Man on the street
I walked up to two men chatting on a street corner the other day, and asked if I could bother them for a moment. I held up my notebook, as I always do, in an effort to dispel the notion that I’m a beggar, and introduced myself.
Until now, I’d never gotten a single negative reaction to this. But this guy demanded, “You got any paper to put in my hand?”
“Sorry,” I said. “We can’t pay people for interviews.”
“Then get out of here!” he told me. “You can’t just go around harassing people!”
Okay. I walked about two steps away, stopped at the next collection of passersby, and broached my question again, while Mr. Not-So-Friendly followed me shouting about how he’d answer if I gave him some paper.
It’s a times like this that I wonder whether I should be more careful about carrying my pepper spray. (More often than not I forget it on a shelf at home. I’m not really a believer in attacking people with noxious chemicals, but it makes my family and friends feel better to know that I have it.)
In any case, the next group restored my faith in on-the-street interviews.
I explained that I was writing about Selective Service. New York state has the second-lowest compliance rate in the entire country, with about 36 percent of young men not registering when they turn 18. I needed to find men who hadn’t registered so I could ask them why they ignored the law.
These young men were 19, 24 and 25. They had to register by their 26th birthday or be penalized forever. They looked quizzical. There are actual punishments? Like jail?
I ran through the list. No federal jobs. Mostly no state jobs. Even the city police won’t hire a man who didn’t register. Many private companies that get federal funding also won’t hire non-registrees. I mentioned that Selective Service gets tons of calls from 40-year-olds and it can’t help them — either you register by age 26 or you’re out for good.
They stared at me in shock.
I wasn’t trying to proselytize — but sometimes being a reporter means answering my sources’ questions, just as much as they answer my questions.
They all vowed that they were going to register, right away, in case they ever qualified for a government job.
One of them solemnly shook my hand, too.
“Thanks for the light,” he said. “Wasn’t nobody else going to tell us.”
I prefer to spread news by the thousands through the paper, but I must admit spreading it person by person has its benefits, too. I can’t remember the last time a reader came in to shake my hand and thank me personally for some information I provided or some thorny issue I explained.
Kathleen Moore is a reporter for The Daily Gazette. Reach her at 395-3120 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.