Belmont University

July 15, 2009

Breaking News: An Unexpected Ending

PierceI don’t know exactly who, but a wise man once said: “All good things must come to an end.” I’ll add to that: “and some of those things end sooner than expected.”

We all knew that this adventure would end somewhere-but none of us would have guessed it to be here.

Seventy miles outside of Tallahassee, Florida, at about four this morning, an over-heated bearing caused our tour bus to pull off on the side of I-10-for good. The bus, which we’ve been affectionately calling “Big Mama,” has reached her final destination on the 40/40 stop. The miles and miles were apparently too much for her to handle.

Ironically enough, this unfortunate breakdown probably serves as a solid metaphor for the end of this trip. We are all tired, worn-out, and longing for a stable night in a real bed.

Our fatigue started to show late in DC and into Williamsburg. Even a sugar high in Charleston wasn’t enough to provide some consistent energy. A few people have admittedly checked out. So, it’s kind of ironic that Big Mama broke down.

In the mean time, a charter bus from Atlanta is on it’s way to pick us up. We’ll be driving from Florida back to Atlanta, picking up another bus driver, and completing the route back to Nashville. Poor Montgomery will be completely by-passed, but our Nashville arrival time is about the same.

But the most bummed person on the bus might be our driver, Ruben. Ruben is a grizzled 10-year driving veteran. He’s driven everyone from Snoop Dogg to Madonna to Lil Wayne-and he’s never missed a stop… not one assignment. He’s the Cal Ripken or Brett Favre of the road-a true ironman. Today, that record went down.

It’s a big disappointment-an anti-climatic, drawn-out ending to this crazy trip. We’re all ready, though-the time has come.

The license plate on the back of our bus reads: “Tennessee: ‘Sounds Good to Me‘”. I’d have to say, we all agree.

July 14, 2009

This is What?

ElisabethSaint Augustine, Florida
Where do two roads meet? Where does education meet vacation? Can it? When did people decide that vacations were less about the personal gain and more about the materialistic ones? These were some the questions that popped into my head as a small group of us had the pleasure of talking to Sherry.

In Saint Augustine the group once again saw the portrayal of a certain kind of history. The kind where details are given in depth (repetitively), other details are shaded over, while the remainders are not acknowledged at all. This is what American history is all about. It reminds me of some foreign dance. You think you finally figured it out and the pieces are out in the open. Then you realize that half the puzzle is conveniently missing. But what is even more absurd is that we the people do not demand that all of the pieces be given to us in the very beginning. In fact we are almost relieved sometimes when they are not. For example, today we went to Mission Nombre’ de Dios. The place gave remembrance to the establishing of the first Catholic mission parish… Yay. It recognized the great fact that the Spaniards came here and were so very giving that they shared one of their most valued possessions, their religion. Which is a powerful thing and if that was all they did I could probably respect them a lot. But, it is not. First they failed their fellow people of today by not telling them the whole truth. Secondly, they failed me personally by the way in which they “shared” their religion to the Native Americans.

We demand our “criminals” to tell the whole truth and nothing else. We do not demand this of our storytellers and historians. Instead we feel warm and fuzzy when they do not. The Mission had this plaque that told of the 40+ missions they created in the new land. It even had this nice little picture. It portrayed a Father of the church with a little Native American boy (the gender thing is important too, do not overlook it). Later on this evening I learned that this plaque left out much in its commemoration. I am a student this is what I am supposed to be looking for. Just think about its impact on the many people who just take it for its face value without ever gaining any other additional information or perspectives. The, plaque failed to mention that prior to ‘sharing’ their religion and converting these people (converting… do we really want to convert, can’t we find strength in our differences? And by converting do we not completely eliminate something else…). Anyways that is a tangent to avoid currently. So before this converting took place the Native Americans had already endured a lot. They had been captured, imprisoned, and enslaved while others were just killed.

I liked St. Augustine, can you tell? No, honestly I did. It was a nice town. It is just like every other American town though. We fail to face our true history for its best and worst. This lack of embracing the entire truth can be a weakness. Especially when people are going to these important places and no longer are they recognizing their significance in American culture for all its complexities. Instead our culture is being altered to not include whole truths but rather t-shirts with cheesy designs on them.

Show Me the Way

ElisabethCharleston, South Carolina
I have no clue what to say about this place. I have sat here for 10 minutes now pondering what to write…

I got it: the way that class is portrayed with invisible lines that are evident but not completely clear in nearly every neighborhood and city that comes to mind. We were first introduced to this concept on the very first day when we did a driving tour of some of the various neighborhoods in Memphis. Now some 35+ days later I still find this occurring. In Charleston today it was just as true. First we had the market. This was a place that drew a collective bunch of people. What I would call an enjoyable mix of tourist and locals.

Then continue driving and two blocks later I find my surroundings to consist of Starbucks and Louis Vuitton! I like to think that this was a gradual change, but let’s be honest 2 blocks does not really allow for that kind of extreme transformation. So instead of a gradual change you experience this “invisible line .” It seems to be the habit that they start with the upper, middle class place on the perimeter of these areas. Now, do not be fooled, this is very strategic. Firstly, it establishes who should and should not continue down this route. After all if you cannot afford an outfit from Talbots and a highly commercialized and caffeinated beverage from some lovely coffee franchise then you probably cannot appreciate the even finer things like, $1000 purses that are in the center of this shopping island.

However, Williamsburg offers the even more different neighborhood. This one is the kind that people refer to as the “projects”. A.k.a the area where you end up if you miss that ever important left turn to the the upper class boutiques and stores. While it seems unlikely to occur, I can easily understand how it does. After all these two areas only have a couple blocks separating them too! Once again you experience the invisible line. No where do see a nice sign saying welcome neither to the overpriced shopping area nor for the “poor neighborhood”. It is all very contextual. A person just seems to know. How mysterious.

It is funny when you enter a new state you are always welcomed with the extravagant and unnecessary signs welcoming you. Seriously, they are under appreciated though. Many of us have become oblivious to the entering and exiting of one place to another. It is something that is taken for advantage of greatly in America. The ability to travel is something that is very American. I in fact have been so very privileged as to experience the power of it firsthand. However, with this ease and accessibility people are somehow, weirdly numb to the differences between various environments. They may recognize that they may not feel safe or something of the sort but rarely do we question why, who or what are you afraid from, and the truly most important question: how to change it. I believe this is incredibly important and something that people need to work on. May be if people did this we would not be so frightened to make a wrong turn every once in a while.

July 13, 2009

Meet Virginia

JenniEither CNN has done a total revamp or I really have changed a lot over the past 37 days. As Emily, Shirah, and I sat down to the glorious cheap salad bar in the grocery store we are parked near, I found myself absorbed in the T.V. Instead of tuning out information that was either too depressing or didn’t seem relevant in my life, CNN was more like a collage of stories that weaved gracefully into my thought process these last 6 weeks.

A black woman in D.C. overcoming obstacles of race and gender to start her own business, Detroit's economy and the film industry arising there because of tax incentives fit right into our discussion this week and were places that we had traveled to within the last 7 days. I am guilty of being the girl who says in a class I can't get excited about "I will NEVER use this is real life." Its been an invaluable privilege to be in a class where the text book is the people and places we visit.

Our day in Williamsburg today was no different. We started the day off at Bruton Parish for their 11:15 prayer service. One of the oldest still operating churches in the U.S. we got to experience the Episcopal church in a place full of history. The Parish was key in some of the early colonial politics and has pews dedicated to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler, and James Monroe who had all worshiped there for significant amount of time.

After church and a quick lunch at a popular William and Mary hangout we set out for the Colonial Williamsburg experience. Talking to tourists, staff, members of the church, and the re-enactors lent to some interesting topics for our class time later on William and Mary's campus. At each stop we have been looking at the identity of the location and how it fits into the overall identity of our country. It wasn't hard for us to agree on a couple obvious themes in Williamsburg--patriotism and the emphasis on history. This wasn't a new idea to us in the past week, having just visited D.C., Philly, and Boston--which all show evidence of the same spirit. However, I couldn't help but wonder how some of the opinions we heard expressed today would have gone over on some of our West Coast stops.

One of the things that surprised all of us was that we sang a verse of "America the Beautiful" in church this morning. While I'm sure one of the sociology majors could write a interesting blog about the song as an example of the structural functional theory, I think it also demonstrates how much geographical location can effect the way people think and live. I got the chance to talk to one of the members of the church for awhile about Williamsburg and America at large. Janie had an unprecedented knowledge and passion for the history that had taken place in her community hundreds of years ago. She rattled off dates and names and challenged us on our knowledge of the U.S. and its history. She talked about how she could sit in church and regardless of the preacher, get the best sermon of her life knowing about what took place in the past to get her where she is today. Although it was clear we might not share all the same political views, I found myself admiring Jane for her knowledge and passion in an area I lacked.

Today we have Internet, Newspapers, and CNN to keep us up to date on the events happening all over our nation. However, my new found interest in current events, and Janie's life-long passion for Williamsburg demonstrate the impact of experiencing something first hand and reading about it or watching it on T.V. So how does that fit in on the grand scale of our country? It makes me think about the impact of D.C.'s location in our government, or why I've lived 20 years of my life without knowledge of whats taking place in places like Pine Ridge Reservation. If affirms the reason the West Coast is obsessed with preserving our environment when they have places like the Redwood Forest. I don't think travel is neccessary for these kinds of discoveries but I am thankful to have had the privilege to have my eyes opened.

July 12, 2009

Washington, DC - Newseum

PierceNot a lot of professions get their own museums. There’s no teacher museum, no firefighter museum, no cop museum-and that’s kind of a shame. Those jobs take a lot of hard work and deserve respect and gratitude.

Fortunately for me, though, I get to have my own museum-and it’s pretty stinkin’ awesome.

The Newseum in Washington, DC is a journalistic playground-a reporter’s mecca, if you will. The 450 million dollar facility is devoted to the people who make the news, watch the news, and report the news.

But, it’s not just for journalist junkies-by focusing on news and society, the Newseum actually presents a creative, atypical, comprehensive look at American history.

The six-story glass building, which is within earshot of the Capitol, is a bit daunting when you first step in. I couldn’t help but think about how it’s a bit ironic that this shiny, beautiful, imposing structure is representative of a crumbling industry.

But enough with the negative-I consider myself a “glass half full” guy anyways.

One of the coolest things has to be the day’s front pages from across the world, which is located on the top floor. You can’t get a more current, up-to-date snapshot of what’s happening across the world anywhere else. I could have easily spent an hour skimming the pages-dissecting and analyzing the use of color and text, but a time restraint caused me to push on.

The Newseum also deserves credit for not sensationalizing or over-idealizing the history of journalism. There are full exhibits featuring newspapers that “got it wrong,” bias in TV news, sensational journalism, and tributes to John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Saturday Night Live.


The only sugar coating in the Newseum is within their marketing. Their website, pamphlets, and advertising all loudly proclaim that they are “the world’s most interactive museum.” If by “interactive,” you mean “has the most theaters” then maybe.

I was impressed by the number of films, theaters and mini-theaters that were on display-but not so impressed by the interactive elements. I guess it’s kind of funny to shoot a fake stand-up or try to give the day’s weather on air or play a “be a reporter” video game-but it didn’t do anything for me.

The “4-D” theater, with it’s moveable seats and incredible visual presentation, was pretty awesome though.

While taking my time in the moving 9/11 section, I noticed a quote in large print up on a wall. It read something like this:

“Only three types of people run towards a fire, not away from it: police officers, fire fighters, and reporters.”

While I wouldn’t lump those three together, it did make me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside. So, thanks Newseum.

I left the museum with a sense of pride about being a reporter. In some ways, I kind of felt like fast forwarding the last two years of college and jumping right into that workforce.

But I guess right now, I’m just hoping there will be a workforce to jump into-or a tour guide at the Newseum might be my other option.

July 09, 2009

Day 34 - Washington D.C.

ShirahReasons why I would love to live in Washington D.C....
(in no particular order)

1. D.C. has two great international airports, from which I can get to anywhere in the world.
2. Life is just the right pace: not as fast as NYC (where everyone rushes around in a daze), but not lacking in vitesse.
3. Unrivaled accessibility to knowledge: the Library of Congress, countless museums on every subject imaginable (and mostly free), a general concentration of educated people (although educated does not necessarily mean knowledgeable/wise).
4. There's a great selection of healthy restaurants and fun bars/clubs.
5. Great public transportation system.
6. The seasons are well-defined, giving variety to the "look" of the city and the temperature. (And the cherry blossoms each spring are definitely a bonus.)
7. Exciting ambiance--the feeling of "being in the middle of it all"--both historically and politically, and perhaps socially.
8. Lots of jobs available in my fields of interest.
9. D.C. is a very active city--I love seeing people walking, biking, and playing soccer in the parks.
10. Opportunities to meet really neat, powerful, and unique people.
11. Fro-Yo shops on every corner.
12. I would get to walk past beautiful buildings every day.
13. Being surrounded by the history of our country and legacy of our founders.
14. The opportunity to actually use the extra languages I've learned--something I've really enjoyed doing this week.
15. I would love to be able to wake up at 5 every morning and walk down to the Lincoln Memorial, one of my favorite spots in the world.

July 08, 2009

Pilgrimages aren’t just for pilgrims


pil·grim·age (pĭl'grə-mĭj) n.
1. A long journey or search, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance.

Here we are in the City of brotherly Love, my home next year. The scenery surrounding this stop was not of a glorious national park, Times Square, or sheep and buffalo. No, here was a neighborhood we had only driven by in the other cities to discuss the cultural and social impact of the local economy as well as observe the ilapidation of a broken-down area in America.

Walking forward, the group at my heels, my mind races as to why we are here, in a rougher neighborhood of Philly? Why have I decided to go into this area, as the group’s leader, when I am a small-town girl from east Tennessee and have never been here myself? With Pierce’s father’s text messages warning him to run and get away from this side of Philly as soon as possible, my own concerns bubble to the surface.

The Allegheny and Kensington subway stop, I called Caz Tod, the city director for the non-profit program Mission Year, to inform her our group was about at her door for dinner. Immediately entering the Mission Year office, I felt responsible for my group and volunteered to go around the corner with Cory, Chris, and a participant of the
Mission Year program, Joe Tucker, to buy pizza. As we left, my stomach twisted with anxiety to leave the rest of my group alone with Caz and Amy, another Mission Year participant, with little introduction.

During this time Caz informed our Belmont group more about Mission Year’s goals and purpose. Started by Tony Campolo and his son in 1997, Mission Year places young adults within six different inner cities (Wilmington, DE, Philadelphia, PA, Chicago, IL, Atlanta, GA, New Orleans, LA, and Camden, NJ) for one year to love God and people
through volunteering at schools and non-profits. After I received Philadelphia as one of my cities to be ambassador of for the 40/40 trip, I discovered I was placed in the Philly for the Mission Year program which I will be participating in after I graduate from Belmont this August.

For the purpose of the 40/40 trip, I wanted to know why Philadelphia seemed a place for this program out of every other city in America? How Philadelphia- once the capital of America, the resting place and protector of the Liberty Bell, where the 1st and 2nd Continental Congress was held, and where the Declaration of Independence and
Constitution were formed- could be in so much need?

This is some of what our group discovered, Philadelphia struggles more and more because of racial and economic tensions. Joe Tucker’s illustrates some of this struggle with his story of how the mayor tried to shut down eleven libraries in lower income and minority areas in hopes to help the economy. Maybe the mayor hoped to sweep it under the rug without much uprising from this “violent” area, or maybe he believed they didn’t use the library as much as other areas because of their demographic and economic level. Either way, Tucker seemed
empowered to be a part of the movement to protest and work towards keeping the libraries for kids and preserving their rights. Rights they do not yet understand and have a smaller voice for those in power to hear.

freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.

This morning we read the inscriptions of the colonials’ determination to preserve the Liberty Bell and now, hearing Tucker’s tale, I saw that common American spirit to keep fighting and press forward-the persistence to be heard and fight for their rights. Many of the descriptions about the bell told of its trip around America (not unlike our own). This artifact is not as much as a statue of our history but a relic. A relic like in religious terms, inspiring
visitors to not only see it but also touch and kiss it in gratitude and honor.

I think of so many Americans journey to the Liberty Bell to acknowledge their freedom, and I must compare it to my own pilgrimage to Philadelphia. The trip has been a long road and rocky, but now I will be in Philly next year and needing support as well as prayer to finish my journey. In Tod’s words Mission Year and working in Philly
allows young people, “not to become a certain person but a different person.” A person who can see the good in Philadelphia’s scariest areas and build a community for God with His love.

I realize this blog is personal, but that is what life is. A serious of personal journeys within communities that happen to be within cities, and in our case, these happen to be in America.

“Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof”
Lev. XXV X

July 07, 2009

I Love NY: I Know Its Unoriginal

EmilyIf a bunch of musical theater people and advertisers got together to birth a city it would be called New York City. Now, for some people this sounds awful, but as a dancer/musical theater friend, I am in love.

It is also good for me to factor in that my own analysis of a city is based on mood and community feel. I have at least seven friends who live in New York, so I automatically loved it because my support system there. Also, the fact that I see the love that people I love have for a city, is always a plus to knowing a city- through someone else’s eyes.

Now upon my arrival into the city, my main objective was to see Broadway anyway I could afford. After failing to be drawn to win a cheapened lottery ticket for “In the Heights,” Cory and I were determined. I decided I would rather pay twenty dollars for a show that I wanted to see and stand rather than pay over thirty for one I cared nothing about. Thus, we got standing tickets for seven o’clock show.

Standing in the back of the auditorium, legs cramping and stiff, I grew more and more excited as I stretched them in preparation for the show. Yet, Cory seemed a little saddened by our seats/standing spot. The top of the show’s set was cut-off from our view because of the balcony hanging over our heads. Ducking lower and lower to see as high as possible, we went to the seated section below us and closer to the stage just to know what the rest of the set looked like. There was a ton more to it, and my eyes widened as we got the full glimpse of the production theatrics. As we tromped to back up the stairs to the back, Cory and I hoped they didn’t use that section of the stage much during the performance.

Even in the back we were very close and able to see facials and the picture well. The performance was spectacular and I could go on and on about how impressive the dancing, acting, and script were. A story about a Hispanic girl from Washington Heights who goes to Stanford only to fail out because of school costs moved me emotionally. After being at Ellis Island the idea of immigrants coming to America for a new life and opportunity came to life through the stories of the characters in the musical.
Cory and I with the star of "In the Heights" Mandy Gonzalez.

At this point on day thirty-three or so, I have been wondering and struggling with the idea that we never know a city enough with our short visits. After watching this musical from a less optimum seat, I compared my limited seat at the musical to our limited time in each city. We have a small view, not as good as many others in the audience, but we still get a sense of the story- a sense enough to see more or less if we desire. In the end, after the musical, all I know, is that the trip in New York City has not been enough for me to see it all or even every musical, but it is all I need to come back for more.

Love you, Andrew and Adaeze!!!!

July 06, 2009

Cleveland - Mistake by the Lake

EmilyWe should have knocked on wood yesterday when discussing our luck with weather. Cleveland began slowly with a downpour. Instead of attending the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum first, the group started with a brunch and class discussion.

By discussing the sociology of Detroit, transitioning into Cleveland felt a smooth upgrade. As far as economy goes my research on Cleveland informed me that it tasted the bitterness of the decline in the car industry in the 60s while Detroit experienced this beginning in the 80s.

Walking down the streets of Cleveland not a sound filled the air. The videos online laughed at Cleveland’s lack of tall buildings downtown, and the soundless streets yelled to us that this was not Seattle, Portland, or Chicago. Cleveland’s atmosphere seemed what it might be like a bomb had gone off ten years ago and this is how far the city has come - dreary but thriving. After seeing the city, I realized how the city’s history with the citywide fire, industry decline, and poor sports teams has affected it.

Our group finished up some coffee discussion and went to make our appointment with the House of Blues. Shout out to the House of Blues giving us Belmonters a private tour of the folk art it displays on its walls! After attending art museums in El Paso and Chicago this tour meant more for our group. The International House of Blues Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing arts to schools and communities through programs that promote cultural understanding and creative expression through music and art. This tour enlightened us all of the therapeutic essence of the arts for youth, those suffering from depression, and mental health patients as well as everyday artists.

Directly following our tour into the depths and secret passages within the House of Blues itself, we ended up in another spot viewing art and history, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Only having two hours, I thought there was plenty of time, but I was mistaken. In fact, the bottom level took me the entire time. Thus, pulling me into my other thoughts of how history of pop, rock, or music culture in general tells a lot about each generation.

Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll intoxicated the generation before me even when their parents said this music was from the devil. Rebels of the young generation shelled out cash to see the Beatles or Elvis. Founders of Rock N’ Roll were young and alive which quickly pushed them to celebrity status. Once this status arises people become obsessed. This obsession in celebrity and music creates movements in society, fashion, and politics. In our tour of America we have been asking what unifies us. Attempting to make conversation with total strangers over the course of the trip, I know that I can always mention a star or celebrity in order to receive a response. Celebrities connect most Americans because they are more than that. They are icon of generations or even regions from west to east or north to south.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame displayed lyrics, guitars, clothes, letters, old diaries of lyrics, the mask from Thriller, Mic Jagger jeans, an Elvis mobile, sparkling, feather boas, and high stilettos. Each screamed a high-pitched rocker yell of not only the artist but of the generation and history of a place in America. The celebrities and their songs ignite vivid memories for those who come to see these relics of the past.

During our drive back to the bus, Big Mamma, I thought of pictures my mom has shown me when she was in high school in the 70s. Golden in hair and breath, my mother illuminated in pictures with her long, straight hippie hair and bell-bottoms with a peace sign in hand. How connected I felt to her while miles and ages away from her at seventeen- self. I now see a connection for Americans regardless of age and generation. It is a connection to music and celebrities that produce it whether in film, TV, or with teased out hair, big white-rimmed glasses, and feathery glitz.

Coming back to downtown Cleveland later on for a free Roots show, thanks to the House of Blues, I hope someday my children will connect to my music. The bigger picture became clear as I drew a connection to the work that the International House of Blues Foundation continued to pursue through the arts in Cleveland. Even though the city had been hit hard by industry collapse, its push for the arts and music has brought it to life again.

Not only has a new center on the arts brought in an artist culture, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame represents a dependence on the arts. Cleveland may not have tons of buildings, but it does have this Rock and Roll Museum to put it back on the map. Anytime Cleveland has been mentioned, as a destination the only aspect people know about the city is this museum. Further research proved my assumptions that the city built it to draw in tourists, and in turn, stimulate the city’s economy. With that, when they were selecting the city to house the hall of fame museum, Cleveland put down 65 million to win the ballot. Now Cleveland can turn its cheek away from its past an no longer be the mistake by the lake.

July 05, 2009

Bahstun: Day 2

JenniAlthough we never officially finished the Freedom trail we set out today to knock another chunk off of a place overflowing with history. Again we saw cemeteries dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries and got to see places that we've been reading about in our history books. We also came across a chilling memorial for Holocaust victims- that consisted of several glass towers with the numbers of people that died written in white on it. There were quotes from several survivors and man holes that kept the place looking constantly eerie with smoke. One of the quotes that will stick with me told this story "Ilse, a childhood friend of mine, once found a raspberry in the camp and carried it in her pocket all day to present to me that night on a leaf. Imagine a world in which your entire possession is one raspberry and you give it to your friend."

Throughout this trip we have talked to so many people about the American identity. All the answers have evoked different emotions within in me--sadness, pride, laughter, discomfort, disagreement, and more. However, we have consistently heard the importance of giving and passing on to those around us. Just today on the train, the guy I stood by who was a second generation immigrant from Cape Verde said "for every step forward one takes they need to reach back and help the people behind them out." When we were in the House of Blues, our cynical sarcastic tour guide said that being an American meant sharing what you have been given whether that be your education, money, time, etc. In Rossford, the mayor talked about paying it forward and how we, as a group, have the responsibility of sharing our experiences on this trip that we have been blessed with. I may not know all the political and sociological answeres for our country but I do know that sharing is something I can do. I am humbled and a little embarassed when I think about the quote from the Holocaust memorial--compared to such a beautiful depiction of humanity in some of the most inhumane circumstances-- I could definitely up my game in giving to those around me.

On a lighter note I got to see Jana, Zach, and Zach's parents Tom and Chris. Tom treated Emily, Pierce, Shirah, and I to lunch which was unneccesary but really nice! It was so great to see cousins especially since all three of us are missing the 4th up North and to get an idea of what Jana and Zach's life is like in Boston.

July 04, 2009

Days 27, 28, and 29 - Boston

ShirahBoston is the place to be on the 4th of July, and nothing was going to stop us from experiencing it in all its glory. We had heard from several sources that we needed to arrive very early at the Esplanade in order to procure free wristbands for the Neil Diamond/Boston Pops concert and fireworks.

So, at the crack of dawn on Independence Day, four of us crept quietly out of our bunks to start the 1.8 mile trek to the bus station. I got up around 5:30 to have a little time to relax and get ready for the big day; just as I pull my cinnamon swirl instant oatmeal out of the microwave Jenni walks into the kitchen, still half asleep and rubbing her eyes. No louder than a whisper, I hear her say, “The British are coming!”

I love how Jenni always has a broad perspective. There are a lot of times that the group gets into different discussions about certain issues, focusing on details and picking everything apart; it’s really nice to have someone around to help pull back and look at the issue in context of the big picture. Her coming into the kitchen that morning and talking about the British set a reflective tone for my thoughts throughout the day and kept history in the foreground. It’s really easy to get caught up in the flag t-shirts, barbecues, flip-flops, fireworks, and crowds; it’s so easy to forget what we’re celebrating—the birth of our country as a result of several men and women’s boldness in the face of a tyrannous king.

After a pleasant morning hike we arrived at the commuter rail station and were greeted heartily by an already-half-drunk veteran (at 7am) who pointed us to the correct bus stop. Waiting for the bus, we sat down and played a few rounds of cards. The only time I’ve ever played cards is at large family gatherings—usually during holidays—and once in a while with a few of my siblings. Over the card game we talked about each of our family’s 4th of July traditions—all agreeing that it was the sense of community that made this holiday special. It was obvious that we were all missing home a little. Someone said, “Let’s be a family today,” and it really did feel like we were. This past month has been crazy busy; we’ve been tired, cold, hot, dirty, grouchy, ecstatic, weeping, and laughing together; we’ve spent 720 hours together and shared 90 meals; we’ve lost cameras, sung for hours in the car—in traffic jams in LA and through the Badlands of S. Dakota, searched for sheep in the hills of Arizona, jockeyed for the tiny bathroom sink every morning and night while brushing our teeth…..and it’s been wonderful.

After waiting in line for wristbands for about an hour, we saw signs warning that the fireworks can not be seen from inside the concert arena, so we opted out of that. With the help of some locals, we secured a grassy spot on the bank of Charles River right outside the concert area—just yards from the firework launching platform out in the water. The four of us switched off between holding down the fort and walking around in the adjacent neighborhood. Having passed a CVS on our way in from the metro station, we knew exactly where to go when we realized that we were going to need some supplies for the day. Jenni and Pierce headed off to get the necessities: magazines, candy, and something to sit on. Apparently CVS was clued into the fact that they had a captive audience who was inevitably going to have forgotten something; beach towels/blankets were set at $15 a piece. But, Pierce and Jenni, being the innovative young minds that they are, obtained a couple shower curtains for the low price of $4. Good work, bargain hunters!

Once back at "camp," we enlisted the help of some Canadians on the neighboring picnic blanket and tacked down our glossy white shower curtains, ensuring that the eventual crowd would not encroach on our spectator space. Camping out for 14 hours before the show provided ample time and abundant victims for our research. The aforementioned Canadians were very friendly and held a surprisingly positive view of America. It seems that I’m always hearing about Canadians who travel overseas and are consistently offended when taken for Americans; I hear that they don’t really like our government or anything else about America. But that’s not what I heard from these Canadians.

Here’s what they had to say:

* Americans are very generous—the most generous nation in the world. The only downside is that they seem to go out of their way to make sure that everyone knows how generous they are.
* Bush wasn’t a bad president: he did good concerning the circumstances he had to work with.
* (Then they talked extensively about how the U.S. and Canada have handled Indian Affairs differently—U.S. conquered them through battle, then gave them reservations. The British made treaties, now Indians are saying, “Look- you broke the treaty,” and reclaiming land. Protests have blocked roads in several cities and police are afraid to do anything because one of them was convicted of manslaughter when things got out of hand during one of these protests.)

As a side note: Sometimes people don’t seem to understand what we’re looking for when we ask, “What does it mean to be an American?” They usually go off on some tangent—like the guy in the Mall of America (Emma and I have affectionately dubbed him “angry man”) who couldn’t find anything positive to say about America except that, “Well, the shopping is better. We have more options.” And then went on to rant about his political views, condemning the American government of failing on numerous levels. Although I don’t think he would have wanted to dwell on anything positive, it sounds like he enjoys his right to free speech.

It’s often what people don’t say that provides interesting insight.

Coming back to the 4th, we spent a great day lounging by the river, just reading, talking, napping, and enjoying each other’s company. I picked up a Reader’s Digest (special July 4th edition) during one of my many excursions to Newberry Street, and spent the entire afternoon reading Ken Burns’ take on the National Parks we just visited and other great articles about America. It was a very educational and somewhat relaxing day for me.

The rest of the group (who had been at the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House—the very balcony where it was first delivered to the freedom fighters) arrived at the river around 6pm and we all got together on the shower curtains to talk about our experiences that day. Neither of our professors were interested in braving the 100,000+ crowd, so it was just the ten of us. Even though I was literally freezing on the windy riverbank it was so much fun as 5 of us huddled under one tiny blanket and the other 5 piled on top of each other to stay warm, all of us singing along to “Sweet Caroline” and watching the fireworks.

In the interest of keeping a blog manageably short and readable, I'm going to stop here. But Boston was so much more than just the 4th of July. I had an amazing experience at the Institute of Contemporary Art and was humbled as I walked through several memorials around the city.

As I was telling Andi this morning, I'm going to be blogging about this trip for the rest of the year, maybe longer. There is so much going on in each place that I know it's going to take a while to process it all!

July 03, 2009

And on the 22nd Day,

HeatherIndianapolis was a quiet day for us as a group. The time changes and late nights in Chicago brought on some heavy exhaustion, so we opted for a lax day in Indianapolis. Most of the group slept in a little later than usual, and had plenty of time to get ready before our tour of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After the tour we grabbed a bite to eat and headed to Butler University for showers, then out to the Broad Ripple area to do some laundry and have dinner before heading back to the bus.

I wish we could've had more time in Indy, more of a picture of the city culture, but in a way, we really did. Indianapolis is a larger city in the scope of Midwestern America, but it's still a city in the Midwest on a Sunday. There's a huge tradition to Sundays, especially in the Midwest. The morning church service, the big family dinner, the family nap in front of the chosen sports event, the evening chores and miscellaneous errands needed to be done to prepare for the week. It's how I spent my Midwestern childhood, and how most people I know spent their's.

That's not to say that people in California don't watch football, and goodness knows that people in the South go to church, but there's a privacy to Midwestern Sundays. You don't often see people out and about in the afternoon, because they're all at home, with their families. The institution of family plays a huge role in American culture, but it's especially true when combined with other institutions like media, the economy and religion.

Of course, all of those institutions combined could be called The Indy 500. This became apparent when we toured the racetrack and discovered just how much of a "everyman" sport Nascar racing is. Even as we approached the Motorway, we didn't pass bars and tourist traps and pirates dressed as prostitutes like we did in Las Vegas. Instead we found family homes and hardware stores. When we toured the track, our guide pointed out the RV parks where drivers and spectators alike keep their mobile homes, so they can spend time with their families. He showed us the main backlot where drivers struggle to get through the crowds of spectators and to the racetrack because there is no physical barrier keeping the crowds back from their path.

He told us about his own stories, growing up at the track, and the times he's spent with his wife at different races. He even talked about the families who have switched brands of coffee because their favorite driver is sponsored by that brand. There's a huge sense of family to the whole sport. Part of that is constructed as a marketing strategy, but part of that is just because the race (for reasons unknown to me) appeals to a wide range of people, and families in particular. Maybe it appeals more to men, and the "family appeal" speaks more to the patriarchal family structure that is much more traditionally practiced in the Midwest.

But there is something sweet about the culture to Indianapolis. We took part by taking a "Chill Day" by catching up on chores, sleep, and our group relationships. By week three, we've become a family of our own. We even took in some Nascar.

July 01, 2009

Relax. Breathe in the Good.

ElisabethNiagara Falls, New York - Do you remember grade school? You would go and the days were long but great fun. You got to partake in all these new and great things, but since you were still a beginner in the whole education process you did not immediately recognize that while doing all those great things you were learning very valuable life lessons... Well, that is kind of like what we are experiencing on this trip. We are having all these great adventures but since this is still a class experience we are also learning and stimulating our minds in ways that we don’t even recognize at first sometimes.

If you continue down memory lane for a bit longer you will also recall the thrill that any kind of break held for you. No matter if it was a week for Christmas or just an early release/ half day. Today was one of those delightful days for the crew. A break! We slept in later and some of us even ate a real breakfast! Later on we visited Niagara Falls and had class in the shade of trees where we could still feel the mist at times. It was a nice change for us mentally and physically.

A problem that we have found present not only on this trip but within many Americans’ lifes is the struggle between quantity vs. quality. The fact that we have to intentionally plan a day to do a minimal amount of things speaks volumes about the culture that we live in. Why should pure exhaustion be the commanding force of when a person should to take a break? The work and rewards system is a complex one no doubt. At one point in the day I spoke to a woman who said her family took their vacation to Niagara Falls…every other year. Now I did not ask the reason for this, maybe it was financially based or maybe it was rooted in the modern ideologies of tirelessly working; either way this reflects back to greater forces.

While I may have qualms with the reconstruction of desirable vacation locations I still believe them (and simple breaks) to be a valuable aspect to any person’s life. They help ground us and to put our goals, family, friends, and so many other things into perspective. So while today could have held many more events I think it was a great relief and wise decision to lay low instead.

Chicago-Rediscovering Home

CoryMost people don’t get the opportunity to visit their homes. I mean really, how can one be a stranger to a place that you already know? It’s hard to be a visitor in the place that you live. However it’s not impossible, because I can say that I was blessed with the chance to see my hometown of Chicago from the perspective of a visitor several days ago. Traveling with my class across the city put me in place where I couldn’t help but look at Chicago with new eyes. Looking back on the time spent there, I think that Charles Dickens put it best when he said: “Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.” As I traveled throughout the Windy City with my group, introducing them to places that I been introduced to long ago, I kept noticing strange feelings of pride bubble up inside me. These were feelings that I never knew that I had before and I wondered where they had come from.

Being at the Taste of Chicago reminded me of summers in the past where my whole family would travel downtown in order to taste the food that vendors were offering. But it was never just about the food for us, or any other family really. We went for an adventure, and more importantly we just went to celebrate the summer, because that’s what summer in Chicago is about: going out, seeing people, having fun, and enjoying the weather. I think that one of the many great things that Chicago offers is summer festivals. Whether it’s the Taste, the Chicago Arabesque festival, the African Street festival, Pride Fest, or Lollapalooza, there are always several opportunities for the diverse groups of people in Chicago to mix and mingle. The fact that Chicago is even diverse satisfies me on a certain level, but to see Haitians, Koreans, Puerto Ricans, Ukrainians, Indians, and other races sharing the same space in peace touches me in a way that I feel is rare to Chicago.

Also after being away from the festival for a couple of years I finally began to realize the size of The Taste: it’s not as big as I once thought it was at all. Before, the idea of being at the Taste was very overwhelming because of the size and the high volume of people. But the other day as I got to the end on one side and realized that I hadn’t been walking for very long it occurred to me that either the festival was shrinking or I was growing. And since the Taste has taken up the same amount of space for years, I quickly decided that I was growing. Not growing out of The Taste, but more like finally growing into the Taste.

The Sky Deck experience at Sears Tower was one thing in Chicago that I don’t think I had ever fully grown into. Before Friday, my last visit to the Sky Deck was at the age of four. I had almost no memory of what it was like or what to expect, so when our elevator doors opened to the deck, I was just as excited as my peers to see what lay before us, similar to the sweetness of children to running to open a wonderfully wrapped gift on Christmas morning. I was amazed to see the entire city when I approached the window. It seemed just like the view that I would normally see from an airplane while departing from or arriving to Chicago, except the view wasn’t going anywhere. I could stand in one spot and stare in into the city night for as I wanted to, so I did. The network of lights seemed to go on forever, as if Chicago was the heart of the United States and the lights fanned out into the periphery like blood vessels.

Looking out, I tried to identify as many buildings and areas as possible just to prove that I could; but to a certain degree the night was all encompassing. And more importantly the detail and the distinctions between neighborhoods also seemed to fade. There was no Hyde Park or Wicker Park, there was just Chicago, and it was huge. As I watched the excitement on my classmates faces I felt that same excitement growing inside myself as well. My visitors were appreciating my city, which in turn made me look at my city with greater appreciation.

As the day drew to a close on our second day, a part of our group finally made it to Millenium Park, and in turn got to make contact with “The Bean.” I thought it was interesting that everyone else’s natural reaction was to approach it, while I stood back and I admired from a far as I usually did. But, because we were together I felt obligated to draw in closer with the rest of my group. Now when I first I saw The Bean around the time that it made it’s premier I obviously stood closer to it, but as I got used to seeing it I wouldn’t pay that much attention to it; which is why this particular occasion was so special, because I was closer than I had been in a while.

We got so close that I could see my reflection clearly in the sculpture and it was nice. Without even thinking about it, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and took a picture of my reflection. Then I looked around and saw that Chris, and several other people not in my group were taking pictures as well. Some probably were tourists but some were also Chicago natives who were just admiring the beauty of The Bean and trying to capture the day. I guess that’s what I was doing too.

Chris, Rashina, Elizabeth and I stood there for a talking. Soon we were sitting right next to The Bean still talking about our time in Chicago, and after a while we were laying on the concrete. I had never done this before that day and I was amazed at how comforting it was to do it. I opened my eyes and found myself staring back, as the reflective Bean was positioned above me. I laid there for a while, looking at myself and my surroundings and felt a peace that I had never considered I’d find in such a heavily populated area.

I noticed the several groups of friends and families that were hanging around the Bean, and even though we all were separated I couldn’t help but feel connected to them. Connected to the three Hyde Park girls taking a picture after an evening at the taste; connected to the three cubs fans who seemed to have just left some sports bar where they were watching the game; connected to the Hispanic family composed of a mother and two grown sons posing for a picture; connected to the seven ladies dressed in black who seemed to be in the midst of a bachelorette party for the one dressed in hot pink; connected to the little girl dragging her father towards the Lake front. It had never occurred to me that something as simple as a piece of art in a five year-old park could connect so many different people. And again I felt that glimmer of pride begin to shine through my eyes.

Looking back on those two days I can find numerous moments when I felt more pride for my city than ever before. There were moments of nostalgia while riding the CTA and Metra trains; there were moments of inspiration while exploring the Art Institute; there were moments of questioning while walking through the diverse neighborhoods; there were moments of joy while eating Giordano’s Chicago style pizza and watching the Sox beat the Cubs on television; they were moments of pure comfort talking to my family on the phone, knowing that I was physically closer to them than I had been in weeks; there were moments of excitement as I saw the sun setting in the far west. All of these moments evoked feelings in me that I wasn’t even aware of and I think that indescribable feeling is part of what Dickens is referring to when he tries to describe home, because it is unexplainable. With this trip, I’ve been to several different cities and I can truly say that I haven’t found one like Chicago yet. This experience has helped me to rediscover home and more importantly it’s helped me to rediscover the pride that I already had for home.

And over the next few days as I continue to process this pride, and think about what it means to be a Chicagoan, as well as an American, the lyrics from Kanye West’s “Homecoming” keep coming to my mind:

Every interview I'm representin you making you proud Reach for the stars so if you fall you land on a cloud Jump in the crowd, spark you lighters, wave em around, And if you don't know by now, I'm talkin bout Chi town