Category Archives: Missouri

The End of The Journey Kansas To NYC

September 13, 2007

The end of the journey. The states are getting smaller and I find myself scrambling for maps much more frequently. I know, I could just follow the signs for highway 50 east, but I like to have the full picture in front of me.

Midway USA marker, equal distance to San Francisco and New York.

Midway USA marker, equal distance to San Francisco and New York.

So I left Lawrence, Kansas and headed through Missouri to St. Louis. Kansas is very flat until you are east of Emporia and all of a sudden there are trees again and even rolling hills, big surprise. Highway 50 in western Missouri felt a little like a roller coaster, without the upside-down loop. Constant dipping down little hills and up again. Not that flat driving you experience on the interstate. The trees had moved closer to the road and it was all green again. I hadn’t seen anything forest like since Washington State. Yes, there are trees in Oregon and the redwood trees in northern California and of course there are also trees in Colorado, but those are not the dense forests you find in the east. At least not where I drove. I know I still owe you the report for the stretch from Bellingham to San Francisco. Hopefully, I have time over the weekend to write.

OK, back to Missouri. It was really wonderful I could look over the tree tops of the forests as far as my eyes could see, all green. Since I had a pretty late start in the morning, I only made it to St. Louis that day. The weather was gray and on the rainy side. I took very few pictures on the last stretch from Kansas to NYC. The weather was not great and the light was hazy and just not good enough for photos.   I only wanted to see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and of course the weather was so gray that I could barely distinguish between the silver metal of the arch and the gray of the sky. I just made it back to the car in time before the skies opened up and it started to pour.

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch

The last leg of this trip is a little blurry. I drove through seven states in just three days and I have a hard time remembering the differences between the states.

St. Louis to Louisville, Kentucky. More fields in Illinois, I think they might have been soybean fields. Once I got into Indiana the leaves on the trees started to change, yellow and red. Not sure if those were already fall colors or if the trees were distressed from the lack of rain. Instead of continuing straight east I dipped southeast to Louisville. Spent the night at a KOA just outside of town. It was weird to camp so close to a large city. It was my last night of camping. I really enjoyed camping. I never had to worry if the mattress was too soft or if the room might smell, as it was the case in several motels. A friend of mine had given me some tips where to go in Louisville and I spent some time the next morning exploring. Actually, I spent more time than I thought I would. I was torn between wanting to get home as soon as possible and at the same time I didn’t want the trip to end. I had looked at the map in the morning and figured that I could make it to Washington D.C. or at least very close

Chancellor-Burwell-Lowe House - Parkersburg, West Virginia

Chancellor-Burwell-Lowe House – Parkersburg, West Virginia

to it by nightfall. Oh, I was so wrong, but I wouldn’t find out until much later in the day. From Louisville I drove to Lexington. Another friend had told me about a beautiful stretch of highway between Lexington and Paris. Yes, there is a Paris in Kentucky too and another one in Virginia. That stretch of highway was really beautiful, wide rolling meadows, unfortunately not very green, divided by black horse fences. Not too many horses out on the meadows, it was pretty hot. Eventually, I ended up again on hwy 50 in Ohio and that’s when it hit me that I was still way over 300 miles west of D.C. There is not much of anything between Hillsboro, OH and Washington D.C. Lots of little towns/villages without any motels and no campgrounds. I hate when I don’t know where I’ll spend the night. Athens, OH seemed to be my best bet. Ever heard of Athens? Home of the Ohio University. After calling several places, I checked in at a Super 8 motel. Must have been very new, everything was clean and no funny carpet smell.

Old warehouse - Parkersburg, West Virginia

Old warehouse – Parkersburg, West Virginia

The drive from Athens to D.C. went mainly through West Virginia. A lot of mountain driving. Narrow roads with tons of tight curves and a lot of uphill driving. It was very pretty and the woods smelled like fall. I didn’t do this much mountain driving in Colorado. I passed thru several interesting little towns with nice old brick buildings.

By late afternoon I made it to D.C. Oh what fun driving on 495. Hadn’t seen that many cars since I-5 in Washington State. I spent two nights at my friends’ place in D.C. before heading home to NYC. Just a little more procrastinating. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see all my friends in D.C.

The drive into Manhattan was pretty emotional. Seeing the skyline from New Jersey just made me crumble. The trip was over and I was home again. It felt like a load was taking of my shoulders. I finally could get the much needed rest. But before I could get that much needed rest I would have to deal with the NYC parking issues. I got into town at rush hour and traffic on First Avenue was hell. I did get a spot around the corner of my apartment and started unloading. I was lucky to get another spot in front of my building to get the big bags unloaded. All in all it took 2 ½ hours to unload. That included driving around the block several times and waiting to be legally parked. I was so tired that I didn’t read all the parking regulations. I only knew that I had to feed the meter at 9 AM. Well, I didn’t read the part that read no parking from 8:30 AM – 9 AM. So the trip ended the same way it started, with a parking ticket. I really didn’t care at that point anymore.

I have been home since Monday evening and I still haven’t gotten enough sleep. I am looking forward to the weekend. This is the first time in weeks that I have been thinking in terms of weekdays and weekend.

As mentioned earlier, I will send one more road report and a recap of the entire trip.

That’s it for now. Have to go to work!!

The different faces of Joplin

My time in Joplin has come to an end (June 5). After ten days, eight in the field, of volunteering my body is exhausted and it is time for me to move on. The heat and humidity (60%) down here have been quite oppressive; 94 F in the shade if you can find any. With the trees gone and the houses flattened shade is a commodity hard to come by.

Yours truly totally exhausted

On Saturday I called it a day after working for four hours in the heat picking up debris. Debris = 2×4 beams, roofing materials, sheet rock – most of the time soaking wet (the day after the tornado Joplin was hit by a thunderstorm), fiberglass insulation (gets all over your skin and itches like hell), siding, building walls, basically anything you use in the construction of a house either in small pieces or big chunks or even whole walls, tree trunks and branches, personal belongings. All that gets separated into piles; tree stuff, home building materials and metal are the big ones. Trees/branches are supposed to get mulched, home building stuff ends up in the landfill or gets burnt and metal will be recycled. Any personal belongings we find are set aside for the homeowner to decide if (s)he wants to keep it or not. Unfortunately, we never knew if what we found actually belonged to the people who lived in that house or if it belonged to their neighbors near and far. By the time I left Joplin garbage trucks started to remove some of the debris piles. I believe this will make a big difference and show that progress is being made. However, it will be awhile before the rebuilding can begin.
Volunteers were taken by school bus to the various clean-up areas and over and over again I could hear the first time volunteers say: “this is not what you see on TV” and “this looks so much worse in person”.

Overlooking the devasted area near 20th Street

As I mentioned in my previous post, I stayed 20 + miles east of town in the countryside. A beautiful location, but the drive “home” was too much at the end of the day. Just by chance the lady at the University bookstore offered me to stay in their driveway five minutes away, lucky me. Mary Kathryn and Tom live right at the edge of the destruction. Fortunately, their house was not damaged and they only lost one tree. From their driveway you can see the start of the devastation across the street. Thank you Mary Kathryn and Tom for letting me stay at your place and for having me “over” for dinner.

Tom, Mary Kathryn and me

I have worked with some great volunteers. I am always impressed when I hear from how far away they came or that they are sleeping in their cars in the university parking lot. One young kid lost his job in Wisconsin, took all his money to drive down here and is sleeping in a small tent on the university campus lawn. He got poison ivy all over his legs, stepped on a rusty nail and he still plans on staying here as long as it takes. That’s what I call dedication. The university didn’t object to the handful of tents on their lawn, but they didn’t spread the word about bathroom facilities. It took awhile to figure out where on campus the not so official showers and flush toilets were located. Even though I have a shower in my camper, I didn’t want to even drive a mile after a day out in the field without having showered beforehand. My skin was covered in grime; my arms itched from the fiberglass, never mind the overall sweatiness. On my second day I wore shorts, but quickly realized that jeans, even though much warmer, do a better job protecting my legs from the itching fiberglass.
One of the days I didn’t work in the field, I helped out at a donation warehouse. People had dropped off loads of clothing, food and toiletries. All that needed to be sorted and organized. Did you know there is organic herbed chicken with pasta BABY food in a jar? Why?? Anyway, Joplin residents who had been displaced would come to these warehouse locations and pick-up what they needed for the moment. It is hard to comprehend to have to start at zero. Even harder to comprehend is how some people take advantage of these bleak situations. We had to cross-out the barcodes on all new items we received because word had gotten out that some people were re-selling these items. Hopefully these were only isolated instances.
I spent the last day of my volunteering duties doing some data entry. After spending days in the heat moving and lifting heavy stuff I figured I’ll give my body a break and sit in front of a computer in an air-conditioned room instead. All those hours the volunteers put in need to be logged.

Historic Main Street

The tornado destroyed about 30% of Joplin; however, you can drive around town and never know what happened. People in the unaffected areas, even if they are only a block away from destroyed homes, go on with life as usual. It was odd to see people mowing their laws and trimming the edges.

B & B Victorian home

I had planned on visiting Joplin long before this disaster happened and so I decided to play tourist for an afternoon after work. I drove to the old / historic downtown. Joplin used to be a zinc mining town in the early 1900s and many of the old merchant buildings along Main Street are still standing. A little to the west of Main Street is a residential area with several very nice Victorian homes. None of this was touched by the tornado.

The number of volunteers that sign up and go out into the field under AmeriCorps’ organization has dwindled. On Sunday only a couple of hundred went out into the field for debris removal versus thousands last weekend. Let’s hope that people will continue to come out as long as they are needed.

Wow, volunteers everywhere

I have now been in Joplin for four days and I am still amazed and excited about the continued outpouring of volunteers. Today I worked with three folks from Chicago; Larry, Jack and Lauren. They drove through the night to get to Joplin to help for the next three days. They are not the only ones that have come a long way; two young women drove 15 hours from northwestern Pennsylvania to help. It goes on and on like this. People have come from near and far. AmeriCorps is organizing the volunteers and they are doing a great job. A lot of young people have come out, but you can find people of all ages, even kids who come with their parents. It is an amazing effort to clean-up Joplin. In addition to the thousands of volunteers picking-up debris and cutting down trees you have hundreds of people preparing food for the people displaced as well as for the volunteers. People drive down the streets handing out cold drinks and sandwiches. It is so inspiring that even though I am exhausting, I have a hard time going to sleep at night. I feel guilty sleeping in just a bit when I hear how long people drove to get here. I have yet to hear someone say a bad word about anything, except about the looters earlier in the week. What kind of person steals from someone who just lost everything?

Hard working volunteers Lauren, Larry and Jack from Chicago in front of a cleaned-up house

The other day I dropped of two boys who were looking for a place for the night at a church. When I saw the large parking lot I figured I could ask if I could park there overnight. I spoke with Kelly at the church and she wasn’t sure if I could, however, I was more than welcome to stay on their property, I could even plug into their electric. She and her husband David live 20 miles east of Joplin. It seems to be in a different world. Hay fields, cows, frogs and crickets. Just the kind of beautiful scenery one needs after spending the day in rubble. Everyone has been very helpful, except the owners of my first campground who were not willing to give any kind of discount.
The magnitude of this disaster is hard to comprehend. The tornado tore up an area one mile wide and six miles long, that’s a whole lot of destroyed homes.

Recovery Joplin – the right thing to do

I had planned on visiting Joplin on my last road trip back in 2007, but did not have enough time. This time Joplin again was on my itinerary. I just didn’t think I would be here under these circumstances. I was in northwestern Arkansas last Sunday when the tornado destroyed parts of Joplin. The news was grim and information about volunteering was not very straight forward in the beginning. I felt the need to do something and so I decided to drive the short drive from Arkansas to Joplin and to help out in any way, shape or form I could.
I had called the volunteer hotline (417.625-3543) to confirm that they needed basic laborer. I was told to come to the Missouri Southern States University Recreation Center on 3950 Newman Road to sign up. I found a campground only ten miles east of Joplin and was all set.
I arrived early afternoon on Friday and I was greeted by a heavy thunderstorm, lightning bolts shooting straight down from the skies. Fortunately, the storm was short lived.

E. 24th Street and Kansas Avenue

I didn’t know how I would react to so much devastation. I don’t have TV and I only heard the news reports on the radio and saw some photos on the internet. If you would only drive past Joplin on I-44 you wouldn’t even know that anything happened to the town. Many of the main drags are unharmed. It isn’t until you get west of highway 71 between E. 26th Street and E. 7th Street that you really get to see the devastation. That’s where the brunt of the tornado hit and destroyed home after home after home. A lot of trees were down, but it was really weird to see trees standing with absolutely no leaves left on them.

E. 24th Street and Kansas Avenue

After I filled out some basic paperwork a small group of volunteers and I where taken to Kansas Avenue. Our job was to clear the front yard of a home of building debris and fallen trees. I worked alongside a group of firefighters from St. Louis who had brought their chain saws and some women who didn’t even have gloves to pick-up the debris. There are a lot of people here who just want to help and there is plenty of work to be done.

E. 24th Street and Wisconsin Avenue

I am not sure how long I’ll stay, maybe a week, maybe longer, I don’t know yet.
I’ll try to blog while I am here, but given my track record and the circumstances, I don’t know how often that will be. I am taking some photos while I am out cleaning up, but my main focus is to clean-up.

Looters stay out!

I don’t believe in horoscopes, the one below is mine for today. It could not have been any more fitting.

“Today you might face a task that seems as workable as emptying the ocean with a teacup. But with help from others, you will not only be able to handle it but also produce exceptional results. Physically, you’re likely to feel full of strength and stamina, ready to move mountains. Don’t be too surprised if you actually manage to budge a few!”