Art of the Interview, Part 2

Try not to think of it as an interview.  Think of it as a conversation.  And let the other person do most of the talking.

It used to kill me, back when I was still watching TV news, to see a bobbleheaded reporter nodding along with everything the interview subject has to say.  As if to say to the person, “Wow, you are endlessly fascinating.  This is the most riveting exchange I’ve ever had with another human.  Please tell me more.”  Phony nodding is cloying and, in my opinion, a clear indication of a lack of respect.  Feh!

But back to the larger point.  So what’s the diff between a conversation and an interview? My sense is that, with one, you’re seeking specific pieces of information.  You get the information, you’re done.  Stick a fork in you.

With the other, you’re riding the current wherever it leads – and it almost always leads to some very interesting places you couldn’t possibly have ever imagined. You can still get the information you’re after, but you’ll get a whole lot of other stuff that will make the result of your encounter, whatever form it might take, much richer and far more compelling.  Not to mention that whatever you find might lead you to an entirely different story than you set out to get – and that’s always a good thing.

To review, interviews tend to be linear and lead to preordained destinations.  Conversations flutter, flit, swoop and swerve.  You never know what you’ll get.  Doesn’t that sound like more fun?  Doesn’t that seem more engaging?  Because if you’re engaged, the chances are, so will your readers.

Thanks for your attention.  You’re dismissed until we convene again next time.


Felix Romito is excited for you, really and truly excited.  

He tears your receipt with a matador-like flourish from his cash register at the Crossroads Kroger in Cold Spring and happily announces how much you’ve saved with your Kroger Plus card, how many Kroger fuel points you’ve accumulated and how much time you have to cash them in.

He congratulates you for being a smart Kroger shopper.  He celebrates your consumer savvy.

Felix with his mother, Belinda.

Felix with his mother, Belinda.

He makes you feel like your horse has won the Kentucky Derby.  It’ll be the same for the next customer through his line and all the others who come after.  You’d be hard put to find someone who loves his work as much as Felix loves being a Kroger cashier.  

From the time when Felix was in grade school and diagnosed with autism, his parents were advised to tamp down their expectations.  

“We were told he wasn’t the little train that could,” says his mother, Belinda. 

“Tony and I would come away from meetings with his teachers wondering, ‘Geez, should we put him in an institution now or wait a whlle longer?’  I was more that way than his dad, than Tony was.  In the back of my mind, I was more like, keep it real, don’t expect too much.

 “It was Tony who made Felix the man he is.  It was Tony who said, ‘OK, he’s got conditions.  We all got conditions.’”

Felix wasn’t supposed to graduate from high school or get his driver’s license, but he did.  When he hired on as a bagger at Kroger in 2006, that was supposed to be as far as he’d get.

In 2016, Tony helped Felix write a letter to his boss explaining why the latter should be considered for a promotion to cashier.  Belinda thought it was too much of a reach.  Felix’s boss thought about it and decided to give him a shot.  A few months later, Felix says, his boss told him it was one of the best moves he’s ever made.

Belinda remembers the first time Felix came home with his official Kroger cashier vest.  She says tears were streaming down his cheeks.  It makes her happy to see him succeed.

 “I go by the name of Hurricane Felix, the fast, friendly cashier,” Felix says.  “A bagger named Christopher came up with it.  It’s a name that burned itself into my memory.”

Felix, who is 30 years old, has been the man of the house since his dad died this past summer, after the cancer had spread to his liver.  The other day, Felix got his mom a membership to the new Planet Fitness in Alexandria.  He decided she could stand to lose a few, plus he wants her to be around for a long time.