A Peek At The People (And The Airstream) Behind The StoryCorps MobileBooth

May 17, 2018

For the last five weeks, Jacqueline Van Meter and the rest of the StoryCorps MobileBooth Tour team have been parked in a converted Airstream trailer outside New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins.

“It is cozy,” Van Meter noted of their office. “That’s kind of the idea. Dim lighting, blankets -- just in case. The goal is really so that, despite what folks have been dealing with out in their day, in the parking lot, on the highway getting here -- once they step in here they can just kind of disconnect and focus on each other.”

The StoryCorps oral history project began in 2003 as a way to allow people to interview friends and family and preserve their stories. Recordings are kept in the Library of Congress. Some air weekly on NPR.

People can interview friends and family in the StoryCorps MobileBooth.
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

Step into the Airstream and you’ll see a set of sound-dampening double doors that lead to the recording booth, which looks more like a booth you’d find in a restaurant. There’s a table with seats on either side to encourage face-to-face conversation. Except here, instead of plates there’s a pair of microphones.

Also, on the table is a box of tissues ready for tears, a frequent hallmark of StoryCorps stories -- for the subjects, the listeners and even the facilitators.

“Yeah, I cry a fair amount and I will warn my participants in advance,” Van Meter admitted. “I try to keep it discreet. But it’s not just stories of grief or stories of loss, it’s the expressions of gratitude. You know, people don’t take the time to look each other in the eye anymore and say, ‘I’m proud of you.’ Or thank you for everything that you’ve done for me. You’re an example. You’ve taught me how to be a better parent. You’ve taught me how to be a better listener.’ People really use the space to say the things that they need to say, and it usually causes me to tear up more often than not.”

Van Meter said she was a StoryCorps fan long before she went to work for them. The program inspired her to record her family’s stories. She enjoyed it so much, she wanted more.

A set of double doors offers soundproofing for the StoryCorps MobileBooth.
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

Now Van Meter travels across the country with the mobile booth. Going from place to place can be grueling, but she says there’s definitely a payoff.

“You just get this deep, immersive dive into the folks in a particular community,” she said. “And you’re living in the community with them, so I bump into participants on the street, on the sidewalk. And so, although it is fast-paced, it feels really rich. Although it’s going to be really sad to say goodbye to Fort Collins.”

In addition to the warm and friendly attitude -- not to mention the plethora of tips on the best trails and local craft brews -- Van Meter said she’s heard a lot of incredible stories from people in Colorado

Stories like Fort Collins musician Liz Barnez and her wife, Lori Daigle, who talked about meeting in high school in New Orleans and then reconnecting 28 years later through Facebook. And Sara Frazier telling her daughter, Jenny Sundstedt, about how a dream she had after the death of her husband, Jimmy, helped her know that everything would be okay.

The stories Van Meter typically records are of love and loss, but lately she said she’s hearing stories of solidarity in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

“Whether that’s, ‘I just had a baby boy, and I want to think intentionally about how I’m going to raise him as a good responsible man in the world;’ or what it’s like to be a whistleblower; or what it means to have a community of women support you when you’re going through a challenging time — that’s a theme that’s come up again and again,” she said. “But, you know, it’s one of many. I mean, if Mobile Tour stops show us anything, it’s that there’s a really diverse set of experiences that happen in just one community.”

Sara Frazier and Jenny Sundstedt recorded an interview at the Fort Collins stop.
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

More than 130 stories have been recorded from Colorado residents during their time here. All of them will be archived in the Library of Congress, but Van Meter said that’s just a drop in the bucket of the stories out there.

“Hearing people talk to each other candidly and genuinely and really saying the things that they need to say -- without distractions, without noises, without cell phones, without screens -- just really taking the time to say those things that we don’t often articulate out loud enough, there’s something vulnerable and really human about that,” Van Meter said. “And I think that’s the power of StoryCorps and what we’re hoping to get across.”

The next stop for the StoryCorps MobileBooth Tour is Jackson, Wyoming at the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum. If you didn’t get a chance to record your story, you can download the free mobile app that will guide you through the recording process, as well as upload it to the StoryCorps archive. You can tag your story #FoCoStories to add it to the Fort Collins collection. StoryCorps is sponsored locally by Kaiser Permanente.