When I picked up a copy of Illinois Times as I entered the Route 66 Diner across from The Granite Guy for breakfast Saturday morning, I was saddened to realize no one had taken a copy from the entryway display rack since Friday about 2 pm. HOW, you may asq, did I know this? I based my conclusion on the wrinkled cover of the annual Best of Springfield issue. Clearly it had seen some rain, the kind likely to blow into the small “lobby” of the diner during a significant downpour in heavy wind . . . and a heavy downpour in significant wind. It stopped raining hard Friday afternoon about 2 pm. If anyone had picked up an IT after it stopped raining, the one on top would have almost certainly been the one picked up. Hence the deduction of no pick up action for the past 19 hours.
The cover was long since dried, and I must say the issue is the best I’ve seen since I began picking them up decades ago and since I began contributing to the annual classic about seven years ago. I recently came across an entry in my 2006 private journal that in that year, I contributed 24 vignettes about “Best of” winners. This year I contributed two: Best Resale Shop and Best Blog. I was happy to net those two because for the first time in a year, I was given no assignments from the respected business publication I’ve contributed to every consecutive month. And I was paid 50% more than the going rate for “Best of” write-ups, thanks to the generosity of the esteemed editor.
The first time I was given “Best of” assignments, editor Pete Sherman and a hardy crew of five or six met for coffee at Andiamo where we volunteered for specific categories. Ever since, there’s been less social interaction. I’ve been asked what categories I’d like to cover in the past, and I’ve usually netted what appealed. This year, the editor said in a five minute meeting from behind his office desk, in esssence, “Here’s what’s left.”
I was given about a week to produce them by deadline, and as always, it was great fun. In the past, I’ve visited most winners with my camera and tape recorder, but this was “reportage-lite.” I could do both by phone and they would take care of pictures. I began making phone calls three days before the pieces were due. Before that I visited each business’s web sites (total time 30 minutes) and hand-written some questions and points of interest. The owner of The Kids Closet wasn’t in the store when I called first, but I could call the next day when she would be in. I called from work and set a time in the afternoon when I’d be home to interview her. That part was a breeze. The breeze quit Wednesday morning when I realized I had not pressed the bleeping record button on the tape machine. So I called her back Wednesday morning. Between what I remembered she had explained and my reprising most of the original questions, writing the 150 words was easy.
The owner of the super Springfield Moms was also unavailable, but I left a message on her voice mail asking her to call me at work Tuesday. When she did, I was informed she was sitting on a beach in Florida, and we had another fab chat despite some wind noise over the mouthpiece. When she turned out of the wind, all was fine. The “Best of” vignette about Springfield Moms was the first completed on deadline morning. She even sent me a thank you note for my effort. It was the first time she’d been interviewed sitting on a beach in Florida.
Writing “Best of” “shorts” allows a friendlier approach than typical for other Illinois Times articles I’ve produced over the years. I cannot explain the reason for my interest in talking to the business owners or personalities, because NOTHING is official until the issue is distributed, the circumstance is similar to encountering Santa Claus in your living room. Even though “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings and turned with a jerk. . . . .” you know why he came, you know his name, and you’re always glad. (What is the name of that jerk, he always comes with, anyway?)
When I called The Kids Closet Wednesday morning to re-interview the gracious owner, I was told she would arrive at noon. I explained I had lost the earlier interview, and that I would call back at 12:15 so she’d have some time to catch up with her staff re how the day was going, and I did. In the meantime, I played every tape I was likely to have touched in the past 21 hours, looking for that interview, all for naught. When I spoke with her, I explained I had not punched the record button (the only logical excuse) and that I would rather call back, risk being thought an idiot for my error but GET THE BEST INFORMATION I COULD than trying to improvise using only what I remembered from the first go round and what I discovered at her web site. She understood completely and the conversation was a walk in the park.
Total writing timeTotal time for the interviews: 35 minutes, including the re-interview. Why so long for two 150 word “shorts?” It’s important to establish friendly rapport first and transition to “brass tacks,” the focus of each encounter.
Total time expended Wednesday writing both interviews including searching for the “lost tape” and e-mailing the text to Illinois Times: five hours. What can I say? Most of the staff writers at IT could have written them in half the time. Maybe that’s why no one at IT will consider me for full-time employment. I’m too deliberate with my assembly of the articles. The full-timers and talented proof readers and editor are probably more deliberate, but they “deliberate” at 78 RPM and I do it at 33 and a third. What can I say? I’m a frikkin’ POET/journalist and worse, a folksinger. No wonder I can’t find a full-time employer!
The two vignettes appeared in this week’s edition virtually unchanged from what I submitted October 14. The check arrived today. There will be rotisserie chicken from Schnuck’s for dinner Monday, thanks to Illinois Times and the two fine citizens I was privileged to interview not long ago.
I made deadline as I always do. Thanks as always to the fine folks at the best weekly newspaper in the tri-state area for the work. And thanks to you, the home viewer, for reading about it.
Live long . . . . . and proper.