As a journalist, you have to be able to walk up to a stranger and ask them difficult questions. I’ve always known that, and I’ve always been able to do that. Recently, however, I learned that not all strangers are created equal. There are ones that cause you to feel more intimidated and literally cause you to shake in your shoes.

Last week, I attempted to attend a committee dinner at the Jefferson City Country Club. Phill wanted me to find out why these committees were having dinners away from the Capitol, and especially find out why they were having them at an exclusive country club. So I chose to go to the Budget Committee dinner because the chairman is Ryan Silvey, the same person who has been calling out the governor for lacking in transparency.

I walked into the club and headed for the dining room. Luckily, my friendly photographer friend, Christi Warren, came along to boost my confidence. The committee was not in the main dining room, so we walked around a bit and found a few lobbyists congregating, beers in hand, in a separate dining room. The expansive room had table with hors d’oeuvres next to a table with around 30 name tags on it. They were names I was familiar with as legislators from the Budget Committee and some lobbyists. I walked up to the three lobbyists and introduced myself. I was pretty confident at that point, and tried to lighten the mood.

I asked if members of the press and public were permitted to attend the dinner because it was on the committee hearing schedule online. One lobbyist, the oldest of the three, became immediately skeptical of me. He told me, rather brashly, that this was a time for legislators to “relax” and for the lobbyists to thank them for “all that they do.” I politely told him I understood and asked a few more questions before leaving the room.

As I drove away, my editor told me to go back and wait for the chairman of the committee to come and see if he would let me stay. I called in for a pep talk with an assistant editor, Alysha, and drove back to the country club. I was practically in tears because I was so nervous. Normally, walking into a room full of people doesn’t frighten a quiet girl like me, but a room full of Missouri state representatives freaked me out. They’re all perfectly nice to you inside the Capitol walls, but I’ve never encountered them outside the politeness of the marble cave.

I went back into the dining room, which was now full of people. A few people looked up at me with confused faces, but I walked straight to the chairman. It took a few minutes for him to acknowledge me because he was in the middle of a conversation, but I waited quietly and gathered my thoughts. With hands shaking, I asked him if members of the press and public would be allowed in. After talking for a few minutes it was clear to me that I was not welcome, so I thanked him and left.

Once I got to the entryway of the club, I set my notebook down and collected myself. My hands and legs were shaking, and my mind was a blur. The last time I was ever that nervous was when I hiked a few mountains in Israel in January. I’m terrified of heights, and I’ve never been so scared on flat ground before. After talking to Phill, I felt a lot better about what I had just accomplished, and I breathed a few sighs of relief and released a few of the remaining tears I had been holding back from before I went in.

After all of that I realized that I could get answers from people who didn’t want to give them to me, and I could talk to any kind of stranger and at least appear to be confident. I know that this experience could only make me a better reporter, and I hope I did a good job at learning another lesson.

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