When I conceived the approach to a couple of 830 mile long conversations, I had anticipated setting up a table, a couple of chairs and a canopy in a public space in the towns that I visited and then inviting people to talk with me. It was always apparent, though, that the context of each engagement, the vagaries of the weather and the circumstances of the moment would influence this approach. So it has proven.
In Omaha, my set up was outside Millard branch library with the planned arrangement. As I moved into rural Nebraska, however, the heat of the day, the locational footfall or paths people took in their daily lives, and timing all affected the set up of the conversation space. In Pender, the public park was entirely empty, but the pool was full of children. Pender’s Main Street was also quiet and would stay that way until the pizza place and bars got busier in the evening. In Wayne, I was able to set up on Main Street outside a popular retail store, Rustic Treasures. However, as soon as the sun moved past 1pm I needed to move. That took me into The Coffee Shoppe, also on Main Street.
The questions arising are not just logistical, but speak to something more important socially and for community at large: Where are the public spaces at which we congregate to connect, dispute, protest and celebrate? The few locations that spring to mind in Omaha are the junction at 72nd & Dodge and the footbridge across Dodge at Memorial Park.
In endeavoring to talk with town residents I have learned that my approach has to be adaptable. There are those times and places where a formal or informal set up outside works well if people are passing by and those times when I need to go where people convene, such as at Vel’s Bakery in Wayne or at Mama’s & Nana’s in Neligh. Then there are other occasions, as in Pender on Tuesday with Brent and Julie, and in Neligh on Friday with Butch, when I just have to approach people wherever I see them, be it the sidewalk, retail store or coffee counter.
Whatever approach I have used, it has been a rewarding adventure into conversation so far.