Postcards From Iowa #5

Reverse side: Personal note postmarked Oklahoma City, July, 8, 1908.

Social media hasn’t helped us stay in touch with friends and acquaintances.

In 2010 I searched for members of my high school class and asked them to join a Facebook group started for our fortieth class reunion. Many joined, but the group is now pretty inactive. Mostly we fell out.

It takes work to maintain a relationship and with all the stuff we have to do just to keep up with society it doesn’t happen. We drift except for those closest to us. I’m coming to a place where that seems okay.

What we yearn for is doing new, interesting, or exciting things. It doesn’t matter if it is with people we’ve known for decades or with those we just met. The arc of our lives isn’t a fixed trajectory. Just because we walked to school with the same group of people during the 1960s, that doesn’t mean the bond was permanent. If I encounter such childhood friends — these days mostly at funerals — we reminisce a bit in the moment and that’s that. We’ve built new lives that diverged from our beginnings.

I favor writing letters to friends and family. Not too much, though. There is an unspoken obligation to write one back and I don’t want to hang that on people I care about. Yet I write a letter from time to time.

This postcard reminded me there are a few people with whom I’d like to re-establish contact. Not that many, though. I have to ask why we fell out in the first place. Sometimes we’ll never know.

Living in Society Writing

Postcards from Iowa #4

Text on the postcard: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is coming your way! To find out when, and much, much more, visit www ringling com MAY ALL YOUR DAYS BE CIRCUS DAYS!

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was a mainstay of my youth. Each year they came to Davenport, usually at the levee of the Mississippi River, to put on the Greatest Show on Earth.

A biography of the Ringling Brothers was one of the first books I checked out from the bookmobile after getting my library card. It was interesting four of the Ringling brothers were born in McGregor, Iowa. They inspired us to put on our own show in the backyard of the American Foursquare my parents bought in 1959.

The circus influenced my decision to be part of the high school stage crew where I could participate in putting on shows.

The days of circuses are ending and Ringling Brothers folded the tents for the last time on May 21, 2017. It was a really big deal when the circus came to town… until they no longer did.

Living in Society Writing

Postcards From Iowa #3

Text on the postcard: “Student, c. 1960. Photographer Unidentified.”

When young our capacity seems limitless. When I got my first library card in 1959 I believed I could read every book on the Bookmobile that stopped each week in our neighborhood. I looked forward to returning books I read and getting new ones. Outside of school, it was a highlight of the week.

Mother got me a subscription to My Weekly Ready, the arrival of which was another highlight. I bought a few children’s books at the local drug store. Keeping up with reading was easy with the energy of youth.

When I lived in Iowa City in my twenties, I started a project to read every book in the public library. It tested my limits. I started at the beginning of the Dewey Decimal system and didn’t make it out of the philosophy section.

I didn’t hear about the Horatio Alger story until I was in college, but that could have been my story, lifting myself up with diligence, honesty and altruism as I read and read and read, waiting for some happy circumstance to present itself and bring me the good things of life. We now know what I was feeling was the privilege of being white and middle class.

I look back to those days, with their libraries full of reading material, and consider my devotion to the act of reading. It was a solitary life and I was mostly okay with that.

What I didn’t realize, that would have helped me if I did, was to get anything significant done in society it takes a context that includes others. I was ready for a life of rugged individualism, in which through my own hard work I could pull myself up by my bootstraps and experience success. I didn’t understand how divisive that could be, pitting my own efforts against others to ensure personal success above all else. Live and learn.

Today I have piles of books I want to read just like the schoolboy on this postcard. However, my intent is different than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. I seek insight to take collective action on things like the climate crisis and more. I provide for my basic existence — food, shelter, clothing, transportation and healthcare — yet that serves only as a platform to do other things with a network of people.

Some days I wish to be that boy sitting next to a stack of books while reading. If I were, there would be things to tell him.

Living in Society Writing

Postcards from Iowa #2

Underwood Motel, Schererville, Indiana. Photo Credit: Latimer Studios, Aurora, Illinois.

Text on the postcard: “Underwood Motel, 1100 Lincoln Highway, Schererville, Indiana 46375. Heated Pool – Air Conditioned – Room Phones – Free TV – Honor Most Credit Cards – Located on U.S. #30 – Just West of U.S. #41 Near Calumet Expressway to Chicago Loop. Phone: 219-865-2451. Handwritten note: $19.80 per night.

When I transferred with work to manage a Schererville, Indiana trucking terminal for a company called Lincoln Sales and Service, I stayed at the Underwood Motel. It took a while to manage our move, maybe six to eight weeks. We ended up buying a house in nearby Merrillville, Indiana.

Our fuel attendant worked at the motel and that plus the low price is why I stayed there.

The six years we lived in Northwest Indiana were busy. It would change my view of work forever. The country was in transition from what it was post World War II, to what it is now. Due to the Reagan revolution, it was hard on workers. I lost track of how many potential drivers I interviewed during this time… more than ten thousand. Theirs was a story of dehumanization of workers laid off by companies that felt they had to to be “competitive,” whatever that meant. It was a time of ubiquitous management consulting firms who restructured businesses to direct more revenue and earnings to owners, share holders, and high-level managers. It was busy because most of the time I worked in uncharted territory with little guidance unless there was a lawsuit or workers compensation claim.

I’m glad for the experience. I hated the experience. In the crucible of manufacturing in transition, thousands of workers were trying to adjust. I was there to listen and heard one hella story. I hired some of them, doing what I could to ease the transition.


Postcards from Iowa #1

Hoover Dam. Photo credit: Las Vegas News Bureau, undated.

Text on the postcard: “Looking towards the outlet tunnels and huge powerhouse below the world’s highest Dam. This $125,000,000 project is one of man’s greatest engineering achievements. Height 727 feet above bedrock, crest 1,244 feet, and 650 feet thick at the base.”

When I was in high school our family went to California so my parents could attend a union convention. We made a family vacation of it, the last one before Father died. Mother’s two brothers lived in the Los Angeles area so we spent time with each of them. We stopped to see Hoover Dam on the way home.

Today, Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the Hoover Dam, is at its lowest level since it was built. The continuing drought in the West will have a significant impact on people who live there. It’s clear we must act to slow global warming.