I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t that just what journalists do?” and while that’s correct, they tend to have a person picked out, ready to answer questions. For my Literary Journalism course this semester, though, we were challenged to go out on the street and find someone we thought looked interesting. Then, we had to ask about their lives. Their hometown, their passions, their best stories, etc. If you’ve ever heard of Humans of New York, it was basically our take on that project.
Meet Ralph P. Schneider. He’s a retired software engine from Pennsylvania, who actually went to CMU when it was called Carnegie Tech. He loves photography – taking pictures of flowers especially. Below the picture is one of the many quotes he gave me during the interview.
“My family was a little bit uncommon. My dad’s first wife died young, so as a result he was fifty years older than me. My mother was younger. So that… it creates, you know, a dynamic. You don’t have the same kind of closeness if you’re close to the age of your parents. He was…he could be considered a self-made man. He did not finish eighth grade –not uncommon at that time. His father died when he was just a child, and they didn’t have the kind of social support that now exists, so he and his brothers had to take whatever jobs were available. And he ended up having to take a job as a machinist apprentice, when he had no experience and they thought he had two years experience. Only one man in the shop knew that. And he eventually started doing work on his own. He had machines in the basement. My oldest memory is watching one of those machines.”
The most amazing part of this experience was getting to hear his stories. He talked with me about a multitude of things, from his experiences growing up to his survival against tongue cancer. Even after the 30 minute interview, we sat together for another 30 minutes, where he showed me the various pictures he’s taken over the years. Never having met this man before in my life, I walked away feeling as though we were old friends.
Personally, I have trouble talking to people. Going up to them and starting conversations were things I had always struggled with growing up. After this challenge, however, I found that it really isn’t so bad. Sure, the initial “hello” can be daunting, but I’ve found that many people are really quite friendly and willing to talk to you for a few minutes, if not an hour. To anyone who struggles with talking to people and hopes to improve, something like this can be a really hard challenge, but it’s completely worth it in the long run.