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There's no place like home

We may have complaints about North Dakota's weather, but there are few complaints about the people who live here. I say this because I traveled outside our area and found people's interests and manners are different from those in North Dakota.

We may have complaints about North Dakota's weather, but there are few complaints about the people who live here. I say this because I traveled outside our area and found people's interests and manners are different from those in North Dakota.

I returned Monday from Chicago where the UNITY conference of journalists was held. The UNITY conference is a meeting or coming together of people from different ethnic backgrounds -- Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native Americans.

The conference itself is a rather unique combination of minorities in the field of journalism. One of the purposes for bringing together these groups of people is for them to become a force, to empower the groups to do great things because, in the past, many times they were left out of the mainstream media. That is one of the good things about UNITY.

But just like a family where siblings sometimes have conflicts over jobs, recognition and power, we sometimes can run amuck with our own self-interests.

That was true of this convention. We tended to look at our group to see if we were being treated as equally as the other groups. We competed to see who had the best workshops and even the most entertaining parties and receptions.

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Unfortunately, the Native American group is the smallest and, therefore, we had less of everything, but many of the sessions were generic, and there was much to learn no matter what ethnic group you belonged to.

There were lessons to be learned from people at the conference, too. Many of them were from the metropolitan area. One woman told a group of us this: A pregnant woman in a mall, with two children in a stroller and arms full of packages could expect little help from bystanders. I looked toward another Dakotan and bravely said that wouldn't be true in North Dakota. Someone would help her, and we began to talk about the rude behavior we'd experienced in Chicago.

I thought about that as I returned home on Amtrak. Three teenage boys who sat in front of me changed my mind about stereotypes on my 16-hour train ride. I thought there goes my opportunity to nap. I assumed they would be loud and noisy. Yes, they talked and laughed, but I noticed they would move across the isle to another teen. I thought they must be brothers because they looked alike.

I noticed as the train clattered on, one of the young men couldn't talk and just made sounds. He bumped his head on the train's overhead and seemed clumsy. I realized he was handicapped.

The two other teens were gentle, taking turns sitting with him when he seemed uncomfortable. They teased him to make him laugh. Strangely, they didn't treat him differently like an overanxious parent would but like one of their own.

I couldn't help but watch this touching scene, and this from teenagers who have a reputation of being self-involved and full of the wrong kind of teasing.

When they got off the train in Wisconsin, I watched them from my window, jogging along with the younger one in tow, heading toward a hatchback. Then, they were gone.

You learn all kinds of things on a train. If you've never rode on a train, it's a good experience. But if you intend to travel overnight, get a sleeper. Maybe I'm too old to sleep in such tangled positions, but I slept little going to or returning from Chicago.

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Incidentally, for dinner, if you decide to eat in the dining car, it's random seating. Since I was alone, I was seated next to a couple traveling to Portland, Ore., and a young woman going to Dickinson, N.D. The couple, Christian Scientists, told us some about their work and church. I'm always interested in other belief systems, and theirs was interesting.

We were following the Mississippi, as trains many times do, and the sun began to move low in the sky. The bright orange of the sun seemed to hang over the big river. Like a great serpent, the river seemed to slow to form a mirror with its body for the last rays of the sun. We were awestruck.

After dinner, I sat and watched dusk move into the area. As the train rolled along, I could see farmhouses lighting up one at a time as it got darker. Then, when it was almost dark, whole towns were lit up and looked like candles on a cake just above the Mississippi River.

When I left the train early that Monday morning, it felt good to step into this community, and I felt lucky to live in a nice community.

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