LONDON UK. In the shade of a Paddington Park tree on a sweltering day in London, England, I had to share the only available bench with a woman who was busy drawing patterns on a sketchpad. We sat in silence for half an hour as the pattern on her page got ever more intricate as detail was added. Pausing briefly to tap her mouth with her pencil, she turned to me and said, "Hello."
American accent, nice!
"Hello," I replied, with my Devon accent, (maybe not so nice), and kinda froze because on a cute scale of 1-10 she hit 11.
We watched the page develop some more; she measured, curved and plotted her markings.
"Are you a dressmaker?" I asked.
" No, not really," she drawled.
"What's a curvest?" she questioned, barely looking up.
"I don't know, maybe you're first."
She giggled and couldn't draw any more. She set her work down, and thus began a conversation of switchback twists on language, folk and place. Nebraska and Devon sounded like long lost twins. Fascinating and very, very funny. It was like two identical portions of one brain meeting for the first time. That was at 2 p.m. At 9 p.m., her mother came out of the adjacent hotel with a tray of food and a cardigan. I declined the cardigan but we shared the food. She shooed her mother away. At 10 p.m., I said I ought to go, I had a train to catch - it had left 8 hours ago. We swapped emails, mine based in rural Devon, hers in Omaha, Neb., and promised NEVER to meet again.
TAVISTOCK, DEVON,UK One month later. I was going through a particularly hellish time. Under the conditions I was experiencing, I wanted to be anywhere but where I was, despite the fact I loved my home. At midnight one night an email popped up:
"Hi, do you remember me. I'm kinda missing talking to you. Call me."
Two weeks later, on a September morning, on a blissfully sunny day, she was pointing up at one of the handful of downtown towers in OMAHA, NEBRASKA. "And that's Union Pacific's Headquarters. Have you heard of them?"
I was a boy who grew up with adventurous tales of Wild Bill Hickock, Native Americans hunting buffalo skins and Casey Jones on the footplate. Of course I had heard of Union Pacific!
In the evening we were walking near the track where it branches just off of S.16th St. I had needed to see the railway which was just behind her apartment. That night, after a hilarious evening of dinner served on foil - she had no plates and only one knife - we lay there in the heat. A train came through, and for the first time I heard the moan, wail and rattle of a real American quarter-mile-long freight train - live as it happened. With the most beautiful person holding my hand, I smiled in the dark, the biggest smile I have ever smiled. All life previous had been worth the hardship just for this moment. Thank you, Union Pacific. I'll never forget that moment. Nor Omaha.
(Rob Fraser currently lives in Plymouth Devon, UK but hopes to return to Nebraska as often as possible in the next few years to piece together a photographic trail east-west to celebrate Nebraska's 150 years. It will be my dedication to you and the major piece of work in my life. I hope to meet you all along the route west from Omaha. Question : Does a railroad still run through Plymouth, Nebraska?)