As the sun scorched the Evanston Fourth of July Parade, I came to a heart-pounding realization — the parade had started almost an hour ago, and I did not have a story.
I went into the parade with clear intentions. I would find a magnificent float before the parade started, with performers who would pour their heart-wrenching stories into my voice recorder. I would write a genius exposé about how the election was influencing an activist group or how a float symbolized a hidden secret of Evanston. I would win a Pulitzer for my work and become a cherub legend.
But there I was, standing alone in the middle of Central Street while pre-teen gymnasts flipped around me, and my notepad had no more than a few scrawls.
I had jogged alongside floats. I had interviewed members of a bluegrass band, but they were too busy plucking their banjos to answer any questions. I had tried to get a story out of a martial arts group, but it was difficult to find anything to write about among the karate chops flying through the air.
The swarm of Evanston residents was suddenly smothering, and I couldn’t stand in the middle of the parade for another second. I ran to the sidewalk and sat under an oak tree to gather my thoughts. I had wanted so desperately to write something large and groundbreaking that I got tunnel vision and became overwhelmed by the chaos. I caught my breath and took a second to sense the excitement around me. The air dripped with so much humidity that face-paint started to run and families flocked to an entrepreneurial 10-year-old boy’s lemonade stand. Children dragged their parents to a grassy lawn to get their pictures taken. And, just like that, I found my story.
I squinted to see what the small group of parade-goers were gathering around. An older couple down the sidewalk was dressed head-to-toe in patriotic costumes. The man, Edward Blumen was decked out in an extravagant Uncle Sam outfit and flanked by Betsy Ross, or, his wife, Pat Blumen. Though they took pictures with anyone who asked, it was very clear they were not an official part of the parade. They happily agreed to an interview, and told me about their costumes and their love story.
It wasn’t a big story. I didn’t cover a snazzy float or expose a political controversy. The Blumens told me a story that was beautiful in its simplicity. Every year on July 3, they renew their vows to symbolize the importance they place on commitment. A neighbor of their second home in Wisconsin had made the costumes herself. Their story was honest, sweet and just what I needed.
Medill cherubs taught me that as a reporter, it is important to find the small stories and that details can be so telling. When you get overwhelmed, take a breath and try to take in everything around you. The program taught me that the best stories are unexpected, and as a journalist, I am surrounded by stories waiting to be told.