Connections old and new
I'll say this for North Platte; it's easy even for a deep-down introvert like me to make new acquaintances. All you have to do is stand there watching a steam engine back down a siding, or sit in a coffee shop, and the next thing you know you are talking to a friendly stranger. They have mastered the art of storytelling without slipping into dangerous territory -- most notably politics. My first experience was with a fellow who was also watching the early-morning departure of Engine 844 (yes, I made it, and it was fantastic!). In the half an hour so we stood together in the chilly dawn, I learned about how engine-building had changed in 35 years and what it was like for a boy from a Nevada dairy farm to decide to study mechanical engineering. I told him about my journey east as a child, and how university teaching has changed with technology.
After the train chugged off to the west, I headed to the Espresso Shop for my ritual latte and email session. My new friend Alan the haberdasher stopped by to ask how my research was going, and to give me a lead on someone who could tell me about the women's clothing business in North Platte. Then a fellow came by and introduced himself as Mel; he is a regular customer and noticed that I was becoming one, so thought he should say hi. He told me a couple of jokes (clean) and recommended a movie (Always, with John Goodman) and told his story of traveling to 39 states before arriving in North Platte 11 years ago. Just the right size, he said, and a couple of hours away from his daughter, which is also just about right. He said I just make sure to come to open mic night on Friday the 11th, and I am thinking of doing some storytelling myself.
This cold is still wearing me down, and I took another satisfying nap before heading to the grocery store for provisions. Then I tested my voice and decided I could manage a phone conversation, and called up Sharon Johnson Kleckner, my classmate. We are meeting this Wednesday in the library to look at photos and talk clothing and stuff. Even more exciting, she is friends with our second grade teacher, now retired and in declining health. She was a pretty young Miss Taylor in 1956, probably in her very first year of teaching, and she moved away and got married at the end of the year, breaking all of our young hearts. Sharon tells me that one boy was so crushed that he convinced his mother to drive him to Hastings for the wedding. But the former Miss Taylor, now in her 80s, is back in North Platte and I hope I can see her soon!
Today was the day my cold finally got the better of me. I managed to get out of my room twice, once for breakfast and church, and later, after a three-hour nap, for a literal blast from the past
Today was Reformation Sunday at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church; it has been 499 years since Martin Luther posted his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” also known as “The 95 Theses,” on the door of the Wittenburg Castle church. This is celebrated in Lutheran Churches worldwide; this year it was celebrated in Lund Cathedral in Sweden with a special visit by Pope Francis, beginning a year of observation of the events 500 years ago that resulted in the Protestant Reformation. Instead of the usual 8:15 and 10:30 services, this Sunday featured a single service followed by a potluck -- I thought I would do both, but was so whipped by the end of the service, I just headed back to bed.
But I did get a familiar dose of religion. The hymns were played fast. When we moved east and could only find Missouri Synod and Episcopalian churches that suited my parents, my mother's one complaint was that the music dragged. Here's a sample of the "praise band" playing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" to give you a taste:
The chatter you hear is because they reprised it at the end of the service while people were leaving the sanctuary and greeting the minister. They've adopted a version of the passing of the peace, but instead of the responsive "peace be with you" "and also with you", it was a lengthy round of "good mornings with people leaving their seats and walking all over the sanctuary. For the first time, this introvert was feeling overwhelmed!
One part of the sermon really impressed me. The pastor noted that the theological differences between Lutherans and Roman Catholics have not been resolved, and never will be, but that there is growing desire for reconciliation from a contentious and sometimes violent past. The goal is not agreement, but mutual respect.
I went back to room and crashed for a few hours, and was having a cup of tea when I heard this unmistakable sound:
A steam engine was making its way back to Cheyenne and stopping in North Platte overnight. The news article about it has given the ETA as about 4:30, but it arrived early. So I didn't get to see it in motion, but I did join the swarm of North Platters that converged on Front Street to look and listen and take pictures. It was the biggest crowd I had seen anywhere this week!
Tomorrow, if my voice is working, I will give Sharon a call, and start to plan my library talk for this Thursday.
SRK Quest: King Uncle
This is probably one of the most obscure and hard-to-find of all of King Khan's movies, and with good reason. He is barely Shah Rukh Khan in King Uncle, much less King Khan. Yes, he is attractive, energetic and appealing in his supporting role as Jackie Shroff's younger brother, but I got the feeling that the role could have been played by any of a dozen young unknown actors. He seems happy just to be in a film, and enjoying all the dance and action, but the role itself doesn't give him much to work with. Still, it is entertaining and definitely worth seeing, if only to track SRK's development as an artist.
Synopsis. Grumpy, materialistic elder brother (Shroff) neglects his family until his life is transformed by a spunky orphan. Happys ending, as Omi would say!
Worth watching for. Jackie Shroff. I am becoming a big fan of his work, and his comedic turn in the title role is truly engaging. The fight scenes are ridiculous, over the top, and highly entertaining.
Want to see it? Pirated versions come and go online, usually without subtitles. I got my copy through interlibrary loan.
Day 4: Connections!
Despite a lingering cold, today felt like a breakthrough day. I headed to the Espresso Shop for my morning coffee and work session (email and some work on an unrelated project). Within a few minutes, I caught snippets of a political conversation at a neighboring table -- "Bernie...pipeline...Hillary...Jill Stein..." -- that suggested that I had found some of the local liberals. Once voice in particular dominated the conversation, in an accent that was clearly Not From These Parts. When I hit a good stopping point, I introduced myself and joined the group for what turned into a long, interesting conversation. The alpha male was Bob from Brooklyn (he used to come to Nebraska in the summer to visit his grandparents, and now he lives here). My admission of being a church-going agnostic created quite a stir, and I was also clearly surrounded by Bernie supporters with varying levels of support for Hillary Clinton, from "no way" to "no problem". We made a date to meet at the Democratic Party gathering next Thursday night at the local wings and bowling place, and I have found my election night buddies.
When the group broke up, I went back to my laptop, only to sit up and look around when I heard someone mention the Holocaust Memorial Museum. It turned out there was a group of teachers from a nearby town planning a trip to Washington, D.C. for a conference, so I introduced myself and offered to help. We had a great time talking about the Metro, the Zoo, the Smithsonian Museums and where to eat downtown. By the time they left , I had an invitation to visit a local farm this week, and maybe even ride a combine.
On my way back to the motel, I lingered long enough to watch kids and parents in costume collecting candy from the local merchants as part of a downtown trick or trick event. The best news of the day is that I got a Facebook message from my classmate Sharon; I am going to give her a call as soon as this cold improves and I get my voice back!
Tomorrow: Church, and a visit with a steam engine!
North Platte, Day 3. Reaching out.
Brown/Harano was the camera/photo shop where my dad took all of our film to be developed. Our only formal family portrait was taken there. So it is a pretty evocative name! And then I saw this in the window:
This was my first reminder that North Platte is a very red town in a very red state. A recent straw poll by the local weekly newspaper reported that about 78% of those voting prefered Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton. (Hillary got 18%, followed by Gary Johnson with 12%, with Jill Stein, Jesus, Pedro, and Bill Murray all polling in single digits.)
At the library, I talked to one of the staff members, who taught at the high school in the 60s and 70s and remembered the dress code battles of the time. Then I spent some time looking at the 1967 yearbook from North Platte High School, looking for former classmates. I found ten (!!!!) names that I recognized, four of whom still lived in town in 1999, when the last alumni directory was published. (Thank heaven for alumni directories, indexing female students by their former names and their married names!). Two of the women I found were also in my Bluebird troop.
Also also found a photo of North Platte from 1875 with a label showing the location of several landmarks, including the Unitarian Church, which no longer exists. The closest UU congregation today is in Kearney, about 100 miles east of North Platte. Oh, well.
I headed back to the Espresso Shop for lunch and some unrelated computer work, and overheard two patrons talking about meditation and theology. Deciding it was time to step outside my introvert bubble, I struck up a conversation and made two new acquaintances. Sherry is originally from Omaha, has lived in NP for about 30 years, and is a liberal, questioning Roman Catholic. Alan is the 3rd generation owner of the local clothing store, and promises to be a great resource on the shopping habits of local women!
North Platte by foot.
i was up before dawn -- not hard, since North Platte teeters on the western edge of Central Time Zone and sunrise is about 8 a.m. this time of year. Despite a forecast of near record-breaking 80-degree heat later in the day, it was 41 degrees at 6:30. Welcome to the high plains. I had an article to revise for publication and a stack of email to answer, so I declared Day 2 my official people-watching day and headed to the local coffee shop, reputed to be where locals gather downtown. And was it ever!
The Espresso Shop had everything you can get at your local Starbucks, all delivered with an extra helping of Nebraska Nice. I ordered the biggest skim latte they had and settled down with my laptop, sneaking glances at the other customers. (I eavesdropped a little too, there was a discussion about the price of hay that eluded me completely.) the clientele was an interesting satorial mix -- work jeans and trucker hats, novelty t-shirts, some business casual. In my boot cut jeans, solid blue t-shirt and black cardigan, accessorized with a batik scarf, I actually felt a little overdressed. I was the only woman I saw all day wearing a decorative scarf. Who would have thought that I would be the snappiest dresser on Jeffers Street?
Once I finished my work, I set out to walk around the old downtown, once so familiar and now so changed. The Pawnee Hotel, still the tallest building in town, sits empty and waiting for its next act. The Paramount Theater across the street is a hippie clothing store. The Fox Theater, where my brother and I watched Don Winslow of the Navy serials and cartoon marathons, is now home to the local amateur theater company. I may get a ticket to their next production just to get a look at the inside.
Turning west, I saw a familiar bell tower a few blocks away -- my old spiritual home, the 1st Evangelical Lutheran Church. In the building, I was struck with so many odd memories. The round posts in the parish hall were still there -- of course! They have to hold up the building; but they also were good for twirling around when cover dish suppers got too boring. I went upstairs to the sanctuary and it was all the same, except the carpet, which couldn't possibly be the original. How many Sundays did I sit looking at these very same stained glass windows?
The hymns were still posted on the board, so I looked them up. The second two were after my time and unfamiliar, but the first was "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" set to the tune Hyfrydol. The melody is a favorite of mine, even more so now that Peter Mayer has written the beautiful words of "Blue Boat Home" for this sweet old tune.
This Sunday is Reformation Sunday, a very big deal in the denomination that traces its history to a firebrand monk nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church. I am planning to go, probably attending the 8:30 a.m. "traditional" service, and staying for coffee and donuts afterwards (of course!) On the way out, I also bought a ticket for the Harvest Dinner next week. Hope they don't hold it against me that I drifted away from the Trinity and became a Unitarian Universalist. I'd like to believe that a modern Luther would also have a quibble or two with church doctrine, and would add a few more theses to his very long list.
Settling in -- North Platte, day 1
The drive from Denver was beautiful. I know that people who live elsewhere think of this part of the country as flat, empty, and boring. But here's what I thought:
I moseyed along my way, stopping to visit the church in Brush, Colorado, where my grandfather served as pastor eighty or so years ago. The current pastor and church secretary were warm and welcoming, and shared some of the parish's history with me.
Finally, I made it to North Platte. The road into town was unrecognizable; lots of chain restaurants, a WalMart, a shopping mall. But soon I was driving through the old part of town, and over the viaduct that carries the Main Street across the railroad tracks. Within minutes, I was driving into Cody Park, past the swimming pool and the kiddie rides (closed for the season) and reaching the banks of the North Platte River. The familiar sights and smells, the grasshoppers leaping away from my footsteps, all brought tears to my eyes. A fellow about my age stopped to talk -- the first of many conversations I have had in my few hours here. And therein hangs a tale.
I think of myself as an introvert, someone who is usually reluctant to chat with strangers. But the genial neighborliness I have encountered here has triggered a memory of learning to look away from strangers instead of smiling at them, to nod instead of saying hi. I remember walking down the street in Westwood, New Jersey shortly after we moved there, and saying hello to a woman only to have her look at me with a startled expresssion that clicked quickly to annoyance and then to a mask, averted away from me.
So far today, I have had short conversations with:
A reunion in Denver
The flight from Washington, D.C. To Denver was as pleasant as air travel in 2016 can be for a 5' 9" human. The skies over most of Nebraska were clear enough that I could follow the Platte River westward from Omaha, but not quite to North Platte. Rather than do the whole trip in one day, I opted to pick up my rental car, stay overnight at an airport hotel, and drive the 3 1/2 hours this morning.
Last night I had dinner with a former student, Wayne Watts (aka DK). Wayne was one of my star pupils in a service learning course I team taught about a decade ago. It was, by far the riskiest, more challenging, scariest course I ever taught--and the most rewarding. The title was Popular Culture and Literacy in America, and I will confess right now that I put "popular culture" in the title -- to recruit unsuspecting students into a service learning course where they would tutor students at a large, minority-majority high school. If I had given it a more straightforward title, I would have been preaching to the choir. We let them know the first day of class what we would be doing, so they had the chance to find another course if they wanted.
When I say "team taught", I am not kidding. The course was planned, steered and assessed by myself, a PhD student, and a team of undergraduate teaching assistants who met at my house every week for debriefing and planning. Wayne took the class as a student once, and then served as a teaching assistant for several more semesters.
Since graduation, he has pursued two passions: his musical career and mentoring. For him, they are deeply connected; he takes them both equally seriously and uses one to enhance the other. Right now, in addition to his performing gigs, he is running an after school tutoring and mentoring program very much like the one in our course, but much bigger, with multiple locations, and a cadre of mentors who are not students, but older adults who need training and support to connect with their young students. He is also developing a program of online mentoring podcasts and interviews that is simply brilliant. See more about this impressive young man on his website: http://www.dkakawaynewatts.com/about-dk.
This has nothing to do with my Nebraska trip, at first glance. But I found myself wondering, as we spoke and laughed last night, what life would have been like for me without the many direct experiences I have had with people of other races. More to come, as I think of it.
Now and then: a contrast in settings
I'm off! And as I rode the Washington, DC Metro to Reagan National Airport, I couldn't avoid noticing the people around me, and their amazing diversity. This is my world on a daily basis, and has been since we moved here in 1976. (If anything, it has become more varied in forty years.) There were men and women of all races in business suits and track suits. There were women in hijabs, and men with waist length dreadlocks. Piercings galore. It being a chilly fall morning, there were no visible tattoos, but I know there was at least one -- mine.
Both places are predominantly white, but the similarity ends there.
University Park is "78.5% White, 9.3% African American, 0.1% Native American, 4.7% Asian, 3.0% from other races, and 4.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 11.3% of the population. North Platte is 93.1% White, 1.0% African American, 0.7% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 2.8% from other races, and 1.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 8.8% of the population." Outside of University Park, our county is "majority minority" ("64.5% black or African American, 19.2% white, 4.1% Asian, 0.5% American Indian, 0.1% Pacific islander, 8.5% from other races, and 3.2% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 14.9% of the population.") Lincoln County, of which North Platte is the seat, has about the same demographic mix as the city, and a total population of about 34,000. Let that sink in. There are about 10,000 people in the county who live outside North Platte. Prince George's County, home to University Park, has over 800,000 people, including my 2,500 neighbors.
So that's a rough snapshot of where I am coming from, and where I am going.
Dressing to impress in North Platte
So it is time to pack. After decades of conferences, I normally have this down to a science. It's a short list: one pair black conference trousers, one pair of jeans, and enough solid-color tops to last the duration, plus a light cardigan for layering, and a small assortment of colorful accessories. Add a tailored jacket, and I am set. But this is not a conference, and I will be away for nearly a month. I will be among strangers who used to be classmates nearly 60 years ago, and I want to make a good impression, but still be myself. I am not trying to blend in or pretend to be someone I am not. I have no idea what activities I will be doing. (Can I join the yoga class at the Methodist church?)
Add to this my three degrees in clothing and a career teaching and writing about fashion, which makes me well-aware of the role of dress in forming first impressions. So I am thinking, rethinking and -- probably -- overthinking. Are the red Mary Janes with the cutouts too hippie? Do 67-year old women in North Platte wear jeans as much as I do? Do I pack my black skinny jeans?
I will post my packing list once I get this worked out.
Ixnay on the innyskay eansjay. I don't wear them that often.
Traded the winter jacket for the just-as-warm but more packable layers of silk undershirt, thrift store cashmeres, and fleece vest.
No yoga clothes. Who am I kidding?
Other than it, it's my conference wardrobe, plus a pair of corduroy trousers.
And yes, yes, YES to the re Mary Janes with the cutouts.
A friend who is originally from Omaha convinced me to take the yoga pants.