PHOTO: The 67th Men’s Little 500

Aptly named like its famous Hoosier cousin, the Little 500 was inspired by 500 laps taken annually at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year marked the 67th running of the race for men and the 30th for women.

The following photos were captured during the 200-lap race at the fourth turn of the track in Bill Armstrong Stadium.

 

Oh, the things I’ll do for journalism…and Waka Flocka Flame

Waka Flocka Flame
Waka Flocka Flame via Atlantic Records

The email that started this saga came to me in the spring of 2014 when I was still writing for the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University. It was a pitch list – a list of story ideas that people could pick up to write about – from the Arts Desk. The tag “entWakaFlocka” caught my eye right away. As I read the description, I realized that this pitch was offering me an opportunity to interview Waka Flocka Flame, kind of a big deal in the world of rap. He was going to be at the Dunnkirk, a bar in Bloomington, for Little 500, a very well-known bike race and excuse to be intoxicated in the middle of the day in the middle of the week on my campus.

I decided I wanted to take them up on the Waka interview, not as a die-hard fan or anything like that, but rather so that I could have a great story to tell later on. Looking back, this has become one of my favorite stories to tell people, so I couldn’t have been more right. I’ve decided to type up this completely true (based on my memory of the events) story for your enjoyment and to tell you that I am nothing if not dedicated to a story.

So, as I said, I saw that pitch in the email and responded right away, hoping I would get it. When I was approved and told to wait for further notice about the interview date and time, I had to laugh to myself. Arts pitches generally consisted of musicals, drama and everything not a rapper in a bar. I really wasn’t going to have much competition for this pitch. Regardless, the waiting game began. For the first time, I was subtly checking my phone during classes to see if I had gotten the call from the manager of the Dunnkirk or from my editors or from Waka himself telling me when to be ready.

Finally, my editors told me that Waka had consented to the interview and I would be meeting with him the Monday of Little 500. I stupidly started Googling the man, finding out his birth name was¬†Juaquin James Malphurs on Wikipedia and learning how much of his music I already knew. “No Hands” seemed to be the one I was most familiar with, though I will admit I now own the entire Flockaveli album (please know that he is a rapper and that the video I linked for you all is going to have nasty words and scantily clad ladies in it and such).

Instagram @amandanmarino
For scale: I am 5’2″ and about 125lbs. on a good day. Photo Courtesy Laurie Marino

All of Monday was dedicated to more Google and obsessive phone checking so I could be ready to take the call and not take up this way-more-famous-than-me person’s time. I told my mom who I was interviewing, and I knew she was doing a lot of the same Google-sleuthing I was because at one point she asked me if I was going to have security with me when I met
him. I was slightly indignant…until I realized he was something in the neighborhood of 6’5″ and almost 300 pounds. This was not a tiny man. Regardless, I wasn’t afraid. He had consented to an interview. Why should I be? (Please use the image to the right to see how big I am not and understand exactly why I should be afraid with almost no knowledge of Waka’s temperament.)
Monday passed, and nothing happened. All the time I had spent telling people “no, really, I’m going to meet Waka Flocka Flame” seemed in vain. About ready to slink off to a corner with my tail between my legs, I got the phone call I was waiting for Tuesday. I was asked if I could meet up with Waka at 10:30. Seeing that it was already 11:15 in the morning, I assumed I had missed my chance. That was when the manager of the Dunnkirk clarified that he meant 10:00PM and that I could come to the bar to meet them. Now, let me clarify that I was 19, going in with my laminated press pass with the intentions of getting in and out as quickly as possible. Drinking scared me then, and it still does now. I agreed to the meeting and asked my friend Noah to walk me there. I guess you could say he was my security detail for the first leg of the journey into the land of people who actually drink on Tuesday nights, a place he and I had never been.

We left my dorm on foot over an hour and a half early because I was hell-bent on not being late and holding up his night. When we got there at 9:40PM, I awkwardly let Noah go back since it appeared I wasn’t going to get killed on the sidewalk. Now, there is no feeling quite as silly as showing a bouncer your press pass and asking for the manager, especially when your press pass suddenly feels like it looks fake and you look like you’re 15. Despite those factors, the man let me into the bar and brought me upstairs to the office. For my first time in a bar, I must say I played it cool. From the upstairs, I could see the stage Waka would be taking later that night. I stood awkwardly in the doorway as I was passed from employee to employee while the manager was frantically sought. As it turned out, he was at Kilroy’s, another bar under the same management across the street.

When he finally arrived, he called up Waka’s manager and, after a quick conversation, told me I could go meet Waka at his hotel several blocks away. With nothing but a hotel name and room number I was on my way. Now, you may be remembering that photo of me from before, and trust me, my inner woman bent on self-preservation thought I was crazy.

“Yeah honey, why don’t you go ahead to the strange man’s hotel room? That’s a great idea.”

The funny thing was, I couldn’t hear her over my inner reporter screaming “THIS IS SO COOL.”

After much speed walking in heels and a dress, I got to the hotel where, feeling entitled, I walked straight past the front desk and a large number of females with two men and got in the elevator. I marched straight up to the door, knocked on it and lost all of the confidence that had just carried me there. When a man opened the door, I sheepishly held up my press pass and tried to explain who I was. The man smiled at me and told me he was Waka’s manager. He then said Waka was asleep and asked if I wouldn’t mind going with him to pick up Waka’s DJ first.

“IN YOUR CAR?” Self-preservation me was horrified, but me the journalist was already walking to the elevator with this man.

He told me a bit about himself, that he was an IU grad and other miscellaneous details. When he called himself a Southern gentleman as he let me into his Tahoe, I was slightly concerned. I’d never heard a Southern gentleman call himself a Southern gentleman, but he was still meeting all my “Southern gentleman” criteria, so I didn’t worry. In the car, the small talk continued, and I realized who I had to be afraid of. It was the DJ. He didn’t seem like a bad person, but he sure did seem like the one I shouldn’t upset, especially since I didn’t have to give up the passenger seat when he got in the car.

We got back to the hotel, and the manager approached that group of girls I saw on my way inside. When he spoke to one of the two men in the middle and they all stood up to come with us, I fought back terror. First I was going to have to get squeezed into an elevator with all these people. Then I was going to have to get squeezed into a hotel room with them…while trying to conduct a Q&A…that was going to be recorded…oh no.

Leaning in to the manager, I mentioned to him my concerns with the current capacity situation, and he told me not to worry. The women were going to his room. I would be in Waka’s when he woke up. Since he still wasn’t awake, I was going to go back with them. I’ll admit, I was being very prematurely judgmental at this point, but I was on deadline and they were probably on…other things. Still, I went back to the room and watched as they passed around things I had never even heard of, or if I did, they had been in one of Waka’s singles. Despite this, something crazy happened: a girl approached me, tugged her skirt back down into place, and asked if I was a professional journalist. I explained that I was a student, and she told me she was too. It turned into a conversation where she told me she thought what I did was quite cool, asked me about my future plans and said I looked darn good in the dress and blazer I was wearing. I don’t think I was hiding my shock very well, but trust me, I tried.

Soon, the manager worked his way across the crowded hotel room and said we could go check on Waka. Two doors down, he knocked and was let inside the room. I looked at the bed and saw what can only be described as a mound of Waka. He is not a tiny man. At all. I quickly stepped back so as not to stare at him and instead stared at the men staring at me from across the room, three of them in all, two at a desk and one on the other bed.

Somehow, I was still slightly early for my interview; it was only 10:20. Waka’s manager said he hadn’t been sleeping much and asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting in the next room, between his and Waka’s, until 10:30. At this point, I figured there was no harm in it, so I agreed. That’s when he offered me alcohol. Of course, I panicked. Despite it being an innocent, social offer to do what everybody else in the other room was doing, I freaked out and answered stupidly said something about working. He offered again, and I advised him that he wouldn’t really want to do that. He then caught on, realizing it was an age thing, and dropped the subject politely. I learned then that “saying no” is easy, but doing so without sounding like an idiot is not.

I was led through a Jack and Jill door to the room next door where I sat with two men in Waka’s crew, Pac-man and Pretty Boi. They sat, and of course, I stood, horribly out of my element. That’s when the unthinkable happened again. Pac-man and Pretty Boi asked me what I wanted to do as a journalist, and when I started rambling on about war correspondence and hard news, they listened intently. They told me that it was a really noble thing I did, and then they started telling me about Waka. About how when they travel he sometimes wouldn’t sleep for days, about how he might be a little bit tipsy right now. They were impossibly kind to me, and I knew they didn’t have to be. That was when I realized Waka would be a genuinely good man. He couldn’t not be if he was traveling with genuinely good men like this.

Time passed, and suddenly my interview start was going to be late. I was getting texts from my editor, asking how things were. When I had to send the message “Waka’s asleep,” I knew tonight was going to be a long one. Minutes passed, and one of the two men who had been with the women, the one I later found out was not related to Waka’s manager and not asked to bring women, found his way into the room with Pac-man, Pretty Boi and me. He honestly made me more uncomfortable than anybody else.

I ended up with a guy named Lance’s phone number in my phone. I can only assume he was the man in the bed next to Waka’s bed, and that he was texting me as they tried to wake him up. I can say with some certainty that “Waka Flocka Lance” will forever be a contact in my phone. Pac-man and Pretty Boi left the room, and I found myself alone in a hotel with a strange guy. As I contemplated how proud my mother would be, the Jack and Jill door opened and the guy was ushered into the hallway. Waka’s manager came through the door followed by Waka, who easily filled up the door frame.

My mind instantly wandered to the place where I stored my “List of People I Don’t Ever Want to Meet in a Dark Alley,” and suddenly Waka was back on the list based on his sheer size. He wore a plain shirt, jeans, and white socks, no shoes. His eyes were a bit bloodshot, but as he turned to look down at me, he stuck out a huge hand to shake mine. When he asked me how I was doing, I knew my realization with Pac-man and Pretty Boi was correct. He was a genuinely nice man. It really struck me because he didn’t have to be nice to some nobody college reporter. He didn’t even need to take an interview with me. But he did, and even though getting it to happen wasn’t easy, he wasn’t going to be the thing that made it unpleasant. Waka sat down on the corner of one of the beds, becoming almost eye-level with me, and we got started. I set my phone to record and started working my way through my questions. (You can read the transcribed Q&A (with all its foul language included) here.)

By the end of the interview, I couldn’t thank Waka enough for his time and answers. He offered me a high-five and thanked me, and I felt like I was easily the coolest person in that room. When I realized how late it was, I made my way out of the room with Waka’s manager so I could run across town to transcribe the interview. In the elevator again, the small talk continued, and when we parted ways, I was almost sad that I wouldn’t likely be meeting up with Waka and his crew again.

It was late and it was dark and the drunk people were multiplying, so I rushed back to the IDS office with pepper spray in hand. By the time I got there, I frantically searched for headphones and tried to transcribe the interview. That’s when I realized how deep Waka’s voice was. So deep that hearing it in the office was nearly impossible. More running ensued as I called Noah and my roommate Laura, telling them I needed their help and that they needed to open up some things on my laptop for when I got back. Because they are far too good to me and I don’t deserve them, they had everything ready when I arrived and helped me get the Q&A submitted to go up online. It never did run in print, partially because of the deadline, but mainly because of the language.

The next day, the hits on the Q&A were amazing. It is easily the most popular thing I have ever published. The funny thing is, it doesn’t even tell half of the story of the interview or my night’s adventures.

So, there you have it. My night with Waka Flocka Flame and his crew. I have a funny feeling this will be one of my most popular posts, so please, share away. Maybe if I become internet famous with it, Waka will reach out to me and let me interview him again. Waka, if you do happen to see this, know you made a great first impression on a reporter who was just starting out and needed a really great story like this.