After Shadowing A Job for A Day, You Realize that Life Is Not What You Thought It Would Be

Participatory stories have a long history in American journalism. Nellie Bly faked insanity and became a patient in a mental institution in order to study the horrible conditions there. Corey Levitan put this investigative journalism to a new level in his journalistic career. He has shadowed hundreds of people for jobs he is “entirely unprepared to handle and then wrote about his experiences.”

In my JOUR330 (Newspaper and Magazine Feature Writing) class for spring 2017, I asked students to shadow any of the following jobs:

  1. Bartender
  2. Sewer worker
  3. Road cleanup crew
  4. Plumber
  5. Auctioneer
  6. A restaurant waiter/waitress
  7. A retail cashier
  8. Mailman
  9. Gravedigger
  10. Truck driver
  11. Basketball player
  12. Mayor
  13. Professor
  14. WIU president
  15. Police officer
  16. Prison guard
  17. Firefighter
  18. Farmer
  19. Doctor
  20. Homemaker
  21. Beggar
  22. Homeless person
  23. Janitor
  24. Secretary
  25. Auto mechanic
  26. Waste Management employee for curbside trash pickup
  27. Real estate agent
  28. Employee for tree trimming and removal service
  29. Football/basketball coach

Many students did a very good job shadowing a job. A few participatory stories are listed here. Enjoy!

My Eight Hours at Buffalo Wild Wings As A Waitress

By Ashley Tickle

Welcome to Buffalo Wild Wings. My name is Ashley. I’ll be your server today. Can I start you off with something to drink? I was felling jittery inside; this was the first table that I would be waiting on my own. I have been shadowing Nia all day and finally got the courage to give it a try with no help.


The Buffalo Wild Wings logo. Source:

I’ve worked in fast food for several years, but I’ve never been a waitress before. I thought what the heck how hard could it be.

It actually wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. I thought the only thing I would be doing was taking orders, delivering food and drinks to the tables, supplying napkins and providing guests whatever else they may need.

I was in for a rude awakening, it was absolutely nothing like I expected. People were beyond rude for no reason at all. They were understanding when I told them it was my first day on my own but when I got their order wrong they complained and wanted to talk to the manager.

It got so busy that at one point I was running around for an hour straight. I was running around taking orders and running back and forth from the kitchen to the dining run delivering food to tables. I didn’t have time to do anything but cater to the needs of the guests. A drink or water was out of the question, as well as a bathroom break.

One of the male guests, who seemed really nice when I took his order yelled at me for bringing him the wrong order. “This is not what I ordered, I want to speak with your manager right now.” He yelled at me. I ordered teriyaki wings and you bring me sweet barbeque.

I was beyond frustrated and it showed on my face. The manager Dave pulled me to the side and said “Ashley I know this is for a class assignment but this is the most complaints I’ve gotten on one employee since I’ve been managing this place. Stop upsetting the guests or I’m going to have to cut your experiment short.”

After eight long hours, I was finally done with my shift. I was hungry and tired. My arms and legs were hurting from carrying food and being on my feet all day. This was a day I wouldn’t forget and a day I didn’t ever want to relive. After this participatory experiment, I now know that waitressing will not be something I will be doing in the near or far future.

Towing Cars May Seem Easy Until…

By Isaiah Herard

The bright lime green vest and a “city of Chicago” stamp to the right of my chest, I take a deeper dive into the life of a tow truck driver.

“Doing this job every day you learn about the surprising potential life threatening situations you fall upon,” said Russell Lyles, the 52-year-old driver I’ve replaced for the city of Chicago’s towing services.

12991_12796_chicago towing service

Photo credit: CHICAGO 24HR TOWING,

Towing cars may seem easy until the owner of the car realize their car is going to be impounded.

“I’ve had several run-ins with the pedestrians that call themselves catching me in my act,” Lyles said. “That’s why I always carry a legal, loaded weapon with me. The city of Chicago can get pretty dangerous and I won’t allow anybody to take me away from my wife and four kids over something as simple as a vehicle.”

The place where cars are most likely to be towed is along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago or downtown. In the mornings people are more likely to leave their cars in restricted areas to rush in for work in hopes that their car will not get towed. That’s when Lyles and I come in and tow the cars.

“I look forward to towing people’s cars,” Lyles tells me.

As we ride through the block of 8100 S. Loomis Blvd, we notice a car on the wrong side of the street during street cleaning hours. Jackpot! A car to be towed.

I quickly jump out of the tow drunk and prepare to make another mistake to unsuccessfully load the white Nissan Versa and take it to the pound. Fortunately, the veteran Lyles took over and we left for the pound.

“That was one of the easier ones,” said Lyles thankful that there was no moment of conflict during the loading.

Later on during the day at about 12:30 p.m., we notice a police chase and look at each other with feelings of anguish thinking “Good Ol’ Chicago” –the city with prevalent drug wars, gun violence and never ending conflict according to Lyles.

The 16 year military veteran Lyles stressed the importance of towing trucks and eventually relayed a bigger message: the right to bear arms.

He continued about how the right to bear arms and how important that right is for the job he must complete every day. Luckily, we did not have a run-in with any belligerent millennials and life as a tow truck driver was pretty fun. We were able to cruise the city and see all aspects of city life that adolescents like myself are not always accustomed to.

Come to think of it, my pen and my mind are my greatest weapons and every job I held prior to journalism – recreational leader at the Chicago Park District and bagging groceries at County Fair Foods – are now obsolete.

You’re very bright and intelligent and you could have the world in the palm of your hand,” Lyles said. “Keep writing and get that piece of paper (degree) behind your name and watch how your life slowly evolves.”

My Day of Work As A Football Kicker

By Danny Frey

Kickers always get a bad reputation for not being a true athlete and costing their team’s important games.

As part of my football coach’s show in the fall, I figured it would be exciting to learn how to kick a football to see just how difficult it is, I had to this in a participatory fashion by not just watching but actually attempting to kick a field goal.

To do this I requested the help of Western Illinois senior punter and place kicker Nathan Knuffman. We met at Hanson Field and they brought a football to kick. First Nathan gave a quick tutorial of how kick a football field goal.


WIU football player Nathan Knuffman. Photo by WIU Visual Production Center. Source:

It’s a somewhat complicated process that I could only learn by doing it myself but I first had to watch.

“The long snapper is looking back through his legs with the ball to snap,” Knuffman said. “We have a snap call and the holder will move his hands. Once he does that he’ll do a double signal and he’ll snap the ball.”

Knuffman was standing well behind the long snapper and a holder was next to him. Everyone has to be on the same page and in sync with each other.

“My holder will set up my spot for me,” Knuffman said. “I’ll try to find a target that’s higher in the sky like a pole or a letter on the scoreboard. You take three steps back and you make sure your foot is in line with your target. Take two steps over to the right and you got to get comfortable it’s a kicker thing it’s hard to describe it. The holder will look at me and see if I’m ready and he’ll give the long snapper the signal and then we’re ready”

Then it was my turn. I looked for a target and found it. Then I stepped back, moved to left because I’m a righty not a lefty like Knuffman. I slowly moved in and sent off a mighty kick.

Unfortunately for me it was well off to the left. After that, Knuffman had a quick piece of advice for me.

“You want to hit it off the side of your foot on the bottom third panel, if you hit it too low you’ll get the over rotation,” Knuffman said. If you hit it too high it will line drive it.”

My second try was more on target but it was well short. I was focusing too much on hitting the football with the side of my foot that I overthought the whole process.

Finally on my third and final try I just ran up to the football without thinking and wacked it with all my might.

This time it sailed through the uprights and it was a good kick! I slapped a high five to Knuffman and my day of work as a kicker was done.




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