I ate three cheeseburgers.