The romance of the road trip is over. There will be more open roads in my future, but for now, the work of The 923 Oak Project is mostly comprised of transcribing interview notes. The stories rely heavily on dialogue, so it’s critical to accurately capture the words of the residents. It’s a teeeeedious process, and is right up there with my other least-favorite task for this project: research.
Both of these tasks require patience, which is not what anyone who knows me would call one of my “gifts.” It’s much more fun to work on setting up my little nook of a home office:
Over the past year, and especially during the first week on the road, I spent days tracking down the residents of 923 Oak. Hours and hours and hours of Googling. Emailing. Facebooking. Calling.
It would have been more enjoyable if I’d gotten some wins and connected with people. To be fair, I did connect with several residents. I have about a 12% response rate, which is pretty awesome by direct mail industry standards. But not so awesome in context of my exceedingly high expectations. Some people responded, only to tell me they didn’t live at 923 Oak (which I really appreciated). Most of the people I contacted didn’t respond. Arghh.
I was constantly hitting dead ends, searching for 923 Oak residents — that sense of defeat was the key contributor of the low point on my road trip. I was relieved when Stephen Bloom told me that this phase was the most difficult of the entire project. Validation sure helps keep my chin up. (Feel free to offer words of comfort and encouragement anytime!)
I am taking a break from the research phase — my hands are full with writing the stories from the interviews I’ve completed anyway. But I couldn’t get one particular 923 Oak — what I suspected was a retirement home in New Jersey — out of my mind. Over all this time, I couldn’t make any headway following up via phone or email to see if we could connect, or even if they’d received my letters and postcards. I had a sense — and still do — that this is one 923 Oak worth tracking down. So within a day or two of getting home from the road trip, I fired up Google and uncovered a phone number that I’d never seen before. (Previous phone numbers I’d tried went unanswered with no opportunities to leave a voicemail.)
Her name was Cindy, and sure enough, she’d received my letters and postcards. This particular 923 Oak is an affordable housing complex for low-income seniors, and Cindy helps run the place.
NINETY PEOPLE LIVE THERE, you guys. Gold mine!
It was a triumph to have finally connected with someone there, and it’s icing on the cake that she sounds like a gem. Here’s an email I received the day after talking with her:
Just read some of your posts and God BLESS your parents for not stealing your car keys and saying ‘no way are you going to see Swift.’ And God Bless him for being a good soul that day and not attacking you. Sigh. The world is a pretty amazing place.
Love the idea- can definitely hear an interview with you on NPR.
Thanks for your work on this- I love learning about others’ lives!
After feeling so defeated with my futile efforts at research, Cindy’s note was a beam of light. Thank you, Cindy, for your validation and enthusiasm, and thanks to all of you for your ongoing support and encouragement. It means more than you know.
The world IS a pretty amazing place, tedium and all.