Dusting and reading the daily paper are probably the two things one does on a regular basis with the least payoff. I know what to expect on the editorial page (that fossil George Will and the four regular letter writers who desperately want a return to the year 1450), and every other page for that matter. I skip the local crime unless it is really local and I should know about it (however, there were a pair of burglars living incognito within sight distance, and I only found about it after I asked a neighbor why they suddenly moved out leaving the garage so damaged). I had wondered what was going on with the new local hotel that mysteriously shut down a month after it opened -- that was not in the paper either. I can, however, find out in detail the tax and budget machinations of a small school district across the river, which is good since I care so much about that.
I probably only read it because looking intently at my oatmeal for ten minutes might lead to mental imbalance. If I didn't skip George Will the result would be equally bad. The only bright spot is the comics, except they're all the same bit replayed endlessly. So I save Doonesbury for last and it doesn't seem like such a waste. There are a few good classified ads, too: someone actually has a fully restored 1948 Packard for sale at a very reasonable price. Now that would be a ride.
On Saturday a front-page article titled "Scrimping travelers turn to buses, trains" caught my eye due to Uncle Cliff's recent epic train trip North and back again. And I'm always interested in economics in the real, not theoretical, world. The author was one John Luciew, whom I remembered as the writer of some previous well-done pieces. I was rewarded with the one exquisite candy in the box.
Rus made the point in a blog essay a while back about the real differences between any sort of professional wordsmith and a writer. Just four paragraphs in, he brought the subject into focus, followed by details about a few individuals from all sorts of backgrounds and places departing and boarding a bus at the downtown Transportation Center with: "like Forrest Gump at the bus stop, travelers at the HTC have stories to spin." By the way, Jack Kerouac had been there, stuck in the waiting room one night in the late 1940s. He hated it. Charles Dickens had crossed the river over the long, dark wooden Camelback Bridge into Harrisburg almost a hundred years or so earlier. He hated it too. The 2011 travelers were not cranky, but surprisingly upbeat, despite their circumstances.
The beauty of this story was in the organization (I wish some teacher of English of journalism has clipped it to show beginners how it's done). Each story was summarized to lift it to the universal, then brought down to the person's name, age and tale. Either Mr. Luciew was lucky enough to find the right people, or has a knack for spotting them, or used some literary license to select from among many during a day -- whatever the raw material was, he hit the essential notes without hyperbole or sentimentalism.
Each rider was under economic constraints; they weren't just joyriding. Mike from California, who was not getting along with his wife due to unemployment, spent 45 hours on the bus to visit his daughter and family in Wilkes Barre, his stay to be open-ended in the hopes of a job there. Despite good reasons not to be optimistic, he said people were "good." Carnies were traveling to link up with their shows; they knew the nomad life that the inexpensive bus line made possible. A 68-year-old widow from Oregon spends a month each year visiting family in State College, PA and Newport News, VA. She says she'll keep doing it as long as her health holds out. Experienced chefs without a regular gig like Cyrus are heading to big cities for a week or a weekend to help out the still-prosperous restaurants for special events. Just like a journeyman in the Middle Ages: the more things change...
The final story deservedly took the most space: having earned a master's degree in her mid-twenties, Anne, having no luck finding employment, was traveling to join her boyfriend who is in exactly the same situation in Rhode Island for a Memorial Day get-together. She said they'll have the best holiday ever, with a view of the water and friends for support. "I'm in a good space right now," she said. "Hey, we're alive!"
So, like looking out back all year to see one hummingbird, I guess I'll keep reading the paper to find stories like these.