A Civic Love Story Part 1
The story behind the story of “Columbus’s Biggest Fan” in Columbus Monthly, Sept, 2011:
The sum total of what I knew about Michael Wilkos was the 18 minutes he shared in his TEDxTalk, 17:00 a detailed demographic portrait of the city of Columbus and 1:00 an admission of his love, born in childhood, for the same city. I enjoyed his statistically-driven talk, impressed that he could make it both funny and fascinating, but his off-hand confession nagged at me. Boy falls for city—average city, at that. Why?
I was certain there was a story here. What story, I didn’t know. And how to convince my editor, didn’t know that either. I left it to mull. For months.
Then, finally, I crafted a query and hit send. Not long after, the phone rang. It was my editor: “This,” he told me, “may be the most memorable pitch I’ve ever read.” Fortunately, he meant this in a good way (and, yes, I had to ask—for nice details about his decision, read his column in the same issue).
Now that I had the green light, I cold-called Wilkos, who immediately tried to dissuade me from writing about him and instead, he urged in a persuasive, articulate, passionate and lengthy pitch, I should write about Columbus. Yes! Nothing could have been more convincing than this. Sorry Columbus, but clearly the story I had to write is the one about this humble champion of yours.
Michael agreed to at least meet with me. We talked over coffee and as he generously shared more about his life, I quickly discovered that not only is this civic love story the real deal, it is a better story than I ever could have imagined. And, by better, I mean deep with meaning and emotional resonance, but I also mean giggle-fest funny. I had somehow tapped into a bottomless well of hilarious anecdotes. Many went into the article. Many did not—simply, could not. Some that made it in had to be trimmed of detail. Which, maybe, is the best place to start sharing:
While still living in Youngstown, Michael would make many impromptu trips to Columbus with friends. Those who’ve read the story know that he would take the long way around so that everyone in the car could see the city skyline at its finest. To give the moment the appropriate drama and excitement it was due, he would also slip in a cassette tape, fiddling with the rewind and fast forward so that at exactly the moment the buildings came into view this song cranked out of the radio (did I mention: this is the 80s):