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News From America

Credit: Cranston Ritchie, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, ca. 1964, SFMOMA.

Lots of Oil Fields Around Here

A special Fourth of July edition of our series where an editor randomly calls people in small towns around America to see what’s happening.

A few minutes from the Missouri Rhineland, a strip of the Missouri River that gets its name from the German immigrants who first settled there in the mid-1800s, a woman answers the phone in a town called Higginsville, clears her throat, and immediately asks me about my windshield. This is Trisha Roberts, 41, who works from home for a company called Glass Masters. “We’re a mobile company,” she says. “We do auto glass repairs all over this part of the state.” 

 “In the summer we tend to get a lot of stars and gashes,” she continues. “Rock chips kicked up from people with weedwackers and lawnmowers. Once in a while we’ll get something more exciting. Someone will hit a deer.”

Trisha previously worked at a wheel manufacturing plant in nearby Sevilia, but decided to switch jobs after moving to Higginsville with her husband about three years ago. She has a Southern accent of palatial scale, and a breathless quality that allows her to shift easily from boredom to rapture. She calls me sir. When I ask how long she’s lived in Missouri, she answers slowly, in a kind of amorous yawn, “All my life.”

Any plans for the Fourth of July holiday?

“Oh, we usually have a barbecue, then go down to Alma. That’s another little German town. It’s just this little park inside this little town. They have a jumping house for the kids to play in. They have pedal tractor pulls. A baby contest.”

“A baby contest?”

“Uh huh,” she says, swooning again. “Yup, it’s just what you’d expect: Which one of these babies is the best. But in all sorts of different categories.” It was almost 15 years ago now, Trish mentions, that she entered her own son in a baby contest. “This was in a different town: Cole Camp. He won, of course.”

“Do you remember what the prize was?”

She gives a little grunt to remember. “I think it was a ribbon. A ribbon and a two dollar bill. Yeah, that was funny.”

“Have you ever thought about leaving Missouri? Going somewhere else?”

“Of course. One day. But for now this is where all my family’s at. And frankly,” she says, laughing, “moving away from Sevilia was trouble enough.”

In the background I can hear a television that’s on, along with a few children who sound like they’re arguing.

“Are those your kids I hear?”

“One of them is. The other’s a grandbaby.”

“Is that hard sometimes? Taking care of them while you work?”

Trish takes a while to answer. “It has its moments,” she says.

 

We always barbecue. Because our kids were born in America, you know? So we want them to know about it. And us too, we’re American citizens now. We want to do all the American things.

“Is this relatively anonymous?” 

“Well, you don’t have to give your full last name if you don’t want to.”

“Okay, then. I’ve got a few minutes,” says Tyler M., 30, who manages Superior Shooting, a gun parts shop in a town in the Texas Panhandle named Canadian.

Superior Shooting sells spare parts for all sorts of guns, Tyler informs me, but specializes in the kind of long-range competitive shooting done in the Olympics. “We don’t get too many walk-ins. Mostly just folks who buy off the internet.”

Tyler himself uses a bolt-action .308 when he’s shooting long-range, and never bothers with fancy gear such as Kestrel wind meters or laser range finders. “Long range shooting is relatively fun,” he says. “It’s an interesting sport because there’s a lot of factors that go into it. What type of gun you’re shooting. How well it was built. All your ammo has to be kind of tuned for that particular gun. Then you have factors such as light, wind, position, how far the target is. Lots of variables, which makes it a very frustrating sport for beginners. Some targets are as far as three quarters of a mile.”

“What’s living in Canadian like?”

“Oh, it’s a very small town—about 2,500 permanent residents. Lots of oil fields around here. You’re always seeing Haliburton and Apache trucks.”

“Do you like it there?”

He takes in a long breath—so long and forlorn I can’t help but laugh a little to fill the silence. “Hmm—well, it’s OK,” he perks up, ignoring me. “But there isn’t much to do, you know? And not too many people to talk to. The closest real city is Amarillo—that’s about 90 miles to the southwest.”

Tyler moved to Canadian only a few months ago from Colorado, where he just finished going to business school. “It’s pretty much just a job,” he says. “Which is fine, because I don’t want to get stuck in one spot for too long. I want to see some things before I kick the bucket, you know?”

Next week, Tyler is flying up to Indianapolis to spend some time with his cousins for the Fourth of July. “I think we’ll probably play some golf,” he says. “Have a barbecue. Take some photos. Play it by ear.”

“No family of your own yet?” I ask him.

He laughs. “No, not yet. Still living the good life.”

“Where do you think you’ll move next, then?”

“I was thinking Alaska. Nothing set in stone, of course. But I visited Alaska once, and I like the open spaces up there. I like the nature.” He snaps his lips, contemplating it. “Not sure about the nights, though. They can get pretty long.”

 

The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, featuring the famous Boston Pops Orchestra as well as one of the largest fireworks shows in the country, is billed as “America’s premiere Independence Day celebration.” Notable frills include a rank of real-life howitzer cannons employed during the finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. But in the quiet, outlying suburb of Hyde Park, there’s one Bostonian woman who still has never seen the show: 35-year-old Chizoba Mdah.

“I don’t get to go, because the kids are too small,” she tells me. “Maybe as they’re getting older, I’ll be taking them. Our July 4th is low-key. We visit with friends and do barbecue. Just sit together and talk.”

I hear another voice in Chizoba’s living room—a tiny one that’s laughing, shouting, “Someone just farted! Ewwwww!

“Quiet, I’m on the phone,” Chizoba says. “I’m so sorry. That was my daughter, Savra. I’m so sorry. She’s crazy.”

When Chizoba isn’t busy caring for her three children—one of whom is barely three months old—she works full-time as a counselor at a nearby nursing home. She and her husband are both Nigerian immigrants, of the Ebu tribe from the Eastern part of the country. They came to America eight years ago. “So far, so good,” she says about the move. “Though sometimes I miss home.”

“What do you miss about it?”

“So many things. It’s more relaxed. More family-style. You always see people around, talking and laughing. You kind of feel like you’re happier, you know? Because you have all of your family with you. You visit a lot. It’s harder here, taking care of the kids and working. There’s not much time.”

“What prompted you to move here?”

“My husband wanted to, for all the regular reasons. A better life.” She laughs. “You always think in Africa that coming to America means you are more successful. It sounds silly, but it’s true. Everyone in Africa, they all want to come to America. They think this is like the last bus stop. But it’s not as easy as they think.”

“I suppose the Fourth must be a little different if you didn’t grow up celebrating it,” I say.

“Yes, but we always barbecue. Because our kids were born in America, you know? So we want them to know about it. And us too, we’re American citizens now. We want to do all the American things. Hot dogs and corn. And we visit with friends.”

Chizoba’s husband also works as a counselor, but at a mental hospital, which is a very different kind of job, Chizoba hastens to point out. “It’s lots of people with abuse issues. You try to help them. It’s not that bad. It feels good to help. But yes, it’s hard.”

“Do you think your husband will come with you to see the fireworks? I mean, when your kids are older and you’re able to go?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Chizoba says. “If he got the day off, I think he’d probably just stay home. He likes to sit and relax where he’s comfortable. He’s not so outgoing as he used to be.”

 

Beneath a parking garage building on Queen Street in downtown Honolulu, a 51-year-old retiree sits behind the front desk of Joe Pacific Shoe Repair and chuckles to himself. “You want to interview me, huh?” he says in a low, friendly voice. “Well, I don’t really work here—I’m just helping out for a friend. So I guess I can’t really get fired, can I?”

This is Edwinn Davila, who says he’s just filling in for a few hours at the shop—greeting guests and taking their orders, while in the next room the owner is busy with the real work of fixing their shoes. “Yeah, my plans for the Fourth aren’t too exciting,” Edwinn breaks it to me, yawning. “I’ll probably just wander over barefoot and watch some of the fireworks go down. They happen pretty close to where I live in Waikiki.”

Edwinn originally moved to Hawaii from Los Angeles to study carpentry, but found that he liked it so much he never left. That was 32 years ago. “But I travel around the world a lot,” he points out. “I just got back from Southeast Asia, actually. Thailand. Cambodia. I was there for almost two years, which was actually pretty tricky the way the visas work.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Oh, you know—admiring it all. The culture, the beautiful ladies. Just enjoying my life, I guess. Have you ever been?”

I tell him I’ve never even been to Hawaii.

“Well, you have to come! Once you’re in Hawaii, you’re halfway there! Flights are pretty reasonable to Asia from here,” he says. “You know, you should really get around more. Set out on your own. Go to different places. That’s what it’s all about, you know?”

biopic

TMN editor Matt Ray Robison is a fellow at the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. He lives in Ann Arbor. More by Matt Ray Robison