Monday, March 5, 2012

Coffee Shop Observations

"I heard it through the grapevine..."

That's what I'm listening to right now. I'm being completely unoriginal and sitting in a coffee shop on a March afternoon, looking at Pinterest, sipping coffee and writing a blog entry. Really, all I'm trying to do is not waste a half day off from work. A coffee shop and a blank page always seem like good uses of free time. But somehow I always feel like I waste my time.

As I write my resume for The Onion News Network, I'm secretly pretending to be productive. I have a tab open for my e-mail, with a mental list of everyone I *should* be replying to. But I'm really just playing Words with Friends and trying to come up with a stupendous movie plot.

Looking around the room, there's a handful of hipster dudes with large glasses and sweater vests, head phones implanted, staring intently at their laptop screens. Sitting in a corner is a large, burly man with tatooed arms and a shaved head. I love the variety here. Across from him is an eldery, bearded man, staring ahead of himself. At first glance he's staring into space, but a second look reveals a book in his lap, that he no doubt lost in thought about. Two elderly ladies sit to my left discussing the zoo and what a good time of day this is to come here.

I'm realizing that when I come to coffee shops to write, more than anything, I end up people watching. Maybe because I'm always looking for my next character, or because people are just plain fascinating. It's almost like a little game, to see if I can form any kind of personality or identity for people simply by looking at them. Maybe that's just the next best thing to walking straight up to them and finding out for myself.

One of the hipster dudes just laughed out loud at something on his computer. I wish I was in on the joke. I suppose I could walk over and ask him. Maybe I will.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

National History Day and the Juggling Student

Is a high school student juggling three volleyballs in a history classroom news? In Canton, South Dakota, it just might be.

One of the wonders of my job is also its curse: quirky subject matter. When you’re a journalist in a town of 3,000, story ideas sometimes require some creativity. And sometimes people surprise you.

The fail-safe factor amid the “poultry persons of the year” and city commission stories is interesting people.

Today I got to interview two high school students working on a project for a National History Day program. Their subject was Baseball’s Reaction to WWII. While this topic genuinely interested me, the kids were far more interesting.

One was a quiet, soft-spoken introvert, the other a red-headed jokester. They were a duo worthy of their own crime series, with hearts of gold. Their description of everything from their creative process to the nerd factor of chess reminded me of a Watson and Holmes-type banter that had me laughing for half the interview.

But possibly the best part of the interview was the random third-wheel student who came in five minutes into the interview and sat down directly behind me.

I was conducting the interview in a classroom, so other students were to be expected. But this guy sat right behind me and picked up my voice recorder like it was an alien life form. The boys explained there was an interview in progress, so the kid sat back down, all ears. He just sat there, fascinated, for the entire interview. He even threw in his two cents every now and then.

At the conclusion of the interview, I told the guys I needed a picture for the article.

“Can I be in it?” asked the random student behind me.

“Well,” I said, “if you can come up with a legitimate reason as to why you are in the photo, sure.”

One of the guys threw out “moral support” as a good excuse. Another suggested he pretend to be one of them. We finally got the picture taken, with only the original two students.

“Why can’t I get my picture in the paper?” the third-wheel-student inquired.

“You have to do something interesting,” I told him.

I have to admit, I did not expect and immediate response, but probably should have. Within seconds he was in the corner of the classroom juggling three volleyballs. All I could do was laugh and produce my camera.

I now have a picture of two high school students working on a history project for a national history program...and a student juggling three volleyballs that may very well end up in the paper. Thank you, Lord, for reminding me why I love life.