It's one thing to take a road trip and see a bunch of places, though, and quite another to discover stuff that people might want to read about. In the back of my head I think I always knew that I would have to actually talk to some people in these places if the book was going to be at all interesting. But since I'm kind of an anti-social weirdo, the prospect of interviewing people was kind of terrifying. I hadn't conducted an interview since junior year of high school, when I interviewed Mr. Robinson, a young new physics teacher at our school. I asked him if he wanted to teach for his entire career, and he told me he planned at some point to go back to grad school. Unfortunately, in the paper "grad school" came out as "grade school," and Robinson, who was already kind of struggling as it was, subsequently lost control of his class entirely. Oops.
Thank goodness for beer. The night before my family and I were set to leave for Kiryas Joel, I did that thing I often do where I drink a bunch of beers. I tend to have a lot more courage when I'm under the influence, and occasionally this leads me to do things I would not ordinarily do. For instance, back in 2002 I had some beers and then booked my wife and I a night at the Ice Hotel in Quebec. In case you're wondering, the Ice Hotel is really, really cold. Nobody should ever sleep in an ice hotel, much less pay $500 and drive eight hours for the privilege. Anyway, the night before we left for Kiryas Joel, I drunkenly sent an email to some random KJ information address, and the next morning I got back a lovely email from the head of the school department there offering to talk with me about its famous case. It suddenly looked like writing my book might get much more exciting.
I was very nervous during that first interview. Not only was I wearing a salty beach hat with my suit (you'll have to read the book to find out why), but I had no idea what I was doing. I brought along a little red notebook and a pen, and I asked a bunch of questions and wrote down the answers. Barbara Walters I wasn't (or even Geraldo Rivera, frankly), but after it was over I thought it had gone pretty well. I certainly had some interesting stuff for the book, and I felt exhilarated from doing something I had never done before.
I felt this exhilaration after every interview I did on the trip, no matter how petrified I was going into the encounter. And petrified I was, on several occasions, particularly when I was in the U.S. Senate asking the Chaplain about whether his office was unconstitutional or in the living room of a Santeria Priest asking about animal sacrifices as a machete leaned precariously against the front doorjamb or trying to explain to a plaintiff from a famous 1970s case involving the Amish why I didn't believe in Jesus Christ. I'm still pretty far from being any sort of real journalist, but I'm pretty sure that if I ever do another road trip book (A religion sequel perhaps? An environmental law road trip?), I won't have to drink five beers before setting up an interview. Probably two should suffice.