Nearly 30 years ago, I got a quirky journalistic idea to poke randomly through a local telephone book, call the numbers at my fingertip, interview the folks who answer, and run their stories in a weekly newspaper column.
Skeptics, especially journalists, said it wouldn’t work. But here’s proof that it did: The column called “Everyone Has a Story” has appeared on the front page of Idaho’s Lewiston Tribune every Friday since 1984 and has allowed me to interview nearly 1,500 people. To carry out the quest, I’ve piloted eight Subaru vehicles more than a million miles over north-central Idaho’s rugged roads.
The subjects featured in the column are known in the newsroom as “Everyone” people. Think of them as everyday newspaper readers rather than news makers. They range in age from 2 days old (a baby who cried when his mother lifted the receiver) to nearly 100. Age aside, the surprising variety of their stories defies the orderly alphabetical listing of their names.
All these years later, I’m still excited when a voice answers the phone. There’s always adventure in meeting another person, turning another column. And it’s energizing to have a steering wheel in my hands, purpose on my mind, and a sense of destination ahead.
People often ask, “What’s your favorite column?” There are many, but I always respond, “Next week’s.”
It’s the mystery of it all: I never know who’ll answer the call, where the story will take me, or what the person will share.