By the spring, I planned to take advantage of the summer travel period. I went off on a big trip through Ohio: Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh (OK, that's technically in Pennsylvania, but it is on the Ohio River). When I told a friend that my summer vacation would be in Ohio, she laughed and asked me why.
I used to describe Ohio as a hobby of mine. I was born in Ohio, grew up there. Most of my childhood memories are from Centerville, a suburb of Dayton. We often drove to visit relatives in Cincinnati, Toledo and Columbus. My dad had a job that took him to the county seats of Ohio's 88 counties (fourth-most in the country). Even after we moved away to Chicago, we would go back to visit childhood friends and relatives. Later, I visited my brother who went to college in Ohio, and I learned about the only major Ohio city I never visited in childhood, Cleveland, when I dated a woman who had grown up there. So Ohio always seemed like a good enough spot for a vacation to me.
But when that friend asked why I was going that summer, I had a new answer.
"Because," I explained, "you can't be in Ohio and be more than 100 miles from a Hopper."
I had learned a bit by taking the first trips for this book. After a couple of solo visits, I had finally gone on a big regional tour, so I had a plan for Ohio and the other upcoming regions. In most towns, I headed straight for the museum. Right away, I wanted to see the Hopper painting and gather interviews in front of it. That was the main thing my book would offer over what other writers might find out sitting at home. On the way out the door, I would interview the person working at the front desk; they knew the painting because it hung in their daily work place. After the interview, I would ask them where to go to find other Hopper fans, as well as Hopperesque people and places. If they worked at the art museum, there was a good chance that they knew where to find other people who would know and love Hopper's work. I would also collect suggestions for what sights in town were must-sees. Then, I repeated those queries at the venues to which they referred me.
I made sure to walk around the downtown core. I wanted to get a sense of what the city was like where it came together to do business, where isolation had to be overcome. I also made sure to see some sights that I had picked up from the Web. The Web was relatively new when I began this project in 2000, and there's no way without it that I could have collected all the information I needed and still kept my day job. My experience of each city grew wider at each stop, as interviews led to more recommendations of where to go to get further interviews.
When I started, I wanted to get a wide range of views, so I started by interviewing everyone that I met. I quickly learned that many people don't know who Hopper is and don't care to talk to me about the issue of isolation.
An interview NOT granted often gave me clues as much as the ones I did get. I still managed to interview many people on their jobs, on the streets or randomly beside me in the middle of their daily tasks. Part of the point was to follow myself and see where it took me and who I encountered: to discover my own community, even if it was scattered in Diaspora, spread out in cities across the nation.