Jen’s World: 8 years, 100 interviews, not one dud

December 20, 2018

Everyone has a story to tell.

Everyone. Your parking ramp attendant. The barista at your favorite coffee shop. That person standing in line in front of you at the post office.

I know this to be true, because for the last eight years I’ve been interviewing parking ramp attendants, baristas, and the people standing in front of me in line at the post office.

It’s for Rochester Magazine’s Random Rochesterite column, which is exactly what it sounds like. To date, I’ve sat down and gotten to know roughly 100 people. And not a single one has been a bore.

To celebrate eight years (and 100 or so) Random Rochesterites, here’s a tiny sampling of the stories I’ve heard over the years.

December 2010

Name: David Johnston

Age at the time: 74

Occupation: Retired. Kind of.

Where I found him: Marketing director’s dad

Q: How did you meet your wife?

A: Joyce and I met at Camp Lejeune when we were both U.S. Marines. I asked her out—and we went on a date every day for the next eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, I asked her to marry me.

Q: Did you get married right away?

A: We tried. We went down to the courthouse and inquired about getting married. They said there was a 30-day waiting period. Joyce said, “Michigan doesn’t have dumb laws like that. Let’s get married in Michigan.” So we went to Michigan, where her family lived, on a two-week leave. And there was a 30-day waiting period.

“For sure, Minnesota doesn’t have dumb laws like that,” I said. “We’ll get married when you meet my folks in Minnesota next week.”

Again, there was a 30-day waiting period. So we headed back to Michigan with a few days left in our leave.

That’s when Joyce’s sister said, “Drive down to Indiana. You can get married in La Porte.”

We were only 90 miles away, so the next morning we jumped in the car, drove to La Porte and got married within an hour.

December 2013

Kathy Cieslak

Age at the time: 54

Occupation: Physical therapist

Where we found her: PT appointment

Q: What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

A: I have a fear of heights. On a trip to Vancouver, we decided to walk across a suspension bridge that spans a deep gorge. When you get on it, it kind of shakes, but on the other side, there were these big, beautiful redwood trees and I really wanted to get there. So I did it. I walked over. But I freaked out on the way back. I wouldn’t let go of the sides of the bridge, so people walking the opposite way had to duck under my arms. I’d say, “I’m sorry! I can’t let go! You’re going to have to go back or go under!”

August 2014

Dawn Mitchell

Age at the time: 41

Occupation: Stay at home mom

Where we found her: Soccer game

Q: What’s the most rebellious thing you’ve done?

A: I’m not rebellious, but I have broken the law once. Me and two other girlfriends did a few laps around the Hartford Speedway (I-90 Speedway). We were each in our own vehicles — I was in my ’77 Cutlass, maybe 17 years old. We drove by it on our way home from work and the gate was wide open. … I was so freaked out. That was pretty wild.

March 2018

Name: Dana Bergner

Age at the time: 40

Occupation: Beauty counter consultant, and small business owner

Where we found her: At a friend’s party

Q: Scariest thing you’ve ever done?

A: When we were on our honeymoon on Maui, we thought we could get to Mama’s Fish House faster if we took the north shore drive. Just YouTube it, because it’s horrifying. There’s a cliff on one side and the ocean on the other, and there’s nothing between.

It was night and we were in a convertible Camaro and all we could hear was the roar of the ocean beneath us. At one point, and this sounds fake but it’s not, we looked up and there was a white horse looking down from the cliff above us.

We finally made it, but we were both crying.

I thought, we just got married and we’re going to die! When we finally got there, we told the waitress we needed a drink. And she said, “Yeah, don’t take that road.”

June 2018

Name: Ken Olivier

Age at the time: 49

Occupation: Radiation oncologist

Where we found him: Soccer game

Q: Did you dream of being a radiation oncologist when you were growing up?

A: I had no clue. I wasn’t even close. I was speaking at Century (High School) recently, and I showed a pic of myself in 11th grade — how awkward I was. I was not picked to be “Most Likely to Succeed.” I was not picked as “Future Alumnus of the Year.” I got a D in physics — the field I’ve now published at least half of my papers in.

My 11th-grade physics teacher, at parent/teacher conferences, told my mom, “Science isn’t really for Kenny.” So I was telling these students, don’t let other people define your vision for yourself and what you’ll accomplish.

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