You Don’t Have to Take My Word For It

Check out Friend #318, Mike’s, perspective on our visit in St. Petersburg, Florida.  He wrote this op-ed piece as part of his work for the East County Observer.  Thanks, Mike!

Social Media Project Sparks Reunion


Going West

I have started to trek in a westerly direction on Interstate 10 through Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana.  Tomorrow, Texas.  It feels a bit strange to be heading back toward Los Angeles.  And to be back on what we in the City of Angels affectionately (or not-so-affectionately) refer to as “The 10.”  I started my journey, both times, on The 10, and within not too long a time, I will finish the journey on The 10.  The inevitably of the trip’s conclusion scares me a bit.  There are people I’m excited to see in the cities that lie ahead, but I also feel like I’m approaching an uncertain future at a rapid pace.  I still need to visit the 200-or-so “local” Facebook friends who live in Los Angeles upon my return.  But there’s a lot that’s unknown.  It could be exciting. It could be terrifying.  I will definitely be sad when it’s all over.  I guess it’s somewhat analogous to graduating.

When I was senior in high school at Parkway West (the other high schools in the district also had cardinal directions in their names), a girl in the choir named Erica composed a song called “Going West” for a pep rally.  She sang the lead solo backed by a quartet of four senior guys.  The only part I remember about the song is the beginning of the chorus when Erica sang the title words, her voice soaring as the lyrics talked about stepping into the future with confidence and hope.  So I’ve been singing those words over and over as mile after mile of The 10 rises up to greet me.

The growing anxiety of completing the journey is quelled by the thrills of what’s happening day-by-day.  I’m currently in New Orleans, a new city for me, and one I’ve always wanted to visit.  Yesterday when I arrived, it was raining, and the city felt heavy.  My cousin pointed out that you can see the age of this city, all the wear and tear, a little more when it rains.  Even so, New Orleans boasts and unquenchable liveliness.  Today the sun shone and I enjoyed a morning stroll in the Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden.  I drove down Bourbon St. in the French Quarter.  And then I drove through the Lower Ninth Ward, or what remains of it.  This area was the hardest hit by the floods after Hurricane Katrina, and the neighborhood of a lot of people who were evacuated to Houston.  I went with a team to work at the Astrodome in August of 2005 and was confronted by the extensive effects of communal trauma and devastation on these Ninth Ward neighbors.  Remembering the journeys of those brave souls puts my own uncertainty in immediate perspective.

I’ve also had the pleasure of reconnecting with Friend #1, Scott, here in New Orleans.  It was fun to catch up on everything that has happened since my first day (and his first week) on the road.  Scott is not using fuel for an entire year, taking what he calls a carbon sabbath.  Check out the link to his blog where he details riding his bike for 8500 miles thus far around the country, in order to promote discussion on climate change.  It’s been good for me to reflect on the earlier days of this journey and everything I’ve seen and learned, everyone I’ve encountered since.  And what an incredible journey it has been!


Justice and Peace

This week marked the day that we honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I see him everywhere I turn. When I was in Washington, D.C. and visited the Phillips Collection, I was inexplicably drawn to Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, several works of art that portrayed acts of oppression and of justice and freedom, including this panel “Panel 19–There had always been discrimination.”

In Roanoke, Virginia, a few days later, I walked across the MLK Memorial Bridge, a pedestrian bridge adjacent to my friend Micky’s apartment. The inscription on the statue at the entrance to the bridge said, “Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace.”

I left Roanoke via the Blue Ridge Parkway and listened to Patty Griffin sing “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)” on repeat as I twisted and turned through magnificent mountain vistas. And I thought about Dr. King. I thought about justice and peace. Justice and peace seem to be inseparable, but they also are antithetical. How do we get justice? We fight for it. But peace means the absence of fighting, or at least of violence. But there can be no true peace if there is injustice. Or, in the words of Dr. King himself, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I spent MLK day in Durham, North Carolina with my oldest friend, Theresa.  She and I have known each other since she moved in down the street from me when she was 4 and I was 2.  As we ate lunch, she told me about some of the radical history of her church community, Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC.  The old chapel building was built in 1848 with a choir loft-type structure, only it wasn’t for the choir.  Contrary to the practice of the day, the parishioners wanted their slaves to be able to worship.  The loft provided a place for the slaves to participate in the service, slave and owner lifting their voices in song and prayer together.

When it was discovered that one of the men of the congregation fathered children with a slave, it caused quite the scandal.  But the man’s sister, Mary Ruffin Smith, insisted that the children, all daughters, be baptized in the congregation.  The granddaughter of one of the girls that was baptized, Pauli Murray, was ordained as the first female African American priest in the Epsicopal church.  After her ordination, Pauli officiated her first Eucharist service at Chapel of the Cross. In the space where her great grandmother had worshipped as a slave and her grandmother was cradled under holy water, chains of injustice were broken.  And two generations later, in that same space, Pauli Murray cradled bread in her hands, and she broke it.

Thank you, Dr. King, for your message of justice and peace.  And thanks to all who have courageously carried this message before and since.

Friend #194: Megan

Friend #194: Megan
Date and Location of Visit: Thursday, October 27, 2011, MadCap Coffee Company, Grand Rapids, MI
Known from: My best friend’s wedding
Last seen: 2002?

Megan is the little sister of my best friend’s husband, Dave, and of Facebook friend #186, Daniel.  She and I met when we were both bridesmaids in Dave’s wedding, and have been in touch off and on ever since.  Having grown up in northern Michigan and attended Michigan State, Megan now lives in Grand Rapids.  She was the perfect person to kick off my visits there with.  Having only lived in the city a short time, she knows a lot about it and was excited to show it off.  From the great coffee shop where we met, to the festivals she told me about, to our walk around town where she told me about many of the local landmarks, Megan oozed hospitality in such a lovely way.  Our explorations of the city eventually landed us at the “Visualize” mural:

This work of art was an entry into an annual arts festival which literally takes over the city as many entries are outdoor installations.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture with Megan, so this will be my visual reminder of my beautiful welcome into the city.

To see a bit more of Grand Rapids and enjoy some communal creativity, check out this video:

Friend #193: Mike

Friend #193: Mike
Date and Location of Visit: Wednesday, October 26, 2011, Lavazza, Chicago, IL
Known from: VP Fair Band
Last seen: 1997ish?

So I’m about two months behind in updating on my visits, but here we go.  High school friend Mike and I met up for an afternoon cup of coffee in downtown Chicago.  Mike and I met in….wait for it….band!   We started playing together in a band that gathered students from area high schools for a 4th of July celebration in St. Louis under the Arch.  Mike played trumpet for another school in my district, so we continued to play in similar ensembles throughout high school, and we became pretty good friends.

I have to say that my visit with Mike was one of my most surprising visits.  In high school, I would have described Mike as confident, bordering on arrogant, sometimes a jerk.  But I also saw a kinder side of him when he was thoughtful and concerned about his friends.  I went into our visit with my guard up a bit, ready to banter back and forth.  But we sat down, and he was warm and kind and humble, and it was disarming, almost jarring to me.

After pursuing the arts in college, Mike landed in a career as a stock analyst for Morningstar, specializing in tech stocks.  In a career where expertise is based on conjecture and prediction, Mike’s confidence is key, but it also seems to have challenged him and humbled him.  So has fatherhood.  Mike’s daughter is growing up speaking Mandarin and English, which definitely keeps him on his toes.

I don’t typically “prepare” for these visits or go in with preconceived notions.  More often, I let the visit develop and form as it unfolds.  Having my guard up a bit made that difficult, mostly because I was deciding, based on experiences of Mike 15 years ago, what he was going to be like now.  It’s a pretty human impulse, I think, and if I want to keep being surprised, I should continue to make judgments in this way. But that’s probably not a good idea.  I’m glad I got the chance to sit down with Mike now and have some of those memories and notions overwritten by conversation and face-to-face interaction.  I went in expecting to be barraged with a list of Mike’s achievements, and what I got instead was a depth I wasn’t anticipating and a real sense of being known.  May we all not make the same mistakes and let our judgments interfere with our connections.

What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

I have been incredibly fortunate to have had minimal problems in my 24,550 miles on the road thus far.  My car broke down in Kenosha, Wisconsin over the summer.  I needed a new radiator in West Lafayette, Indiana this fall.  And then, perhaps the worst thing happened the other night.  I was in a gentrifying neighborhood of Washington, DC.  I remembered to cover all the stuff in my back seat with a towel.  But I forgot to take another critical step to secure my belongings.

The morning of New Year’s Eve, it was a beautiful morning in DC.  My friend had gotten a text saying it was like the opening sequence of The Sound of Music outside.  Excited to get a glimpse of it, we flung open the front door singing, “The hills are ali– oh *&X$@!”  Lil’ Blue’s window had been smashed in.  I had forgotten to take my GPS off the windshield, and someone decided they wanted it.

So that’s the bad news.  But the good news?  Even though my car was full of a good portion of my earthly belongings (thankfully my computer was in the apartment with me), they only took my GPS.  I still have a GPS on my smartphone, so I can still navigate all the unknown places I visit.  Using one of those mobile services, my window was fixed on site for under $200 less than 5 hours after we discovered it.  And given that it was such a beautiful day, it was actually quite pleasant not to have a window!

So I guess this is the worst thing that’s happened on the trip thus far, in terms of the car or safety or what not.  And if this is the worst that could happen, I still have a pretty awesome life.  I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I have to say that gratitude is a pretty powerful weapon, and I’d like to wield it a bit more in 2012.  Because if I do, what’s the worst that could happen?

There’s No Place Like Home

For the holidays.  Or if you wear kickin’ sparkly red pumps and live in Kansas.  Or if you’re me.

I took a brief hiatus from the trip to be home for the holidays in St. Louis, in the house I grew up in, the four walls I came home from the hospital to after I was born.  There is nothing that compares to the feeling I get when I’m in the space of my house.  I always feel a little bit tall, actually, because I spent so much of my time here as a shorter-than-5’6″ version of myself.  The floor creaks in all the same spots.  The grandfather clock reminds me that 15 more minutes have passed.  And I was treated to the sound of rain on the roof above my bedroom….one of the most comforting sounds my heart will ever know.

The main purpose for this visit (aside from that fact that a lot of people have plans around this time of year and wouldn’t be available to hang out) was our 24th annual Christmas Caroling party, which my family has held in our neighborhood the Monday before Christmas.  My mom started the tradition to cheer up a friend of hers who was having a hard time during the holidays.  Mom was a soprano to her friend’s alto, and they enjoyed singing together.  There’s actually an organization called the St. Louis Christmas Carols Association, which collects money for children’s charities in the area, and they give you cans to collect the money and song sheets and such.  Over the years, we’ve caroled in just about every kind of precipitation you can imagine and raised about $3000.  And of course, you can’t forget the treats and beverages that get set out every year: mini cheesecakes on silver platters and eggnog in a holly berry punch bowl.

This will be the last year that our family will host caroling in the neighborhood because my dad will be getting remarried and moving out of the house.  So as we circled the neighborhood in the pouring rain, I spent most of the evening lingering at my neighbors’ doors and visiting, many of them sharing memories of caroling or Mom or plans for the holidays.  One mom ran to get her teenage son saying, “I want my kids to know that people still do this in this country!”  This tradition has been such a pinnacle piece of my upbringing, instilling in me musicality (I first learned to hear and sing harmony parts by going caroling), generosity, community, hospitality, joy.

In the midst of a journey that has brought many a hello and goodbye, I was able to give a fond farewell to a beautiful tradition from my childhood.  I think that girl from Kansas was onto something: there really is no place like home.