Day 8 – Santa Fe to Flagstaff
We were driving into the Painted Desert this morning and I commented on the beauty of the horizon. It spread for a hundred miles and seemed to blend perfectly with the spectacular cloud formations. My friend Jerry Derloshon replied, "It looks like a cloud convention, and everyone showed up." He was right. Anyone who dares refer to this part of America as the "fly-over states" speaks dismissively about a beauty they do not (and perhaps cannot) comprehend.
After leaving Santa Fe we agreed to meet for lunch in Gallup on our way to Flagstaff. Last year I found a diner in Gallup called the Plaza Cafe that is a bit hard to describe. The front half is white cinder block and the back half is a travel trailer attached permanently – more or less – to the front half. After a little uncertainty as to location, I found the diner again and enjoyed simple fare, presented with authenticity. Two of my young colleagues successfully challenged the house special called Plaza Hurricane. If they make it home, I will let them tell you about it.
After a pleasant drive – including a brief stop in Winslow, Arizona – we arrived at Flagstaff, which enjoys a bit of a bubble in this difficult economy. Sure there is some hardship, but the town bustles with promise. With a little time before our scheduled interview, I visited a rare bookstore in town called Starrlight Books on Leroux Street and left with four first editions. This will take some ‘splaining at home.
Our interview was held at an impressive music retail shop named Custom Sound Instruments owned by Ryan Elewaut. He is also a music teacher and luthier (for those of you about to scramble for a dictionary – he makes guitars by hand). He asked his friend Chris Coyne to join us as well. Chris is a teacher of English and a musician who also teaches guitar. Both of these young men are representative of their generation and provided a helpful complement to other interviews.
Ryan and Chris are at the beginning of their respective careers. For Ryan, a new business and the challenge of early expansion is an invigorating experience tempered by the risk of failure. He is invested in his community and tapped into the welfare of all businesses growing near him. Local politics are tough and unpredictable at best. Chris is a Penn State and Wisconsin graduate who, for a time, made his living as a performing musician. Today as a teacher, he struggles to afford Flagstaff prices on a limited salary. Like so many teachers, he supplements his salary and wishes for more support as he influences young lives. Both gentlemen feel the need for change in state and national politics, but their comments were not partisan, just very sincere. I appreciated so much their candor and frank expressions; I also admired their optimistic outlook on the future.
A wide-ranging conversation took us from technology and its wonders (and limits when it comes to interpersonal relationships) to teachers who influenced them greatly by touching their lives personally. We also talked about health care costs and the cold reality that some young people simply can't afford basic insurance. I dared not ask about planning for retirement. Among astute comments about the students who are a part of their daily lives, both referenced the need for young people to advocate for themselves with greater conviction.
Our day's journey ended with an afternoon rainstorm and robust table conversation over dinner. There is nothing quite like travel and shared experience to develop strong friendships. Such is the case for all those who have made this trip and made it possible. As we left the restaurant this evening, a young man and a young woman both stood and approached me and introduced themselves as Seaver College graduates. It makes me so proud to see our alumni and to observe their lives as they take hold of the future. They have been reading portions of this blog which makes me want to work harder and record this journey just a little better.
It occurs to me to end with a couple of questions aimed at those who have left formal education and are moving into the mainstream of life, work, and a full plate of responsibility:
1. What are the most significant issues you have faced since leaving college?
2. Can you give me some examples of how you have found a support/mutual interest community (related to work, music, service, faith, and so forth) and have become involved?
3. I would really enjoy hearing of some successes that have given you energy and confidence for the future.
Thanks so much. Tomorrow we're off for Williams, Arizona.