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!