One little phone call…

On a warm summer afternoon a decade ago I finished reading a book called PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon. It was a beast, weighing in at just over 600 pages. It was a sweet affirmation of my own belief that good stories surround us and the author had plopped himself in the middle of Chase County, Kansas to write a deep history of the place.

He interviewed the people who lived there. He plotted the land ownership and how it changed through the last century, and he chronicled the tragedies and triumphs…the big and small things that made Chase County the place that it is.

I had literally just set down the book when my phone rang. It was Midwest Living…one of my favorite clients…and the conversation went something like this:

MWL: “What’s your schedule look like next month?”

Me: “It’s a little full, but I could probably make some room for you. What’s up?”

“We have a story about RVing across Kansas we’d like you to shoot. You interested?”

“Of course…I’m looking at a map right now. Where am I going?”

“You ever heard of Chase County?”

Shut….the…..front door.

It’s one of the things I love about freelancing. One minute you’re thinking, “Oh, woe is me….there is a veritable dearth of fascinating travel laid out on the road before me.” And the next minute your phone rings and everything changes.

For a week I traveled the same back roads described in PrairyErth. I visited the towns and ate in the cafes that graced the pages of the book and met the people Least Heat-Moon had interviewed and wrote about. It was like reading the script of a movie just before stepping onto the set.

Sometimes, when the phone rings, it changes our lives in other ways.

“Have you heard the news?”

“Dad? I need you…I’m bleeding.”

“Mr. Noltner? I’m with the Osseo EMTs. I’m with your father.”

Last week… just two days after my post about going to Ghana in December… my phone rang.

“I’m sorry to say the trip to Ghana has been cancelled.”

I was disappointed, but not surprised.

The trip was a part of an off-campus studies program I was going to photograph for Carleton College (one of my other favorite clients). It was because of the Ebola situation in West Africa, but it was a well-reasoned decision and not one based in fear.

The travel insurance company could not guarantee they’d be able to evacuate the group if the situation changed and Ebola cropped up in Ghana. The insurance company would do their best, but Ghana being a sovereign nation and all…if they decided to close their borders and all…there was nothing the insurance company could promise.

With that safety net removed, the college decided to pull the plug and reschedule for next year. If I were responsible for the well being of a dozen college students, I would have done the same.

So, if you remember last week’s post, in 2001 my trip to Africa was foiled because of 9/11. This time it’s been derailed by Ebola. Someone said to me, “Maybe you should take the hint and you’re just not meant to go to Africa.”

To which I shook my head, grinned a little, and replied, “Third time’s the charm.”

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