Reporter Talks About the Travails of Travel Story

In a Reporter's Notebook, Robert Smith explains that he brought his young daughter to an airport to cover holiday air travel. The "real story," Smith says, is how he juggled a microphone and his young daughter.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

All this week, NPR News aired a series of reports on the challenges facing the nation's air transport system. As more and more passengers put more strain on the system, the infrastructure is creaking. Reporters talked to industry executives, government officials, airline workers, air traffic controllers, and they spent time at the airport.

Maybe nobody had a longer, more uncomfortable wait than Robert Smith in New York who sends us this page from his notebook.

ROBERT SMITH: It sure seemed like a good idea at the time. In order to talk to delayed air travelers, I decided to strand myself at JFK Airport for the entire evening. But I didn't want it to be too easy, so that's when I came up with the gimmick. I would report the story while hauling luggage, a car seat, and a 1-year-old.

Good, kiddo.

Ms. CLARA SMITH: Daddy.

SMITH: That's my daughter Clara.

Ms. SMITH: Daddy. Da.

SMITH: NPR's travel agent, Micah, called me a bad father, but she issued the refundable ticket anyway. Clara seemed pretty happy to be spending quality daddy time at the airport.

(Soundbite of giggling)

SMITH: Actually, I had to tickle her to get that sound. Most of the time, she just whined until I let her out of the stroller to walk on her own, and that's where the problem started.

Come here. Come here. Where are you going? Where do you want to go?

I was supposed to be reporting a story, remember? But every time I would stop to talk to someone about delays at the airport or how to survive the wait, my daughter would start toddling off in the other direction. One guy I had to keep returning to again and again just to get the end of his sentence.

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

But Clara was the perfect interview trap. All I had to do was hold the microphone ready for when some good-hearted strangers would bend down to talk to her.

Hi, there. How are you? Can I ask you a question?

Unidentified Man: Sure.

Unidentified Woman: Sure.

SMITH: But mostly, I got those sympathetic looks that people give to slightly inept fathers travelling alone with a toddler. At one point, I was bouncing my daughter, my microphone and a hotdog, and - yeah, I gave her a hotdog; I was desperate. And I spilled her cup of milk all over this already stinky carpet of Gate 41 and everybody staring at us. Sorry, everybody.

After four hours, I barely got enough listenable tapes for the ALL THINGS CONSIDERED report, but the real story of the evening was in the tape I didn't use - the tape I couldn't use. Hours and hours of me talking in that high-pitched baby voice.

Come on. Come here. Come here. Come here.

(Soundbite of giggling baby)

SIMON: Father of the year as far as I'm concerned. NPR's Robert Smith.

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