About bill keitel

Bill and his wife Lauri were born in the wrong century. They have pursued the life style of 1870 leather smiths. For the past 44 years they have made their living handcrafting leather goods in a building that is on the National Registry of Historic Places in Worthington, Minnesota. In the early 1970's Bill attended the University of South Dakota for a short while and instead found great enjoyment in an apprenticeship. He apprenticed in the shoe repair trade doing prescription orthopedic buildup work for the local podiatry school. Re-invention has been a continual process in Bills life. Two decades ago Bill exclusively switched to using buffalo leather, American Bison-Bison Bison. He was grateful for his small community and their patronage. Alas, the demographics and trade area could no longer provide a meaningful income. Bill set out with a devil-may-care attitude and took to the open road, going where no leather smiths had gone before. Today the business that is called the Buffalo Billfold Company has over one hundred and fifty wholesale accounts. Bill and his wife sell their buffalo leather goods to Museums, State and National Parks, Saddle shops throughout the nation. Bill prides himself in a small group of dedicated craftspeople that tirelessly work along side. To market his products require travel throughout the United States and beyond. They are sold on a wholesale level and also at retail. Bill and his wife Lauri travel to juried art festivals throughout the nation and find themselves on the road for perhaps three months each year. It augments their income and allows them to stay in a smaller community that they hold dear. Bill also shares a keen interest in history, anthropology and sociology. He has written essays about his encounters and travels over the years. Recently he was approached by a regional newspaper that has some significant acclaim, The Daily Globe (Forum Communications). He was asked to write about his experiences on the road. It is a road trip of a modern day gypsy, the road trip of a lifetime. Most everybody spends a few days at festivals throughout the summer. Bill and his wife spend ninety days each year at festivals meeting thousands of people every day. Recently they realized that they have spent 1,500 days at festivals throughout the nation. Bill is quite gregarious and can seem to endure the amount of people that he encounters. Traveling in a very small motorhome they find themselves in the fanciest neighborhoods of Arizona and the next night they might be sharing parking lot space with gang members under an interstate underpass. They also travel to Native American Indian Markets, so they enjoy the company of Navajo, Apache, Northern Crow, Crow, Lakota Sioux, Ho Chunk, Ojibway and many others. Bill and Lauri invite you to travel with them and see their world through their eyes and the eyes of the community of modern day gypsies that make their living on the road.

One of the Lost Boys of The Sudan.

A customer comes into my store and I ask him where he is from? I can tell that he is probably from Kenya or the Sudan. We visit awhile and then he offers his origins, he smiles and says “I am a lost boy from the Sudan”.

His name is Chang Riang and he is probably thirty nine years old, his birth was never recorded or was lost in his flight from the Sudan.

A couple of days went by before we could go out for lunch together.

His journey started in 1983, at three a.m we awoke to machine gun fire. He vocalizes the sounds of the machine guns. “pop,pop,pop, bang,bang,bang” it is not far from his memory. He was ten years old living near Malakal, Sudan. His community Nasir, sits on the banks of the White Nile. Soldiers came on land and by boat down the river to attack his community. For three years he lived under constant threat of attack and warring factions.

At thirteen years of age they came again and the situation grew intolerable. His father was in the military and had to defend their community. Chang and his young brother found themselves fleeing the only community they had ever known. Chang’s brother was only two or three years old and they left on foot. No parents, no relatives, no understanding of where they were going. They were part of the lost boys of the Sudan.

“We walked for seven days, no food, no water, nobody guiding us.” “We walked east toward Ethiopia and found just enough water to survive.” During their flight they were attacked by Northern Sudan helicopter gun ships. Hiding under bushes and small trees they survived the people that were intent on killing these fleeing motherless children.

Chang wondered why he was on this journey? Where were his parents? And now he is taking care of his younger brother. At the border of Ethiopia they found some hope and were allowed to enter a country that showed some compassion.

Chang and his brother were taken in and accommodated by the United Nations in a refugee camp. They were housed and fed and even educated while spending their time in Adis Ababa. You can see the gratitude in his eyes when he says “the U.N. saved me and paid for me to survive.”

Eventually they were asked to choose, where do you want to go? Home was no longer an option, violence was everywhere. Chang did not know of any other home. Forty eight hours later he stepped off a plane at O’hare field in Chicago. It was a raging blizzard and Chang had never seen snow before.

His helper took him to a store that sold winter clothes, sub Saharan couture wasn’t appropriate attire.

He was befriended by an older women in Chicago that made sure he was not forgotten.

Chang graduated from high school and found himself in Norfolk Nebraska graduating from community college in 2006. The past four years he has been commuting from Sioux Falls, SD. to Worthington, MN. for his employment, his younger brother is going to the University in Ames, Iowa. Chang has heard that his mother has died. He has had no word about his father since leaving the Sudan so many years ago.

He has been lucky to find some part of the world that would accommodate him and his brother.

It is a time when we are enticed to find suspicion in people that are different from ourselves. It is a time when we are called upon to withdraw our humanity and stand fearful with those that feel threatened. The United Nations has continued to be a force providing humanitarian aid.

I sit across the lunch table from Chang appreciating his harrowing story and realize that I needn’t travel to distant locales to understand the strife in the world. There are people in my community that have far more interesting stories to relate than my own. It is also gratifying to know that there are people and countries that stand tall and proud to assist others in need.




In a curious twist this past week we find ourselves as house guests, my host is a rocket scientist. I mean really! a rocket scientist. My wife and I are just outside of Washington D.C. & realize that every major player in the technology world is represented in this city.

This fellow worked with developing the NASA Space Station during its inception and throughout much of its history, he then went on to private enterprise.

The plane door opens and we deplane, We’re met by this gentleman. He explains that we have lots to see & do while we are in Washington D.C and that he hopes to accommodate to the best of his abilities.

I have no doubt that he is going to be quite hospitable and yet he pauses….and states “ I have been working on a project for the past three or four years that is coming to fruition. I need to return to my office when we get home.” “I need two or three more hours of office time.”

I let him know that we are quite self reliant and can find our way about.

The following morning he explains his work. He designs satellites that help other satellites. Satellites are solar powered and even though they use the sun as an energy source they also have to store that energy in batteries. After ten or fifteen years those batteries start to lose their effectiveness and they satellite companies send up new ones.

FullSizeRender-1My friend and his company have designed a space craft that has a battery source for the aging satellites. This is big stuff and big technology. It means that you don’t have to launch another satellite, you just send up a new battery that is smart enough to connect itself to the existing satellite. My friend gets out a pen and paper and starts to sketch a drawing of the new craft and how it connects to the “mothership” ie; the old satellite.

As simple as this sounds recognize that this satellite isn’t in low orbit. It is a geo-synchronous satellite, which means it isn’t orbiting the earth. It is a satellite that is way out there! The location is not a few hundred miles above earth, but twenty two thousand two hundred and twenty six miles. Because of this the satellite is stationary.

Lets go find it and replace its battery!

The following morning he explains that the international contracts were signed. His customers want a new battery pack for their satellites. With this knowledge and commitment, He gets to buy a rocket ship perhaps many rocket ships.

His part of the project was to buy a rocket that makes sure the satellites can get to Geo-synchronous orbit.

As you might suspect I have dreadfully little in common with this fellow. I struggle to make polite conversation and I recall my friends at Bedford Industry. I live in a small town in South Western Minnesota. Bedford Industries is a major employer in my community and I relay the following. “I have friends that go to the moon and back a four times every year.”

He puzzles and says “really?” I smile and state, “My friends make twist ties throughout all heathendom and Christendom. I have traveled to the far corners of the earth and most everywhere I’ve traveled I have found their products. I have found twist ties in the deep rain forests of Central America and I have found them on the mountain tops of the Altiplano in Peru. They are the ties that bind, the ties that seal your bread bag. I reach over on his countertop and point out the Starbucks coffee bag and how the closure is also a bread tie. I’m beaming! They make enough bread ties to go to the moon and back four times each year! I raise my eyebrows and lean forward and tell him the latest news…they have a new product called Elasti-Tag and its growing bigger than their bread ties.

Well done Bedford Industries! billkeitel@areavoices.com


1779786_698958723459137_941966287_nI blink and eight years have past. I had the good fortune of creating a friendship with Alex Morales. You might remember Alex, He was the fellow that received national news in the U.S.A. when he fled Cuba on a wind surfboard, a death defying feat. At the age of twenty one he was the best windsurfer in Cuba. He had met most all of the criteria and was the number one windsurfer in Cuba. The only thing he lacked was the approval of the government. He was not of the same political opinion as the Cuban regime.

Because of this reason his passport was denied and many obstacles were placed in front of him. He was the windsurfing champion of his country but he would not the champion of the political powers of Cuba. He was denied a coveted chance in the Olympics.

The phone rings and I get to reacquaint myself with Alex. His Cuban accent has remained as we visit at a rapid, rapid pace. I struggle to understand every valuable word. It has been twenty two years since Alex put his life at risk and windsurfed from Cuba to the United States along with two friends, Robert & Carlos. They survived so we get to hear their story, so many did not.

Alex suggests that thirty thousand remain unaccounted for in the crossing between Cuba and Florida. Mr. Morales was one of the lucky ones. Studying the tides, waves and water currents he found himself just off the coast of Florida many years ago and was rescued, refuge had been found.

Since that time Alex has worked in the electrical trades and as a general contractor in Miami. His entire family now lives in the United States. He has made quite a name for himself and has almost single handedly put windsurfing back on the beaches of Miami. Over the years he has put together perhaps thirty or more regattas and racing events. This can be a daunting challenge for many sailing committees let alone a single person. Certainly he had some help however once you get to know Alex you will understand that he is a driving force that can move wind and water and quite often.. sailors! Few people have done more for the windsurfing community in Florida as acknowledged by his “Windsurfer of the Year” award presented by United States Windsurfing.

Today Alex spends his time and passion building his own company. His windsurf boards http://www.tillo-international.com/ are a product of love and art. He recognizes that he is competing with other countries that have cheap labor and mass production. I can feel the resolve in his voice when he tells me “I study and learn everyday.” “I will make the best board ever and it is an on going process.” “I have been doing this since my days growing up in Cuba.” He also does the production work for Peter Ifju & IFJU FINS. Ifju Fins has found a place in the windsurfing industry and they are being represented by Alex Morales, a force to be reckoned with. Alex states unabashedly “I risk my life to be here, I want the U.S. to win Gold Metals in the Olympics” he continues, “Windsurfing was invented in the U.S.A and it is now all over the world” “Today the place it is least represented is in the U.S.A.” “I want more people to be as passionate as myself!” He is the essence of a competitive sailor and won’t relent.

Tonight I watched the news of normalizing relations with Cuba and I decide to broach the subject. Alex speaks freely of his distain for the Cuban government and He has grave doubts that this latest overture will produce anything meaningful. No love is lost on his native land. His entire family has fled and they view the current political situation as playing only into the hands of the politicians. The Cuban people are the pawns that will benefit so very marginally. Alex was the best windsurfer in his nation, only to be denied because he didn’t share a similar view in politics.

Alex and his wife Simona have a new born baby,Alexa. This child has only recently reached the beach, soon to be baptized in the waters off Florida, she will join a family of sailors.

She is as pretty and as beautiful as the hopes and aspirations of her mother and father.

Bill Keitel

Road Notes-UnVarnished Essays March 2016

The Great (Northern) Kiskadee


My interest in birding started at an early age. My cousin was filled with alarm and excitement when he identified a new species at the Blue Mounds State Park in South Western Minnesota. He willingly shared his enthusiasm by handing me his expensive binoculars. He pointed out onto the open prairie allowing me to view a Marbled Godwit. His binoculars were the most important tool of his trade. Handing the binoculars to me represented trust and the willingness to pass on his eventual occupation and avocation.

Fifty two years later I am judging whether I can out run the first big snowstorm of the season. There is a bird that is considered a rarity in the upper midwest. My interest in birding ebbs and flows. Could I possibly want to drive for a couple of hours to Volga, South Dakota to see a bird that has frequented a couple of farmsteads close to Volga? I lamented the fact that I didn’t “give it a go” the previous weekend.

The bird of topic is called the Great Kiskadee, it is found in Coastal Mexico, Central America and South America, East of the Andes. It is a large stocky bird in the flycatcher family. Its scientific name is Pitangus Sulphuratus and it is an omnivore. It has been known to enjoy fruit and even pet food. The bird has a name that is “onomatopoetic”, that means the sound it makes…is it’s name! A Black Capped Chickadee makes a sound of “chick-a-dee-dee-dee”, a Bobolink says “spink, spank, spink” just like a Mourning Dove makes a sound of “mourning”, not “morning”. Put Onomatopoetic in your storehouse of “ten dollar” words! Lets move on!

I’ve had some better than average luck in seeing a few very elusive birds in the past few years. A Streaked Backed Oriole that is found mainly in Mexico down to Costa Rica and an Elegant Trogan normally found south of the border. These were seen in southern Arizona. Recently in Peru we hiked Machu Pichu and we enjoyed identifying an Andean Condor soaring at eye level.

With an impending snow storm….Volga South Dakota sounds nearly as remote….and the likelihood of success in finding this bird ….dubious. Renown birding friends from Taiwan emailed me and inquired why I haven’t gone to Volga? Criminey, now I have peer pressure from world birding experts prodding me to sally off to find a small farmstead in Eastern South Dakota!

On the heels of this snowstorm we set out early morn for Volga not knowing what our future would hold. Neither my wife or I seem to like standing in the cold for hours at a time. Surely somebody must like doing that, but not us.

We headed down the interstate ane our G.P.S. was turned on just in time, when it connected, it immediately said “turn in nine hundred yards. We veered off to the east, then headed west down a clean blacktop road heading westerly for another dozen or so miles. Turning south for two or three miles we slowed down and noticed that (out of no where) there were cars in front of us and also cars following us. These cars were all driving a little to slow to be “normal people”. They must be birders! As a sign of predestination! we all slowly come to a halt in front of a farmstead. We look at each other wondering what other birding enthusiasts must look like? We all slowly smile at one another, yeah….we’re birders and we’ve found the right location!

With this confidence we all pull into the driveway and get out of our cars. This is the promised land of the Kiskadee and we begin our quiet vigil. We birders range from Minnesota to Aberdeen to Willmar, we’ve traveled a thousand miles total to be here! Binoculars in hand, socking hats on heads, we zip up our hoods and wander around a farmstead that we have been told is amenable to our trespassing. No one is at home, it is Sunday morning and we are the only people not in church. We see dozens of bird feeders in the yard and venture to guess that they too enjoy wildlife and birds. Our hopes lessen as we wander around this farmstead, the acreage is filled with English Sparrows and not a Great Kiskadee in sight.

There is another farmstead within walking distance, about two hundred yards to the north. It has been rumored that it also shows up at their bird feeders. They too are considered bird friendly and don’t mind people visiting. We hunker down, saunter up north and begin to prowl around. The owner meets us as we walk down the lane and points up into a tree. He smiles and states “I think this is what you are looking for.”

We all slowly and respectfully approach, not wanting to be the person to scare the bird into flight. The bird is quite taciturn and we all get our chance to photograph and observe its habits and beauty.

Our morning has been spent out of doors on a mild winter day. Nobody is frost bitten, nobody has suffered meaninglessly. We’ve all seen the spectacle called the Great (Northern) Kiskadee.

Tonight I will email my friends in Taiwan and let them know that we can add another rarity to our life list. I tell them that we escaped the impending snowstorm and that we have arrived home safe and soundly.

My cousin has long since passed away. His kindred spirit lives on in the form of a Great Kiskadee seen on a wintery day in Volga, South Dakota.

Billkeitel UnVarnished Essays-Road Notes


thaŋ(k)s-ˈgi-viŋ 2015


IMG_2802From a small town in South Western Minnesota I take time for Thanksgiving.

I thank the people of my community that strive to make our town a better place.

I thank others that have shown up to fill the demographic void that was left by my grand parents, my parents and many others who have passed away or have “out migrated” for other opportunities.

I thank S.– and A.– for the heroism in the fields of Laos. Few people will ever know what you survived. Few people will ever come to realize the risks that you took to champion American ideals in a long forgotten war.

Few will know my friends that fled Laos on elephant back losing children along the way. Once again, many supported American ideals and philosophies. Many supported American war efforts.

Other friends help fill the once vacant building that littered my mainstreet and many main streets across the U.S. Our main street is rather full right now with an emerging immigrant population that is quickly learning how to thrive in their new found home.

They come as immigrants, they come as refugees, they come looking for a better life. They work in our factories. They work in our machine shops. They start their own businesses and help our fragile economy. They sometimes stumble and fail. I think more of them for trying, not less.

In one sense they are perhaps “The Man in the Arena” that President Roosevelt eluded. They see America as a vibrant and worthy place. “Those who know the great enthusiasm to a worthy cause. They at best, know the triumphs of high achievement; and who , at worst, fail while daring greatly. So that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat. “

A day to give Thanksgiving to those that have aspirations, to those that find my community their “New Found Land”.

My community would be a shadow of itself, if we did not have our immigrants.

In a time of world wide angst and fear, it is important to reflect on blessings and gratitude.

What we were once, they are now.

They are learning our ways & they are holding on to some of their cherished traditions. Their traditions add to our greater understanding of the world.

We were all immigrants once, we stumble and make mistakes. The object is that we learn from our differences and find commonality in our friendships.

My “new found friends” have now been here for decades. They are nearing retirement, their children have gone to school and are doctors and in our military as officers. In a blink I have seen one generation go from not knowing English, to having their children give me the medical advise to help me stay alive. Every day I wake up amazed at my community and the

Anthropological/Sociological laboratory it represents.

Our homes have many rooms, are tables have the ability to produce and display abundance.

We have many old friends and we give thanks for our many new friends.

A Thanksgiving wish of abundance to you and yours. billkeitel@areavoices.com

Bob Artley- Aung San Suu Kyi – Myanmar


The world shrinks and seems smaller than ever as I visit with friends on the internet.  They are from Morocco, France and the U.K.   They are paying attention to Aung San Suu Kyi and her country of Myanmar, once known as Burma.  She is no longer bound by military house arrest.  She is speaking out and is being held in high regard throughout her country and throughout  the world.  She has a spot on the world stage.

Currently U.S. media seems consumed with political happenings within our country,  observations outside the United States are few and far between. Visiting with foreign friends makes me feel my view is limited and rather myopic.   Enclosed is an essay from a few years past.  It was a time when Aung San Suu Kyi had a glimmer of hope after years of brutal oppression.

Aung San Suu Kyi – Communique’

November 28th, 2012 by Bill Keitel




The news in recent days centered on President Obama going on a rather surprising visit to Burma/Myanmar. This is of curious interest to me, and I suspect and many of our local immigrants who happen to be from this nation. A distant connection came to mind as I listened intently of what was to be made of this trip.

Ever so long ago in 1989, Worthington’s (Wgtn. MN)  own Bob Artley made a trip to this far off land. Bob was all ready a nationally known Illustrator and cartoonist; his cartoons were syndicated in numerous newspapers and magazines throughout the U.S. His daughter Jeannie and son-in-law Chris Szymanski held positions in the State Department, and Chris was Charge’ de Faire back when the U.S. had a consulate in Burma. Bob and his daughter are no longer with us, and Chris lives out east. I called Chris and asked if we could visit. He told me that he was astonished that this occurred and was cautiously optimistic because Burmese generals are quite often backsliders. He said that this event encourages that thought of progression, and back when he was in Burma he and his staff had the distinct feeling that the unfolding of events would not end well.

Bob Artley returned home to Adrian/Worthington with amazing stories about this beautiful land, and it was at this time he mentioned the name Aung San Suu Kyi. The military had just taken power after an election that they chose not to honor. Aung San Suu Kyi was the candidate, and it was her father who had been a general in the Burmese Revolution many years prior. He was considered to be the father of modern-day Burma and yet was assassinated 6 months prior to independence.

It was her place in history to step forward to help the people of Burma determine their destiny. The military would not relent, and she was placed under house arrest for many decades. Aung San was bestowed the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, and Chris and Jeannie had the privilege to enjoy her company on a number of occasions, including a memorable Thanksgiving dinner. The decades rolled past and her family had moved to Oxford,UK. and her husband died of cancer without her being able to leave the country. The price of moral conviction plays hard and steep.

During the time that Bob Artley was in Burma, he gave a presentation to Burma’s top cartoonists. His son-in-law told him that these Burmese cartoonist’s wanted to be more politicallly assertive. Chris advised Bob to please not allow them that opportunity because of the swift oppression that could easily come to bear. Bob was also told that there were military agents disguised in the crowd to observe any signs of dissent.

Bob gave a remarkable presentation that was graciously accepted by his Burmese counterparts. He allowed them to come up on stage and to display their own talents on his oversized cartooning easel. They enjoyed employing some of Bob’s cartooning techniques and even included them in their own freestyle drawings. One of the last cartoonists to come up and display his talents used Bob’s signature “farm lantern.” The lantern was something that appeared numerous times in Bobs cartoons — it was a symbol of warmth, and it shed light throughout the farmhouse and barn and all of Bob’s world. The cartoonist drew a picture of the Statue of Liberty and in her hand was the lantern instead of the Torch of Liberty. The lantern stood as a beacon of Liberty but it had an obvious flaw…..you could see the lantern had been extinguished. The flame had gone out and the beacon of light was missing, a puff of smoke was all that remained. Bob was startled because he realized the political implications of this drawing. The cartoonist was communicating with all those present that the liberty of the Burmese had been snuffed out by the military dictatorship. Bob felt it was an uneasy ending to a rather enjoyable presentation.

This story stuck in my mind over the years and was never forgotten. Aung San has always piqued my interes,t and I’ve tried to pay attention to her efforts and her plight. Bob Artley died in the fall of 2011 having lived far more than an average life, it was also a life of artistry and a life of service to others.

A year later I was visiting with Bob’s eldest son, Rob Artley, and as I relayed my story of long ago, he told me I didn’t have the entirety of the events of that day.

Rob went on to tell me that the cartoonist that drew the cartoon that depicted the flame or lantern of Liberty vanished within a week and was never seen again.  It is with this visit, an amazing unexpected visit, that President Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi (two of the world’s Nobel Peace Prize recipients) have the possibility of rekindling this flame of freedom & liberty throughout the world.  bk



I live in a small town in South Western Minnesota it is a great anthropological laboratory. In my little community of 11,000 inhabitants, sixty different languages are spoken. I challenge you to find a wealth of diversity most any where else. I was born completely amazed with all that surrounds me and Worthington has not disappointed.

I have enjoyed learning a few of the customs of people from Laos, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, Nicaragua, Guatemala and many other nearly obscure nations…..by U.S. standards. I find it a source of pride that I get invited to the Laos New Years celebration.

These people have become numerous in my community. They have rented my apartments, they have filled commercial buildings that in most communities of our size would have long been vacant. They are buying new cars in my community, they are fixing cars in my community.

I have watched them over the decades. They are no longer “new comers” they are the population that is replacing my parents and grand parents as our own children “out migrate” to the big cities.

As I walk around the lake they no longer refrain from eye contact. They are feeling more confident, they embrace my community, they make it their own. I see it in their eyes as we cross paths, they don’t look down any more, they look me in the eye and nod or say hello, buenos dias, kamaylaha, de tujot.

They have come to feel more comfortable in my community.  Who am I to say “this is my community?”  It is everyones community. If you are here, surviving, renting, owning and engaged, we are part of this community.

I travel three to four months each year through many social biomes. I know the wealthiest zip codes in all the U.S.A. and frequent many of them as I exhibit at art festivals. These communities have much to offer in Schools, Education, Shopping, Arts and Humanities. They seem to have it all. I earn part of my own living from them.

What I see, that they don’t see, is their lack of diversity. I have immigrant friends that find pride in owning their first (sixty year old) two bedroom home, they have a family of five. I have immigrant friends that have enough discretionary income to repaint their house and do landscaping in their yards. Some of my friends still struggle to have their car fixed and it ends up in the driveway on blocks.

The toil and struggle is a part of everyones journey. Your journey was made much, much easier because of your immigrant relatives. Your father? Your grand father? Your great grand father? No matter, your distant family immigration is just a blink of an eye.

Sudanese friends confided in me that their parents back home have shunned them. They have gotten married in the U.S.A. and a dowry of cattle was not given to the parents back home in the Sudan. They are from the “deep south” of Sudan….along the White Nile. They lived close to Juba quite far from Malakal and traditional customs were not observed. The parents were not rewarded for the giving of a bride. Old worlds, new customs all are intermixed in our community. They now live in the U.S. and have broken some traditional bonds and created some new ones. They have broken traditional wedding customs and you can sense their unease. They have two children Atung and Ahey. The name Ahey-meaning the color of the cow.


I find this curious because some time earlier I had come off a rodeo performance stage. The women coming on next was a State Rodeo Queen. Her name was Sorel. It meant the color of a horse.IMG_0072_533x400-300x225

Animals also mean something to us. However, we explained to our Sudanese friends that our friendship doesn’t rest on the exchange of cattle. For the first time, they were confident enough to laugh about it.

These are just a few of the folks that help sustain our fragile rural economy. My community is home to a diverse spectrum of cultures. Though I leave for extended periods of time, my return is always a heartening experience. A welcoming community full of old, full of new, a sociological, anthropological laboratory. I tip my hat the the French, the Statue of Liberty could not beam brighter or stand taller than in my community.

As the decades play out, a noted contemporary philosopher named Ram Dass once said, “We are all just walking each other home.”

Bill Keitel-UnVarnished Essays-Area Voices



In the past decade there has been a 180 % jump in costermongering.

Costermongers are showing up in communities all over the U.S. It is purported that over 8,000 cities in the United States now have significant gatherings of these people. There seems to be little to stop them.

This grass roots approach to commerce isn’t something new to humanity. Costermongers were an important commercial element to London in the 1850’s.

The author Henry Mayhew notates in his book “Mayhews London” (edited by Peter Puennell) the individual mongering and the specific tasks and trades that occurred on the streets of London.

How this relates to the modern day is of interest because of the direct relationship to the farmer and the market. Costermongers are street vendors selling vegetables and are often times the growers of the vegetables. The costermongering in my community and all around the U.S.A are bringing together the small commercial growers directly to the end consumer, the buyers.

Costermongering isn’t limited to vegetables, throughout the years other items are bought and sold. In London the mongering included all manner of items, cheese mongers, iron mongers, pastry, confectionary,fish,nuts,coffee,curds, live animals, bird nests, rags, bottles, and cigars.

For an easy example of this commercial enterprising idea, look at the vast flea markets that propagate throughout the nation at various times of the year. They tend to be regional in scope, most often they are located near a large population center. It might be a resort area, it might be a retirement village. The mongering that goes on ranges from garden grown food items, arts, crafts, automotive parts, rocks and minerals, antiques and junk.

The mongers that tend to this curious lifestyle are often times retirees enjoying a modestly profitable pastime. There are also the less fortunate and this avocation is borne from financial necessity. Either way, it brings people together to create modest commerce.

While we travel about the U.S. (and beyond) we seek regional art festivals that afford us the advantage of dealing with people that have higher discretionary incomes. We are not dismissive in paying attention to all sectors of our society.

Recently we were in the South West U.S. between festivals and had the opportunity of kicking around some of the more impoverished areas of the nation. We chose to spend some time browsing a market in an area of significant poverty. The items being sold were vegetables by local migrant workers and other non-migrants selling antiques and mainly “end of the line” junk. It was a dry and dusty market on the crossroads to distant cities of significance. The talk amongst the costermongers was that they shouldn’t be doing this market on a Tuesday because people around here don’t get paid until Friday. This meant that the money in their customers pockets doesn’t last until the following Tuesday.

They are a resolute group of individuals and many seem to be hard workers. They will arrive at four or five a.m. to set up their displays along some highway intersection and spend the day in the blazing sun selling their products to those people that live on the margins of our society and hoping to catch the spare change of some wealthy retiree, who in turn bargains with them for a cheaper price.

Borne from societies that have great disparities of income or just a fanciful means of augmenting your discretionary income. This is a type of marketing that has continued throughout ages.

Billkeitel RoadNotes-UnVarnished Essays

La musique et l’île de la Réunion

In the blink of a news cycle the world has become geographically familiar with Reunion Island. Airplane parts have drifted to the Reunion shoreline.
That flotsam may have been part of the ill fated flight MH 370, a suspected highjacking.
People pay attention to geography when things go  good or when things go real bad.
If you have a whit of interest in music, you should know more about this island. Reunion should be known for more than just the riddle of a missing airplane.

It is an Island in the Indian Ocean East of Madagascar and has a population of approximately 700,000. Reunion is a gleaming example of cultural blending. The demography shows that its residents are African, French, Malagasy, Malabar (Indian) and S.E. Chinese. They have all resided on this island for approximately 370 years.
Now that this island is in the news people should realize that this island is a treasure trove of ethnomusicological importance.

Reunion musique’ blends the sophistication of French & African influence, Jazz,Sega, Zouk,Calypso & Maloya.
Maloya is the equivalent to American Blues music, it was sung by slaves from Indian, Africa and Malagasy.
The French have had considerable influence in Reunion and considered this music a threat to the French State and Maloya was purportedly banned in the 1970’s.

The merging of these numerous cultural identities produced musicians like world renown accordionist Rene La Caille.
Their music is a labyrinth of poly-rhythms and is a challenge for listeners that have grown up on 3/4 and 4/4 pop music.
You will need special permission from your brain to listen to this beautiful and complex music.
Reunion musique’ often time employs  a 6/8 time signature with beats on the 2nd and 3rd.
If you think you might have an interest in the music, seek no further.  Bob Brozman and Rene La Calille collaborated on an album called Dig Dig, it won the Library of Congress Award.

Flotsam may litter the shore but musique’ fills the air.  billkeitel@areavoices.com 



We kick back at the Blackbird Woodfire Pizza and enjoy an above average pizza and desert. We are exceedingly weary and prone to a bit of reflection. The street is being swept and cleaned as we look out the window and enjoy our meal. In no time at all, the tidiness of this city will once again be complete. The artists disassemble displays and tents scurrying off the to the next venue somewhere down that long lonesome highway.

Tonight, my wife and I are celebrating eighteen years on the road. We exhibit at juried art festivals throughout the nation. Today might well exceed our day ONE THOUSAND! Many people attend a festival each year, perhaps one, two or three? For better or worse we see festivals fifty to seventy five days each each year.

We have seen perhaps hundreds of communities and their festivals. These are communities putting their best foot forward and inviting the pubic to come and enjoy what they have to offer. The offerings include the artists, artisans, craftsman and various other amenities. Those amenities might include amusements, rides, antiques, music, art workshops and various entertainments that attracts the public. These festival are far flung and varied, a few years back we attended a rattlesnake festival!

This weekend we have traveled only five hours to Fargo, North Dakota, it seems a rather short distance because we often times travel much further attending four to six shows in the course of four or six weeks.

10565279_827318857278133_1547446609936441476_nThe city of Fargo is celebrating their fortieth year of this event. Their volunteers have come forth and they are well versed in their responsibilities. The festival director knows her stuff and takes the brunt of everything a festival has to throw at her. Tens of thousands of people show up to have a great time and be entertained. The community leans forward and provides for this event. I suspect many generous people and businesses provide the currency necessary to make this work. Those that don’t provide currency, provide volunteer labor. All of these folks are to be admired, because they are doing the work that most people think “just happens”.

In the art and artisan world of gypsy travelers, information is shared and discussed regarding festivals throughout the nation. We first became aware of this festival because some artists told us that it was a very good festival, yet they did not continue attending because of the long hours and at times the wickedly hot weather that can occur in July. True to form, the weather was at times rather hot. A sprinkling tent was positioned within the event site to lower body temperatures and provide a soothing, refreshing spray of water.11178360_1018167524859931_1667022099575684716_n

We have enjoyed all of these communities from our curious viewpoint. We meet the organizers, we meet the local citizens, we meet the students, we meet people from the surrounding trade area. Fargo offers an interesting day “ ONE THOUSAND”

The microcosm that we see in Fargo is indicative of many communities across the United States. Fargo is a University town, it has bright and educated people from all over North Dakota, including many other parts of the MidWest. Interspersed in this curious mix happens to be people seeking education from China, Egypt, Japan, Korea and many other countries. The community of Fargo exhibits that midwestern ethic of being profoundly respectful of others. The international communities that exist within this community seem to thrive and also assimilate.

I write this with a viewpoint that is not unfamiliar with diversity. My own community has a wealth of immigrant population. While in Fargo I happen upon a group of Sudanese men that call this city their home. They are from the White and Blue Nile region of the Sudan. A place called Malakal four hundred miles north of Juba, the city that borders Kenya. They seem well adapted to this northern prairie community and speak of Fargo with pride and appreciation. I am a student of history & geography and I know of the region from which they have come. Fargo is a vastly different from their homeland. A Sudanese friend is fishing for king crab in the Bering Sea. What a profound change their lives have seen, enduring the wild swings of climate & temperature of the sub-arctic tundra!

We have finished “take down” and are comfortably back at our campground. We have decided not to travel home during the late night hours. It is no longer necessary to arrive home at 3 a.m. We will stay camped along side the Red River of the North. I am inclined to pay attention to watersheds. If we elected to jump in this river we would slowly drift towards the Hudson Bay in Northern Canada. It has been a long day and that doesn’t seem a necessary adventure. I am headed toward the Mississippi River watershed, Southern Minnesota!

The sun is fading and the music in our campground is rather festive and loud. We don’t find the music particularly annoying, yet I can’t quite recognize the ethnic origin of the music. I resign myself to wander over to the loud and celebratory group of people. To my enjoyment and surprise, they are Bosnians! They are Fargo-Bosnians! and they are a proud group of new found citizens in this curious city. As I visit I try to search for words from that area of the world. I stumble out the words “dobro utro and dobro den”! (good day and good night) The man that I am visiting with, broadens his smile and says “thats pretty close!” It is the language of our people. He confides in me that there may be a thousand Bosnians living in Fargo. I am heartened by the warmth, I am heartened by a community that allows such generosity, for all will be rewarded.

What I find in Fargo is a gleaming example of America’s new found wealth. The wealth is comprised of (not only) middle age white guys like myself, but people that are willing and understanding to accept the new immigrant population. This immigrant population is their new salvation. That salvation is coming from all over the world to replace that waning demographic of people that are my age. They have come from all corners of the earth. Some come to labor, some come to study and learn and be educated. They have come appreciating the promise that is held in this community.

I have been attending the Fargo Art Fair for perhaps six or seven years. We camp in a local campground and bicycle to the event site that is a mile or two away.11703087_10154142114559782_6558020907614436537_n

It breaks up our long day and it affords us some pleasant scenery as we pedal the well placed bike paths. Fargo has recognized what attracts and maintains its citizenry. It is more than strip malls and buildings. They have put together parks and pathways that connect much of their community. They have done it long before other communities realized the importance.

The Fargo Art Fair might just have been another art fair in our one thousand days of festivals, yet… This city embraces the arts and humanities, this city embraces education, this city enjoys the interconnectedness of the world.

As I leave festival number one thousand behind (in my rear view mirror) ,

I will look forward to a return visit.

FARGO-Keep On Continuing!

Bill Keitel RoadNotes-UnVarnished Essays