By Catherine Wigginton
Al Roker entered our lives as America’s weatherman on NBC’s “Today” show in 1996, making an instant impression with his hearty laugh and jovial forecast. Now, Roker does much more than the weather—his regular “Today” features introduce us to popular celebrities and chefs; both his book on fatherhood and his cookbooks have topped bestseller lists; and his production company, Al Roker Productions, has collaborated with PBS and networks like the History Channel and Court TV.
But above all else, Al Roker is a New Yorker. Raised in Queens, the son of a New York City bus driver, he loves this city and still calls it home. This week, we spoke with Roker about his career, his New York childhood and his favorite pastimes.
When you were a boy, what did you want to be when you grew up?
AR: A cartoonist; I did some graphic art work early on in my television career to augment my salary when I was in college and I have some cartoons on my Web site now—they’re a mix between current events and the Far Side—“observational” stuff.
Favorite New York Restaurants?
AR: We love Fresco. We love Girasole, Amy Ruth’s up in Harlem. There’s a little sushi place not too far from us called Amber that my kids like. If we want to go fancy, we love going to Daniel.
What’s your favorite thing about New York?
AR: Being from here. You know, I just like being a New Yorker. I don’t visit. I live here, I grew up here. I mean, I like having a MetroCard in my wallet. I feel sorry for all the other cities where they have to drive, which you can do here, but, you know, I went to school on a bus and subway. So I think it makes you somewhat unique among your colleagues or your peers who didn’t grow up here. You know your way around.
You went from being New York City’s weatherman to America’s weatherman—what was that transition like?
AR: Well you know, it wasn’t that hard because I had been filling in for Willard [Scott] since 1988 so when I took over in ’96, it wasn’t this jarring transition. In fact, most people didn’t even realize it for three or four months, which was nice because Willard was a mentor. I consider him like a second dad. It was a nice fit.
What’s next for you?
AR: I have no idea. You know, I always marvel at these people who have these five-year plans. Not being macabre, but you could step off the curb today and be hit by a bus. I just like to go with what happens next. As long as my family’s healthy and things are at peace, that’s all you can ask for.
One last question…Is the Groundhog going to see his shadow?
AR: You know what? I think it’s a safe bet. They‘ve got about 700 television lights and camera flashes, it’s going to be bright enough that Stevie Wonder could see his shadow.