No Permanent Address by Tom NaplesIt has been just over a year since I left Ellicottville. Being restless and contemplating a permanent move to a different area of the Country, I went to Charlottesville, Virginia for a month, returning briefly only to head out to New Mexico and Arizona. The last trip back was to sell my home and put things in storage. Since then I have been on the road traveling around the USA. The notion of a permanent relocation never took hold. I truly am out there wandering and loving every minute of it and, yes, I have no permanent address.

So, at Jennie Acklins request, I will be sending in articles about my wanderings and some of the interesting people I meet along the way. America is a spectacular country. The vastness of this land produces geography that is breathtaking and it is home to an array of cultures and sub cultures that weave together a wonderful fabric. And yet these cultures can appear to be as different as day and night. I hope to record and share some of those differences in coming articles. That said, if there is to be a thread or theme that runs through these observations, it is a simple one and one that I believe in with all my heart. With all our collective views on politics, religion, race, land name it..we all, as Americans, have more in common with each other than we don’t. There seems to be a common purpose that links us. Actually, it more than links us. It binds us like glue. Sometimes that seam is a little below the surface. Sometimes we wear it on our sleeve.

As I wander I have been able to employ a technique that I learned many years ago. During the late 1960’s a man named Eric Hoffer published a series of books that were, more or less, commentaries on history and human behavior. Hoffer was a laborer all his life with only a third grade education. He worked, for many years as a migrant picker following the crops up and down the coast of California, where he had a library card in each stop over. Later he worked as a longshoreman in San Francisco.

As a teenager I was very taken by his books and acute observations. So when CBS decided to air a couple of programs about him I was glued to the set. They called them, as I recall, “The Two Erics.” It was news anchor Eric Severied and Hoffer. Sitting, in large wing backed chairs, they talked about everything from the evolution of American Presidency to the Peloponnesian Wars. And they spoke of change and how its power is the greatest force we face as individuals and as a nation. It truly was a treat to see and hear these two intellects discuss and expound.

During one of the exchanges Mr. Hoffer said something that was so profound I have never forgotten it. In fact I can say that it changed my outlook and behavior.

He related how, as he traveled during his life, he constantly met people from other places. Many were transients like himself working the crops while others were rooted in towns he was passing through. He stated that when he engaged these strangers in conversation he held on to a basic thought and premise. It was that, simply, ‘everyone knows a lot about something.’ It’s simple and true. Some people know how to butcher a pig but can’t do an Algebra problem. Or some can fix a tractor but don’t understand English grammar. Whatever it is, living life has given everyone a lot of knowledge in at least one particular area. Hoffer said that he sought that out when he met people. He learned new things from everyone he met. What a beautiful concept.

As I travel I try to engage strangers in conversation everyday. And I find that it doesn’t take long to find out what special interest, skill or knowledge someone has. And once I find it, it is easy to get people to talk about it. And usually pretty easy to listen and learn. People, all of us, like to talk about what we know and what interests us.

As I wander I have heard incredible stories from incredible people. No, not too many bank presidents at the saloons I frequent. These are mostly working people, cowboys, roughnecks, housewives, former convicts, and some nine to fivers who keep it all turning. And I seem to learn something from every single one. I will relate some of these to you and do hope you enjoy them. Until next time…

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