Fargo, ND -- August 4, 2007

Did I mention that our country is vast? In between the peopled places are miles and miles of trees, hay bales, homes on thousand acre plots. And, linking them together is, for me, the lulling roar of the bus motor, or if it needs servicing, a high-pitched whine, and, even more pervasive than the gas guzzling beast itself-- bus culture.

Passenger humor:
When the bus is late leaving the station (a frequent occurrence) greyhound veterans start making noise. A favorite and popular call-out to the terminal, information desk, anyone who'll listen: I’ll drive!
When the bus driver is counting his passengers, say, after stopping at a Flying J truck stop for a smoke break, to make sure that he has everyone (and no extras), a greyhound veteran starts chanting: nineteen, twenty, twenty-one.

The bus drivers themselves are not without humor. There are drivers who love giving comedic speeches as they pull out of the station, before they hit the on-ramp for the highway.

Upon approaching a vehicle slowing down for a red light, shortly after leaving the bus station, before pulling onto the highway: I hope that guy knows I can’t stop. Oh well. His bad.
Keep your conversations to a friendly level. If you are listening to audio devices, use headphones. Usually I take a good nap on the way down....though this coach here doesn't have cruise control.

(Overheard in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, where drivers and passengers are, at least so far in my tour of the country, the most laid back.)

Bus driver speeches, not jokes:
Stay seated. Since there are a lot of deer and antelope out there, at least if I need to break you don’t go flying.
If you’re coming up to talk to me, please acknowledge you are coming before you get here so you don’t surprise me…I might jerk the wheel and you don’t want that to happen.

In small towns without a strong cafĂ© culture and without a public transportation system that engenders waiting around, it’s difficult to find people reading. Especially during the time I was in Fargo--Saturday night and Sunday morning. People drink beer on Saturday nights and either go to church or read the paper on Sunday mornings. I have nothing against the Sunday paper, it's just not a commitment like a book. This is what I'm interested in.

I could have been more proactive in my search, but I let things happen organically. The result—not many readers in these Fargo postings. Instead, I caught up on blog entries at the Atomic Cafe, which, though wasn't packed, had a few folks with their newspapers and laptops. I ordered tea and pasta salad, overstayed my welcome to the very end of the night (the cafe was open until 11pm, not 8pm like in a lot of other small towns), when the owner brought around the leftover scones, bagels and muffins and offered them to her remaining clientele.

On Sunday morning, while wandering the empty streets, a firefighter offered to run get his fellow firefighter’s Harry Potter book for him—can’t be staged, I told him. A lot of people want to stage photos. I love the meaning behind the sentiment, but it makes me uncomfortable.

In Omaha I had visited a photo gallery of the wildlife photographer, Thomas Mangelsen. I browsed through the polar bears and giraffes. The woman looking after the shop made a point of telling me his work is not staged or photoshopped. There’s a beauty in that. Not staged, not photoshopped. It's real. He's a good model, it occurred to me, for photographic integrity. Would we appreciate the snuggling polar bears less if we knew they were in a zoo and that the northern lights in the background were photoshopped in?--I think it would be a stumbling block in enjoying the picture. We want to believe, and do give ourselves into believing, that photos capture reality.

I am photographing readers because I write, and I want to believe that writing is a worthwhile pass time and not merely self-indulgent, so it pleases me, when, walking down the street I come across a person engrossed and enjoying a book. It is like coming up on a sleeping tiger in the middle of the jungle--it makes me feel good. It's that moment of joy and concentration that I want to capture. The photo is a souvenir of this moment. And, I do ruin this when I ask permission to take someone's photo, maybe I should ask after I take the photo....

I didn't take the firefighters up on staging the photo, though, in retrospect, it could have been an interesting segue into Fargo firehouse culture. I feel torn a lot about things like this.

Two confessions: The woman at the Hispanic cultural center of Idaho wasn't planning on reading until her lunch hour, but grabbed her book for me and, the woman at the Econolodge also. Sometimes it's hard to explain my true mission. I gave in and take the picture, and then I wanted to put them on my blog!

But, again, there's an honesty in that moment of reading. When I ask follow-up questions about reading tastes and favorite books, I think that people generally tell the truth, but sometimes, I think people say what they think you want to hear, maybe because they're kind or because they want to be thought of in a certain way. But, when someone's eyes are trained on the page, and they have a particular book in hand, it's real.

No comments: