I was washing dishes when my roommate handed me the landline. From the phone placed in the crook of my neck came a gruff voice. He had been told I wanted an internship at the paper. Sure, I replied hesitantly. Turns out the voice was the editor of paper in the town where I went to high school. He had agreed to an internship. Two weeks during the upcoming winter break. Come in, and we’ll find you something to do, he said. I hung up the phone with wet hands and told my roommate, “I guess I’m going to work for the paper?”
I had one semester of journalism under my belt. That meant specifically, one class, Introduction to Journalism. The teacher reminded me of Mama Cass and talked about her time at Woodstock. She cried about the damage people did to the Earth. I sat in a crowd of at least 100 students with a friend whose wit was the only thing that took off the edge of the terror I started to feel by signing up for journalism classes.
I was a student, and am the type of person, who throws themselves headlong into things she might not be too sure about. I ended up in the office of the professor who was renowned to give Legit Journalism advice. He was the color of an orange, with white raccoon halos around his eyes. He was very enthusiastic, and, goal oriented. “You need an internship,” he blustered. “Where are you from? I’ll call their paper. We’ll get you hooked up.”
And then, after only taking a class where one the tests quizzed us on Elvis Presley hits, I stood with pruned-hands looking at my roommate and laughing about what exactly I had gotten myself into.
My parents were happy to see me and they vaguely understood that I was going to the local paper…for school? To talk about how newspapers work? That’s nice. The newspaper’s editorial room was drab and off-white, but I had no expectations. I sat across the editor. I don’t remember what he looked like. I don’t think I was even there for 15 minutes. I think I signed something. There was a cold front coming in when I walked back out to my car.
I got a call two days later with my first assignment. I had been marveling at the inch or two of snow outside the window when I answered. “Write about the snowstorm,” said the editor. “Talk to the department of transportation. Talk to the police. Find quotes. So and so many inches.” Click. I looked up what inches meant when I only knew word counts.
“I have a story!” I gushed to my Mom. “I need to find people to talk to about this!” She asked if that meant I was leaving the house in “the weather.” Of course I did. This. Was. Journalism.
But first, let’s call the department of transportation. In a monotone, the employee rattled off the statistics of the snow, the cautions to take while driving. “But…how do you feel about the snow yourself?” I asked. There was silence. “What?” “I mean, the snow, it’s not usual, so, are you happy about it.” More silence. “Not really.”
Well that wasn’t going to be the compelling quote I needed.
I bundled up and listened to the cautions to take while driving in snow from my Mom. I’d be fine. I had the Brick, my trusty Volvo 240. Something something about German blood understanding snowy roads by instinct I assured her.
I drove out of our neighborhood. I was going to find someone enjoying the snow. I was going to stop and I was going to get myself some compelling joy to write into the story about snow.
There was no one. All 30,000 people in the town were standing in windows across the city watching the snow…and not in a place for me to interview them. The city had shut down and I was on a deadline. Should I go the mall? Do you interview employees of stores? Are you allowed to?
I saw a mail truck coming up ahead. He’d be perfect. But…how does one stop the postal service from their appointed rounds? I had to be colder than snow, harsher than the gloom of night. I needed to stop that mailman. I parked my Volvo and ran toward the even more iconic boxy vehicle. He didn’t slow and I ran alongside it until I was at the front and tapped his hood. He slammed his brakes.
“I could have hit you!”
“Hi, yeah, sorry about that!”
“Are you crazy?”
“I’m…doing a story for the paper. Can you talk to me about snow?”
The story ran the next day, front page and above the fold, heavily edited by an editor who probably didn’t understand why I wrote so much about the emotions created by snow.