Hoping for hope in 2013

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, January 2, 2013

— Rural Milton resident Nick Popp wasn't sure what to say, but he knew he was stuck in the maw of New Year's Day news-media purgatory.

He had heard of situations like this, but he had only seen them play out on TV news.

Two seconds earlier, Popp; his spouse, Kristin, and his two-year-old daughter, Presley, had been sitting in a booth at Citrus Café in downtown Janesville, enjoying pancakes and eggs— their first brunch of the new year.

Now a Gazette newspaper photographer's camera was flashing in Popp's face and a tall, dapper Gazette news reporter whipped out a pen, a notebook and a smarmy grin. To Popp's right, several customers cut a wary swath around the scene.

Popp was trapped. It was the dreaded New Year's Day "man-on-the street" interview!

Open-ended question

The reporter pounced.

"As a man on the street, Mr. Popp, what is the one thing that you most wish for this New Year? I mean, what do you really hope happens in 2013?" the reporter said.

Popp, clad in a ball cap and UW-Madison Badgers red, tried to stay cool. He chewed a bite of his eggs, hardly tasting them.

What did he hope for? World peace? Lottery jackpot? A long-term solution for affordable health care?

From across the booth, Popp locked eyes with Kristen. Then his eyes shot to her belly. Bingo. He had it.

"Our biggest hope is that our new baby is healthy. She's due in March, and we just want her to be healthy. That's it," Popp said.

He gave a relieved smile. Just like that, he wriggled off the hook. Kristen beamed, and the reporter winked. It was the first day of the year, and Popp was already batting 1.000.

Not bad for being caught off guard with a mouth full of pancakes.

Fight or flight at the gym

As Popp and his family finished brunch, the news reporter and photographer moved on to other waters.

In the weight room at Janesville Athletic Club on Milton Avenue, the newspaper tag team cornered Janesville resident Gary Rau and two friends.

So, Gary, got any big dreams for 2013?

Rau stood there as his workout buddies fled to the gym's cardio room, where a sea of sweaty bodies toiled on treadmills and exercise bikes.

They would be lucky to find so much as an unattended magazine in there—but at least they had dodged the bullet of appearing in the local newspaper on the second day of the new year.

Rau, on the other hand, stayed put. A longtime local sports radio commentator, Rau had been on the spot before. He could manage this.

Rau tossed a smile at the reporter and the photographer and popped off a one-liner.

"I'm hoping just to be here next year," he said.

Money where your mouth is

Milton Avenue Lions Quick Mart clerk Cody Kakouris twisted at his blue crystal earring, wondering what to say. He had a line of customers out the door, and two newsmen had just barged into his gas station to bug people.

Worse, the staffers had turned their attention on him. What was the one thing that Cody hoped for this New Year?

"This is going to sound cynical, but I'd like for people to help each other for once, instead of only worrying about themselves," Kakouris said.

As Kakouris rang up a cup of coffee and a double dose of Excedrin for a seasick-looking customer, he snagged a phone book for a guy who needed some help with a stalled vehicle.

"I've got some jumper cables if you need them," Kakouris told the man.

Actually, Kakouris wasn't cynical at all. In just five minutes, he did a favor for a guy with a conked-out car. And he helped a couple of newsmen get a story.

Talk about practicing what you preach.

Dish detergent and optimism

As Kari Klebba of Janesville left the checkout line at Logli Supermarket in Janesville, she saw two men with a camera and a notebook approaching her.

At first, Klebba felt compelled to give the staffers something weighty, a piece of national commentary to chew on.

There, right next to the customer service desk, Klebba launched into a searing attack on the federal "fiscal cliff" debate and the zero-hour, semi-non-solution that Congress reached late Monday.

Then, abruptly, Klebba stopped herself. Switching gears wildly, she instead went for the local approach.

"You know what?" Klebba said. "What I'd really like to see is some optimism come back to Janesville. I love this town, and I've hated seeing people here getter sadder and sadder the last couple of years.

"It's a good town, and without believing that good things can come here, you're just insuring that they don't come. I'd just like people here to remember to be hopeful," she said.

Klebba winced.

"I feel like I'm giving a Miss America speech," she said.

Maybe. But for a couple of newspaper workers who on New Year's were missing their families, their living room couches and the Rose Bowl, it was the best sentiment they had heard all day.

Last updated: 8:06 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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