Monday, July 27, 2009

The Plaza's Enticing Aura

Kansas City has the appeal of most American cities but lacks the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s laid back, the people are friendly and you feel like you can enjoy yourself, whether you’re shopping, sipping a cup of coffee or eating a nice dinner. Unlike the “I’ll take your money and you can go” attitude served in many major California cities, you don’t feel rushed in and out of your every stop.

The sun was out, but temperatures were unusually comfortable for this time of year. When we first arrived, it was the time of day, just before the sun goes down, when everything quiets down and becomes still. That is, all except for the slight breeze blowing, warm on the skin. As the night went on, the breeze grew with intensity and then died back down again. The first person that walked by on the street, greeted me with a genuine “How are you doing?” and made me feel as though I had a personal welcome to the city; this welcome was sincere, not superficial or self-consumed.

We made our ascent up the outdoor staircase that led to the entrance of McCormick and Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant. We were seated on the patio, under an umbrella that provided shade earlier in the day, before the sun hid behind the tall buildings, carved with detail, exuding character absent in modern architecture.

The waiter, well informed of the items on the menu, brought a platter of delicately prepared Bruchetta to our table as tech tests were being performed on a sound system on the street below. Before our entrees were served, a man and a younger woman, I’m guessing father and daughter, began performing hit blues, jazz and other easy listening songs. Their soothing voices echoed up to where we were seated, enhancing the evening's delight.

Temperatures cooled to a slight chill as we finished our delicious meals. We made our way back down to the walkways where the volume of the music increased with every stride. The streets were lined with old lampposts that lit our way and served as a hanger where bright clusters of flowers hung like drying laundry on a clothesline.

The rest of the evening was spent window-shopping, as many of the shops were already closed. Artificial lighting displayed the merchandise of the stores that set current trends in clothes and furnishings as if they were belongings of royalty. Childlike anticipation swelled inside as we imagined ourselves dressed in the latest fashions and made note of stores worth revisiting the following day. Dresses, purses, jewelry and shoes lured me inside upon my return, where I justified my unnecessary purchases as “something to remember Kansas City by.” Souvenirs, if you will.

Clouds began to form and rain started to fall just as we were leaving the city. It was as if the weather was holding out for our stay there, and led me to further justify my impulse buys, as a “gift from God that was meant to be.”

My bare arms were chilled in the Kansas City air,
As the summer winds tousled my long blonde hair.
Music echoed down the dark street below
Lit by dim lights; their faint orange glow.
Bright colored flowers hung from lampposts.
And shops were filled with fashionable clothes.
Window-shoppers, pointed out their favorite styles
On the square called the Plaza, filled with friendly smiles.
The sidewalks were made of brick cobblestone
Where I ended my visit with a leisurely roam
Down the streets of the city modeled after 1920s Spain
And we started back home, as it began to rain.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Some Things Come to an End

I moved to Iowa for the summer, knowing that this would be a fun, educational experience. But there was simply no way for me to predict the extent of either the fun or the education that I truly have received. The corn stalks are up over my head now, and the ears of corn are developing, harvest is approaching, and I find myself reflecting on my summer, and what lies around the next bends in life's path:

In my application, I remember noting the specific things that I wanted to learn, over the summer. I have been educated in all of those areas as well as many more. I have learned so much from my supervisor, my mentor and my friend, JoAnn. She is, as anyone who knows her can affirm, a wonderful, intelligent, informative and well respected woman, whom I am grateful to be mentored by. She is well-informed of the pork industry, communications, marketing, writing, interviewing and planning. You name it—she can do it. She’s even taught me a thing or two about…ducks.

On our trip to Canada, she taught me how to play a game called Thinky-Pinky and another guessing game she and her sister used to play at bedtime. Before drifting off to sleep, they would hum a few notes from a song and let the other guess what it was. On a visit to her father’s house, we stayed in the very room that she and her sister shared growing up. Shortly after the lights went out, JoAnn belted out what she thought was a perfect clue, to the song she was thinking of. “Duuuuuuuunnnn—dun!” Brooke (JoAnn’s daughter) and I broke into hysterical laughter. When we gave up, JoAnn simply translated: “Looooooooooove Shack”—which of course only made us laugh harder.

I am so pleased with how well the two of us get along. We have spent a lot of time together this summer, and we are both astonished at how quickly it has gone by. We are finding ourselves talking about final plans for my internship, as the end of it approaches. Aside from spending each day a room apart from each other clicking away at our computers, we have shared many meals together, gone to the Farmer’s Market in Des Moines, looked through scrapbooks, stood at Lake Michigan, attended church, drove to Canada, gone shopping together and shared with one another in conversation about life, religion, relationships, songs, friends and our many experiences this summer. We have laughed to the point that we nearly cried, and have seen the many sides of each other.

I’ve also been blessed with neighbors, and other locals who have been nothing but friendly during my stay here. At night, after I get off, I think about all of the things that I love about this place and that I will so dearly miss. I am well aware that the end of my stay here is quickly approaching, as I prepare to head back home. But unlike the old saying “all things must come to an end,” I know that the memories and friendships that I have created here have no end to them.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

County Roads and City Lights

Halfway through my stay here in Iowa, I am beginning to miss home. As much as I am enjoying my experiences here, images of home linger. Cara, my friend since the fifth grade, came to spend a week with me, and the timing couldn’t have been any better. Having her here was like having a little piece of home to remind me of what I will be returning to.

Sometimes you have to have something taken away before you realize its worth or its value. I have been in Fresno most all of my life, yet never realized the privilege that it is. In fact, I have always had a plan to leave when the opportunity presented itself. My extended stay away from home has illuminated what I overlooked when I was pre-occupied with the idea that “the grass is greener on the other side.” Though it is literally greener here in Iowa, the figurative “green” from the old saying exists anywhere you are. You only have to open your eyes to see it.

Both Cara and I have been amused by the small town that I am staying in. Not unlike the movies, Panora is a place where the town sheriff walks into a restaurant and calls the people by name. Secrets are rare, weather is a topic of conversation and the people are friendly and real. The setting is gorgeous, spaces are wide open and the air is so clean. Dirt roads and cornfields seem to be all there is for miles on end.

We spent the fourth of July in Chicago, the utter extreme of Panora, where lights, traffic, people and buildings temporarily fill the voids of people seeking all forms of entertainment. We rode busses, crossed bridges, stood at the 103rd floor of the Sears Tower and saw the sun set from the pier, behind the silhouette of the skyline. We watched fireworks burst above the lake before making our way back to our downtown hotel, amid a crowd of people.

Since she’s been here, we’ve done everything from visit a livestock auction yard in Guthrie Center, Iowa, to eating deep dish pizza In Chicago Illinois; some of which I can do at home, in California. But others are unique to this part of the country. There are things about the Midwest I will miss deeply: the fireflies, the weather, the vast openness and fresh air, the people and their traditions. But there are things about my home that are unique too. The landscape, the variety, the location that offers both county roads and city lights, and a different kind of people. But most of all, family and friends; no part of the world, regardless of its grandeur, could ever replace these.

Land That I Love

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

These words ignite emotions of pride as we approach the holiday weekend ahead. I am reminded of the various experiences that I have locked in my memory, all in the name of free will. I have traveled to the four corners of America and have worked several jobs. I attend the church of my choice, count as one vote during elections and am a year away from earning my degree. Thanks to the liberties declared during the foundation of our nation, that so many have honorably served to enforce and protect, I am able to enjoy such an experience as an internship, and all that it entails. I so deeply appreciate all that is available to me because of the many sacrifices others have made throughout the generations.

I had the opportunity to attend a community-supported patriotic concert last weekend. The event was organized to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers of Iowa. I was touched, as always, by the support of the community. Rows of people dressed in summer dresses, shorts, hats and patriotic attire spread blankets and lawn chairs on the grass before a stage as an all-male quartet began to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Flags lining the side of the audience, each representing a fallen soldier, stood erect in the wind.

In front of me, two children drew sticks in the dirt to keep occupied during the performance. The young girl tip-toed barefoot in the dirt, while her older brother gathered dirt into a pile he formed with his bare hands. Beside me, an elderly gentleman stood to be recognized as a World War II veteran while the band played the anthem for his branch of the military. He stood beside me clapping his hands to the beat of the music. I thought about the war he fought, the long life he has lived, the many experiences he has faced and the people he has been in contact with throughout the course of his life. And somehow that day, he shared something in common with the two children who played there in front of us. Their lives have barely begun and they have yet to leave a mark on this world. Yet I recognized a single similarity in three dissimilar individuals: Their heritage, their freedom, their privilege of living in America.