Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Riding in Cars with Sources

The third time that I had to remind myself that the woman driving me around in her Volvo was 80-something years old and a source, I hardly wanted to leave. I didn't have the courage to tell her that I probably shouldn't take her up on an offer to take me around. But two hours later, we had driven in between streets that were the childhood homes of people that had grown to be judges, congressman and college administrators -- all black folk, all her friends. No longer a source, she was playing the fairy godmother role to a tee.

Experiences like those are the reasons why I like to get my sources in the car. "Let's ride over together," I say in a friendly tone. They'll usually hesitate, fumble their keys around, avoid eye contact, and eventually cave. "Uhh sure why not?"

Got 'em.

Driving is a disarming thing to do. It's also easy to babble, so I like to see if I can key into loose lips behind the wheel. When I really need to ask a hard question, the car is the place where it usually gets asked. There's no one else there but the two of you, and you just don't drive with anyone. Even when you get into a cab, cabbie puts you in the back. Ever ask to get into the passenger's seat in a cab in NYC? Yeah, me either.

I got a guy to cry when I was driving him his old neighborhood once. Where was he? Front seat of the Camry, son.

Orlando Sentinel sports columnist Jemele Hill knows what time it is. Check out her series of pieces with newsmakers as they ride in their own whips. Right on J. My favorite is her ride with Willis McGahee.

So my recommendation is to get that council representative, rapper, lawyer, or ex-con back home from those welfare fraud charges in the 90s, into the car. It might take a few tries, but watch how comfortable your sources are in the front seat, versus their desk or dinner table with a digital recorder sitting on top.

My favorite part about riding with the fairy godmother came as we approached a place here in Boston on the Roxbury-Dorchester line called Grove Hall. A maroon Benz passed by bumping a song by the rapper Twista. That's when she turned to me.

"How does he do that? Is he really rapping that fast? Or did they just speed it up?"

"No, that's really him, I don't think they sped it up at all."

"Uh-oh," I said to myself. Here comes a speech about how black music has descended close to the depths of hell with all its misogyny and coonfoolery. Or not.

"Now, that's fast!," the educator said. "It's like some of the black tobacco auctioneers, have you ever heard them? Ooh, my, could they talk fast! You should read about them, Darren. I've got books for you."

Posted by Darren Sands at 10:46 PM | link

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oooo, i like the post D. she sounds like such a precious lady! make sure you get them books from her and let me know what you learned! :)

Posted by Anonymous J.O. @ 12:29 AM, August 31, 2006 #

I always thought the major difference between a reporter and a photojournalist is the level of intimacy and comfort you have to earn from a subject. A reporter can just look the subject in the eye and get them to divulge some information that they may have already known they were going to give up or not. A photojournalist has to capture a genuine and natural moment and somehow make the subject forget about this huge lens in their face. It's hard for most people to trust someone pointing a camera in their face. They are often awkward and uncomfortable, which leads us to have to come up with some sort of preparation or warm up before the shutter is released . I think I might rip off your car method. :) But I think it is really admirable that you are dedicated enough to work to get your subject/sources comfortable enough to spill their guts. Good job.

Posted by Blogger Erin E. @ 2:25 AM, August 31, 2006 #

now i'm all curious as to who she is. but there is this new juice bar spot in grove hall though.

Posted by Blogger POPS @ 3:20 PM, September 02, 2006 #
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