Day 4: Oberlin, Ohio

The drive from Ashtabula to Oberlin was a breeze. Less than two hours down the interstate, curving around Cleveland, catching glimpses of Lake Erie with the tall buildings looming above. I drove for the second day in a row and Sarah conducted a pre-interview phone call with one of the professors we're meeting next week. We're averaging about ten minutes of radio or iPod usage a day. The quiet and conversation just seem to fit the passing landscapes.

Oberlin is a pretty typical college town. I'm not trying to knock it, and I'm sure there are staunch advocates for its unique qualities, which are probably discovered over more time than one night. That's just my impression: the cute, small downtown with a few restaurants, a few stores, a lovely quad, decorous older buildings -- it's great, but I sort of felt like I had been here before.

We spent most of the afternoon working without the camera: a long creative conversation sitting on the grass, some phone calls, using the internet in a coffee shop. We did sneak in some ice cream from Gibson's, and my Frosted Cookie ice cream brownie hot fudge sundae was pretty phenomenal.

Sarah got the camera out of the roasting car and cooled it off in an air conditioned bead and art store while I called my mom. We finally set out to find our home for the night. We talked to a few people, and heard different opinions about the much-touted diversity in Oberlin: an African-American woman who moved here from Los Angeles was on a mission for truth, as she put it, and the truth is that diversity is a myth; but a Caucasian high school student immediately praised the diversity and open minds that make Oberlin a wonderful community for anyone.

We were directed to the Bike Co-op, where anyone in the community can pay a small fee for renting bikes and repairing bikes (they even have great programs in which you can build your own bike in exchange for helping out). We got a tour from Stella and Peter, college students who are some of the Co-op's hardest workers. Most fascinating was the bike graveyard, where dozens of unfinished bike projects are hanging on the wall or piled together in an unfinished space underground. When all was said and done, we had seen a wonderful example of community sharing, and we had found a place to stay: Stella and Peter live in a house with Becca, and they immediately offered their space.

Sarah and I wandered a bit more as the sun began to set -- we sat in the park again, where I continued cultivating bug bites and Sarah lay down in the grass, a relaxing moment as the day turned into night.

We headed over to the house, which slopes in the kitchen and bathroom and has cracks and holes in the walls that suggest a long history. If Patti from Avoca was here, I bet she would feel the ghosts.

Peter made a wonderful dinner of noodle and vegetable soup with a vegetable stock they had made a few days earlier. We brought in our remaining half of a loaf of bread that my neighbor Mr. Goode made and gave to us as a departing gift -- it had served us wonderfully as a daily snack, and now we could contribute it to a hospitable meal, literally breaking bread with our new friends.

Stella, Peter, and Becca were great to talk with -- when we did a more formal interview with them, Sarah was very impressed with how articulate they all are, discussing their belief in trusting people within our American culture of fear. Peter, a music composition major, described his creative process with us and gave me some music by his favorite composers -- modern, Italian, pushing the boundaries of instrumental music and perception of sound -- I can't wait to listen to it, but the car might not be the most hospitable place.

After a long night of conversation, we set up our computer work space (computer, two hard drives, camera, sound, all transferring, lasting almost three hours). Our hosts headed out to a friend's house, leaving us alone to wrap up our work and set up our sleeping bags. It was around 2:30am that we finally eased into sleep, the room softly illuminated by white Christmas lights hanging above the windows.

Now we're back in the coffee shop, about to find some snacks at the Farmer's Market across the street, then heading off to Fort Wayne, Indiana for -- well, we'll tell you in our next post.