Blackbird Diaries: “One Who Asks A Question…”

By: Chris Mahlmann Last Updated: November 26, 2012

“One who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; one who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” –Chinese proverb

Their stories usually begin with my simple question: what’s the good word?; what’s the hot topic of the day?; what are you all jabbering about?; or the plain and simple, what’s up? Sure I come here for the physical nourishment, but Blackbird means more to me for the intellectual stimulation and learning. Where else can I walk in and strike up a conversation with such a diverse group of minds, personalities, and opinions?

The responses range from the brief quiet reply, a suggestion for a story we ought to do or an event we could cover, to a polite nod and a smile, to the energetic “well, let me tell you what is going on,” to the “oh no, there he is again and he is going to ask me 100 questions” look of a deer caught in the headlights.

To question has always been in my nature, a natural curiosity for how things work, what makes people tick, and why things that don’t work actually still happen, which goes against my very logically minded brain. At this place, however, my normal, or abnormal as many might say, nature is stimulated through coffee, smoothies, and a dynamic mix of people who think, question, discuss, and debate amongst themselves more than the polite conversations that seem to happen outside these walls.

In smaller towns and close knit communities, I have learned that kind of vigorous discussion and questioning, voicing of opinions that are outside the establishment, and generally wondering why and why not, is somehow considered inappropriate or outspoken.

So what questions or topics come up when I engage this mixed bag of knitters, attorneys, students, bankers, teachers, plumbers, artists, government, tech, business owners, and retired wise men and women? The same kinds of questions and topics that many of the rest of us wonder about, but perhaps are too polite to ask:

  • Should we preserve and invest in our small community schools or build larger, newer facilities?
  • What are all the meanings of the “Valpo Way”?
  • What does development of the city mean to you? More shopping, apartments, restaurants, industry, residential, or none of the above?
  • What is going to happen with Urschel Laboratories?
  • Roundabouts- both existing and new could fill up books full of opinions and questions
  • Does Valpo have a problem with drugs, homelessness, and crime, and how can I help?
  • Is Washington really going to tackle this fiscal cliff we are facing or will they punt it down the road for our kids and grandkids to resolve?
  • Why isn’t Santa displayed in the downtown anymore?
  • How come we can find money to put fancy lights on bridges, and big shiny scoreboards, but we are running short on dollars for core teachers in the classroom?
  • Is Valpo really a college town, or a small city with an isolated university?
  • Why do the county officials continually argue, and what is really going to happen with all that hospital money?
  • Is social media just a fad or do businesses really need to put time, energy, and intelligence towards them?
  • Who is cooler- a Rotarian or a Kiwanian?
  • Should the school board be elected, appointed, or a hybrid of both?
  • Consolidation or preservation of regional university campuses like PNC, Purdue Cal, and IUNW?
  • Is a region rat a positive or negative connotation?


The list goes on, and will continually build as the topics of the day change. The voices on each side of the questions often don’t agree, though in my view that is a positive thing. The fact that the questions are voiced affirms that people care and is a testament to the place that welcomes their discussion. This diary does not intend to answer those questions nor affirm or reject any side to the story.

When I walk into Blackbird each day, I hear voices, and my aim is merely to positively extend the questions beyond these coffee shop walls. It would be foolish not to. Till the next time…