When I moved back to Nebraska after several years living elsewhere, I scoffed at the highway signs at the borders proclaiming “Nebraska… The Good Life”. On the face of it, a lot of people think this flyover state is mediocre, at best.
There were two reasons I returned to this place in the middle of nowhere. 1. I needed to jump-start my career. 2. I could no longer afford to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had to leave it behind in order to get real and redesign my life. (I still have a deep love of San Francisco, it’s my “spiritual hometown”.)
A radio industry magazine classified advertisement informed me of an opening for an announcer at the radio station in the small town of Wayne, Nebraska. Upon arriving at Wayne, I stopped at KTCH for the job interview and application. I was hired two days later and was told to begin my probationary period and training the following Monday. I was thrilled to land a job that entailed doing what I dearly love.
Although Wayne is a dinky town compared to where I had been previously living, it’s quite a nice place. Wayne is a progressive oasis of a small town surrounded by the culture of a conservative state. Much of the credit for this progressiveness goes to the state college located there. Wayne State College is a hidden gem in the world of small, regional schools. Generally speaking, towns and cities with colleges and universities have better standards of life than towns of similar sizes without colleges. Wayne could be the “poster child” that makes the slogan “Nebraska… The Good Life” true.
It was easy to integrate into the town. My new co-workers were pleasant, friendly, and helpful. The little radio station provided plenty of learning opportunities to expand my work skills. I moved into a yellow Quonset Hut across the street from the town’s baseball park. The rent was dirt cheap, the surroundings were enjoyable, and the neighbors turned out to be some of the kindest people I’ve ever known. (Wayne is the kind of place where you actually know your neighbors–for better or worse.)
After about a year, the radio station was sold. The new owner/manager was difficult to work for. New employees and interns did not stay with the company very long. One afternoon the technical engineer stormed out, never to return. This left the station high and dry because radio stations were legally required to have at least one technical engineer on staff.
Soon a fresh graduate of Brown Institute of Minneapolis was hired because he had a “First Class Engineer” license issued by the Federal Communications Commission. He also had excellent recommendations from his former employers. Doug was hired primarily to maintain the transmitter and studio equipment and to fill the morning drive-time DJ position.
Doug urgently needed a place to live, but the best rentals were already filled with off-campus college students. I asked him if he would mind sharing the yellow Quonset with me. Without hesitation, he agreed. Doug became my house-mate the next day.
Having Doug as a house-mate was one of the best decisions both of us had ever made. We soon became best friends. I still treasure the memories of the fun we had in Wayne and the road trips we took together on weekends. Doug greatly enhanced the good life I already enjoyed in Wayne.
Yet, there remained the unpleasant, stressful situation of the new owner of the radio station. Sadly, it was time to move on. With trepidation I decided to move away from Wayne to a larger town 30-miles west–Norfolk–Johnny Carson’s hometown.
I’ve lived in Norfolk nearly 40-years. The town of 24,000+ people is the ninth-largest city in the state and is the principle commerce center in Northeast Nebraska. The culture is much more conservative than that found in Wayne, but it’s not a backwater like so many small towns are in this area.
The little house I rent has been home for the lion’s share of my time in Norfolk. The neighborhood is clean and quiet, plus the neighbors are friendly. The city completed a bicycle/walking trail recently with a trail-head near my home.
All things considered, my little place in Nebraska turned out to be the good life.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the late member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and LGBT activist Harvey Milk. “If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods. And to do that, we must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living.”