snapshots from America

With the government in shutdown, but TSA deemed “essential” so that people like me can keep burning carbon and racking up the frequent flyer miles, I have been traveling almost constantly, encountering a stream of strangers from Raleigh to Sacramento. Some faces and voices linger in my short-term memory:

The Massachusetts surfer-dude cabby, who tells me: Bro, I surfed Nantasket all day yesterday, and it was awesome. This comes in a strong Boston accent from a young dude with long blonde hair.

The two New Yorkers who board at Kennedy, never having met before, and quickly establish a rapport through kvetching. For the first hour, their conversation concerns irresponsible grown children. (Oy!) Then one of them starts explaining how George W. Bush planned 9/11 so he could pass the Patriot Act. (Otherwise, how could they be rebuilding the World Trade Center site so fast?–they must have had the plans ready.) Meanwhile, a Tchaikovsky Symphony is playing loudly. I assume it is Jet Blue’s background music, although it seems surprisingly bombastic. It turns out that the Truther’s cell phone is broadcasting the music–much to his own surprise.

A pastor, born and still living in North Carolina, strives to marry a same-sex couple in his congregation. He won’t cross a state line to do that. It would be a defeat not to marry them in the Tarheel State, which he expects to do.

A whole planeload of octogenarians with Minnesota accents, slowly boarding the pre-dawn flight from Sacramento to Minneapolis. Going home to the Mayo Clinic for Scandinavian-style care?

In Virginia and North Carolina, whole rooms of people tell me they are pretty confident about the values and facts that are relevant to the social causes they care about. It’s the strategies that baffle them. What can they do to make the big world better?

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.