Note: The wedding and the singing Collegium did went well; I know we were appreciated. Below is a documentation of some personal encounters.
The flight there did not seem lonely. Two were beside me, both consultants as I found out. I got them talking and learned about the future of pharmaceuticals (drugs for niche diseases, not general purpose, so smaller populations of afflicted could be charged more) and efficient distribution centers (masses constantly in motion, nothing at rest). Later, a lean girl with pretty brown hair, bright eyes, a genuine smile. A diet counselor, part of an exercise program, whose clients were losing weight rapidly.
On the ground, disoriented. No one to meet at the airport; the phone number I had written for the hotel where choir was rehearsing was the fax number. A Somali cab driver, here 8 months, drove me some distance to an ATM before charging so I could pay in cash. His cab company outfitted cars in Chicago with the ability to process debit cards, but not his. His English for being here such a short time was passable; the fare was reasonable enough. He had held other driving jobs and had learned the hard way; he talked of friends from Somalia in similar jobs not as fortunate.
At the hotel, a newlywed evangelical smiling brightly even while well into a particularly grueling 12 hour shift. She had moved with her husband from California because of property prices; they were paying for an apartment a third of what they were in California now. She was very excited about a radio preacher I hadn’t heard of, one with an Irish accent who was local.
The landscape there is green, and while the city has bad sections – boarded-up houses, drugs, prostitutes – nothing feels urban there. It felt hot and dusty; it feels frontier, I suspect.
The significance of these encounters and others only became manifest during a seven-hour wait in the airport. Pictures on the wall showed lots of early aircraft, men in uniform, and newspaper headlines heralding flight records of all sorts; portraits of Lindbergh and Earhart had a peculiar poignance, especially the one of Earhart in 1927. She’s standing in the plane’s cockpit with a collared shirt and a shapeless but neat coat, almost a trenchcoat but more elegant, probably a brown color. Her face is lined, almost masculine, but you can tell by the windswept hair, the way she handles herself, and the brightness of the eyes that this is a woman, and her femininity is not indistinct. It sounds strange to define America as a land of heroes, but that’s what it took to give us the modern convenience of flying.
There was more. A bookseller told me how Omaha only exists because of Lincoln, who even owned land there because of a friend connected with the railroads. The need to get goods to the West cheaply so California and Oregon did not have any incentive to secede made Omaha a railroad building hub. This spread-out city of Warren Buffett, insurance companies, hospitals, universities, and a few very devout Catholics (why Collegium was here) is the city Lincoln conceived. It is indeed an indie rock hub: everyone I spoke to knew of Saddle Creek, and laughed when I said I wanted to visit the studios to give Conor Oberst the finger.
Part of me wants to claim that yes, I saw all of America in three days, two of which were mainly spent on planes, in airports. What matters is the order of things, a concept revealed to me thus. During the wedding reception, a deacon who was not exactly liberal expressed his exasperation with some who would quit Mass altogether because the old ways are gone. A cathedral Collegium stopped by just for the heck of it had magnificent acoustics, better than any other place we sang there. It had a lovely icon of Christ’s head that was a more Italian style; elaborate but intimate side chapels. The structure itself, I learned from the bookseller, was designed by a Protestant. The New World, indeed.