“It’s because you waved,” said Luke. In his early twenties and studying intercultural studies in Omaha, Luke was the first person to stop and engage in conversation with me as part of this project, a couple of 830 mile long conversations. He stopped because of that wave and my welcome. It is premature to begin filtering for commonalities, though I can say that the people I engaged with, whether at Millard branch library in Omaha, West Point, Pender and Wayne, demonstrated a curiosity and willingness to interact. For his part, Luke had moved when he was 13 to Spain with his family (his Dad did missionary work and was a military contractor). Luke lived in Europe for 5 years. It remains to be seen if broad exposure to different cultures is a theme arising out of this project, but it is impossible not to want to explore that thought as I go.
It is at this time worth noting, perhaps, my own capacity to be curious and to engage. The point building up to the moment of departing Omaha was unexpectedly difficult. I was caught by surprise at the emotional sadness of leaving my wife behind and confronting a solitude I suddenly felt unprepared for, however romantic it had seemed before then. The road offers its own cure for such melancholy, and Garry in West Point was the tonic needed, with his fascinating upbringing, personality and current professional role. His formal title is the Economic Development Director for Cuming County yet, as Garry remarked, his efforts are better described as community development. More on Garry in due course…
The road into West Point features a large advertisement by West Point Dairy claiming they are hiring. What caught my eye was the $1,000 signing on bonus. What caught my eye amid the open, green landscape of Nebraska’s farmland was the juxtaposition of man-made protuberances. An array of steel mounds, spires, ribs and rails appeared as half finished fun fairs, fantastic and gleamingly enticing in their surroundings, like the set in Fellini’s 8½.
I am learning, with apologies to the towns that are part of my learning curve, that there are times and places to find people. It is not easy to recognize easily where the public spaces are, where people mingle, intersect and engage frequently. I arrived in Pender too late for the morning crowd that Ann, the town’s librarian, told me about and too early for the evening crowd that Jason at The Pender Times told me would frequent the bar and pizza joint on Main Street. I did, however, chat to a few people on Main Street, including Brent. He has lived in Pender his entire life, with family in town and within two hours of the area. I asked Brent why he had been so willing to talk with me and he explained that he knew everyone’s name in town but that he did not know me. When he saw me walking down the street, “In that hat,” he was curious. Although I initiated the conversation, in hindsight it was clear that he had made himself available for that interaction, sitting conveniently but unobtrusively along my walking path, and looking at me as I approached.
Now, I am in Wayne, and after a wander along Main Street am preparing for a day with community.