Ms. Ode told about how Mr. Baldry sat in a park nicely dressed at a nicely adorned table with two extra chairs. He had brought the whole set-up with him along with a sandwich board that proclaimed “Free Conversations.”
People, strangers to each other and Mr. Baldry, would stop and choose “from a menu of options.” They would begin with an ice breaker a “Starter…a book recently read, or the weather. "Main dishes" were meatier: Politics, religion, love. "Specials" provided a personal glimpse: Advice, dinosaurs, brainstorming, famous American Indians, weird dreams.”
I love the story, and I love the idea because I like to think of myself as a conversationalist. A couple summers ago I left the comfort of this column and, like Taylor Baldry, I began a campaign. Our goals were similar: we wanted people to talk to us, not just small talk but actual conversations, but we also wanted to listen to what they had to say.
I didn’t have a table or a sandwich board, and I wasn’t dressed sharply. I was on my bike or in my truck going from house to house. One conversation I had that summer started before I could ring the bell. Almost on cue, a guy came out and introduced himself,
“Tom Melchior, Belle Plaine class of 1954.”
I took his hand and said, “Jerry Kucera, Belle Plaine class of 1977.”
He and I talked for a few pleasant minutes, and I was on my way. That introduction and the pleasant conversation that followed was one of the highlights of my travels that summer.
Tom Baldry, “The Conversationalist,” had a menu of topics for people to choose from. Even though I had things I wanted to bring up on my travels, I let the other person choose the subject matter. We could talk politics if they wanted, or we could talk about the weather or that bicycling is a great way to exercise. I just never knew what direction the conversation would go and that made it interesting.
I ran for political office that year, and even though I came in a close second, I had a whole lot of fun and I wouldn’t trade the experience, well maybe not all of it. Being in parades is probably best left for marching bands and young women on floats and convertibles. And as much as I like dogs, apparently not all dogs like me – I will have to remember that.
I’m pretty sure I am going to run again, it’s just something I feel I have to do. So if I do, this will be my last column for awhile. There are just some things that aren’t allowed: Newspapers don’t run weekly columns written by political candidates, unless they ran one for all the candidates and nobody likes that.
I don’t give up this space lightly, I enjoy writing and the whole process of finding the right word or phrase, and I treasure all of my readers, all 101 of them. Thank you and I hope to write in this space again soon – maybe this fall.
By this time next week you will know whether Jerry Kucera is on a campaign to return conversation to being something that people do while sitting right next to each other or on a bike or from the cab of a pick-up truck.