Up after Bush’s speech, figuring out what I have to do for the next few days.
It’s five in the morning here and I just heard the loudest military airplane over my hotel. There is such mad nervous energy around this place. After months of sleepy, lazy life here’dwhere I got obsessed with bureaucrats keeping my DVDs from me’the place is on fire. This young Jordanian guy who I wrote about visited me the other day and said that he just felt so anxious walking around my hotel, everyone seemed so anxious. I’ve been so incredibly busy, it feels like I wake up in the morning and then the day is over. I’m constantly having frantic meetings with a bunch of reporters leaning over a coffee table in the lobby over pads of paper checking things off. I’ve joined this convoy of a few cars filled with reporters who will go in to Iraq together as soon as the border opens and it feels reasonably safe and then drive through the mostly empty desert towards Baghdad as quickly as is reasonable. Unlike me, most of the others are veteran war correspondents and seem to know exactly what they’re doing. They’re also reasonably cautious and don’t want to take risks. This isn’t worth dying for is a phrase we hear and say a lot. The bulk of the anxiety is about preparations: buying hundreds of liters of water, hundreds of liters of diesel, hundreds of power bars. We’re making sure that we’re self-sufficient for ten days in the desert. It is such a long list of things that have to be done, it’s constant prioritizing and desperately trying to check things off. I drove to Jerusalem with a friend over the weekend to get a bullet-proof car and to buy tons of gear that you can’t get in Jordan. We were constantly moving for 24 hours. I’ve been trying to test my satellite phones, not successfully yet. And I’m constantly forgetting something or overhearing someone talking about something that I desperately need. Oh, shit, a generator. That kind of thing. Bush’s 48 hour ultimatum comes as a bit of a relief, actually, since we thought it might start tonight. This way I have a couple days to get ready.
Rumors are flying around and they are scary. Mostly about what’s happening in Iraq, in Baghdad. We heard that the reporters there were all herded into one hotel and not allowed to bring their equipment. That NBC and others were arrested trying to leave the country and forced back. Shockingly, several teams left the hotel yesterday for Baghdad. They looked so nervous and talked, referring to themselves, about how stupid they were. One guy walked around with a smile asking if anyone knew of a ride he get on. At the same time, tons of crews were taken out of Baghdad. A lot of the people here now are junior to the people in Baghdad, so they’re all freaking out that they’re going to do all this work preparing and then their editors will say they have to cover something boring and let the just-escaped Baghdad reporters go in.
The immediate big question everyone discusses is when we move to the Jordanian border town of Ruwaished. CNN is already reporting from there and lots of people want to go out quickly. The argument is that you’re close to the border so the second it opens you can zip across. The argument against going is that it is the worst, most miserable shit hole imaginable. I got desperately sick last week when I got there and ate some yogurt that (I later learned) was unpasteurized and had spent a few days baking in the hot sun. There are two restaurants there’done more disgusting than the next’dand not much else other than rickety Iraqi oil tankers and some beer. Though it’s very exciting to see they have beer. Certainly not a guarantee. The local whorehouse was turned in to the reporters hotel’dabout as nasty a building as you can imagine. I’ve rented a reasonably nice house with some friends, so I can avoid the nastiness. Anyway, do we go now, so we’re ready and in position. Or do we stay in Amman, in a 5-star hotel, where we can have easy access to TV and internet and landlines. Overall, the older a person is the more they want to stay in Amman, I’d say. They younger people talk about what a crazy party it’dll be out there with hundreds of nervous reporters getting wasted every night. I’m supposed to be live on the radio at midnight during the war, so I guess I have to stay reasonably sober.
I feel excited and (almost) ready for this. Anxious, of course. Scared, really. Not sleeping that well. But focused and ready. I have to say I can’t wait for the war to be over and to (knock on wood) have a nice house in Baghdad and just relax into regular post-war coverage. I’m going in’dlike most reporters’dassuming I won’t leave Iraq for a few months. There should be a lot of stories there. I don’t like feeling so much nervous energy and knowing that it’s only just begun. I am definitely going to miss room service and watching ‘d80s sitcoms on the TV and just getting drinks and dinner with a bunch of friends each night. In a way, this might be the worst moment’dall anxiety and anticipation and unknowns. A week from now (a few days from now) the world will be different and I’ll be just doing whatever it is I have to do. A part of me’dat least this very minute’dwould kind of like to give it all up and lie on my couch in Brooklyn watching TV. But that’s only part of me. I am excited to do this.
I’ll try to write as much as I can from there. Don’t know how much I’ll be able to.