a node at the edge  

September 22, 2002
ConnectingWhat the folks say in the Mid-West

I am not a very outgoing person. It's uncommonly difficult for me to just start talking to strangers, not because I don't like people, but because there's a part of me worries that I'm encroaching, intruding into people's personal space.

During the trip last week, I deliberately went out of my way to get into situations of talking to people I didn't know, every day. At rest areas, at breakfast, gas stations, whenever the opportunity arose. We generally talked about weather, traveling, destinations, but occasionally, the conversation would focus on the Middle East, Iraq, the war on terror.

Almost all of the people I met were retired (hence traveling in September), and most were from the mid-west, though there were some exceptions, such as my flower children of a previous post.

There was a couple I met in the Roosevelt National Forest who were from New York. She was the one who told me to look out for the wild horses, with coloring unique to the area. She told me many things, her talkative nature matched by her husband's absolute and complete silence.

They had flown out of New York before September 11th, because they didn't want to be in the city. Their son had been in the World Trade Center the day of the attack, though luckily he had gotten out. But he still works in the general area. She talked with a smile and absolute friendliness, but with a desperation as if she had to talk and talk and talk. And the more she talked, the angrier and more quiet her husband became.

I sat with another couple at breakfast in Wisconsin and we talked about Iraq. They had voted for George Bush and support him still, but are confused. They don't understand what the urgency is in going after Saddam now. They expressed concerns about how difficult this fight would become, and the potential loss of lives. I was particularly pleased and proud, though I'm not sure why, when I heard them say that they were concerned about the loss of innocent Iraqi lives. Not just our people, but people over there, too.

There was the elderly man at the rest area with his ancient mutt that he jokingly refererred to as a miniature Great Dane. The puff of fur was no bigger than my last stack of pancakes, and it was hard to say who of the two was creakier when they walked, but sweeter of disposition.

When the weather drove me to an early day in Rapid City, South Dakota, I chatted with a woman taking her two daughters to college in upstate New York. We were both thankful to have found a hotel room. I watched her as she walked off to join two daughters, two smaller boys, and a cat in a carrier. And she could still smile. Amazing.

In one combination gas station/restaurant I stopped to get gas and some coffee. When I walked over to the help yourself coffee pot, a group of farmers sitting nearby stopped talking, uncomfortable in continuing their conversation with a stranger in their midst. However, as suddenly as they stopped, they started talking again, as if aware that their silence told just as much about them as their conversation.

And in almost every inn and hotel, a television set was running with a story that seemed to continue round the clock: invasion of Iraq. It formed a backdrop for all of the conversations, sitting as a silent participant at the tables, walking along side the paths, mingling in the crowds -- not heard directly, but felt.

Posted by Bb at September 22, 2002 01:01 AM

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Pardon my cynicism, but I think America always needs a scandal/major news story to keep the population awake. For a few weeks it is Elian Gonzalez, then Monica Lewinsky, then Enron, and now Iraq. There is a "pack mentality" for scandals, which crowd out all other news events. The difference, of course, is that the Iraqi debate really matters, and we should be talking about it. I think the current administration hopes that this scandal overload will just numb us from the crazy scenarios being contemplated. Although the media is covering Iraq like crazy, very few politicians have taken oppositional stands (except in Germany and Britian, perhaps). For an insightful article about Cheney and Halliburton (just one angle on the Iraqi event), check http://www.workingforchange.com/printitem.cfm%3fitemid=13761 . rj

Posted by: Robert Nagle on September 22, 2002 01:11 PM

I'm aware of Americans fixation on buzzy news. Hell, you can see this influence in weblogging -- take a look around this weekend at RSS/FOAF if you want to see herd mentality (Phil excepted because he was working on his stuff long ago).

This isn't the latest scandal of the minute -- this is the possibility of us going into a bad, very bad war. If we didn't spend time talking about this, we would be the worst friggen fools in the world.

And we're aware of Cheney and Halliburton. And various other corporate scandals. However, the fact that we're about to get into yet another unpopular, costly, useless war is taking precendence in our minds. In my mind.

So, baa-baa-baa.

Posted by: Shelley aka Bb on September 22, 2002 04:03 PM

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