If you interviewed your idol (Dave Barry) in a forrest, did it make a sound?
August 20, 2008

By Orrin

I had the opportunity to interview my idol recently but it might not have counted unless I did something with the interview, and while the interview and the related event might be outdated, the least I can do is publish the information from my D.C. blog in the interview.

So nevertheless, I recently met someone who is on the list of famous people I am a big fan of: Dave Barry, author and Pullitzer Prize-winning humor columnist for the Miami Herald. I’ve read something like eight of his books, which I’m pretty sure is more than the number of books I’ve read by anyone else, considering I’m not much of a reader. I first saw last November that Dave Barry was coming to town for a book signing, and being unemployed at the time and having a lot of free time, I made my way to the bookstore and got his autograph. I told him I was a big fan of him and had read 8 of his books, and he told me that he’s written more than eight books.  I also briefly asked his advice about being a writer, but considering I was in a moving line, I didn’t stay too long.

I then had the idea that maybe I could interview him for the D.C. Scene or possibly some other publication that would pay. By that time, Barry had about 5 minutes until he was about to leave on a plane for his next book tour, so I awkwardly scribbled some contact information on a piece of notebook paper (note to editor: this is an indirect plea for some business cards, please) to his press agent as he was closing in on the book tour and knew it would never work anyway.  

Fastfoward to last May and I attend the annual Washington Post Scavenger Hunt. This is a really great one-of-a-kind event in May that is really a must for someone looking for an exciting activity that can only happen in Washington, in which people must gather in teams of 3 or 4 and search for clues in a treasure hunt that’s based around parts of Washington. One can find more details about it here:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/18/AR2008051802315.html 

Nonetheless, I saw Dave Barry on the microphone at the treasure hunt and it seemed moderately easy to get access to him since he was lingering around in an outdoor area for several hours so I thought, what the heck, why not interview him. That’s what we journalists do: Interview now, think later. I got a pen and paper from a hotel, tried my best to clean myself and look professional, and approached him and Weingarten with some questions. Barry didn’t remember meeting me last (thank god) but I told him anyway that I read a ninth book of his. I asked him some questions, wrote down all the answers but since I didn’t really have anyone wanting this particular story very badly (as in willing to pay me for it), I just never got around to printing it. To me, interviewing Dave Barry was enough of my dream, but then again, you can’t interview someone unless you do something with it. So here’s what I got about this story:

The treasure hunt happens to be organized by Dave Barry and his friend Gene Weingarten as well as Tom Schroeder, who works for the Washington Post, I’m pretty sure (this is what happens when you report on a story 2 moths after the event). Gene Weingarten is a writer for the Washington Post who holds the distinction of being the one who “discovered” Dave Barry. Weingarten gave Barry his first job in 1983 when he worked for some newspaper in Miami (or Philadelphia or Washington, definitely one of those three cities….hey, factual integrity is more of a guideline in the world of blogging*)  but he is gradually beginning to emerge into his own right as he has just won a Pullitzer Prize. 

I asked Gene how one would go about marketing Dave Barry from just a funny guy into what some consider to be the most successful humor writer in America. Barry joked, “He advised me to not be a woman and change my name from Deb to Barry.” Gene said that he didn’t really need to market Dave and that his writing speaks for itself.

Weingarten and Barry have organized and planned the clues for the anual event for 17 years. They start planning for the event about four to five months in advance. Barry travels to Washington D.C. about four to five months before the event and the two start walking around a section of the city and thinking up ideas for clues and maintain correspondence to iron out the details and keep tabs on the sites where their clues are arranged. This year they selected the Penn Quarter and clues included competitors having to look up the Chinese symbols for the Chinatown arches and comparing the inscription on the front of a library to a page on the Washington Post magazine. They even went so far as to contact three comic artists in advance of the Sunday Post to imprint hidden in numbers in their comics on the day of the treasure hunt to be used as clues on the day the comics came out.

“We can’t affect foreign policy but we can get them to change the comics,” joked Shroder.

Dave Barry has ties to the city because of Weingarten but he was also an intern for Congressional Quarterly in the 1960’s. He discusses those experiences and his other observations about the city in the book “Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway.” (quick plug!: http://www.amazon.com/Dave-Barry-Hits-Below-Beltway/dp/0345432487/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215844259&sr=8-1) I asked Barry about the book’s cynicism of the Washington area and he said he was just trying to be funny.

The first three to finish the treasure hunt won a trip to Florida, and while it seems like most anyone would have a chance, the winners all had extensive experience in the sport. The second place team was actually from Florida and travelled up to Washington D.C. just to participate in the treasure hunt. Needless to say, the second place team was very experienced and weren’t even in the race for a trip to Florida. The first place team, a group of 40-something friends from Northern Virginia were also highly experienced and had gotten together to study the map beforehand before the clues were even posted.  Jack Rita, one of the members, even hosts a small scavenger hunt of his own for his friends every Halloween.

*Upon further checking: It was the now defunct Tropic in Miami where Dave Barry, and Washington Post staffers Gene Weingartern and Tom Shroder, met.




In addition, his work used to be syndicated in the Washington Post’s Sunday edition until 2004. He was discovered by an editor named Gene Weingarten, who gave him his first job. Weingarten is a well-known columnist at the Washington Post and just won his Pullitzer Prize (I’ll cover that in the next post).


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