The Dude is Apparently Not Famous
Real fame has eluded me, and I'm probably a better person for it.
I am the Weather Dude®. It's hard to see on this page, but there's a little R in a circle after those two words. That means that I have paid money to the U.S. Patent and Trademark office to secure that name for myself. Sure, I wear a lot of names more important than that particular one: I am husband, father, grandfather, child of God. But I paid a bureaucracy of the U.S government to become the one and only official government-sanctioned “Weather Dude,” and I wear the name proudly.
So what is a “Weather Dude?” Years ago when I became a TV meteorologist, the weather office at my TV station in Seattle fielded numerous requests from schools asking for a representative who would make presentations to their students about how the weather works. On one of those school visits, a fourth-grade boy approached me and, having seen me on television, asked, "Hey, aren’t you that weather dude?”
“I guess I am now,” I replied. And that was the day I claimed the title.
Since then I have performed countless school assemblies and classroom visits as The Weather Dude® sharing my fascination for the atmosphere with any young mind willing to listen, and entertaining them with my educational weather songs. Usually near the end of my presentations I ask if the students have questions for me. I get the usual “How much money do you make?” and “If mountain peaks are closer to the sun, why aren’t they warmer at the top?” I know how to answer these, but there is one question I am sometimes asked that once gave me pause: “Are you famous?”
The first time a wide-eyed innocent young person asked me that question, I paused, thought about it, and then replied, “Apparently not!" Only a few kids and a couple of teachers got the joke, but it’s an answer whose truth once bothered me if I thought about it too much. Here's the reason why (and try not to judge): I really did want to be famous.
In my teenage years I dreamed of becoming a famous singer-songwriter. Then when I got into television, I dreamed of becoming a big-name news anchor. Later, forecasting weather for TV, I got little tastes of fame, having my picture on billboards, being recognized in public, getting a good table at a restaurant. Though I was nothing more than a C or D-level “personality” (if that), I found myself sucked into a common danger of anyone seeking fame. Writer Jeff Goins describes it this way: "What at one time was a vocation, now consumes your identity. You become what you do."
That’s what was beginning to happen to me: I wasn’t satisfied with just being a regular guy who happened to have a great job doing TV weather, I wanted to be THE Weather Dude. I wanted more recognition, thinking that would translate into more respect, more friends, and a bigger salary. So I worked long hours, doing not only my regular newscasts, but spending hours driving from one school to the next, performing assemblies, trying to build an audience of young fans. I also spoke to adults at luncheons, civic groups, church groups, anyone who would have me, basking in the glow that came from being recognized as the featured speaker. And because much good actually came from sharing my abilities in this way, I justified my increasing hunger for fame by claiming to myself that it was nothing more than a public service.
And the problem is, it paid off. Not nearly as much as I wanted it to, but as more people learned my name, the more I liked it. And the more I liked it, the more I wanted more. The desire for fame sneaked up on me so imperceptibly that I didn't even know how deep it had its hooks in me until the early 90s when I was suddenly laid off from my job for the first time. One day I was TV's Weather Dude, and the next day I wasn't. So what was I without my television persona? Empty, disillusioned, insignificant.
All this may come as a surprise to people who knew me then, because I hid it well. But it was a soul-searching time in my life, a time of reflection, of coming to grips with what was real versus what was useless fantasy. Surrounded by the love of my wife, my children and my friends, I began to embrace what was really important. I began to see my profession for what it was—a means to live, and not life itself.
When I was eventually hired by another television station in town, I worked hard for them, but for different reasons. I wanted to get better at my job, to become a more knowledgeable meteorologist, not to build a name for myself. I took classes in meteorology. I limited the number of school assemblies I performed. I spent more time concentrating on being a husband and father. In doing so, something interesting happened: I actually enjoyed my work more than ever. I got better at it and was eventually hired by a national network.
After more than forty years on TV I am still just a C or D-level personality, but now I am quite comfortable with that. And those few times when I have gotten a few seconds of face time on someone else's show, such as on The Daily Show or Late Night with David Letterman, I enjoyed it, but didn't automatically crave more. I still keep the official Weather Dude® trademark, but even more important, I am an official husband, father, grandfather, child of God, and a few other identities that actually matter.
And whenever I perform a school assembly and another fourth grader inevitably asks me if I am famous, I am quite content to know that my answer is both true and satisfying.
Am I famous? Apparently not. And I'm good with that.
© Nick Walker 2019
Please feel free to leave your comments below.