The door jingles and swings wide, revealing a middle-aged, yawning couple. I greet, “Hey, guys. How we doin’?” It’s ten minutes ’til 5 and the foot traffic coming in and out of Infusco is dwindling. 1 hour ’til close (and, heck, probably about 5 hours ’til bed time for most). Nonetheless, this couple wanted a surefire taste of the bean and, from the looks of it, some hospitality, too, to gather themselves. I was glad to give it to them.
After a long blank look at the menu, eyes darting everywhere, and many a sheepish expression, I chimed in and asked what they had a taste for. “Caffeine. Something strong.” Oh, they let me know that one.
Typical I-94 travelers, I thought. It’s now five ’til 5 and I asked if they were familiar with our beans.
“Oh, no…we were just passing through,” said the man.
Curious, I followed, “Oh, yeah? Where ya from?”
This turned out to be the defining chapter of our narrative.
Simply, the woman said “Idaho,” with a voice that seemed to elicit a potential and probable “WOW!” from me. However, I refrained (this is, in fact, a coffee shop…but…).
Man! This got me excited. I lit up.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by maps, geography, and the topography of the local and national land, an appreciation for the sort, particularly in places I’ve looked at renting an apartment in or even purchasing a plot of land. When it comes to personally desirable residencies, I’m picky. Although probably prioritizingly (not an adjective…or word…but, I don’t care) backwards, any location that catches my eye has most to do with the amount of trails and access to potential big running miles it possesses. For the most part, each one of these geographically attractive areas accommodate and feed this type of “outdoorsy” lifestyle, boasting four distinct season changes. Florida? Hell no. Anywhere but Florida. Southern/Southeastern US? Not a chance. Basically, I’ve distilled it down to three major regions (east to west): Northeast (basically, upstate NY – Adirondacks region to central Maine – Baxter State Park region), upper Midwest (basically, Duluth, Minnesota – Superior National Forest region to the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan – Ottawa National Forest region), and anywhere in the mountainous, western US. So, Idaho fit this criteria, the latter.
As I prepped their quad-shot Americanos (after some menu navigation and explanation), I asked where they were staying.
“Actually, we just drove straight here from Omaha, Nebraska.”
Man, that’s a trip. However, they didn’t elaborate. After prodding and poking them with my obvious curiosity, respectfully, they opened up a bit more, realizing I was friendlier and more civilized than I probably look.
Seconds of conversation grew to minutes. Minutes became tens of minutes and I soon realized how lucky we were to be conversing without any customerial (again, another non-existing adjective) interruptions, pretty atypical even for the waning hours of the Infusco day-life, especially on a seventy-degree Saturday. I discovered they were embarking on a two-week-long “spring into summer” road trip vacation to the popular Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear is located at the “pinky finger” of the Michigan “mitten” shape, just west of Traverse City.
Of course, I followed with the obvious, “Well, you guys must be tired of driving…”. We began talking about their home state of Idaho and I unofficially, unintentionally lured them into sitting at the bar for a breather and a chat ’til close. They were surprised I knew a vast majority of the surrounding Idahoan mountains, cities, and even some of the sub-1,000 populated hamlets (there are many a night where I spend gobs of Internet time looking at Google Maps). They seemed pleased and relieved to know somebody this far removed from Idaho thought of it as more than just “that potato state.”
As time went by and they prepared for departure, I realized a friendship was made (even if for an hour), simply because of curiosity, “O yeah? Where ya from?”
I am far from “old,” but when I was a kid (late 90s / early 2000s), I was spending time connecting US state puzzles (and playing sports) rather than burying my head in the glow of an iPad (which, ironically, is what I’m currently doing…but that’s besides the point). Knowing the history and geography of one’s hometown in current and historical proximity to other places is very useful. It’s alarmingly shocking to find out how many adults are oblivious to their geographical and external architectural surroundings. It’s such an important aspect to truly appreciating living and taking pride in an area.
There are two types of people giving two different answers to the two questions, “Oh, yeah? Where ya from?” One simply replies with the name and/or region of his or her city or town. The other elaborates slightly then pays the question forward. If the latter of the two is executed, the conversations to follow are rewarding and truly endless. What else is there to talk about? The presidential race? The economy? Barf.
Oh, yeah? Where ya from?” shapes us in a way that’s never truly understand until the benefits are reaped and the refreshment of the simple connectedness that follows. A way that cannot be argued over as the ways of liberalism and conservatism can. A way that’s beyond what the government can control. This is a way that connects every living thing in every living way. Mountains will always be mountains. The trees, lakes,and rivers will always be there, full of life. It is living. And in the end, on Earth, it’s all there really is.