A wing and a prayer. That’s how CBS3 Philadelphia’s new traffic anchor Meisha Johnson landed in Philadelphia to start her job about a month ago.
Johnson, who most recently covered “power-sports” for Fox in Minneapolis and has spent time in Sweden learning the language, took a definite left turn to get here. How did she know it was the right move? Her answer: prayer.
Johnson, who’s the one you see covering the traffic beat on the CBS3 morning news, was working in Minneapolis when she got the call – literally.
“There had been a series of events in my life leading me to this point where I was in prayer a great deal,” Johnson says. “I was praying for something to show itself to me in terms of work and bringing it to another level where I could do more of reacting to people and being around people.
“I used to work in sports, so I had a fan base, but I wanted to communicate with them more on a fulltime basis. So it became a big prayer of mine, to find a company I could call home and grow inside of.”
Prayer means different things to different people. For instance, see NewsWorks harvesting of #prayersforthecity to gather the desires of the hearts of Philadelphians for the future of the city, coinciding with the pope’s visit.
So I probed a bit, curious about how prayer had worked for Johnson in that kind of vocational decision. Like any good prayer, it had been a process.
“Last summer , I’d flown out here and auditioned,” she says. “I didn’t get the offer until nine months later. In March I got the call from CBS offering this East Coast job. I think the prayer helped this come to fruition.”
Over the winter, she’d not only prayed with mind and heart, she’d also used a spiritual practice that’s found within her own Christianity as well as many other religious traditions: a modified fast that helped her focus her prayer.
“It wasn’t for me a ‘cleanse,'” Johnson says, referring to the popular trend. “It was very much about prayer and about gratitude for the lessons I’ve received in my lifetime.”I found it fascinating the prayer around gratitude, rather than asking for more, helped bring… well, more.
When she got the call from CBS3 in spring, it felt like everything fell into place. It’s hard not to think of the dual meaning of “call” here. Beyond the word’s literal definition, in this case it also evokes its other meaning: a divine invitation to a job or vocation.
Johnson captures the ambiguity of the term intentionally: “I knew it was a call, a yes, as soon as I received the phone call. I knew I’d do it.”
But knowing it feels right is just the wind beneath your wings when you still feel the normal fears around a big transition.
“I knew I’d have to be friends with fear,” Johnson says. “I knew I’d have it, and I did. Fear of going to a new level professionally, a new city. Moving alone. I’d never lived out here. And I was leaving a lot of comfort back home – friends, family. I was stepping into the unknown.”But at the same time, I knew that fear would be ok. I knew my faith was bigger than my fear was so I knew I’d be able to act on the ‘yes.'”
I think that’s one of the best definitions of courage I’ve heard, much like the wonderful Anne Lamott’s from-the-trenches description “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”And you definitely need courage to get you through mastering the notoriously illogical pronunciations of streets like Schuylkill and Passyunk – when you’re on-air reporting about traffic.
“It’s like moving somewhere you don’t know the language,” Johnson says, laughing. “You don’t know the roads, how to pronounce street names. I knew it would be an uphill battle in that I’d have to let the viewers know I wasn’t from here but that they could trust that I’d get them to work and I’d rely on viewers to let me know if I say something wrong. And it’s a great way to get to know a city.
“But,” she adds, “you get familiar pretty quickly when you look at the maps and patterns all morning long. Now I feel like I’m best friends with the Schuylkill!”
And Philly in general, for a gal from the Midwest? “Oddly enough, with a move this big, you’d think it wouldn’t feel good or easy,” Johnson says. “But because I was so certain it was the right decision, it’s been eerily good. I love my job, I love the people, I love Philly. It’s breathtaking.”
I was curious about what appealed to her most as a sports pro on the Philly sports scene. “The Philly culture is very sports oriented, so it’s super fun,” she says. “For the past eight years, I reported on Powersports in Minneapolis, like racing and snocross, pro-ball and college-ball. It would be fun to work with football in Philly, with baseball a close second. But I’m really happy to do any kind of reporting.” And, she adds, she is eager to interact with viewers on all these topics via Twitter @MeishaCBS3.
And finally, there was no way I couldn’t ask a traffic anchor about the pope’s upcoming visit. “As excited as I am that the pope is coming to Philadelphia,” she says, “it certainly is going to cause quite the mess for commuters. As of yet, I haven’t heard specifics on what roads will be closed and what will be open – I believe it’s still considered ‘top secret.’ That said, when I hear exactly what’s going on, I’ll definitely have my work cut out for me. The blessing is it’ll help me learn some of the smaller roads much more quickly. At the end of the day, and as I always say, I’ll take it in stride and do the very best I can. It’s teamwork – while the pope is here, and every day before and after.”