When Sophia Travis settled in a booth at Roots vegetarian restaurant for an interview, she got straight to her usual business. She ordered her favorite dish: sweet potato fries. Then despite the waitress's doubtful teeters at the odd combination, she ordered the house tea.
Peculiar mixtures are nothing new to Travis, who is of Korean and Finnish descent. "I am often juxtaposing things," she said. "I get a lot of pleasure out of balancing contrast."
Travis has made a life out of embracing variety. She said her careers include musician, piano teacher, activist and politician, to name a few.
And as of January, she now also presides over the Monroe County Council.
Travis is rather new to the scene. Her 2004 bid for County Council At-Large was her first step into political limelight.
Her husband Gregory nicknamed her "The Velvet Steamroller" during her 2004 campaign.
"What you see is not what you get," Greg said. By all appearances, she is "soft-spoken, and comes across as very easy-going. But there are claws beneath the fur," he said.
Politics, Travis said, was a new chapter in her life.
Until then, she had been an active musician in the community for almost a decade. She had performed for various community functions and found herself increasingly interested in the organizations that hosted the gigs.
Travis might not have ever considered running for public office, had it not been for the persistence of Bloomington City Clerk Regina Moore.
"She has all the right qualities that I would like to see in someone who has to make decisions at a county level," Moore said.
Moore has known Travis for three years. In summer 2003, Moore founded the Democratic Women's Caucus, a group aimed at encouraging female participation in politics. In 2004, the group sponsored Travis's campaign for councilwoman.
"She's a well-spoken individual," Moore said. "She thinks a lot ... and listens to a lot of different voices, then makes her decision."
Others agree that Travis consults with people of varying opinions with a lot of consideration.
"Sophia does her homework, she talks to people, but -- more importantly -- she listens to people," said Susan Sandberg, a member of the Democratic Women's Caucus.
County Council Vice President Mark Stoops said that Travis is a good politician because she listens but still voices her opinions.
She is, after all, a perpetual listener, an observer and contributor to the world of sound. She has been a musician long before she was involved in politics.
The fact that Travis is a musician and has only a limited amount of political experience has caused some controversy, but she said she believes her background only helps her better represent the character of her community.
"I believe I represent a population of people with artistic sensibilities," she said, "which is part of what makes us a
Travis started taking piano lessons in the first grade while living in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., but because of her father's job in the Air Force, Travis's family was frequently relocating. Music, she said, was a pillar of stability in her life.
"On some level, I think it was the special thing that was just for me," she said.
At IU, Travis majored in East Asian studies with an emphasis on Korean language and literature. She also started taking harpsichord lessons and later studied at The Early Music Institute at the School of Music.
Perhaps Travis's earliest glimpse of political life came during her college days -- not from college, but from family. While she was in college, her father retired as an Air Force colonel and started working as a diplomat in Finland. It was during her summer visits to Finland that Travis believes she learned some invaluable social skills from watching her parents work together.
Travis's traditional Finnish name, Taisto, means "battle" or "conflict between opposites." She takes her name to heart, she said, and finds the ability to balance conflict to be crucial to her role as council president.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be a voice for a citizen who sees you as a person who is able to help," Travis said.
As president, she presides over the monthly meetings and sometimes has to moderate some heated debates. As a musician, Travis tempers the same balance. She said she places a lot of importance on ensemble work.
"I think I'm a good follower, and a good leader," Travis said. "But when I lead, my approach is pretty gentle. I want people to feel inspired ... I'm always tapping into what I see already there."
In 2004, the combination of musician and politician seemed strange, even laughable, to some people. Yet, it is hardly a new concept.
Moore remembers something Travis said not long ago.
"You know, Thomas Jefferson was a musician."