Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baggage Claim

As the plane approached the terminal in Philly, I thought the same thing I always think as I check and recheck the magazine pouch for any forgotten items, "Hmmm, 70% chance for undelayed luggage." Too many times I have waited for hours or days to finally claim my luggage. One time in Denver, people were wondering how in the world the luggage guy could get lost. He probably got stuck in traffic.

Our plane wasn't listed on the baggage monitor. Luckily, there were only two possibilities: Carousel 1 or Carousel 2. It didn't seem like a big deal, but people were stirring, asking questions, and probably lowered their percentages to 40.

Wreeeeeeent. I admit, I was startled. It’s that feeling you get when you walk inches away from the hood of your crazy aunt's car and she lays onto the horn - only this time, I only jumped one step back. Everyone bolted up with the ambulance light, and within seconds, Carousel 1 was completely surrounded.

People could just wait until they see their luggage before they clog up access to the carousel. Polite utterances urging for passage aren’t heard by those keenly focused on securing their luggage. The wall is impenetrable.

As I sat, mocking those who stood, I watched the crowd start to sway with impatience. I eyed the smallest of the luggage collectors - they would be the easiest to shove aside. Five minutes passed, no luggage.

Wreeeeeeent. Eyes widened with betrayal as Carousel 2 sounded off. A shake-of-the-head and chuckle later, I too finally arose. But, I was too late. The mob only took seconds to shift its position. Another shake of the head.

As I sat back down, I happened to glance up into the windows of a hidden room on the far right, and was horrified. There, with a devilish grin, sat the Carousel operator. As his hands closed for prayer and his fingertips tapped together with percise repetition, the sweat began dripping over his forehead with the anticipation of finally pushing Carousel 1's button again.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obvious Observation

This was originally written on the Saturday before Thanksgiving:

Rain and a bit of hail changed our plans for the day. Mark had a couple of surprises that were postponed, so we spent hours at the Melbourne Museum, another few hours at a local bookstore, and caught a movie at a suburban mall. Unfortunately Australia doesn't come out until Wednesday, so we decided to stick with a Jason Bourne-type-movie and watched Body of Lies.

At the Melbourne Museum focused on the forest, Melbourne Story, and Aboriginal exibits. While watching a silent movie from 1910 at Melbourne Story, Mark and I burst out in sounds of shock met with laughter. We were met with awkward side-looks and turned heads. The movie showed someone getting run over by a horse. We were astonished, and coped by laughing hysterically. Why would they show a person getting run over by a horse?  Every museum should include a blooper.

After exiting the Aboriginal exibit, I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. Their story is somewhat like the Native American story in that their land was colonized. My history is a bit average on this topic, but my imagination got the best of me. I pictured an unkown tribal civilization that had weapons 100 times the strength of any other country. They come to and colonize, say, Europe, or the US, or China. We are bombarded w/new disease, enslaved, and/or forced to live in territories. I know the world is more in the postcolonization era, and having tribal civilizations raise their banners on Myrtle Beach is impossible, but putting myself into a different pair of shoes provoked a sense of sympothy of those who quite possibly found a more peacful way of life.

Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael and After Dachau, offers a different perspective on the way things have progressed in the history of humankind. After Dachau tells a story about a world where WWII ended with the Axis prevailing, and paints an important picture of the aftermath. I recommend his works.  I'll let him know to write a story about my obvious observation from Australia.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Australian Identity

I arrived in Melbourne on the 13th. Having stayed up most of the night before my flight, I was able to sleep through most of the 13 hour flight across the Pacific. Miraculously, I managed to jet awake when the food cart rolled by, scarf down the pitiful food, and wander again into sleep. I was a little wobbly catching my baggage, and managed to somehow find the exit and greet Mark.

We hired a car for the trip, and received a free upgrade after raising a tiff about the absence of an antenna on a micro car. Our Ipod radio transmitter was essential for a successful road trip, and the 4-door, automatic roadster did just the trick. We have raced through Melbourne, trekked through the Australian Alps, and met Sydney rush hour - Jason Bourne style.

It has been wonderful being able to travel about Australia with Mark - he is my personal tour guide. I think of random questions, and he answers them to the best of his ability. I have learned far more on this trip with Mark than I would have if I traveled solo.

One conversation arose about Australian identity. I had been wondering what stories I would tell friends upon my arrival back to the States. I didn't want to just talk about 'roos' and Kuala bears. There is far much more to Australia than animals and a big red rock. Mark said that most people who travel to AU for a couple of weeks leave only with a feeling of having visited the US. It takes far more time to absorb Australian culture. I asked Mark if it were possible to do this - to go deeper than the KFC's and McDonald's and wonderful accents. He advised that we spend more of our time hanging out in coffee shops, pubs, and other public places, meeting and talking with Australians.

So far, I have learned that Australian identity is extremely diverse. Mark was heading a tutorial with undergraduates and the topic was Australian identity. The class wrote their grandparent's country of birth and how many international foods they had eaten in the previous week. Over 30 countries were represented by student's grandparents, and far more international foods were consumed.

We camped one night in the Mt. Buffalo National Park and shared a campfire with six Australians. Much laughter and story-telling was had, and I was able to acquire a better sense of the country's culture. More on that story to come. In the meantime, Mark and I are headed for Melbourne today, with a backpacking trip in Wilson's Promontory and surf lessons on the red-blazen horizon.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Third Place

Ray Oldenburg, in his book The Great Good Place, notes that our subdivision nation has suppressed one of the most necessary public goods: The Third Place. Instead of being cooped up in a house and watching TV, people could walk down to the local pub or coffee house for a daily taste of informal public life. This public sphere has been the grassroots shaper of our nation, hosting productive conversations between people from extremely different backgrounds.

I stumbled upon this book in attempt to find more information about my yearning for another place beside work and home. I often called the church my third place, but finding employment in a church kept my place count at two.

Since moving to Danville, I was subconsciously looking for another place, and interestingly enough, began working at The Hub Coffee Shop and Cafe (which is located directly across from the big yellow building in the picture above). I found my third place.

I left the Hub in August, and after a busy couple of months at work, found the urge to revisit the Hub, this time as a patron rather than employee. I hope to be a regular someday.

After visiting for a few consecutive days, I was delighted by the many interactions I had with different people. Having some conversations that were more in depth than others, I found the Hub to be a place all about connections. Not those connections you maintain through your alma mater to help find a job, nor the ones that could be some sort of use to you in the future; these connections of the informal public life serve to enrich our daily lives and awaken a solidarity among a small town.

(On my walk from the Hub to work one morning, I bumped into an acquaintance whose phone number I had shamefully lost, and who I hadn't spoken to for weeks. Good thing I found my third place.)

In establishing my third place, I think it important to understand the background and importance of coffee shops in America. Over the next several days I will be reading through Oldenburg and making observations at the Hub.

Friday, October 24, 2008

America's Favorite Past-time

Only a few transplants in Danville enjoy baseball, at least professional baseball. Kentucky doesn’t have even have a team (but, we do have amazing college sports teams). Growing up 25 minutes outside of Philadelphia, I am an avid Phillies fan, and am sad that I am not surrounded by those who could celebrate the Phillies finally making it to the World Series. I resort to text messages and phone calls.

The Fall Classic is one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year. Well, at least for baseball fans. Fox is hosting the series, and introduces each game with a historical video that includes Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Barak Obama, and John McCain reading quotes from former presidents, all the while theme music from the movie Glory chimes in the background (a sample from the video can be seen here).

The video displayed baseball as one of the unifying forces of this country through the more challenging times. Quite interesting for the voices of Obama and McCain to join amid all of the seeming insolent jabs between the two. Good move.

The voices of Obama and McCain joined together to read the final quote, by John F. Kennedy:

“I think that both baseball and the country will endure.”

Among the quotes was an interesting one from Herbert Hoover:

"Next to religion, baseball has furnished a greater impact on American life than any other institution."

I chuckled at this one. And beside myself and a few others, I know a certain someone who might disagree.

What about the institution of the family??? Come on President Hoover. Yeah, baseball has had a role to impact American life, but without the family where would we be? I am shady on the literary context from this one, but it made me think of the here and now.

Beyond thoroughly enjoying each of the first 2 games of the World Series, I was peripherally reminded of the importance of family and its significant contribution as one of the unifying forces of this country through the more challenging times.

Go Phillies!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Almost Famous

One of the reasons I started this blog was to get famous.

Really, it was about holding me accountable to formulating and researching ideas and opinions, but the human that I am, I think about it at times, and as a child, I can remember wanting to be famous.

I would become a professional baseball player, discover the cure for Alzheimer’s, or write a best-selling book. Fame meant fortune, and I wanted to make lots of money so I could feel safe, then I would use it for a good cause.

America’s propensity toward fame is uncanny and, at times, extremely ridiculous. Globs of people gather in attempts to feel a movie star or political figure’s hand, as if their touch would somehow rescue them from a life of vain pursuits. People glom onto tabloid magazines and reality TV shows, attempting to feel a part of something much greater than themselves. Where does this yearning for fame or the famous come from?

I often wonder if was born in the wrong time period. Frustration swells over me as the internet, text-messages, and Ipods begin to reveal their unrelenting grip. Depression rates have sky-rocketed over the past few decades, and the unrealized assailants are our inadvertent attractiveness to the quick and the easy. Delayed gratification simply doesn't exist anymore.

Think about it – 200 years ago, people weren’t bombarded with constant advertisements, distracted by cell phones ringing, or interrupting dinner with a text message under the table. To be famous was to be the mayor or president, and those are good aspirations. I think I will teleport to back then and try it for a spell.

I remember how charged up I was when Antoine Walker, a former Boston Celtic, personally autographed my jersey. His hand grazed my chest as he made me feel like a million bucks. I was beaming for weeks. When friends talk about famous people they are distantly connected to, I eagerly bring up the fact that my aunt went to the prom with George Clooney.

Who cares? What is the big deal, really? In an age where experiences with the divine have been substituted with experiences with the famous, God and religion have taken a back seat to people like Antoine Walker. Sports stadiums and movie theatres have become America’s sanctuary.

After reading Donald Miller’s(author of Blue Like Jazz) blog yesterday, I became jealous of his founding of The Mentoring Project, which is attempting to recruit ten-thousand mentors through one-thousand church-based programs to answer to the American crisis of fatherlessness. That’s something I want to be a part of, that’s something I want to start.

Everybody wants to be famous, whether they admit it or not. I have to catch myself at times, because the quest for fame in and of itself is a dark path.

As I grew older, I finally realized that I would never be a pro baseball player – I couldn’t hit the curveball. More importantly, I began to realize that I was actually almost famous at the time, I just couldn't see it.

And here is the corn-ball paragraph: Once I began to let go of the fame and fortune culture, I was able to understand that I was, and am, famous. I graduated from high-school and college and I am afforded the opportunity to have jobs that I am passionate about. And my greatest fans are my family and close friends – they are the ones that bridge the gap between almost famous and famous.

To become famous is to volunteer at a soup kitchen, mentor a young child (or if you're really old, a younger adult), go to your cousin's high school graduation, send your sister a birthday card, talk to a complete stranger, adopt a child, or do trail-work - to name a few. They are different for everybody, but they are all similar in that they are serving others.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Great Kentucky Outdoors?

My favorite part of living in Colorado was feeling a sense of proportion to the world. The rugged, majestic, and inviting mountains provided a refuge for the adventurous spirit. Waking up each day, I faced a 14,000 foot mountain, Pike’s Peak. Talk about putting someone into their place, I was made keenly aware that I was connected to something much larger than myself. In Colorado Springs, everyone could tell you east from west. They have the Rocky Mountain front-range as their cue, and a daily reminder that the world doesn't revolve around them.

At first glance, Danville provides no sense of proportion to the world (from a terrain point of view), let alone any sense of outdoor recreation. There aren’t any local outfitters. REI, EMS, and other national outfitters have left Kentucky out of the equation.

Luckily, I stumbled upon J&H Lanmark Outdoors in Lexington. The 45 minute drive was worth the three hours I spent roaming around the store. I tried on the newest trail-runners, tinkered with backpacking stoves, poured over countless maps, zipped and unzipped tents, trail-talked with the staff, and swiped my plastic card for a healthy investment. I ended up purchasing the pair of trail-runners, mainly in attempt to encourage my discovery of the great Kentucky Outdoors.

I had known about the Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge (CKWR), but didn’t realize its depth until I drove the 13 miles for a solo-hike one evening. I wiped the dust off my trekking poles, filled a day pack with the essentials, and headed out on the trail.

Since 1965, the CKWR has offered a diverse, 500-acre introduction to the Appalachian Mountains. Feilds, ponds, knobs, and rustic trails, traversing roughly 15 miles and offering various levels of difficulty, speckle the refuge. While hiking the well-traveled, 2.5-mile Circle Trail, I noticed the sign for the ominous Ridge Trail. At the junction, its path was consumed by various fauna, and I could understand why. Several years ago, I vividly remember hiking the Ridge Tail with a friend who was in great shape. As he raced up the mountain, I could feel my heart pulsating, sweet dripping down my face, and my calves demanding a long break. Not an easy hike. So, I finished the day on the Circle trail.

The CKWR offered seclusion, and an invitation to explore. As the sun’s last light broke through the canopy of oak and white pine, squirrels raced for the last acorn, deer disappeared in the foliage, and the chickadees sang the last song of the day. Not rugged, 14,000 foot mountains, but enough to ignite my sense of wonder.

Beside the CKWR, Danville is within a 1.5-hour drive of the Red River Gorge for day-trips. For overnight trips, Mammoth Cave National Park, Land Between the Lakes Nat’l Recreation Area, and the Great Smokey Mountain Nat’l Park are within a 4-hour drive - All great places for outdoor discovery and recreation.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Convenient Truth

Inner city residents often complain about the lack of a grocery store. There used to be one on Main Street, but the city decided that parking spaces were more important. Now, we have to venture two miles to the by-pass where urban sprawl is in command.

City officials have been busy with attempts of revitalizing Main Street Danville. A new parking garage was erected, the Hub Coffee Shop and CafĂ© joined with the Centre College bookstore, construction workers have been busy installing new sidewalks, and many building faces have been restored. The Heart of Danville, a community driven economic development initiative, secures millions in grants for downtown Danville, establishes farmer’s markets on Main Street during the summer months, and sponsers community wide events. Wonderful improvements.

But, there still isn't a grocery store.

In my world, this is a dire situation. Stubbornness, and wanting to limit my use of gasoline had forced me to look for other options for "grocery stores" in downtown Danville (ok, it’s more about laziness).

Speedway is a gas station and convenience store located 2 blocks from the heart of Danville. Convenience…I'll say. And, It's 30 paces from my office at the Presbyterian Church. Problem solved.

I used Speedway for all of my eating needs. The people were great. I never had too look them in the eye, which was good for me because I was somewhat ashamed of my newly formed habit. And, more importantly, they had everything my stomach desired. Let's face it: McDonalds can't quench that 5th-avenue-sour-patch-kids-corn-dog-slim-jim-combos-coke-gatorade thirst. It's really the only place you can go to satisfy all of your heart's desires. They are more dangerous than Mickey D's, trust me. Along the lines of Supersize Me, Morgon Spurlock should subsist on food from Speedway, and call it A Convenient Truth. My formative, protruding belly demands it. America needs to know it's fat because of Speedway.

And when I bump into old friends, they usually greet me with, "Ooohhh, and I see you're carrying a little one with you these days – quite the beer belly." I never spoil their fun and let them know that it is actually a Speedway belly. And besides, I rarely have beer in my house these days. I only drink it at Applebee's with the softball team after we get crushed by scores of 32-1, 26-3, and 25-4. Pitiful, I know.

Anyway, even though old habits die hard, I was able to shake the Speedway one, although, the occasional 2 for $1 hot dogs draw me in from time to time.

Now attempting to cook real food back at my apartment, I purchased a miniature Weber grill. I cook huge quantities of chicken, steak, and vegetables and eat them for dinner and lunch for days. It is hard to cook for one person. That's why people get married.

All this to say, Speedway is evil. After quitting, I soon realized that I had racked up exactly 17,506 Speedway points. 750 points gets me a coffee of any size.

Guess I'll have to go back and cash in my 23 coffees.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Godforsaken Town

Ok. Maybe I was a little harsh.

But, come on...most Danvillites would admit that the post-grad-single-mid-to-late-twenty-something population is pretty scarce. And it's not like I don't try. When I roomed with Mark and Nate within the past year, we were pretty oblivious to this drought. Then Mark moved and Nate graduated. That is when it first hit Nate and I: "Where is everybody?" Nate and I went on a quest to form a 'community.'

Don't worry, it wasn't going to be like one of those communities that you join in Texas and then the next thing you know you are being told to drink something. No, this was to be an inclusive group of people with similar interests, facing the same challenges of the quarter-life crisis - much like Seinfeld (even though Jerry was probably 40 in the show).

We met Thom the Catholic (George) and an 'Elaine'. We had our ups and downs. Thom the Catholic moved to Cincinnati, Nate moved to New York, and I don't really know what happened to Elaine. Back to zero.

Now, I do have a few other friends in Danville - I see them once or twice a week.

If I'm not at a conference or retreat on the weekends, I usually travel to the big cities of Kentucky to visit family and friends. I am contented with this.

Danville is not the place for people like me. Danville is the place for married people, children, and college students. But, I will accept this place for the time being.

I have a couple of hands full of friends who I have talked with and found to be in a similar situation. Not necessarily with the Danville dynamic, but in a place with a lack of similar people. This isn't because we are obtuse. I think the root of the problem exists because the heart society (perhaps civil sphere could fit in here) has turned into a conglomeration of gesellschafts.

I am not lamenting or seeking pity for people's ill-disposed prescriptions of loneliness. Sure, I do not deny loneliness at times, but I'm more so stating the simple facts of Danville, KY. I am quite happy.

But, you now might understand how I could sometimes surmise this town to be godforsaken.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Change of Pace

Prior to the beginning of my tenure with the Presbyterian Church of Danville as Youth Director, I have had many adventures since graduating from college:

-I have worked as a car-salesman (that's another story), substitute teacher, Starbucks barista, outdoor education instructor, summer-camp counselor, and assistant program director.

-I have tasted different cultures in 24 states and 7 countries.

-I have made and lost contact with many friends.

There was much movement in the two years after college, and many people were surprised when they heard I had settled down in the town of my alma mater. I surprised myself, but I was finally encountered a change of pace. No, I am not in the rugged mountains of Colorado, where within two-hours driving radius is any majestical outdoor beauty imaginable. I am not traveling, pilgrimaging around, discovering new and different cultures...

I am in Danville, Kentucky. And have been here since December of 2007.

The change was an adjustment, to say the least. As time has moved on since my arrival, I was met with emotions of bitterness, apathy, and regret. How I longed to be back in Colorado, backpacking with students in the wilderness for weeks on end.

These emotions eventually subsided, and others took their place: a sense of rebirth, stability, searching, becoming. I have always been on the go. Now I have found myself in a place where time seems to have come to a standstill. The opportunity to discover intellectual capabilities, spiritual awakenings, and physical fortitude is at hand.

I could wither this time away, feeding myself with shallow pacifiers of movies, TV shows, pointless internet surfing, fast-food, and compulsive sports-following (which can be, at times, good things). Or, I could challenge myself during this time by reading and researching stimulating books, defining what I am passionate about, challenging myself physically, and being intentional with friends and family. I chose the latter.

Danville has a lot to offer, and treating it as such will open many doors. Now I find myself within a two-hours driving radius of family and friends of the past. And, as a wise man once told me, "You might discover the world out in Colorado, but you might discover Mars here [in Danville]."

On to Mars...

This blog will account my travels, adventures, and discoveries while living in this Godforsaken town of Danville, Kentucky.

(To read the blog that inspired "Whereabouts in Danville," visit