There Is No Roadmap to the Very Best Stories.

The best stories come from the most unexpected places. History’s taught me that. Axel Foley did, too.

story by Dan Oshinsky
published May 21, 2012

There’s this story about Michael Eisner. It’s the mid-1970s, and Eisner’s just starting his new job at Paramount Pictures. One of the perks of the new job? A just-off-the-lot Mercedes.

So Eisner’s driving through L.A. in this new car when sirens come on behind him. The cop pulls him over and writes him a ticket for speeding.

That’s a pretty bad day for most people. But something about the incident clicks with Eisner.

He goes into work the next day and pitches an idea for a movie about a blue-collar police officer who protects the rich and famous. It gets made into a movie, and I’m guessing you’ve seen it.

It’s called “Beverly Hills Cop.”

Some of the best stories comes from the most unexpected places. They come from lucky breaks and moments where the story just seems to reveal itself to the storyteller. A piece I wrote back in 2004 about the “Remember the Titans” team was an accident. That piece I wrote in Biloxi on Anthony Tryba happened when I saw him hanging out in front of a home on 25-foot stilts, and wandered up to say hello. The story on historic homes came from walking past an office on an otherwise empty street in Biloxi and asking a few questions.

My favorite is the story of how I met Murella Herbert Powell, the historian emeritus in Biloxi. I was at the library to look through the local newspaper’s archives. The microfilm machine broke down, and as the librarians tried to fix it, I start leafing through some books on Biloxi that were nearby. One seemed interesting.

I asked the librarian about the author of the book. “Is she still alive?” I asked. (I asked this question a lot in Biloxi. It got less weird over time.)

“Oh, Murella?” the librarian said. “She lives around the corner. Give me your number and I’ll put you in touch.”

And that led to a handful of stories — including the infamous Skeet story — and a few Murella quotes sprinkled throughout other pieces.

So I’ve learned my lesson. Stories come from unexpected places. That’s why I’m urging my reporters to listen to this city. To keep their eyes open. To get lost every once in a while. To take time to explore.

Great stories are out there, waiting to be told.