"This is going to sound incredibly tactless, but are you homeless?," I asked the man sitting at a park bench.
"...no," he answered, looking affronted.
"Ah," I stuttered and looked anywhere but at him.
Awkward conversation ensued, where I was forced to explain my assault on common decency. It was all done in the name of journalism! For a story! For revealing to the public the affront on homelessness and those who suffer from it! Sadly, I don't think he bought it. As I walked away from him, I turned around and he was still staring at me, probably bringing to mind the number for the crazy bus I was destined for.
Talking to people. It's harder than it looks. All is well and good when you have the numbers and names given to you. This person is the press secretary for Senator A. This person wrote the report on Issue B. But what about the people who aren't so alphabetically categorical? The ones you hope and pray will be willing to talk to you, random badly-asked-questions person?
That's the issue with feature stories or soft news. Just a few weeks ago, the Metro Transit system was suffering from the snow and general bad weather conditions, throwing wrenches into the plans of its hundreds of commuters. Your mission (and you have to accept it) is to go and ask these people to talk to you about their day. You, the person writing down their words.
It's not even a case of someone being willing to talk about their day or their thoughts, but the willingness to have those thoughts published. Go up and ask someone at a crime scene if it's a dangerous neighborhood. I'll wait.
Chances are, you didn't do that. But my guess is that asking the question as a concerned bystander will get you a willing response, that, if not spectacular in its sociological perspective, at least gives a viewpoint. Asking as a journalist, with a recorder or pen and paper, you'll probably have to be prepared to try it a few times to get an answer.
So, as I walked away from the unsuspecting victim of my journalistic ineptitude, I vowed to do it better next time. Maybe even with tact. After all, there are plenty more stories out there, and with it plenty more innocent bystanders just waiting for me to blunder into their path.
Maybe some of them will even be relevant to the story. That would be nice.