Weather or Not

By: Vanessa Stallsmith

             I sat on the edge of my chair as my teacher passed out thin pieces of paper in the silhouette of a person. These paper people had no names, no genders, and no life stories. They were blank, but soon to be colored with various crayons and markers, depicting what we wanted to be when we grew up. “Alright friends,” my teacher had a strange bond with our particular first grade class so much so that she thought of us as “friends”. “Today I want you to draw what you want to be when you grow up!” The classroom instantaneously electrified with small hands excitedly grabbing for utensils so that they may color a fireman’s hat, a stethoscope, or a pair of handcuffs. I turned to the girls next to me, whose shirts were decorated with pink horses or cartoon puppies. After examining their career choices, I found that I may have been the only girl in the room who didn’t want to be a veterinarian or a stay at home mom.

             At the ripe age of 6 I was already a planner. I made no rash decisions, and I thought everything through with great detail. This task of coloring a paper person to represent my future career choice was no small task. In my mind, I believed that whatever character I drew on that insignificant piece of paper would hold significance for the rest of my life. As most of the kids were finishing up, I was just beginning. Careful consideration led me to my future profession.

             I snagged colored pencils and crayons from the table adjacent to me and began to produce a piece of artwork that would hang proudly on my refrigerator for years to come. As I added final details, children around the room began taking turns saying aloud what they had hoped to be in the future. Through various lisps and shy tones of voice, I managed to hear that it had seemed that my generation would be filled with police men, teachers and astronauts.

             Finally, it was my turn to share what I wanted to be. My future aspirations that would dictate what I studied, where I went to college, and the person I would become. To my bright eyed self, this was the culmination of my existence. I sat up in my chair, twirled my long blonde locks of unbrushed hair, swung my legs that were too short for my body, and said “I want to be a meteorologist”.

             Years passed and I found myself in the same position. Sitting up in my chair, twirling my blonde, more kept hair, and swinging my legs that were still too short for my body. The man sitting across from me was a professional meteorologist at AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania. He seemed friendly enough, but in a reserved way. His tufts of hair were combed over to the side, and he had tightened his tie just a nod too much that morning. I felt as though this man was too smart for his own good. The room was artificially lit with a smell of new office supplies and somewhat sweaty, intellectual men. I was probed with a question yet again, but this time it wasn’t “what do you want to be when you grow up”, it was “why do you want to be a meteorologist”.

             My eyes shifted about the room. I searched for anything that could relieve me from that man’s inviting, yet slightly disinterested stare. The office I was being questioned in had a window overlooking the meteorological beehive of work that took place downstairs. It looked almost like a scene from one of those futuristic movies where everything is electronic. More men that looked like my interviewer hurried across the room, comparing data with others and frantically scratching down notes. Vivid diagrams of weather patterns decorated the big screens in this elaborate room, and each were quickly changing.

             After not answering my interviewers question because of a sheer lack of words, I was sent down to dive into this sea of meteorologists. Of course I had chosen to job shadow a weather facility on the day of the biggest freak snow storm Pennsylvania had seen in years.  I was initially given a printed schedule with very specific time slots I was to follow throughout the day. 15 minutes were allotted to Diane, their TV weather broadcaster, 20 minutes for Jim in the IT department, and 10 measly minutes for George, their executive. As I was passed around from person to person, each one gave me short, swift responses in order to not be distracted from the meteorological breakthrough they were about to make. Each individual who graced me with their presence seemed to be distant, preoccupied, and a tad nerdy.

             Although I may have not gotten the exact responses I was hoping for, I could tell everyone working there was passionate about one thing: the weather. Those who lacked personal skills almost made up for it in their vast knowledge of the Earth’s atmosphere and forecasting that we so often take for granted.  I began growing bored of the people I met with, and started to feel disinterested and detached from those around me. All of these workers shared a common interest that seemed to animate their way of life, and I simply couldn’t connect.

             I began to feel the well of anxiety filling in the pit of my stomach. A sharp feeling of terror started in my heart and began to melt its way down until I had felt as though someone kicked me in the stomach. My mind instantly raced back to my 6 year old self deciding this was the profession for me. Was I going to let that bright eyed blonde down? Was I about to derail from a plan I had set in stone for almost 11 years? As I was internally screaming at myself, my thoughts were interrupted by a stout, white haired man who was next on my agenda for the day. I was disoriented and surprised when he introduced himself, but I was able to catch the important part.

His name was Bill.

             Bill was the first genuine face I had seen all day. He was simple, yet well put together, like an older gentlemen who refused to retire. His belly was expertly tucked into his pants under a secure belt buckle, as if he was trying to convince someone he was skinnier than he truly was. His glasses sat on a small crook in his nose, and he had wrinkles etched on his face from years of smiles and laughter. His hair sat back on his head a little more than usual, probably due to the amount of time it had been up there.  He was friendly and inviting, and led me to his office so that I could learn his trade.

             Bill was AccuWeather’s radio personnel. A profession he had told me was fleeting due to the invention of the television and internet. But, he seemed to thoroughly enjoy the novelty of his job. He had told me that he had to do a quick broadcast, then he would chat with me about meteorology. I watched as he centered the mic near his pursed mouth, and adjusted his posture as if the people he was broadcasting to could actually see him. He situated his script in front of himself, clearing his voice a few times before he knew he would be on air. He took a deep breath, pushed a button on an ancient looking radio board, and delivered his broadcast. His voice was enticing and clear, offering details to the listeners about potential weather predicaments. He signed off, removed his headphones, and turned back to me exclaiming “I sure do love my job”.

             This was an interesting phrase to me. How could someone be so passionate about something as monotonous as giving the weather to people who were probably tuning it out anyways. Over the next hour, Bill explained to me that he had been with AccuWeather for 50 years, and adored every second of it. As I began to discover that Bill was a walking, talking wealth of knowledge, I started to open up and ask more questions. Suddenly, our simple conversation about the weather and the years turned into something much more philosophical.

             “Ever since I was small, I’ve wanted to be a meteorologist”, I poured out to this kind man, “but, after today, I’m not so sure.” He looked at me with caring blue eyes that gave me a sense of ease. He explained to me that he too had struggled with a career choice. He told me the oh so familiar story of someone probing him in high school about his future career choices. “When I had no answer for them, they scolded me and told me I was running out of time” he admitted as he pushed up his glasses. “I had a lot of pressure stemming from my parents and my teachers that I didn’t know what to do. I searched for something to spark my interest, but I found nothing. I decided to settle on being in the Armed Forces, but I was never satisfied. I wanted more out of life. Some…zest!” he exclaimed as his eyes began to light up. “And that’s when I found meteorology. They needed some recruits to do the weather reporting while deployed and I fell in love. Everything I was doing had such a purpose to me, I felt complete” his smile plastered on his face proved to me that he was telling the truth.  

             We talked for another half an hour about his wife, his kids and his grandkids. We chatted about topics I wouldn’t even talk about with my own grandfather. Conversation was easy and simple with Bill, as if we had known each other for eternity. I had a connection to Bill, and I knew in that moment that his words were going to stick by me for the rest of my life. I glanced at my watch and had realized that I missed my last four sessions with other AccuWeather employees, but none of that seemed to matter. As I was about to thank him for his time and excuse myself, he decided to add one more thought to chew on. “If you aren’t going to be happy in this line of work, then don’t do it. Your job should be something you love, something that brings you to life. Without any thought as to what will make you the most money, or bring you the most recognition, tell me truthfully: what do you want to be when you grow up?”

             I looked at his genuine face, gnawed on the question in my head, and began to formulate an answer in my mouth. I sat in his high swivel chair, twirled my long blonde hair, swung my legs that were too short to touch the ground, and decided to decline the question.