Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Maybe Sometimes the Thing is Just the Thing and Other Musings

I still haven't figured out when is the right time to update the blog. If I write about things immediately after they happen, then I end up just disseminating dry facts -- I need some time to ruminate about events before I can communicate them with any real meaning and insight. On the other hand, if I wait too long before writing, I tend to forget important details.

Which I suppose only matters if someone is reading this.

Anyway, it is the end of day 3 (of 5) doing disaster relief in Iowa. I'm very glad I'm here and we are having a good time. The team is getting along well and we are accomplishing our tasks adequately. We are doing the same kinds of things that we did in New Orleans two years ago.

But the shear intensity of the environment that existed in New Orleans -- even a year after Katrina -- is not an issue here. At least here in Cedar Falls, for the most part the community as a whole is intact. A lot of houses were flooded, but there was warning that the river was rising. In New Orleans, at each house we worked on, we worked side-by-side with the owners, and we heard their stories, and we prayed with them. That hasn't happened here.

God had hard lessons to teach me about myself from New Orleans. I'm not sure what He has for me on this trip. The Mercy Response motto is "The Thing is not the Thing". We are there to repair houses, but that's just the surface. What goes on in the spirit is what the Thing really is. I think you have to go there to really understand.

So far on this trip, it feels like the Thing really is just the Thing. And maybe that is okay, too. Or maybe I'm just missing it this time because I'm so dense. Maybe it takes something on the level of Katrina to break through to my soul, and normal-size disasters just don't do it. It really doesn't matter, though. To the owners of those homes, it's a step on the way to recovery, whether I get anything out of it or not.

Again, maybe I'm just blogging too soon. Maybe I can't make out the big picture when I am still this close to it.

Boy, there has been a "maybe" in just about every sentence hasn't there? Anyway, as I said, I am glad I'm here and my days are happy.

Well, there you go. Add a comment or send me an email if you read this. I miss my friends back in Tucson. I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Choosing Between Food and Big Daddy Weave

Drove through a good old midwestern thunderstorm today. Also had a ButterBurger and a frozen custard for lunch. It is okay to be jealous.

Five of us are now here in Cedar Falls. Two more Tucsonans are still to arrive, and two Michiganders will round out the team. We met our fearless leader, Steve. And we met the senior pastor of the church here.

Turns out we arrived here at the church just in time for a Big Daddy Weave concert! The pastor invited us to see the concert for free, which was awfully nice of him. Unfortunately, we were all pretty hungry at this point, so we decided to go have dinner instead. We just got back from dinner and the concert is still going on. The camp for the relief team workers (i.e. us) is set up in the maintenance area of the church, just behind the stage. So I am listening to Big Daddy Weave as I write this. Pretty nice perk! They are singing "Beautiful One" right now.

Ah, the Michiganders have arrived.

Stay tuned, more to come!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Quick Update: Grand Island

Not much new to tell you since all we did today was drive drive drive. We wanted to make sure tomorrow could be a relatively easy day. So, today we drove all the way from Santa Fe, NM to Grand Island, NE -- approximately 800 miles. We left around 8:15 a.m. MDT, and arrived at 12:30 a.m. CDT. We still have about 400 miles to go.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Things that Start to Matter

Greetings from Santa Fe, New Mexico!

We survived day one of the road trip.

This is the first road trip I've taken where I have paid attention to the price of gas. My usual behavior has just been to drive as fast as is practical, and stop at the nearest station when I ran low on gas. I never even looked at the prices.

Now I find myself trying to stay around 70mph even in a 75 zone to conserve fuel. Heading up steep hills, I used to gun it, let the car downshift and let the tach go up to 5K. Now I'm letting the car slow down on hills. And I'm keeping my eyes open for cheap gas. I should have been doing this all along of course, but the prices have finally hit my pain point.

So, my makeshift roof rack was, I think, implemented well, but... Well, about 5 miles south of Albuquerque on Interstate 25, there was a freak gust of wind. It practically pushed the whole car of the road, and the kayak went flying off the roof! It was attached solidly -- 6 different connection points would have to fail for the kayak to fly away, but that's just what happened. This could have been an enormous disaster, but thank the Lord things turned out okay.

Jake quickly pulled over to the shoulder. The kayak had landed safely in the grassy median. I waited for a break in the traffic and ran across the interstate (first time I've ever done that!), and started to walk back towards the kayak. A guy in a pickup truck pulled into the median next to my kayak and loaded it into his truck. At first I was afraid he was going to abscond with it, but he waved at me and drove up to where I was. I showed him where Jake was pulled over, and he crossed the interstate and parked behind Jake.

We decided not to try to get the kayak reattached to the roof rack on the side of the freeway. Instead, we rearranged the luggage to stuff the kayak inside the Cruiser (yes, it can be done). I sat in back and Jake drove us the rest of the way to Santa Fe.

Here, I found a different way to attach it. I took off the makeshift roof rack altogether, and used the cargo straps to strap the kayak directly to the roof. I think this will be much more stable for the rest of the trip.

So how's my back? I feel surprisingly good, even after the concert last night and the hauling luggage and kayaks around the freeway this afternoon. Let's see how things feel in the morning!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

America's Band

My work is done, the Cruiser is packed, and we leave tomorrow on the morning tide. Somehow in between finishing work and leaving for Iowa we have managed to squeeze in a Beach Boys concert.

I went with a 21 year-old, a 20-year old and a 17 year-old. None of them had been born when I attended my last Beach Boys concert. But they all knew almost all the words to almost all the songs.

On stage, there was Mike and Bruce and about seven guys that I don't know who they were. Last time I saw them, Dennis was gone, but Brian, Carl, and Al were still there. But the new guys are all really good. Especially their new bass player. He has a really sweet falsetto. He sang "Don't Worry Baby" as good as it's ever been sung.

Mike is 63 now. His voice is still pretty good, but he wisely shares the lead singing pretty broadly. Every member of the band sang lead on at least two songs. I won't try to list all the songs they played. They didn't play my favorite (Heroes and Villains), which did not surprise me. They did surprise me by playing "Oh Darling," another fave but a song that was hardly a hit.

The audience was mostly pretty old -- in their 60s -- but maybe that's because the venue is a casino in Tucson. There were some young folks in the crowd, and they all knew the songs. And there were some young people in the band. In my imagination, the Beach Boys just go on forever, rolling in new young members as the old ones roll out, and keep on performing their timeless harmonies. I'll call it the Endless Summer Theory.

So, all God's blessing on the Band That Won't Go Away. And now it's time to pack up the laptop and catch some Zzzs. My next dispatch will be from the road.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Flat on My Back

After the triathlon, I kinda stopped exercising. It was intriguing watching my muscles quickly atrophy. So, a couple weeks ago I figured I'd better get back in shape, so I'd be up for the physical challenge of Iowa. And, since I haven't been kayaking in a while either, I was practicing my rolls (at which I'm lousy) in the pool.

So I pushed too hard too fast. So I threw out my back seven days ago. I seem to do this to myself every couple of years. The first day or two I'm in all kinds of pain and I can't stand up straight, and then I slowly improve. I am fortunate to have a job that I can do just as well lying in bed as sitting at a desk, so at least I didn't miss any work. Today is my first day back sitting in a chair. I should be good to go by Friday.

Plan A was to get to Iowa in two 12 day drives. Given the back problems, though, probably not a great idea. So, switch to plan B. We'll leave a day earlier and do the trip in 3 8 hour drives. I decided not to commit to particular stopping places; I'm kinda thinking Santa Fe on Friday night and Somewhere-in-Western-Nebraska on Saturday, but I'm going to be flexible, go farther if we're feeling good and stop sooner if we're not.

We is me and Jake. Good to have my usual traveling partner again! But I'm going to need to do 3 long road trips with Caleb at some point to keep the dadness in balance. Meantime, I'm working like a madman right up through Thursday night, getting code written and getting everything together for the trip. Thursday night we throw in a Beach Boys concert because, hey, why not.

Seven of us Tucsonans will be in Iowa, joined by three old friends from California as well. Six of us have done this before in New Orleans. I'm feeling pretty jazzed about the whole thing.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Music of Iowa

When we went to New Orleans, we spent quite a bit of time in the SUV going from our camp to the various houses we were working on. Joan is going to kill me because I ended that sentence with a preposition. Anyway. It was a Chevy Tahoe, a big fat SUV and I don't like big fat SUVs because they are bad for the environment. But boy, it was fun to drive. But now I'm off on a tangent.

The point was, we brought music with us. Several of us burned CDs to listen to during the long periods stuck in the kind of traffic that can only be caused by 50,000 people commuting every day from Baton Rouge.

Of course one of my CDs was songs of New Orleans. It's easy to put together a collection of New Orleans songs. There is magic in the place. The city just cries out for songs to be written for it, and many musicians and poets have responded.

This time our destination is Iowa. I didn't own any Iowa music. I didn't know of any Iowa music. I wasn't really figuring on finding much, but I decided to take a look on iTunes.

There are a lot of songs about Iowa.

I sampled a bunch, and downloaded enough to fill a CD. As a matter of fact, I was able to restrict myself only to songs called Iowa. They are all big, wide, lonely beautiful, haunting songs. One is even a particularly poignant song about the Iowa river flooding.

I don't know much about Iowa, really... Stopped there a couple of times on my way someplace else... The last place Buddy Holly played before he left this earth... The place where truly deserving baseball players end up after they die...

There are folks out there with a sense of wonder about the place. I'll be there in two weeks. I'm hoping to catch it.