‘People, People, People’ season is about done

This summer’s hobby job experiment is about to wrap up. As this is written, I have but three shifts left behind the travel center desk at the York I-80 westbound rest area.

We four retirees who share 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shifts seven days a week from early May to September 8 have made conversational contact with thousands of travelers. Name somewhere; we’ve probably chatted with folks from there.

I spoke just the other day – or tried best I could through a language barrier – with a man almost exactly my age who served four years in the Vietnam War. I was in the Army at that exact same time, but ‘Nam orders never materialized for me. My new friend was not so lucky.

He served four years in ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) which put him on our side during that tragic, doomed attempt to do the right thing for people halfway around the world.

This man’s appearance and energy belied his 74 years. Suffice to say he was a lively fellow. I deeply regret our struggles to share details. I can’t be sure, but I think he was telling me of being imprisoned (10 years maybe?) after the fall of Saigon in 1975. I have never met a more curious, friendly or engaging man.

Last Saturday, I nearly had to duck and cover when the entire Gretna East Griffin football team, coaches and hangers-on boiled out of a bus and poured through the doors of my little potty stop. This is a brand-new school in its first year.

Turned out the kids played at Hastings on Friday, the night before, until lightning near the end of the third quarter brought the action to a halt. So, this horde or youthful exuberance climbed back on the bus the next morning for a return to Hastings to play the fourth period … visiting me and my potties en route.

That was a hoot.

I met a lady with wild rainbow hair earlier this summer and said hello as is my habit (can’t help myself). Conversation revealed she was a professional clown on her way to a community celebration in our state where she’d been hired to dress all clowny-like and get busy painting faces. Neat lady. I bet she could have made me a balloon giraffe if I’d asked.

Then there were the four tiny Asian ladies who trudged in the door, each one holding up to a half-dozen unidentifiable round, golden objects with stems sticking out like an apple.

“What have you got there ladies,” I asked as they hustled by on their way to the ladies room, “pears?”

Sure enough, except these were Asian pears, smaller than our pears and round as a cue ball. A friend, they explained, had boxes full of them. They were anxious to dig in, but first a rinse was in order. Our restrooms have those big, round hand-washing sinks with sensors to turn on the water at which people stand side-by-side.

I still chuckle when I visualize those four ladies chasing maybe 20 pears rolling around in that big basin trying to capture and rinse them. When they came out one of my new friends offered a specimen of this exotic fruit to me. At first, I declined. But she asked again, “Are you sure? They’re crunchy and sweet?”

I grinned, accepted her gift with thanks and brought it home to share with Good Wife Norma. Sure enough the odd little fruit was crunchy and sweet. Delicious. Just as promised.

“I think I like this better than our pears,” was GWN’s reaction.

I have ‘starred’ in a video of myself hunched over maps, routing a traveling troupe through Scottsbluff to Torrington, Casper, Sheridan and over the north Bighorns on the way to their first Yellowstone experience. Just this past week I was asked to jump in for a photo with a wonderfully bright young couple traveling across the country to their new home in Oregon. I enjoyed answering their many questions about Nebraska economics, farming, customs and culture, all of which they soaked up like a sponge. Football somehow slipped my mind. They asked for the photo to document their big adventure. By then she had already taken a picture of the corn behind the rest area. I cannot tell a lie; that did seem to diminish my comparative importance.

Lastly, I was duly warned by a travel guide colleague to gird myself for opening of the Nebraska State Fair. Good advice.

I have chatted with a flowing river of fair-goers traveling to Grand Island from Omaha, Lincoln, Council Bluffs and their many outlying suburbs. I tell ya, the seniors really hit the fan on Older Citizens Day – or whatever euphemism they use to signify used-up old poops like me.

On that Monday the Oak Ridge Boys attracted folks from the east in waves to their concert. A radio station from Omaha-Council Bluffs chartered their own tour led by their on-air country music show co-hosts. I counted 29 coup on that bus alone.

The Oak Ridge Boys are good, you will get no argument from me there. However, it would be remiss not to credit the 2 p.m. start time, also.

We folks of a certain age place a premium on anything that gets us off the highway and back home to our recliners before dark.

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