I always want to hear the story, so I can find the moment where everything changed for someone — for everyone. Just people. That’s really what this site is about, what it took for people to become who they are, and how they did it.
When I was ten-years old my babysitter used to say, “Get a notebook!” Stop asking questions! She’d give me that look. Who cares? I did.
To find that story, all you have to do is listen for details – and I always wanted details. Always. You had to ask questions to get answers, and inside that narrative is the framework that explains how things happened to someone the way they did, and in turn how they could also happen for you, and for all of us.
Who cares? I do.
This is my story and where the inclination for this exchange for story was minted.
When I was twelve-years old I was invited to the eighteenth-birthday party of a family friend, which was more like a debut, or a gala event, than a birthday party. The host family lived in that strata of Chicago society, where the parties were full of people who could endow and grant; politicos, and the personae of Chicago’s literati and intellegentsia. At dinner, the seating was assigned and the approach was a mix-and-match. I was seated at a separate table away from my parents, who were separated from one another as well.
The person seated next to me was an older man with gray hair and a sturdy appetite. He was an adult, yes, but he was asking me questions. He , waited for the answer. He asked something about my response, and waited for that answer, too – on and on.
Who did that? I did. It was the first time I spoke to a stranger on that level, an anomaly for my twleve-years of life experience. I liked him, I liked the way it felt, and I even liked what was perhaps an unconscious certainty that we would probably not meet again.
You see, I was an excruciatingly awkward adolescent, because I had severe alopecia ariata, which meant I had a large bald patch the size of an orange at the front of my head. The only solution was a comb-over, with a barrette to hold it down. This was so not the fashionable layered look of the time. It was one of those hair styles that begged the question from popular girls – Why would she do that to herself? So that’s what my hair was doing and I was wearing a worn out, blue sundress and it was a fancy party. It felt like entering to the sound of a gong. Plus, I was alone in a large room full of adults, and what I remember was this great conversation with someone I didn’t know, and an adult no less, and we had a genuine interaction.
Years later, my mother told me who this man was; a pulitzer prize winning author, historian, and broadcaster, with a particular interest in oral history. HIs name was Studs Terkel, and he wrote a book called, Working, which was every day people talking about what they did for a living. A banker, a prostitute, a trucker, waitress, artist, and so on. Years later, In college I had to read this book, Working, and I had mentioned the fact to my mother. (We’re both book nerds.) That’s when she told me I had sat next to the author, once when I was a child, and asked whether I remembered.
Of course, I did!
I instantly remembered his gingham shirt. Apparently, he wore them on the regular, because when I searched for photos they are on him all the time. I remembered the gold trim of the ballroom, the design of the place cards all with a shiny penny from the debutante’s birth year. I remember the soup course, which was laced with watercress. But most of all I remember the feeling that came out of our conversation.
Thousands of conversations later, I can honestly say, most of the people I meet are worth asking a few extra questions if the time allows. Beneathe the detail of what you see and what you hear, there’s a story that opens if you go toward it.
This site is a labor of love. It’s conversations that tell brief stories, and it’s called Pave.LA, as an homage to power of personal history. It’s really just about people and what they do, a nudge to have them look back, and showcase for where they are today. I hope you enjoy.
* It’s dedicated to Studs Terkel and the soup course.