Web Exclusive: Hartman's Story

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Steve Hartman has hit a milestone - the 100th episode - in his "Everybody Has A Story" series. In a Web exclusive, Hartman takes time out to recall for CBSNews.com how it all began. This is his story:

The adventure began in the summer of '98 at CBS News headquarters in New York. In one hand, I had my old darts from college. In the other, a really fine map of America I had commandeered from the eighth-floor hallway. I remember feeling bad at the thought of putting a hole in it.

But I certainly didn't see the need to buy a map, either. After all, this was just a one-time experiment. Why waste a hundred bucks on a new map when all you want to do is put one, tiny hole in it?

Needless to say, I have since trashed that map and a half dozen others. I now get them wholesale.

The dart idea actually came to me while I was doing a story on a guy named David Johnson. Johnson is a newspaper reporter in Lewiston, Idaho. For nearly 20 years, he's been writing stories about people he randomly selects from his local phone book. He even created rules for his column. Most importantly, he was not allowed to turn down a willing subject. He would not allow himself to decide who's worthy of a story and who's not. Mainly because he felt they were all worthy.

I was hooked. The lottery aspect of it really intrigued me and I was especially excited about adding the map element. I thought it would be such a thrill to travel at the whim of a dart. So I tossed the arrow over my shoulder and hit - Glasscock County, Texas.

Desert. 113 degrees. Ugh.

I learned darts make very bad travel agents.

Resisting the natural temptation to simply throw again, I went there and picked Pedro Talamantes. He was a sweetheart of a guy and he even had a good story about emigrating from Mexico. We got lucky, I thought. I thought the same thing when we threw the second dart, and the third, too. In fact, it would take almost a year for me to truly believe what David Johnson knew all along – that the phone book is loaded with wonderful stories.

Between then and now, I have interviewed 99 Americans picked at random. We have been to 40 different states (Texas 7 times, Hawaii none. Go figure.). And yet, I really don't care where the dart hits anymore. People make the places. And I certainly don't doubt the premise. There are important stories in all of us. All you have to do is listen.
  • Tatiana Morales