Sunny days sweeping the clouds away: finding the real America

This day was my first physically working at the Wikimedia world headquarters. Getting here was quite an adventure.

Like all great journeys, the first step was getting out of bed. Like most days, it was pretty hard. Luckily, I had my friend┬áMary to drag me off to breakfast. That place, Gailey’s, could serve as a symbol of one of the charms of small-city Missouri living. It’s a former drugstore, and on weekends it spills over into Ophelias, the one wine bar downtown. You get a side of toast with pretty much anything, and if you can’t choose between your roughly seven options, the waitress is happy to surprise you.

There are two coffeeshops, one pizza place, a cupcakery, and maybe two dozen bars and restaurants downtown. Oh, and one surprisingly slick library. You can find all within five minutes walk of the intersection of the two main streets downtown.┬áThis intersection doesn’t even have a traffic light. Downtown Springfield is not that kind of place.

(Oddly enough, suburban Springfield is. There are tons of Walmarts, chain stores, strip joints, etc. They all just live in big box buildings on busy streets surrounding the sleepy and walkable downtown. Strange.)

When I entered the airport to leave Springfield, I went straight to check in my baggage and get a boarding pass. The airport is small, but laid out so that the baggage claim and checkin are all in one big room. It’s nice, but also means that finding the right place to go is somewhat confusing. I finally get in line, and who do I see right next but Elizabeth and Esther Exley?

Ever since I learned that “boss” comes from Dutch for “master”, I’ve been trying to avoid using the word. No man is my master. So let’s just say Zack Exley is the guy who brought me into Wikimedia, and who gives me strong suggestions about what I might do that would be helpful. His family is great.

I spent a wonderful day hanging out with Elizabeth and Esther (wife and child) in airplanes headed west. There’s something wonderful about the way a child interacts with the world. A raised platform is actually a stage to act out Little Red Riding Hood. Composing songs is easy singing “Hugs and Kisses \ <kiss kiss kiss> \ I love you” to your mother. An ocean-themed carpet means you can mime swimming instead of just plain walking.

San Francisco is different from what I thought it would be. Less Harvey Milk, more 1%. At least, the area in which my hotel is located. Still, it’s wonderful for exploring. Friday night dinner in (this country’s first!) Chinatown with “auntie Minnie and uncle Goldwyn” featured chicken leg soup and peking duck.

Saturday, I met up with my birthday-friend Ilana. July 26th for the win. Instead of breakfast, we bought carrots and strawberries and delicious breads. Instead of paying for cheese, we bartered some surplus strawberries (we had so many!) for a generous handful of samples from a charming young man. Lunch was a bus ride down to Japantown (yes, that’s a place) and a sushi bar where the plates floated on tiny boats.

Sunday meant a new friend and a journey to the Mission (where apparently all the hipsters live) for the best burrito. It meant eating and sharing even more strawberries. Nighttime was a Ponce-de-lean roam from Chinatown to Wells Fargo in search of an open restaurant. It ended with a turkish immigrant serving me babba ghanoush and lamb kebab at a restaurant owned by his Iranian immigration attorney.

Big cities, eh?

In many ways, the two cities San Fran and Springfield, SF and SF, couldn’t be more different. One is the international headquarters of a huge pentacoastal Christian movement. The other is the national symbol of lgbt everything. Downtown Springfield could fit into just one nook of this canyon of concrete and steel. Yet, they feel similar to my heart. Maybe it’s how both showcase a strong focus on community, albeit in different ways.

In San Francisco, community means bartering strawberries for snacks at the farmers market, and running into a former college professor just strolling through. In Springfield, community means the chef of my favorite restaurant will make me a special meal every time I walk in, and fellow patrons will ask me for advice on raising their children.

In San Francisco, I have walked down a side street and stumbled upon farmers markets, outdoor exhibits, and street festivals. In Springfield, I’ve walked down a street and stumbled upon a man letting you look through his telescope and see the moon. I’ve seen artists painting sidewalks, and yes, desperate men with sandwich boards trying to cajole me from sin.

That flight, loading my tablet with child-friendly games to amuse a precocious 3-years-and-11-months old child (she insists she’s not four yet), I had a thought. “Here I am, barreling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, and even so it will take me hours to cover even a large fraction of the width of this country. How could it possibly all be the same thing, the same nation?”

And yet. I’ve whistled the theme to Sesame Street while strolling through both. And meant it.

“Come and play
Everything’s A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet”