My Americorps*VISTA orientation in Denver has come to a close, and I have now been sworn in as an official VISTA member/volunteer. Our departure is bittersweet, though, as we have all made some pretty great connections with other like-minded individuals serving throughout the Southwest. I have personally met some pretty amazing people, all of whom are fighting to end unnecessary poverty in the United States.
While I will be working to help connect people with disabilities to affordable housing options in my project area (Waco, Texas), some others will serve in other ways, from running a furniture bank for the economically disadvantaged, to assisting former prison inmates in their job search, to developing family literacy programs in impoverished communities.
The challenge of the coming year is something I can only just imagine today, as I begin my year of service. But a problem as damaging to our society as poverty is one that requires help from every person possible. This afternoon, as we prepared to take our oath of service, a quote from Nelson Mandela was read to us, that I found rather profound:
“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
My first three days in Waco were nothing short of a whirlwind, complete with incessant furniture hunting, errand running, and simply staying cool in temperatures that were even high for Central Texas in mid-June. But now, I can officially say I am a Texan, as I now have new license plates for my car and the driver’s license to go with it. Unlike in Maryland (and probably much of the U.S., for that matter), obtaining those two things required travel to two different places, though I’m not quite sure why the buildings need to be eight miles apart. Seems a bit inefficient to me, don’t you think?
Today, though, I arrived in the Mile-high city of Denver, Colorado, for a few days of orientation and training for my Americorps*VISTA position. I was told that the high elevation (over 5,000 feet above sea level) commonly causes headaches among visitors. Well, they’re right about that! Hopefully, drinking the recommended amounts of water will help, as could staying away from sweet tea (gasp!), which has caffeine.
On the short plane ride from Waco to Dallas, I sat next to a guy named Ron whose family moved to Waco from Massachusetts about six years ago. It was nice to hear him say that he, too, was pleasantly surprised at the size of the city and how convenient it is to live there, especially considering its proximity to Austin and Dallas. What struck me most, though, was his comment, “Waco is a great place to raise a family.” For an area that has a fairly high poverty rate, and maybe not coincidentally, a high crime rate, it was rather hopeful to hear him say that.
Given all the time changes I’ve experienced during the last week, and not having gone to bed at a regular time, my internal clock is a little upset at me. Knowing the crazy schedule I have ahead of me here in Denver, and probably the many hours of reflecting on my new endeavor, it’s probably best I get to sleep early tonight. Until next time, God bless.
It’s official: After an early departure from New Orleans, I crossed the state line into Texas about four hours later at 11:20am CST; and, after many windy two-laned roads with speed limits that are unheard of on the east coast, I drove into Waco this afternoon at about 4:15pm.
As I got closer to my new hometown, though, I started to get nervous. Somehow, I made it through most of this moving process without feeling too anxious, yet it got to me a bit this afternoon. Arriving in Waco, all I could say to myself was, “God, I hope this is right. What if I made a mistake?” Maybe the cold feet are natural, but I knew I had to make the conscious decision to throw those feelings aside. It’s true that God wants me here, as He has already been working things out along the way.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that my new room is quite large with windows on three sides, and has a decent bathroom (once I cleaned it up a bit). I’ve met all the roommates, and I think things are looking promising here. We are officially the house of four-C’s. Living here now are Charlie, Chuck, Chris and Chris. So, in fact, we are the house of four-Ch’s. What are the odds?
Well, tomorrow my hunt for furniture begins. I was thinking of heading to the Ikea near Austin, which is about an 80-minute drive each way. That’s small change compared the last four days!
New Orleans is a much bigger city than I imagined. Parts of the downtown seem reminiscent of a larger metropolis, even New York, yet it possesses the same touristy qualities of a beach town. I decided to stay on the edge of the famous French Quarter for a mere 65 dollars (plus parking), at the Parc St. Charles Hotel. The saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” definitely applies to hotels.
The hotel is a historic high rise building with beautiful corridors and tastefully decorated rooms. But the reason for the 65 dollar price tag became apparent when I first discovered I had to call the front desk for towels. No big deal, I guess. But, no hot water? Burned out light bulbs? A toilet that runs every five minutes? Well, at least the views are decent.
I decided to take a small part in the true New Orleans experience, by ordering a fish Po’ Boy for dinner at Landry’s, followed by Beignets at Cafe DuMonde, a staple of the French Quarter. Oh, and I can’t forget that I was joined by a friend from Maryland, Erin, and her friends, Trent and Lisa, who happened to be in nearby Mississippi. I probably spoke more last night, as a result of their company, than throughout the rest of the trip combined.
Of course, the New Orleans experience would not be complete without having seen the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina. As you drive into the area on Interstate 10, it becomes apparent how much has been left in disrepair, as the neighborhoods lining the highway are filled with abandoned homes, fences with missing sections, and for sale signs. Unfortunately, there seem to be more signs of what was, rather than what is coming soon. I can only pray that this place will overcome this tragedy that is still depressing what is, otherwise, a lively city.
Now, on day four, I enter the great Lonestar state of Texas.
My journey from Maryland to Texas continues to what is now the halfway point between my old home and my new one: Nashville, Tennessee. Before entering the state of many double letters, I decided to go through that list of 70 free things to do in and around Lexington, and decided to take the public tour of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Kentucky. With my love for cars, I’ll admit there may be some bias when I say it was one of the most fascinating plant tours I’ve taken (and I’ve been on a few).
Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Kentucky (TMMK) has two production lines under a 7.5 million square foot roof, building Camrys, Camry Hybrids, Avalons, Solaras and Solara Convertibles. Something neat I learned is that completed engines only take 30 seconds to install in a newly built Toyota. Actually, one whole vehicle runs through the assembly line in just 20 hours, with 9 of those hours being spent in the paint area. Those of us on the tram even got a sneak peek at a brand new vehicle they plan to release in November, a crossover that is estimated to get over 35 miles per gallon in the city, and over 40 mpg with highway driving, all with a standard combustion engine. Seems too good to be true, I’d say, but we’ll see soon enough.
This afternoon, though, I arrived in Nashville, with much anticipation for the concert I have been waiting to see for what felt like forever. The beautiful and talented Brooke Fraser graced the stage at 3rd and Lindsley Bar and Grill, hailing all the way from Sydney, Australia (though she is originally from New Zealand). Of course, every time I go to a concert something must be a little off, whether I sit with the lamest people in the whole stadium (Mariah Carey, Brandy), or I’m cold and wet from the heavy rain outside the venue (Marc Broussard, Jon McLaughlin), or I am alone on New Years’ with an “extra” ticket (Gavin DeGraw). Here at 3rd and Lindsley, the poor seating layout gave me little view of the Kiwi beauty during the show, and apparently she wasn’t feeling well afterward, leaving many of us fans without a chance to meet her. Regardless, her voice was flawless as ever, and I am all the better for having seen her live.
Next stop: the home of cajun food, Mardi Gras, and corrupt leaders.
On Wednesday, June 11th, I began my four-day trek from Jon and Sarah Joy’s home in Laurel, Maryland to Waco, Texas. It was a late start, though, as my cell phone alarm was set to 4:30pm, rather than its quieter morning counterpart. Thankfully, I awoke just 30 minutes later than I had planned.
During this first leg of the trip, I stopped for a hearty breakfast at Cracker Barrel with much of my family in Martinsburg, West Virginia, which led to a fond farewell. Then only once did I stop for gas (at $4.25 a gallon!), and once at a rest area to close my eyes for a bit, before making my first stop in Lexington, Kentucky, 572 miles later.
I walked part of the downtown in the evening, and discovered that Lexington is not the most lively place on a Wednesday evening. Around Rupp Arena, I got the feeling that this used to be a happening place, but is now an area filled with empty storefronts, yet so much potential. My guess is that most of the happenings have inched out into the suburbs, as is a common occurence for many rustbelt cities.
Today, though, my list of 70 free things to do around Lexington will guide me in the morning, before heading off to my next stop: Nashville. Right now, though, a shower and breakfast are at hand.