Being a journalist can help you in other parts of your life.
That's what I always tell my students at Centennial College Journalism.
Especially because we get very good at finding people and we know how to research, and how never to give up, and how to make cold calls, and how to talk to strangers about anything.
Which is what I did last weekend with Obama.
Now you might wonder, did I interview Obama? No, not exactly.
Here's the two stories.
We were visiting family in Longmeadow, Massachusetts for a celebration. I wanted an Obama lawn sign, and bumper sticker to take home with me to Canada. Now apparently, stealing one off the lawn of someone is a felony in the U.S. Or so they told me.
Someone at my table suggested contacting the Democratic party organization in Longmeadow, and asking for a sign.
So how does a visitor (me) staying in a hotel in a community I didn't know, find the DNP head honcho?
There was a free Internet point in the hotel lobby. So I Googled Longmeadow, Democrat and the search engine spit out a website belonging to the local Democrats. It had event announcements, photo galleries and the names and emails of two party big wigs.
Since I had just 5 hours on a Saturday afternoon to get this done, as we were leaving Sunday for Toronto, I jotted down the names, and plugged them into an American White Pages search engine. Lo and behold, the woman's name was listed, and a phone number. She has her own listing, as does her husband.
I called her, explained that I was a Canadian dying for an Obama lawn sign and bumper sticker, and although she must have thought I was crazy, she agreed to let me come over later that evening and pick a sticker up from her home. She also gave me the home telephone number of another man in the party who had lawn signs.
I called him too, and used her name (always name drop with cold calls if possible, I tell my interviewing classes). He agreed to let me come over later that evening, a pluck one of the two Obama lawn signs from his own lawn. He gave me driving directions, which i scribbled on a cocktail napkin in the hotel bar (no I wasn't drinking, honest).
On our way to the dinner and dance that night, we drove through the dark, rainy, leaf-strewn streets of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, to find John Fitzgerald's lawn sign. I rang the bell, and he came to the door, looking like a typical American with Land's End sweater, chino pants and an old car parked in his garage. But what a treasure the garage was! Old campaign signs from Mondale and Ferraro from the 1980s and 90s. Cool. And today, the bumper stickers, button, and plastic Obama lawn sign are prominent souvenirs in my office at Centennial College's Journalism school in Toronto, beside the photos of me interviewing refugees in Mozambique, veterans in Anzio, Italy, at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and my press passes from the Nato summit, World Cup of Soccer, and Royal Tours.
How talking to strangers gets you great leads on stories/anecdotes:
At that family function in Massachusetts, we sat beside a real estate agent, L.C., and her partner, K. S., a doctor, both living in Chicago. I had read an article in the Toronto papers recently about the security surrounding the Obama mansion in Chicago since the Senator began his run for the U.S. presidency. So I asked them about the story.
L. C. told me she drives by the security cordon to visit her partner at his U of Chicago area offices, and how you can't get near the Obama home now.
K. S. then revealed that his nurse lives across the street from the Obamas, and how she has since made friends with all the Secret Service guys who camp out in this van with heavy artillery in the back, and even set some of them up with her girlfriends, and how her little boy is now friends with those Men in Black. And he says Louis Farrakhan was seen entering the Obama home a long time ago. (He also told me that famous people go to his gym, including Oprah, who he says lets her flab hang out and doesn't talk to anyone!)
You never know what you will learn, unless you ask!