Leaving Arkansas - I was psyched for a good drive and figured I'd be in for some great views on the drive up to Missouri, through the Ozark Mountains. After dropping my tax returns into a Little Rock mailbox and Fedexing a second box of safety tapes to Stu up in Morristown, I was on my way. Unfortunately, the gorgeous sunny morning gave way to an overcast sky, so the photos didn't come out the way I would have liked. Still, here are some shots from the drive north. You can't see how beautiful the scenery is from these shots, but it really was pretty striking. The rocks - the way the road was cut into the mountains - that's what struck me most about this particular drive. You can see a bit of that in the shot below. Also, and I can't remember the name of the place, I had quite possibly the best chocolate milk I've ever tasted somewhere just south of Missouri on Route 65. I saw a dairy farm and decided it was time to hang out with some cows, see the milking process. It's something I remember from when I was a kid, taking school field trips to farms in Massachusetts - I always loved those trips.
As I moved closer to the Missouri line, one thing that made me smile was the appearance of all these, "2 Shows, 2 Nights, 2 Dinners for $99" signs for Branson, Missouri. They started popping up more than 100 miles south of Branson and what's funny is that many of these signs were sometimes planted out on people's front lawns. It's obvious Branson is a huge deal down here, with all its country music shows and activities, and you can see how folks work pretty hard to capitalize on its economy. If someone put up a sign 82 miles south, someone a bit farther down the road stuck one in their lawn, trying to get that extra edge. The funny thing is, when got to Branson, I saw signs for the same thing. But for half the price! I'm sure that's bugged more than a few suckers along the way. Anyway, I pretty much shot through Branson territory leaving it for a future visit. For now, Yakov Smirnov will simply have to wait.
* * * * * * * * * *
One of Thirty Four - I’m in Springfield, Missouri after a drive up the other day from Arkansas. The beauty of Arkansas and its version of the Ozarks gave way to a different kind of landscape. There were more hills in Missouri than in Kansas or Oklahoma, but it was nothing like Arkansas. I'm sure by now you can tell I was struck by that state’s beauty. I'll definitely be heading back that way. And to think it wasn't even part of my original lesson plan.
I have to tell you, it's pretty strange to see the name “Springfield” posted everywhere I look here. Many of you know I was born in Springfield - the Massachusetts one, (home of such things as basketball and Indian Motorcycle, by the way). And I know there is a Springfield in just about every state in the country. Thirty-four, to be exact. (Note: the Massachusetts' Springfield is the oldest and most populated one. Missouri's version ranks second in Springfield populations). And, of course, you have to add to that list the Simpson’s cartoon town, which is supposedly set in Ohio. I think I was drawn to the city because of the name, figuring this particular trip wouldn’t be complete with at least one Springfield stop.
Impromptu Concert - As I've done in the previous states visited, I reached out to a few of the Senior Games' administrators to make contacts for possible interviews. Sheri Davis is the Community Recreation Coordinator at the Northview Center in Springfield as well as The Games' area director and we decided it would be good for me to come over to the center for a volunteer lunch – a good way to quickly meet some of the area’s more active seniors.
Another wonderful facility, I have to say. Bright, large, and it looked pretty new. By day, the center is used primarily for the area's seniors and at night, it's more open to the rest of the community. But the other day, it was all about giving the volunteers a good solid pat on the back. And I’m not talking about young volunteers. These were all senior volunteers for seniors. As you might imagine, volunteers are the life-blood of these programs, enabling so much to happen while saving costs along the way. And there’s something great about people giving of themselves to help others, you can see it everywhere you look around here. Within minutes people were coming up to me, asking questions. Of course, Sheri and Peggy (possibly the most friendly and energetic 68-year old woman I've ever met) caught me off guard by introducing me to the crowd and asking me to say a few words, which I did. That short speech prompted more people to come up to me to ask about the project.
I sat with a terrific group of folks, and joined them for the special lunch, which was unexpectedly great, (the best baked beans I think I’ve ever had as strange as that may sound). Peggy reminded me of the energizer bunny and she continued to point me in the right direction in terms of meeting possible interviewees. One person I was pushed to meet was Sandra and before I could blink I was in a separate piano/game room and Sandra was performing on the piano for me. 85 and tickling the ivories like a 20-year old, you should've seen her. Playing ragtime is a form of aerobic exercise for the upper body at any age, with both hands flying up and down the keyboard. It was obvious Sandra loved the piano as she played one song, followed by another, followed by another. Watching her bouncing in the chair reminded me of a senior volunteer experience I had years ago when I surprised my "friendly visitee" with a keyboard after learning about her special love of the piano. I wrote a story about it, if you're interested - "The Fabulous Anna."
As it turns out, Sandra's playing wasn’t enough for the crowd; they wanted more. They wanted me to play! I resisted, two, four, five times, telling them I hadn't played in years, but forget about it. They wouldn't take "No" for an answer. So I played a song and sang for them. They were kvelling. It was fun, I can't lie.
Now, here's the thing. I don’t know if any interviews will flow from the volunteer lunch experience, but you know what? “It just doesn’t matter,” to quote from one of my favorite Bill Murray movies. (good trivia - you know which one?)
I met good people and had great baked beans.
Slowly, I'm learning to relax a bit and not push quite as hard.
Sometimes, it's not about "getting the interview." Sometimes, baked beans are enough.