When is an Interview not an Interview?

Being a writer for a local newspaper, I am often assigned interviews promoting a current play or an event of local interest. Phone interviews are typical. Circumstances occasionally require that we meet in person. This is not usually a problem.

I was assigned to interview a man who works in Public Relations. He had several items he was promoting. And being a personable fellow (did I mention he works in Public Relations) he preferred to speak face to face. We set a time to meet at a coffee shop easily accessible to both of us.

I followed his directions and arrived at the wrong place a few minutes early. My actual destination was about two blocks away. I got there on time, parked and went in.

I entered the nearly empty restaurant and looked around.  A man at the counter caught my eye and nodded to me. He stood and got off his cell phone. I introduced myself while shaking his hand.  He suggested we adjourn to a table at the rear of the restaurant where we could talk undisturbed by other customers. A waiter took our orders for a light lunch.

It was going to be a lengthy and detailed interview and I wanted to make sure I got all my facts straight. I wanted to get some good quotes that always liven up the text. I put my legal pad on the table and prepared to write. Curiously, he asked why I had brought a pad.

I reminded him of our scheduled interview and that I wanted to maintain absolute accuracy. It was odd he didn’t remember which paper I worked for.

Respecting his valuable time, I bypassed the small talk and got straight to the interview. I asked how he got his start and he settled into a rambling account of his youth. He went into some detail about how his father belonged to the culinary union. “That’s very interesting,” I observed, “but how, from there did you get into Public Relations?”

He scoffed. “I don’t do public relations.”

What? “I’m sorry, but I think there may have been a mix up.  I’m supposed to be interviewing a PR guy. Are you ___________?”

“No, I own this restaurant. My name is Biff.”

I called my contact. He apologized and said he was about ten minutes away. He tried to call but was in the canyon and had no reception. I assured him I would wait. There was nothing else to do but finish my lunch and continue my conversation with Biff. He told me how he was the namesake for a character in a Micheal J. Fox movie from the ‘80s.

We were about finished when Biff signaled to someone. I turned to see my guy had just entered and was walking our way. I offered my hand to shake, but he walked by me to shake hands with Biff. They began talking like old friends.

What was happening? Wasn’t this my interview subject? Did these guys know each other? Then Biff said something and the new guy turned toward me. We shook hands. He explained that since Biff signaled to him, he thought Biff was me.

We adjourned to another table and started the interview. But, apparently feeling like we were all old friends now, Biff kept interjecting his observations on whatever he thought we were discussing. I finally thanked Biff for his charming conversation and let him know it was not an open forum.

To no one’s surprise, all the delays and confusion kept us from getting to the meat of the interview. We rescheduled the interview for another day.

By phone.

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