The electronic jingle of my ringtone sounded. As I glanced down at the phone, I saw a number with the 561 area code of Wellington, Fla., flashing.
My heart stopped for just a second, and the sweat glands in my hands started working overtime. I knew the number. It was one I have memorized but refuse to program into my phone. I don’t ever want to accidentally dial it. Ever. It was George Morris’ phone number.
I frantically put my turn signal on and started looking for a safe place to pull off the road and take the call.
“What are we doing?” sounded from the back seat. I was in the midst of ferrying my husband and another couple to dinner, but I’d been waiting for this call from George all afternoon. I’d faxed him a column he’d written for us, and he was calling with his corrections. George doesn’t email. And you answer when George calls. No matter when that might be or what you might be doing.
My husband, John, knows the deal of my work-from-home lifestyle; he’s familiar with the hushed silence that must accompany work phone calls after-hours. Nope, I’m not cooking shrimp as I interview you, famous rider. Just picture me seated at my desk all professional-like. And John, non-horsey as he is, fully understands the importance of a phone call from George. I’d warned the couple with us about my impending break for work. The wife, an avid rider, instantly understood the gravity of the situation. Her husband, distinctly non-horsey, just nodded and smiled with a puzzled look on his face.
I found a quiet place to pull over and pushed “answer” with a quivering finger, frantically motioning for silence in the car. “Hi George,” I said, and I picked up my pen and printed copy of the article. As George methodically went through the article paragraph by paragraph, I scribbled his changes in the margins. It was a long article, and George, ever meticulous, had a lot of changes to make. I’d turned the car off, and it was summer. It wasn’t long before the car reached sauna proportions, and I started hearing grumbling from the men in the back seat.
I waved my hand blindly behind the seat, trying to smack a knee or two to quiet the whining. I heard a whispered “Who IS this guy on the phone, God?” from our non-horsey male guest.
“YES, it’s God, shut UP,” his rider wife hissed at him. I carried on scribbling frantically, throwing in the occasional “mm-hmm” and “Yes, that makes sense” to George. Sweat dripped down onto the paper; I tried to aim the drops away from my pen marks in the margins.
Finally, the last paragraph annotated and pleasantries exchanged, I clicked “end” on the phone and took a deep breath, started the car, and blasted the air conditioning. Off to dinner we went.
For the first few years working for the Chronicle, you get a frisson of nerves when calling riders whose names have been transformed into idol status in your mind growing up. And while I’ve mostly gotten pretty blasé about talking to household-name riders day in and day out, there are still moments when I’m blown away at the fact that I have the cell phone numbers of Olympic riders. And they pick up the phone for me. It’s pretty cool.
But, as the George Morris story tells you, it’s not always a piece of cake to get the interview done. Walking up to a particularly reticent interview subject and asking to talk can be nerve-wracking, especially if it’s a legend in the sport. And there are some wily interview targets who seem to be as elusive as Bigfoot at times.
One year at the FEI World Cup Final, I was in hot pursuit of one such target (and no, I definitely won’t tell you who it was), but he kept disappearing from view or into the FEI-restricted area just as I approached. Finally, I saw him duck into the porta-pot sited right by the schooling area. I briefly weighed the horrific nature of what I was about to do with the desperate need for the interview, and I decided my shame tolerance could handle the challenge. I settled in to wait. Yep, he eventually came out, and there I was, notebook and pen in hand. I got that interview, but I’ll never be proud of how I did it.
All of us at the Chronicle can tell stories of interviews gone embarrassingly wrong; we’re human. And all it takes is one butt-dial of Bruce Davidson to teach us to keep certain numbers out of easy reach.
Each Thursday, we’ll feature a blog from a member of the Chronicle staff. We’re just like you—juggling riding and competing with work and family. A few years ago, Associate Editor Molly Sorge moved from living in horse-heaven Middleburg, Va., to a bit more of a remote location near Richmond, Va., so her competitive goals with Elf have to work around her hectic work schedule and begging trailer rides from friends. She still manages to get Elf out on the town a few times a year.