Sunday, December 21, 2014

Chillin' Wit' ... TV newsman Dann Cuellar

Action News reporter Dann Cuellar gets away from the action and chills  in North Wildwood, here at the upstairs restaurant at Flip Flopz Beach Bar and Grill.
Action News reporter Dann Cuellar gets away from the action and chills in North Wildwood, here at the upstairs restaurant at Flip Flopz Beach Bar and Grill. Curt Hudson photo

NORTH WILDWOOD, N.J. - Dann Cuellar can't even order a Diet Coke without being recognized.

"Are you the guy on the news?" asks the waitress at Flip Flopz Beach Bar & Grill.

Behind blue-tinted aviators, the veteran 6ABC Action News reporter laughs and answers that question, one he's been hearing regularly since he traded the wide-open pastures of Texas for Philly's streets in 1988.

He doesn't bristle at the attention or shoo her away. In fact, he takes comfort in talking with viewers on his days off.

"I love what I do," he says, "but sometimes it gets to you. I think, 'How much longer can I keep covering crime? How much good am I doing? Can I do something positive with my life?'

"But seeing these people is like a renewal. It helps me find that sense of purpose again."

In the summertime, Cuellar regularly flees to this sun-soaked town in search of that renewal: His July was a rough one, filled with news of deaths, including those of several children.

"You can't always separate yourself from that kind of stuff, and after some time it overwhelms you, and getting away to a place like this helps," he says.

The ocean calms him, the crisp sea breeze washes away the stress of dealing with tragedy.

Not just the stories he covers.

Last year, Cuellar's wife, Marilyn, lost a long battle with ovarian cancer. The devastation of that loss, he says, sometimes makes what he does a little easier.

"When you go through something that you've reported on over the years, you gain a connection," he says.

"You acquire a sense of wisdom that makes you understand. Until you go through it yourself, you can't really relate."

But there are times when talking with grieving families becomes overwhelming.

When that happens, Cuellar retreats to the racquetball court for a game or two. Or goes to Home Depot to think up new projects. Or, sometimes, lights up a cigar and enjoys watching Bugs Bunny rag on Elmer Fudd.

And although he loves reporting, Cuellar, 59, doesn't see himself doing it much longer.

What'll Dann Cuellar do when the cameras shut off for the last time? Maybe travel a little, maybe visit his daughter in San Francisco. It's unclear.

But in the meantime, he doesn't shy away from taking a selfie with a tanned waitress after she works up the nerve to ask him while bringing him his tab.

- Vinny Vella

 


Chillin' Wit' is a regular Monday feature of the Daily News that spotlights a name in the news away from the job.

 

 

 

 

 

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