Meeting strangers is an interesting part of the job

posted March 19, 2018 7:27 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Benjamin Wideman, Regional Editor |

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One of the more intriguing parts of my job, at least from this vantage point, is that I’m often talking to strangers.

True, our parents told us never to talk to strangers, and certainly that’s good advice for children.

But those words of wisdom rarely apply to journalists, especially ones like me whose primary coverage area spans 22 Wisconsin counties encompassing more than 15,000 square miles.

Driving from one story assignment to the next, I often veer off the main roads and buckle up for a more scenic, albeit bumpier and longer, route on the back roads. As I’ve come to notice, many of those roads don’t have street signs, making navigation a bit more adventurous.

Because of that, I never know when, if ever, I’ll find my way back on that same road again. So if I see something that piques my interest, the time to inquire about it is right then and there.

That’s what happened as I drove through Door County and saw an old one-room schoolhouse that appeared to be converted into a residence. I turned around, pulled into the gravel driveway and knocked on the front door.

Charlene Wilding opened the door, and within 10 seconds I was sitting on the living room couch chatting with her and her husband, Mark, about the charming history of the building. Their story ended up on the cover of The Country Today a couple of weeks later.

A few days ago, I found myself zigzagging through Calumet County’s back roads on a return trip home from an assignment when I spotted perhaps a half-mile in the distance what appeared to be a cluster of old tractors.

So I circled back, pinpointed their location and kindly asked the gentleman whose property they were on if I could take some pictures, thinking readers of The Country Today may enjoy seeing vintage tractor images.

After pondering for a moment, he graciously agreed, as long as I didn’t say exactly where they were located. For the next hour I happily trudged through mud and snow snapping pictures. Those photos were posted on The Country Today’s Facebook page (​TCTWIS) this past weekend.

Truth be told, I’m not an extrovert, but I’m not shy either. My personality falls somewhere in the middle, depending on the day.

Regardless, as a journalist for nearly 25 years I still find it interesting that my job frequently entails walking into a stranger’s house or place of business, asking them a bunch of personal questions, shaking their hand and then heading back out the front door. I can’t think of many other jobs like this.

And that’s a big reason I like what I do — because every day is different and I never know what I’ll come across. And, perhaps best of all, after meeting those strangers they’re technically no longer strangers. Quite a few have developed into acquaintances I’ve remained in contact with for months, years and decades.

So if you ever see a 6-foot-1, 225-pound guy with a shaved head and goatee walk up to you in the country, don’t worry — it’s likely just me interested in writing a story or shooting a few photos.

Benjamin Wideman covers northeast Wisconsin for The Country Today. He can be reached

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