Jun 19, 2010

Old Friends on the Road

The Road to Indiana (Photo Note: Throughout this and the previous blog, you will note that Greg's face is never seen. This is an accordance with his request that his image not be posted online. Wedel likes his privacy. However, remarkably, none of the photos you will see with his face obscured were staged or posed. I just found ways to get his picture without getting his face. )

In the old days we used to drive. In those days of cheap gas, on Sabbath afternoons we'd hop into Greg's little red Honda Civic, and just drive to see where the road took us. On occasion we'd take longer road trips--our senior year, the three of us took a couple of days driving up the southeastern coast of the United States. During college, J and I took an epic road trip to New Orleans, then met up with Greg and another old friend, Chris Cotta, on the Florida panhandle.

And so just as in the days of old, this past Monday, J, Greg, and I jumped in the car took off for a little road trip. Our goal was a concert Greg had booked tickets for, an up-coming folk band from England called Mumford & Sons performing in Bloomington, Indiana, about four hours from Columbus. But of course, road trips aren't about the destination, but the journey itself. We left in the morning so that we had plenty of time for stops along the way. Greg had suggested we each make a mix CD for the trip, and so the music--Tom Petty, Midnight Oil, Pearljam, and even a little Guns N-Roses--along with debating, joking around, and funny stories took us back in time. Sometimes it seems like all that has really changed is the cirucmstances around us. We've got grown up jobs, responsiblities, but at heart we still feel like the same high school kids we were all those years ago.

Click on the map to enlarge. Our route took us on I-70 through Indianapolis and on to Terre Haute, then southeast through a dozen little towns along route 246/46 to Bloomington.

Our first stop was for lunch at White Castle in, appropriately, New Castle, Indiana. White Castle (Motto: "What You Crave") is one of the oldest hamburger chains in the country--perhaps one of the first fast food places in the nation. You can still go in and order a 10-sack of the little, square shaped hamburgers they've been serving for generations.

White Castle's famed chicken rings with ranch dipping sauce. Well, it wasn't exactly what I craved but it wasn't bad. I considered ordering a few of the cheaply priced burgers, but couldn't get past their unappetizing appearance. Instead I settled for two orders of the chicken rings--recommended by Greg. The concept of chicken smashed into small, flat rings was a little weird, but they actually weren't too bad. While the food wasn't particularly spectacular, the service was fast and friendly.

Reading about air travel while traveling by car. I did a fair amount of reading when I wasn't driving. The book was Up in the Air by Walter Kirn, the basis for the recent Oscar-nominated film. I have to say, with apologies to Mr. Kirn, that this is perhaps the only time I've ever found the movie way better than the book. Russ Bickerstaff at the Box Office Prophets website does a much better job than I could of explaining why. Click here to read his comparision of the book and film.

A historic building in downtown Terre Haute. Too bad the rest of the city didn't look like this. Around 3 in the afternoon we arrived in Terre Haute, Indiana, not too far from the Illionois border. I must confess that this has to be one of the ugliest cities in America. Aside from a few tasteful historic buildings downtown, Terre Haute is one soul-sapping, architecturally dreary strip mall after another. It is home to the world's ugliest Kroger supermarket--a literal off-white, windowless box, with only the Kroger name to distinguish it from a faceless warehouse. It also hosts the nations homliest Macy's department store--with's it's dirty, industrial looking exterior it exudes a vaguely Soviet vibe. The rest of the sprawl of the city matched these buisnesses' depressed air. It was distressing just to drive through the city.

But drive through we did, on to the cemetery outside of town where Greg's maternal grandparents are buried. As a favor to his mom, Greg had promised to to stop by the graves just to see that we were well-maintained.

This grave had no connection to Greg's family but I found it interesting that Homer, born in 1892, had not yet been interred next to his beloved Helena. Either he's still alive at 118 years old, or more likely, ended up being buried somehwere else.

Greg pauses at his grandmother's grave.

J at the cemetery. That's our transportation in the background, J's Toyota Corolla.

No GPS for us. We found diretions the old fashioned way. Greg plots the course for our next destination: Eugene Deb's house on the campus of Indiana State University.

Eugene Deb's house. I suppose this is the sort of thing that our students assume we teachers do for fun during the summer--visit the homes of dead historical figures. And indeed, Greg teaches AP American History at a high school in Florida and wanted to stop off to see the home of Eugene Debs, a leader in the labor movement and the founder of the American Socialist Party (I know a lot of people, deceived by the angry right-wing talking heads, thought that was Barak Obama, but nope, it was Debs). Of course, Greg also went to see both Mumford and Sons that night, and the Silversun Pickups the following night, so it wasn't all history nerd stuff!

The Smallest Chapel in the World. After checking out the Debs home, we zipped over to the little town of Farmersburg where we drove by the home of one Greg's great-aunts, I believe. On the way out of town, we stopped off here, at the world's smallest chapel. We actually went inside, and it was small--about the size of my living room, but complete with a handful of pews and a small pulpit. It was dusty, quiet, and had that vaguely moldy smell of old hymnals. (It was here that my camera ran out batteries, so the rest of the photos of from the trip will be provided courtesy of others).

After leaving Farmersburg, I took the wheel for the drive to Bloomington, while Greg navigated and J napped in the back seat. I feel like I lucked out in the driving responsibilities. While Greg and J had been consigned to the homegenity of freeway driving, I got the winding backroads of the Indiana countryside. Miles of rolling farmland, woods, and grassy meadows occasionally interupted by bucolic small towns, relics of a bygone era--bastions of what some politicians like to call the "real America." And driving through these towns, I get it. This little slice of rural America represents how we like to imagine ourselves as a nation. We started out as an agrarian society and this self-conception is rooted deep. Hard work, self-reliance, faith and family all seemed to exude from these little hamlets. (Though I disagree with the suggestion that such characteristics are limited to small towns and farmland. Indeed, as farming in America is gradually taken over by massive corporations and the little towns of of America die out as younger people head for the bright lights and big cities--or at least big-box suburbia--these old-fashioned"American" values are as likely to be found among the immigrant population in this country as anywhere else).

Clay City declares itself the Mayberry of the Midwest, a small town with big pride. And in fact, Clay City does feature a storybook town center reminiscent of the Andy Griffith Show.

An on old-fashioned gas station in the heart of Clay City, a metropolis of just over 1000 people.

In addition to the idyllic Clay City we passed through lots of other places with charming local color. One of my favorites was the sign for the Friendly Open Bible Church in Coal City, Indiana (right down the road from the much sterner Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church). Apparently the friendly folks at Friendly Open Bible Church even have a Myspace page (which, granted, it doesn't appear has been visited in two years).

Rural small-town Indiana right here in America was as exotic and fasinating to me as any foreign country. It was exciting to see a part of America that I had heard memorialized in so many of my favorite Rich Mullins songs ("I grew up around Indiana, You grew up around Galilee," he sang in "Boy Like Me/Man Like You"). "My dad, he could make things grow out of Indiana clay," he reminisced in "First Family." I half expected to turn a corner and see "all of those Mail Pouch posters thrown up on rotting sideboards of these rundown stables like the one that Christ was born in" (from the song "Land of My Sojourn").

In my short sojourn through the backroads of Indiana, I found myself captivated--in the same way that I have been in places as diverse as urban Japan, suburban Australia, and rural Thailand--by the little glimpses of a life that seems so different from mine and that is completely normal for those that live it.

Soon though,our passage through the heartland was at an end and we were entering the city of Bloomington Indiana, home to Indiana University, and the location of the ultimate goal of our journey--the concert. In the next blog entry, a brief account of a long wait, a decent opening act and a simply awful one, and a little over an hour of blistering, soul stirring modern folk courtesy of the up and coming band, Mumford and Sons.

Old Friends

Sean and J Go to White Castle: It seemed the "road trip" thing to do, to stop at White Castle for lunch. Old high school friends J Carlos and Greg Wedel (taking the photo) and I took a little trip down memory lane and through the farmland of Indiana on our way to a Mumford & Son's concert this past Monday, June 14, 2010.
What does it take a friendship strong, not just for a season, but for a lifetime? Proximity is certianly helpful. My best friend J Carlos and I have been blessed by intersecting paths for the past twenty-one years, starting with when we met in Mrs. Gish's freshman Earth Science class at Forest Lake Academy. We graduated from high school together, and perhaps we might have drifted apart then, as he went to Southern College in Tennessee and I attended Andrews University in Michigan. But we decided to spend a year as student missionaries together in Micronesia. That year, followed by a summer in Europe, further cemented our friendship. But then, something truly fortuitous happened. J's parents moved away from Florida to Dayton, Ohio. With our families now living in different states it seemed unlikely we would have much opportunity for further contact. Except that, the same year that the Carlos family moved, I began dating a wonderful girl who just happened to be from. . .Dayton, Ohio. That Thanksgiving, I met Barbara's parents for the first time and stayed with the Carlos family for the holiday.

A few years later, Babs and I got married and J was in the wedding. A few days after that, J was on his way back to the mission field, where within a few years he would meet his own spouse, Evelyn. Of course, Babs and I also headed back out to the islands, and so, though we served on different islands, our paths continued to cross from time to time. Eventually, J and Evleyn moved to the mainland, to Ohio, to be near his parents. When our familymoved back last year it was to Ohio also--but not just anywhere in the state. It just so happened that I'd gotten a job in the same city--Columbus--as J was living in. And so now we live about 20 minutes apart, each raising young sons that we hope, by virtue of proximity, will become the best of friends, just like their dads.

But proximity is not the only way to preserve a friendship. I can think of at least one individual I know from high school who has also ended up living close by, but we are merely nodding acquaintances. How much more is required, then, when old friends live miles apart. For such friendships to last there must be an real effort to make those paths cross. I confess, I'm not the best at keeping in touch. I don't call, I don't e-mail, I don't even friend on Facebook! I rely heavily on proximity to keep friendships alive. Fortunately for me, Greg Wedel has done better than that. He's always put forth the effort. From time to time he'd call, just to see how things are going. He kept me supplied with new music from his ever-growing collection. He passed on book and movie recommendations. And whenever we passed through Florida, he made time to hang out. Greg seems to understand that like all relationships, friendships take work to thrive, and he's always been willing to take the iniative and make an effort. Greg's not one for a lot mucky sentimental talk, but his actions show that he understands what friendship for the long haul is all about.

So this summer Greg set out to orhcestrate an opportunity for the three of us to get together. He got us tickets to see one of his favorite new up-coming bands across the state line in Indiana. He flew up from Florida on Thursday evening, June 10, 2010, and we spent the weekend between J's house (where he was staying) and ours hanging out and catching up. Monday we set out for Indiana (an account of that trip will follow in the next entry).

Greg has a gruff demeanor that belies his gift with kids. "How's it going, little man," he'll say somberly. But kids, including our son, see right through him. They know somehow, that they've found a friend. And he gracefully obliges with swings, read-alouds, and other kid-friendly treats.

There's one more element of friendship that goes largely unspoken between the three of us. With all the trash talk and mock insults that are prone to fly between us, you might not even realize it's there. But pay close attention and you'll recognize a deep well of respect and acceptance we have for one another. The three of us are each quite different. We learned long ago that it was fruitless to try to change one another. We concluded that we would live with eachother's foilbles, focus on that which we admired in eachother, and seek, wherever possible, the common ground.

And so decades have passed and thanks to proximity, effort, and mutual respect, we are friends still.

The table set for company. On Sunday morning we had the Carlos family (J, Evelyn, and baby Benjamin) and Greg over for a Mexican themed brunch. We were pretty excited to put our new dining set to good use.

The Key lime pie (or what's left of it). On Sabbath afternoon, June 12, Greg came over for lunch and to hang out for the afternoon while the Carlos clan was away at camp meeting. Greg and I have always been partial to Key lime pie, especially from TooJay's, our favorite Jewish deli chain in Orlando. So we decided to try our hand at making our own. As evidenced by the photo above, it turned out quite well. We'd eaten half the pie before I thought to take a photo for posterity.

Good friends and good food make for good times.

Jun 11, 2010

Year One Done

CAA's class of 2010. This is probably my favorite photo of these kids. It was actually taken the week before graduation, when we were taking photos for the graduation bulletin. There is just such warmth between them in this photo.

On a warm day in early June--blue summer sky, sunshine, the trees bursting with brilliant green, a light breeze, birds chirping--I tossed my backpack into the backseat of my late model Toyota, got behind the wheel, and drove with away without a pang of sadness or a care in the world. It was a week ago today. . .or it was yesterday. Either way, the weather and the mood were the same. Last Friday school let out for the summer, my teaching for the school year finished, and yesterday I completed my postweek duties and left the school with no reason to return until August.

The end of the school year here in America is a little different then it was in Saipan. Instead of bidding a fond farewell to almost everyone on the staff, it's "I'll see you in August" or "We should get together sometime this summer." With the exception of our 1st/2nd grade teacher who came out of retirement to teach for a year and is now going back in, everyone will be back. Instead of a big summer trip to the States to prepare for, there is just a nice long lesiurely summer stretching ahead, with one little trip to Florida in mid-July. Instead of kids packing the house on Friday night for one last TGIS before the summer begins, we teachers all stand outside and wave goodbye as the buses pull away; the kids are too far-flung across the city of Columbus for such gatherings and besides hanging out with the teachers in your spare time isnt' quite as cool here as it is in Saipan.

Oh, there were some tears shed. A couple of our sixth graders won't be back next year and the last day was a wrenching one for them. That's one thing that hasn't changed much--just like in Saipan, the kids might talk a lot of smack about their little school and boast about where they're going to go next year, but when it comes right down to it, they love this place. For these departing students the end of the school year was a bittersweet moment.

But for me, it was barely bitter, and largely sweet. It's been a good year. I've gained a lot, learned a lot, grown a lot. I'm beginning to put down some roots, beginning to feel at home. I know a few people now. I've starting to figure out how to get things done. It's a good feeling. I'm excited about next school year and all the big plans in the works, now that I know my way around a little bit. But August will come soon enough--I'm not gonna rush it. Right now I'm ready for vacation, ready to be a stay-at-home daddy for the summer, ready to read, rest, and recuperate. Year one is done and so am I!

A few photos of year end events at CAA.

Shadow's First and Final Tour of this Season

This first season with Shadow has been all about getting off the ground, so it wasn't until the final month of the school year that we finally mounted our first tour. It was a humble three-show gig, but those three performances got the team--and me--so excited about Shadow. The tour is the payoff: the applause of the crowd, the adrenaline boost of stepping out on the stage--not just for one little skit in the midst of a larger program, but for a full show where we are the main event. We all loved it, and I think it got us all excited for next season.

Shadow team members perform "Officer Bob", an anti-drug skit, at our second show of the tour, Friday, May 21, at Eastwood Junior Academy (the school where my best friend, J Carlos works).

Shadow Co-Director Wayna Gray brings it home to the audience between skits at the Eastwood show.

The Shadow team at Ephsesus Seventh-day Adventist Church just before our final performance of the season on Sabbath afternoon, May 22, 2010. (Our first show was at our own school on Thursday, May 20. The hometown crowd was so enthusiastic and supportive. It really pumped us up for our road shows. A couple of the students actually came along with the team on Friday just to see the show again and show their support for the team.)

Shadow just before we took the stage at Ephesus on May 22.

"LoudNClear" calls for quiet. This young man is one of our most energetic and entertaining actors. Let's just say I've never had a problem with him projecting on stage. He always comes through loud and clear. (I have however had some problems with that same talent during class, though!)

"LoudNClear" and one of our fifth (now sixth grade) actors, "Jazzy" perform "Vengeance is Mine" (an old favorite from my REAL Christian Theater days).

8th Grade Graduation

My first graduation at CAA felt relatively simple. But then I had a lot of help. This year, the 8th grade and kindergarten graduations were held jointly, so I had help from Lisa Lavalas, the kindergarten teacher. Brenda Arthurs, the principal also pitched in with deocrations and coordination. A lovely group of church ladies callled the King's Daughters took care of the refreshments. The sanctuary at Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church required little in the way of decorating--it looks grand enough by itself. Our secretary, Bunnie, took care of the bulletin. Much of the program was already set--all we had to do was plug into the ongoing traditions.

Pomp & Circumstance

This is their moment.

The Class of 2014. The end of one journey, and the beginning of another. High school here they come!

The Last Day of School

The room reverting back to the state I found it in when I arrived last August-Chairs and desks, stacked, books put away, posters and bulletin boards taken down.

Some of the 5-8 kids playing video games in my classroom on the last day of school.

This poor guy thought it'd be a good idea to get in a fight on the last day of school. It broke up before any one got hurt, but he and his nemesis forfeited the rest of the days festivities. He spent the final hours of the school year sitting and doing nothing.

Until next year. From left to right, "Quiet Man" who will be in my 8th grade class, "LoudnClear" who will be in 6th grade, and "SoulBrother" who will be in my 7th grade class.