TT with HD: Sam Nadon-Nichols
HD: So which end do you want?
SNN: Let's see. I'm into views. Rooftops? I think I can see a little further this way.
HD: Shall we mount, then? Here we go. You have a nice, smooth teeter tottering style.
SNN: I have a nice teeter tottering style?
HD: Yes. ... Now you're scooting backwards. Any particular reason?
SNN: Yeah. My sense is that I'm going higher than you are.
HD: Oh, and you want to even things out?
HD: So you used to live in Ann Arbor. Up until how long ago?
SNN: Boy this should be a real simple question. Let's see, well, let me ..., I've owned a house now for two years in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. Okay, about a year before that, I moved. It'll be three years in August.
HD: So anyway you've lived there long enough to get a sense of what the place is all about.
SNN: Yeah. And also I'd visited there. I've known people living in that area for the 12 years prior to that.
HD: So it wasn't totally unfamiliar to you.
SNN: No, it was to some extent familiar.
HD: When you first moved there you knew where to buy groceries, where to buy gas?
SNN: Oh, yeah. One could figure that out in probably a few hours.
HD: So it's not that big a place, is what you're saying?
SNN: No, Shell Lake has a population of ... oh I forget what the sign says going into town. Right around 15 hundred. Within about seven miles is a sort of sister city with a whopping population of about 25 hundred.
HD: What's the nearest real city?
SNN: About half an hour away or so is Rice Lake. That's a population of like 8000.
HD: So does Shell Lake have a mayor? Is it even incorporated? Do you follow the local politics if there even are any?
SNN: Yeah. I think it has a city council. Probably a mayor. It's such small town stuff. I'm probably more familiar, because of friends, with more the county level. There's more some issues county-wide that concern me.
HD: What, for example, are some of those county-wide issues?
SNN: The one time I did attend some meetings was about a landfill, BFI wanting to enlarge a landfill that serves the Twin Cities.
HD: So you guys get the trash from Minneapolis and St. Paul?
SNN: And possibly some from Chicago. Anyway there's a landfill in the area. It's a major BFI landfill. It keeps getting expanded. Even though, of course, there's some resistance to it, it always seems like pretty much a done deal.
HD: There's probably some revenue associated with that?
SNN: Yeah, it's advantageous to some of the local people in that township and you know generally the people in charge are ...
HD: When you say it's advantageous to some people, the landfill is not operated through any government municipality?
SNN: No. It's operated by BFI, a huge national waste company. You know, with some, let's say 'dubious' history. Wouldn't want to say too much on the record. Standard waste company stuff.
HD: So are there other issues at the county level?
SNN: Yeah, the other time I went to a county meeting, and this is a big state issue: there's a transmission line that's going to go from somewhere in Canada through Minnesota and Wisconsin to supposedly serve Wisconsin; but I think, more likely, a lot of the power will be going to Chicago. Anyway, there's more or less local environmental people who are against it because of aesthetic and environmental reasons. But the PSC, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, basically the way that regulatory agency is set up, there's really no resistance there. The transmission line basically gets the go-aheads and gets the permits.
HD: In the three years that you've lived there, has there been anything in particular about Ann Arbor that you've missed?
SNN: The most obvious things are the opportunities to see cultural events from music, dance, film. For me, I can go to the Twin Cities two hours away and get more or less the same stuff. But locally, there are, I mean, some folk music things that come through. And I've gotten involved in civic theater.
SNN: Yeah, it's funny all these little towns, well, not all of them have a civic theater. But the one I'm in has a pretty strong one, and another two towns away, they each have civic theaters.
HD: So you've actually performed on stage?
SNN: Yeah, actually, I've been in three plays since I've gone there.
HD: For example, what was the most recent one?
SNN: The most recent one was the largest part, which was The Miracle Worker. I was the father: Captain Keller. I got to use my Southern accent, that I'm sort of familiar with because of having relatives from Tennessee.
HD: Huh. So do you remember the opening line?
SNN: My very first line ... well, actually the very first scene is way earlier in history when Helen Keller is a baby and it's first discovered that she's blind because she has an illness and the doctor's over and ... it's sort of small talk with the doctor. So I don't remember that. There's a lot of big arguments. I have these huge arguments, I'm a pretty tense guy, and have arguments with Anne Sullivan.
HD: So when you say you're a pretty tense guy, you mean in that role.
SNN: In that character.
HD: So that character is pretty tense. Because overall, you don't strike me as particularly tense, just as a regular person.
SNN: I think I hide that pretty well.
HD: Oh yeah?
SNN: Yeah, to some extent there was a certain amount of ease of playing this stressed out character.
HD: When you said you were involved in the civic theater there, and I asked you if you'd actually been on stage, I wasn't expecting a yes answer. Because I figured maybe you were just involved in building sets, because I know you're a carpenter, it's what you do for a living, so that's what I was expecting and I was totally surprised that ...
SNN: ... and that's really more what I'm doing now. I mean I was in three plays. The first one was a group of small roles in Spoon River Anthology. And then sort of another slightly bigger role in The Good Doctor. Then after this giant role, I was like, Woah! It was stressful.
HD: Was it written up in the paper?
SNN: They don't get reviewed. The local papers, they're not real arts-friendly. After a certain amount of effort, we've gotten a little column area just to give notification of what's happening. But they're un-reviewed. It was very successful. We actually got standing ovations every night.
HD: How long a run did it have?
SNN: Two weekends.
HD: So four total performances?
SNN: Yeaah, probably more like five. I think we had five.
HD: Is doing something with civic theater even something that would have ever crossed your mind when you were here in Ann Arbor?
SNN: You know, it wouldn't have. Being an artist and a carpenter, you hear of some people going into this set-building and people have professions in it, and it's sort of a combination of those two skills. I thought, Boy that'd be interesting, but never ventured that way. This was more falling into, sort of the liberal-artsy educated sub-group of where I live, and everybody sort of knows each other. A very good friend of a friend of mine was directing a play and they needed a big cast, so they were really seeking a lot of people to audition, and I thought, Sure, you know. I was in a play once in college, just a little thing. It was a great way to meet new people, too. I mean, I knew some people, but you get involved in an organization like a play, and you meet more people.
HD: You just now mentioned being an artist. I know when you were here in Ann Arbor, you were painting, you had paintings in your apartment, and you had showings there. Is that something you're still spending time on?
SNN: Yeaah. It goes in spurts. I bought a house two years ago, like I mentioned, and that has become somewhat of a project that consumes my time outside of work. So it sort of goes in spurts, but I'm always at least thinking about painting and still painting frequently.
HD: So is there anything else you've missed about Ann Arbor besides the range of cultural opportunities?
SNN: Well, I have friends here that I miss. I feel like I have probably have some close individual friends here, and where I am now, I have more of a community of friends, which I never really had in Ann Arbor. You know I lived here a long time, but there was never a sense that there was a gang ...
HD: ... how long did you live here?
SNN: I first came here in 1975 for my freshman year in college. I went here three semesters and then dropped out, traveled, and when I came back I went to Eastern, of which the first couple of years I lived in Ypsi. Then I moved back to Ann Arbor. So except for a couple of years in Ypsi, and a year travelling or so, I was here from 1975 to 2003 ... oh, except wait, I did live for about four years in Gross Point, east side of Detroit.
HD: So if someone were to pluck you up out of Shell Lake, and plop you back down in Ann Arbor, what do you think you'd miss about Shell Lake?
SNN: Boy, I mean right off I would miss just the low population density. Part of it is just visual, landscape, less houses and cars, more trees and fields and woods.
HD: What's the nearest house to yours?
SNN: Actually, I live in town. Sort of typical old-fashioned city lots. I'm fortunate on one side, that there's a church. So I'm actually sort of on the edge of town ...
HD: ... do you go there?
HD: What denomination is it?
SNN: It's Lutheran.
HD: Are they good neighbors?
SNN: Oh yeah, they're great neighbors. At first, the aesthetics of a gravel parking lot were not appealing and then it was, This is one of the few houses in my price range that isn't really weird, and I was like, This fits the bill, and that's the one I got. It turns out that this is a great neighbor. Except for some cars on Sunday morning, there's no one there. I like it quiet. And they don't have a dog, or a bunch of kids. Which there's a few neighbors with those, but fortunately, they're a few more houses away. There's that whole bucolic quietness of small towns. I mean, I can run out of town, I can bike out of town. Actually there's a bunch of city land behind me that's a park. I'm in a little town ...
HD: What kind of park is it? Does it have amenities like picnic tables and grills?
SNN: Not really. The only amenities it has is markers for cross-country skiing. It's really just big chunk of extra land between the old high school and the sanitation, the water filtration system.
HD: So is it heavily used?
SNN: No, it's not. In the winter, I do see some footprints back there, but it's very rare that I bump into somebody. And then it bumps up to some state land that's on a creek. It's more of a wetland.
HD: So how do you feel about the fact that there's this wonderful amenity that's kind of underused?
SNN: I don't mind it at all. Yeah. It's great, there's enough trails that it's easy to walk through. It's great to just go back there and not see anybody. In a way it's like my own private woods. For a lot of people, hanging out outside might be more associated with hunting or fishing. Or a lot of people, if they want to get out in the woods, they head further north, where there's less people.
HD: So this city park, I assume there's no hunting allowed?
SNN: No, there's no hunting.
HD: Is there anything else particularly on your mind today? The thunder we've been hearing sounds a little ominous, but I'm pretty sure we're not going to get rained on.
SNN: No, it was thundering heavier before ...
HD: So is there any one thing you're going to make sure you do while you're in Ann Arbor for this visit, that you can only do in Ann Arbor, like grab a breakfast at the Fleetwood, or catch a movie at the Michigan Theater or anything along those lines?
SNN: You know, it's funny that you ask that. Typically I would think, Yeah, but this trip is interspersed with a bunch of trips to other places and generally on the weekend I'm going to be someplace else. So possibly a movie. Seems like the summer movie picks aren't right now that great, so I don't know. And I do like film, but lately I've been sort of looking back at older films and that's sort of DVD-territory. You know, I've walked in the Arb. And went out to Pickney Recreation Area. Those are really for the summer, or anytime of year, some of the nice things to do here.
HD: But I guess now that you've had a teeter totter ride, it'll be tough to top that.
SNN: To top the teeter totter ride?
HD: Yes, anything else you might think to undertake will certainly pale in comparison.
SNN: I like the location.
HD: You like the seclusion?
SNN: I like the seclusion, even though I can see the rooftops of Mulholland Street, which has a certain aesthetic, old small-town sensibility.
HD: Listen, thank you very much for the teeter totter ride.