The day was hot and the air conditioning in my car had gone out. Dressed to survive the heat, I embarked on my day trip along CO I-25 from Denver to the Wyoming border in search of the best places for a traveler to stop and stretch their legs. Armed with my article idea, camera, notepad, water bottle, snacks, and a cellphone for any GPS or information needs, I was prepared. Or was I?
My first stop was Johnson’s Corner. A truck stop that locals here in the Denver area know well. In 1998, Travel + Leisure Magazine declared its diner to have one of the “Ten best breakfasts in the world,” and without a doubt its famous cinnamon rolls are the reason I stopped there first.
Amidst a barrage of fuel pumps, souvenirs, junk food, and memorabilia, this truck stop also had a special treat. Nosing around the facilities’ backyard, I stumbled upon the little Johnson’s Corner Chapel. It was open but appeared empty, so I ventured in. I was greeted with the smell of fresh coffee and musty well-used bibles. There were two plastic-covered oval tables beckoning me to come read or meditate. I snapped a few pictures while enjoying the gospel-for-the-truck driver music that was coming over the stereo.
Then it happened. Pastor Bill noticed that I had come in and jumped up from his desk behind the small pulpit that sported a cross and some old Christmas garland. He was genuinely pleased to have some company, and he was prepared for me with a handshake, a smile, and some encouraging words.
I however, was not prepared for him. As a new, untrained travel writer, I was caught off guard.
I already had some experience with interviews, but I had not anticipated this impromptu opportunity. That was my first mistake. There I was in yoga pants, my Elton John T-shirt, and hair thrown up off the back of my sweaty neck. I wanted to hand the pastor a business card so that he wouldn’t mistake me for a sketchy transient, but they were locked in my car. Ugh. I was on a roll.
Fortunately, Pastor Bill was more than gracious as I plowed forward using my best interviewing skills and apologizing profusely for my lack of proper preparation. Although he declined having his picture taken, he enjoyed sharing with me all the information he had about the location. He answered all my questions with openness and transparency, and I was able to use what I had learned to write a significantly more interesting article about this stop at Johnson’s Corner and the people that intersect here for my “20 minutes in Colorado” series. I got lucky. I know I did.
Since then, having completed The Ultimate Travel Writer’s program, I am better prepared. Along with the program’s other essential lessons, I’ve learned how to properly conduct an interview, ask appropriate questions, have all the right equipment, and take good notes. I’ve also spruced up my wardrobe to look professional for any interviews.
In addition, I’ve added a few pieces of equipment to my list of must-haves…
1. Cellphone. I’ve become aware of the importance of keeping my cellphone with me at all times—even if it’s in my back pocket—as it’s my recording device and a back-up camera.
2. Power source. I carry a car charger and an extra battery for my primary camera.
3. Questions at the ready. I’ve memorized a general list of questions that are my go-tos for any impromptu opportunity. I also take the time to do some research and compile a few other questions relevant to the destination, even if I’m not planning on an interview.
4. Paper back-up. I now carry a designated notebook with sections for both planned and unplanned interview questions. I still carry all the necessary items I started with—along with those on my newly-acquired list—but I’m also equipped with business cards and better know-how, and I’m no longer in need of making apologies!
I am now ready for any interview and am always on the hunt for the next story. With this newfound preparation and confidence, I’m also finding that I’ve come out of my shell a bit and am able to approach people, strike up conversations by finding similar interests and common ground, and create those spontaneous interviews.
I observe people and situations better now and am finding myself content to stay put, people-watch, photograph everything, and wait for the story to come alive.
I also keep handy… a hairbrush.