“The leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States is car accidents. Teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers.”
Wear a seat belt. Wear a seat belt. Wear a seat belt. It is echoed again and again by schools, parents, public service announcements and new laws. It is often ignored or forgotten or considered redundant by teenage drivers. The simple act of putting on a seat belt does not just save your life. It saves the lives of the people you love.
The following three stories are personal and tragic reminders that go beyond the teenage driving statistics and into the lives of families who have lost someone in a car accident.
Bonnie, Randal and Stephen Arends
The day that Stephen and his twin brother Greg got into a car accident started out like any other day. It was yearbook picture day. Greg and Stephen wore their Future Farmers of America jackets as they ate breakfast. They left for school. Moments later the car was “wrapped around a pole” by the side of the road.
In the past two months Foley Square has traded heavy heat for crisp breezes–I have the cold to prove it–but also photo happy tourists for jumping stilters and conceptual artists. Yep, this little patch of concrete elicits a variety of types not just federal employees and legal professionals from the nearby courthouses and government offices. Each day we welcome public to the booth, we’re not quite sure who will be milling around just outside our bright box in the shadow of Lorenzo Pace’s grand granite sculpture, “The Triumph of the Human Spirit.”
“I’ve got those blue ridge mountain blues/and I’ll stand right here to say/my grip is packed to travel and I’m scratching gravel/for the blue ridge far away.”
-Earl Scruggs, “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues”
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was founded in October of 1985 with the mission of increasing awareness of breast cancer issues. Eighty five percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease so early detection is one of the most important contributors to survival until the cure is found. On October 3, 2008 I met two breast cancer survivors; Sharon Rapoport, who survived her own diagnosis, and her husband John Anderson who has seen four women in his life fight to survive the disease. Sharon, John’s younger sister Mary, Caryl, a close family friend, and John’s mother Ann were all diagnosed with breast cancer. Of these four, John’s mother was the only one to die from the disease, but she didn’t go with out a fight.
Icons of the world: the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Taj Mahal, the Sphynx, Machu Picchu, the good, old leaning Tower of Pisa, the H&C Coffee Cup…
“I love to laugh! Loud and long and clear”
- Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins
I can hear laughter coming from across the parking lot at Metro Centre. It is Marlene Olson and her nanny Linda Blakey. Marlene has a flower in her hair and Linda wears a baseball cap.
“You’ve been the other half of me for a long time, caring for my kids when I couldn’t be there,” Marlene says to Linda.
Linda talks about the activities she spontaneously concocted in her daytime nanny duty at the Olson residence. “We used to dress up and play music on oatmeal boxes. We played Army and I would paint the kids’ faces green and they would slide down the stairs on their bellies.”
Linda also liked to make up songs on-the-spot. One such tune was “The Rainbow Song.” The three kids would stand in front of the refrigerator waiting for the light coming through the stained glass window to decorate their bodies with rainbows: “Got a rainbow on my shoulder, got a rainbow on my knee. Got a rainbow here for you and a rainbow here for me.”
Peoria, Illinois has become famous for its ability to most accurately represent a microcosm of the United States of America. Due to its diverse demographics, and perceived mainstream Midwestern culture, Peoria has often been used as a primary test market for a variety of products, services and policies that subsequently reach the whole of the U.S. Peoria’s utility as America’s litmus test was certainly not lost on the theater industry. During the days of Vaudeville, the phrase “Will it play in Peoria?” was coined as a reference to a show’s ability to appeal to the mainstream American Public. This mandate has undoubtedly lived on for 90 years in the care and keeping of the Peoria Players Community Theater.
In its 90th season, Peoria Players is the longest continuously running community theater in Illinois, and the 4th longest running theater in the U.S. Throughout its lifespan the stage has never gone dark for any season, even when faced with daunting obstacles ranging from economic hardship to national crises.
During World War II, the city of Peoria experienced a shortage of men, opting to cast mustache-laden 8th graders in lead male roles to remedy the problem. In the 1950s the creation of the “super highway” I-74 forced the company to move, with construction plans calling for the new transit artery to run directly through the space they inhabited. The 1960s found the Peoria Players in a leaking building and in a financial bind. A partnership was arranged with the Peoria Park District to transfer ownership, unburdening the Theater from the onus of maintenance, and allowing the group to focus more intently on filling the seats.
“All the rejection in the world can’t stop the power of a promise that you make to a loved one.” – Eric Brinker, Nephew of Susan G. Komen
At Metro Centre in Peoria, pink flags wave on top of parking lot lights. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but these flags stay up all year. Metro Centre used to be farmland, a place where Susan G. Komen, namesake of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, would go horseback riding. Now it is a community shopping center owned by Eric Brinker.
Eric came to the MobileBooth on one of the first crisp fall days to talk about how his family started Susan G. Komen Foundation. “Susan G. Komen was my aunt. She died of breast cancer at age 37,” Eric says. Susan had breast cancer in “the dark days” of the disease. “You didn’t talk about it. You called it the big C word. They weren’t providing treatment options that were anything more than barbaric. People thought it was contagious.”
What with behemoths like Borders and Barnes & Nobles plying the masses with square footage, seats-a-plenty, embedded coffee shops and the low prices economies of scale allow, it’s difficult even for even literary locavores to patronize independent bookstores yet booklovers are still drawing up business plans and leasing storefronts. In fact, the New York Times‘ City Room blog recently spotlighted a few upstart booksellers while pondering their viability.
Well, StoryCorps already gleaned some insight into the subject thanks to Buffalo, New York couple Kenneth and Sharon Holley. Visitors to our MobileBooth in July, the Holleys, who met at the North Jefferson library where Sharon worked when Kenneth popped in to check out a book by John A. Williams, recounted two decades spent owning and operating the now defunct Harambee Books.
I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one. Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down.
- Virgil Thomson
While the music scene in Roanoke may not be as visible as the scenes in other southern cities, like Athens, GA or Austin, TX, it is, for the inquisitive music lover, a rewarding discovery. One day, after checking out a matinee at the Grandin Theatre just outside of downtown Roanoke I found my guide sitting next to the popcorn machine. Peter Evans works at the theatre but he is also part of the Magic Twig Community, a homegrown arts collective that includes bands and side projects like Boys Lie, The Missionaries, Rootstone Jug Band, The Sad Cobras and Turbo P, and visual artists, Kelly Queener and Indianface. With the indie trifecta of the Plan 9 Records store, the Mystic Fortress rehearsal studio and the Water Heater art and performance venue, the Magic Twig Community might just put the Star City on the map as the next new music mecca.
“Not one in a million Americans ever again will ride a scheduled mainline passenger train behind a live and breathing steam locomotive. That time is gone. “
- liner notes from The Fading Giant
It’s impossible to ignore the train in Roanoke, the nightly screech of freight trains edging through town, the whistles that pierce the city’s hum throughout the day. Each morning, Whitney and I run across a bridge and peer down on the train tracks below, hundreds of boxcars full of coal form a line clear to the horizon. There hasn’t been a single morning when one of us hasn’t commented on the sight.
Bill Arnold was born 50 feet from the tracks.
StoryCorps’ Community Outreach department partners with organizations all over New York to bring the StoryCorps experience to their members and to collect the stories of a diverse cross-section of our city. One recent partnership is with Other Countries, a peer-facilitated workshop for black gay men, founded in the 1980s during the height of the Black Gay Arts Movement.
I facilitated an interview at our Brooklyn office. Afterwards NYC Outreach Coordinator Andre Lancaster (himself a writer/playwright), hosted a clip-focused writing workshop where Other Countries writers listened to StoryCorps Griot interviews.
Tina Olson and John Heinsius
A guy could get used to this. After my first week as a Facilitator at the San Francisco StoryBooth, I have already had the pleasure of meeting people with truly inspired stories. The interesting thing is, I have almost started to look back on their stories as if they have been a long lost memory of my own.
Of course, they’re not. They are Jack Heinsius’s memories of his mother from when he was a child, and Tina Olson’s stories of her father hiding in haystacks to avoid capture by German soldiers. They are Peter Nathan Roberts recounting the old Union songs his parents would have him sing at the dinner table when he was young. I never took a bus to the March on Washington in the 1960s as Peter did, nor have I ever started an organization to raise money for hungry children around the world as the Fredricks family has.
Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.
- Lyndon B. Johnson
The people known as the Somali Bantu have endured centuries of discrimination and violence, and during the recent war in Somalia, the Bantu were again the victims of violence in that country. Of the roughly 20,000 Somali Bantu refugees in Africa and Yemen, some 5,000 found refuge in Tanzania. In 1999, the United States Government offered the remaining 12,000 Somali Bantu refugees in Kenya the protection they had been seeking for over 10 years. The refugees are being settled in over 50 cities in 38 states. Many of those refugees have made their way to Roanoke, Virginia. MobileEast had the pleasure of recording conversations between Rahmo Isse and her mother Rukia Hussein, who are both Somali Bantu, and Saadiya Guhad and her sister Faduma who are Somali.
One of my favorite parts of working as a facilitator is learning about what other people do for a living. Janitors and teachers, lawyers and railway workers, preachers, salesmen, farmers, I have listened to the tales of just about every profession it seems, but I have never encountered quite the enthusiasm and passion that Leah Gardner, Volunteer & Education Coordinator for the O.Winston Link Museum expressed for her job. Leah and her co-worker and friend, Allison Hasson dropped by the booth recently to talk about their work within the community.
I believe the true function of age is memory. I’m recording as fast as I can.
- Rita Mae Brown
On October 8, MobileBooth East completed our first Door-to-Door recording in Salem, Virginia at the Richfield Retirement Community. We learned very quickly about the hard work the Door-to-Door team does on a regular basis and realized the challenges and rewards of taking the StoryCorps experience to people’s doorsteps. We met wonderful folks and recorded stories that were funny, poignant, and heartwarming. We heard the story of Eileen Dunnavent, who worked in a factory to support her two children. We listened to Erna Isler recall her days as an artist in Mexico, and we relived a moment with Dora Leigh and Dwaine Russell when they had their first conversation on a friend’s front porch. The European travels of Nancy Mutter, a.k.a. “The Countess of Sower, Virginia” made for quite a few amusing tales, and Elinor Bradford’s account of how Mole Hill got turned into a mountain had Nina howling with laughter!
We’d like to thank the staff of Richfield Retirement Community for making us feel so welcome and for caring enough to preserve the memories of their residents.
“I wake up every day and create this world…how you likin’ it so far?”
Phil Doubet wears a self-designed t-shirt with the quote above. These are the words of Willie York, a well-known homeless man in Peoria, Illinois, who Phil once talked to at a gas station on Monroe Street.
In 2005, Phil talked to 333 people. He honored them through self-publishing their stories word-for-word in a 600 page book entitled My Pryor Year: A 333 Soul Anthology. His inspiration was a book from his own childhood, called Pioneers of the Ozarks, written by his great uncle Lennis Broadfoot. Lennis lived in Dent County, Missouri and his life work was to compose character profiles of the Ozarks pioneers. He “would go to different villages and draw people in charcoal and then listen to their stories.”
Phil did not carry the charcoal that his great uncle carried decades before. He carried a tape recorder. “When I decided to go out and talk to people, I really didn’t have a plan in mind. I went out to restaurants. I went out to bookstores. I went out to people on the street. Random people at random times.”
Roanoke is divided by the railroad. Tracks cut through the city separating the neighborhood of Gainsboro from the downtown area. During segregation, the railroad tracks served as more than just a means to transport goods but as an unofficial border between black and white citizens of Roanoke.
Gainsboro, the historically African American neighborhood lies just across the tracks from the Virginia Museum of Transportation where the MobileBooth is parked. The Henry Street Bridge, located one block away from the MobileBooth, used to be the only way for anyone to cross the tracks from Gainsboro into downtown Roanoke. “We had to be back over the bridge at about six o’clock in the evening,” said participant Dr. Perneller Chubb-Wilson.
It was an honor for me to facilitate an interview between two beautiful women who aren’t related to me by blood, but I certainly call family. Maggie Benedette-Smith and Jann Foley came in to celebrate National Midwife Week (October 7 – October 13). I learned that midwifery has always existed in the United States, but was legitimized in the 1920s by Mary Breckenridge, founder of the Frontier Nursing Service. Breckenridge and her staff traveled on horseback or foot to women’s homes over a 700 mile radius in rural Kentucky and dramatically lowered both infant and maternal mortality rates. (more…)
All those beautiful powerful words, they were you!
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac
The Mill Mountain Players are a theatrical touring program launched in 1999 as a solution for educators in and around Roanoke, Virginia who wanted to expose their students to the theatre-going experience. In addition to serving area schools, the Players perform across the Commonwealth, enabling Mill Mountain Theatre to extend its reach and deepen its artistic and educational impact. Three of the Players – Justin Johnson, Allison Nock, and Michael Stablein – are currently performing their own special version of Cyrano de Bergerac, the classic play written by poet Edmond Rostand.