Friday, March 6, 2009

“The good Lord doesn’t even wake up that early"; Albuquerque to Flagstaff

In order to make it to a group breakfast at 6:00, alarm clocks starting ringing at 5:00 sharp. It’s our second to last day, and the schedule is starting to wear on us a little bit. No matter, the kindness and good humor of our Albuquerque hosts had us out of bed and at the breakfast table before we could grumble about it. We enjoyed some good food, good stories, and laughter before piling back in the van (we can get everything packed and loaded in under five minutes now) and headed to the Menaul School on the other side of town.

The school was built in the late 1800s and the architecture was beautiful. We certainly found a different crowd at this place than at the other schools we’ve seen. This is a private school with about two hundred students. Even though our audience was pretty different, we found that our message “Choose to Lead” was still relevant in this setting. We also had the chance to attend chapel where we learned about St. Patrick in anticipation of the 17th.

After our morning at the Menaul School, we headed down the street for a good New Mexican lunch. After learning all about the rivalry between green and red chili (it’s a big question around here), we enjoyed some quality food before jumping in the van to race to the Sandia National Laboratory.

This was a really neat stop. We were able to meet with a high-ranking member of the facility who generously and eloquently shared her vast knowledge with us. This interview was different from the others we have held on this trip. With the exception of the Scott Air Force Base interview, our other interviews have involved leaders with a somewhat “small” circle of influence that didn’t extend much further than their own town. This PhD at Sandia had worked very hard to climb to her current position, and she was well acquainted with the qualities necessary for strong leadership.

She told us about Sandia’s several national security missions. The lab currently works to ensure a safe nuclear weapons deterrent, reduce proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and threat of accidents, ensure clean and abundant energy and water, maintain U.S. military weapon-systems superiority, and develop technology to support all national security missions. They also help protect our nation against terrorism through advanced technology. She answered many of our questions about these issues, especially in the current political and economic climate. We were struck by her optimism as she spoke about our current state – she had no doubt that all would swing back in the other direction in a matter of time, and she expressed little or no concern for our current situation. Her confidence was very encouraging. She does not anticipate that her work will be significantly affected by the change of administration in the White House.

In addition to questions about her particular field, she also addressed many of our questions about leadership. She emphasized repeatedly the importance of working on a team; she believes good leaders don’t work to create their own legacy, but rather for the common good. The value of self-sacrifice was implicit in her comments.

This leader did not dive into our questions about morals, ethics, and character the way some of our other interviewees have done. I do not think this was due to lack of interest, however; I simply cannot imagine this woman would ever make a choice that was not honest, thoroughly considered, and careful, so it is not an area that seems to require much deliberation on her part. I had a great deal of admiration for her dedication, her efficiency, and her intelligence; it makes me feel good to know that people like her are leading this essential part of our nation’s department of defense.

After our time with her, we were taken on a tour of Sandia’s visitor center. Our guide fastidiously led us through models of secure facilities, showed us how volatile materials are packaged and “booby-trapped”, demonstrated how radioactive materials are contained and stored, and even let us wave hello to Russia on a webcam. It was fascinating.

We piled into the van in a state of exhaustion and headed toward Flagstaff. Thanks to some on-board Blackberries and quick telephone calls to 411, we found a place to stay for our final night. The drive through the desert was breathtaking. The rocks, the mountains, the lighting, the small towns – this is how we’d pictured Route 66. Another wonderful day. All of us sad to see it ending.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Amarillo to Albuquerque

We woke up bright and early once again. Fortunately, today the weather was warm. Our generous hosts provided us with hot lattes, fresh donuts, and homemade muffins. I’ve always heard that Texans were famous for hospitality, but these folks have really gone above and beyond. Their kindness is so touching. As we departed from Anna Street Church of Christ, we made our way to our first ranch visit of the day.
We arrived at Cadillac Ranch to see the sun rising in the distance. Cadillac Ranch isn’t just any ranch. Back in 1974, Stanley Marsh III partnered up with an art company called Ant Farm. They celebrated the “Golden Age” of American Automobiles by half burying ten Cadillacs head first into the ground. Visitors are welcome to embellish the site with cans of spray paint, and we were thrilled to find some paint cans on the ground; we all took a shot at making our mark on the Cadillacs and had fun taking pictures.
From there, we headed off to Adrian, Texas, which claims to be the midpoint of Route 66. After establishing that we were literally in the middle of nowhere by lying in the middle of the highway to take pictures with no threats from passing cars, we headed off to the real ranch, Bridwell Ranch. Not only were we ready to learn about life on a ranch, but were accompanied by a class of kindergarteners from the elementary school in Adrian. To give you an idea of the type of area we were in, their school bus route is 45 miles long.
At Bridwell, we all gained a new appreciation for cowboys and how hard their work really is. We observed the process of calves being branded, castrated, de-horned, having their ears notched, and receiving shots. It was quite a process. This is how it works: the cowboys are divided into two teams of five. One is mounted on a horse and has the task of roping one calf’s two back feet together and dragging it away from the herd and over to the other cowboys. Within about fifteen seconds, the team has the calf on its side, shoves the red-hot brand into its flank, notches one ear, clips off the horns at the base, injects two vaccinations, and castrates the (now) steers. The calves holler at the beginning, but they immediately return to the herd and watch their buddies go through the same thing. It’s brutal to watch, but the timelessness and efficiency of the process somehow makes it all seem okay. It’s just a different world out here.
As we were watching the branding process, we had the opportunity to talk with some of the wives of the cowboys. They told us what it’s like to raise kids on a 120,000 acre ranch and how one of them only goes to town twice a month. When electricity goes out, it’s out for a while, which means no lights, no plumbing and no refrigeration. The kids around us were tough and scruffy – they clung to barbed-wire fences and fell in the dirt repeatedly without making a sound. Pretty different from the kids some of us babysit in Malibu.
One member of our group was brave enough to sample the Texas Oysters (yes, testacies) the cowboys roasted up on site. One cowboy grossed us out by introducing us to Texas Sushi; yes…he ate them raw.
When the branding was over, we piled our dusty bodies back into the van and found some lunch at a Mexican restaurant called Roosters in the town of Vega. The food was delicious. We were charmed to sit next to the town sheriff, complete with a vest, a sheriff star, and a monstrous handlebar mustache. Some things never seem to change.
One of our hosts in Amarillo told us about a very special place called Boys Ranch, and she was able to arrange a last-minute visit for us. I don’t think any of us was expecting such a meaningful experience. Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch is an amazing place. It is one of America's largest privately-funded child and family service providers, which exists to provide housing, education, and an active and loving community for at-risk and disadvantaged children. Many children live on-site in small residences, and many children and families take advantage of the incredible educational and extra-curricular programs available. The facilities were beautiful and state of the art. We got a tour of the facilities by the ranch’s chaplain, and even got to meet a few children. How richly blessed we were by everyone at this place.
Somehow the word got around that we were a singing group (?), and we were asked to lead a group of children in a few worship songs. After a moment of panic and a warp-speed rehearsal session with Hunter at the guitar, we stood on stage and sang some songs for our new friends. As we got ready to leave, one little boy stood at the microphone to say a prayer for us that I know we will never forget: “Dear God, thank you for our friends who sang us like three songs. Amen.” We were all given lots of parting hugs and were walking on air as we left. Our host even treated us to some amazing Texas ice cream before we hit the road – what a stop.
We drove through the evening along a very windy stretch of highway to Albuquerque where we stopped at a Route 66 diner for burgers, shakes, and classic diner fare. We met our hosts at Legacy church and snuggled into their cozy houses in the windy night. We closed our sleepy eyes on another day of new sights, unusual cultural experiences, and being the undeserving recipients of awe-inspiring generosity.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Day 4: Troy, Illinois to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The start of today was similar to that of those prior…freezing cold.

We had to make up for lost time from the day before so our departure from Troy, Illinois and the Rice family was around 7:00 a.m. The night spent there was a blessing, as Mr. and Mrs. Rice graciously opened their home (and pantry) to us.

Our early morning venture through St. Louis once again allowed us to see the massive Gateway Arch from a distance. The first stop came at a small mini-mart of sorts located just off of Route 66 called Wrinks Market ( Inside we found a few locals who were more than eager to share their stories with us. One of them was a feller by the name of Mr. Delmer Capps (Capps Used Cars if you ever need a car). He’s lived around Route 66 his entire life, first in Bristow and now in Lebanon, Missouri. Mr. Capps moved to Lebanon while still in high school (where he met his wife) because of his father’s work. When we asked him to tell us what he loves most about the town, he immediately shot back with, “the friendly people.” Supposedly years ago when you would enter Lebanon there was a large arch over the road with the words “Welcome to Lebanon, Home of 5,000 Friendly People.”
Another encounter at Wrinks Market was with Mitchell, a third generation to live in the small town, and by far the most animated and outgoing of those we came upon today. He has 6 kids (all of whom have either joined the military or obtained advanced degrees of some sort) and 13 grandkids. In a few weeks time Mitchell is going on a service trip to San Antonio, Texas, to cook meals for wounded soldiers, because he has two boys of his own who have served in Iraq. It’s stories like these that we constantly come across stop after stop.

The rest of the afternoon was spent weaving in and out of all the towns along Route 66. Since we were strapped for time, the ability to stop in all of them was near impossible. However, thanks to the navigational skills of Taylor, we managed to see the location of a home that had been ordered from a Sears catalog in the early 1900’s and delivered by train. There was also the massive whale that swallowed Jonah (, which we found in Catoosa, Oklahoma.

The last leg of the day we drove through a beautiful part of Oklahoma just as the sun was setting. It was one of the moments when time slows down almost to a halt, and the ability to simply watch the sight reminds you of the greatness that surrounds us on a daily basis.

Our experiences thus far have helped us see beyond the big city of LA, as much of our time is spent observing social and cultural norms along the way. Here are just a few of them…some humorous, and others more thoughtful:

Observation #1
Chicago is really cold…LA is not.

Observation #2
Lambert’s Café in Ozark, Missouri, has a book about dating in their gift shop that will change your life. Their collection also extends into informational guides about college and arthritis, just to ensure that the 3 big areas of one’s life are covered.

Observation #3
Driving styles, and by that we mean people here actually let you over without giving you a certain finger at the same time (perhaps it’s because we now have that extra hand free in LA that we didn’t have before).

Observation #4
13 hours of driving along Route 66 will net you about 520 miles.
13 hours of driving in LA will get you from campus to the Staples center…on a good day.

Observation #5
While the major cities like LA, NYC, and Chicago often push our nation towards innovation and progress, the constant heartbeat of the US is found in these small towns along Route 66. The values, thoughts, hopes, and dreams of these families and individuals provide a sense of stability that we all take for granted and more often than not find ourselves continually running back to, especially now with all that’s going on in this country.

Observation #6
Values are the currency along this road, and these people don’t leave home without them.

Happy trails to you…

Sunday, March 1, 2009


We woke up to a frosty morning (15 degrees..brr!) and a breakfast of some wonderful apple-cinnamon muffins in a Wheaton College apartment. After finishing off our tea and packing up our van, we set off on our journey. Our initial encounter with Route 66 was in Joliet, where we found the 'City of Spires' to be quiet and the route well-marked.

We had heard about the trouble folks can have trying to follow the old route now that the interstate has taken over the territory. Yes, there are signs, but you really have to pay attention. The drive lead us along narrow roads that twisted and turned through corridors lined with barren trees and small farms. The frosty weather certainly contributes to this sentiment, but there is something slightly eerie about the silence and stillness of the towns along the Mother Road. It is clear that these were once essential outposts along life-altering pilgrimages for so many.

In Dwight, we were ready to get out and see a historical landmark. Turns out there was a windmill, remembered as the town's pillar of strength (see photo!). These little outcroppings of homes and small businesses are silent this time of the year --we drove through many without seeing one soul! Odell has a beautifully restored 1932 gas station, whose Odell-born caretaker coincidentally showed up just as we stopped to take a look. His name was Hermie Furman, our first Route 66 aficionado. Hermie told us about when the gas attendants gave out S&H green stamps. He is very proud of the service station. He is proud of Odell. He wonders who will look after it when he is no longer able. It is important to him.

We confess with more than a trace of shame that we, too, succumbed to the efficiency of the interstate when our evening appointments made it necessary to pick up the pace. It is fascinating to watch Route 66 switch from one side of the interstate to the other, seldom more than 100 feet away from the shoulder. The skies were wide and blue, dotted with puffy white clouds. We passed countless fields, century-old grain silos silhouetted against the golden plains and blue horizon.

Perhaps the most picturesque of our stops was Funks Grove. Our GPS had never heard of it, so we "followed our gut" and wound up on a curving path through a think maple grove. Tin basins were mounted at the bottom of the trees to collect sap that would be boiled down into "sirup." The scene was reminiscent of the accounts of syrup-making in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods many of us read as children. Looks like they still do it just the same way.

After a drive through Pontiac and a few other towns, we made our next stop in Springfield. The city was oddly empty - we couldn't have seen more than five people walking on the street the whole time we were there (and why were all the stores and restaurants closed?). Springfield celebrates Abraham Lincoln and has preserved his legacy beautifully in Lincoln's Presidential Museum, the visitor's center, and the home in which Lincoln lived for many years prior to assuming the presidency. The town is celebrating with particular enthusiasm because 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of our hero's birth.

A few of us were able to squeeze in a visit to Lincoln's home in our limited time. The experience, or perhaps I should call it an encounter, has lingered. As we focus on leadership this week, the theme of our endeavor, it was particularly moving to find ourselves in the home of one of the most influential persons we have in our heritage. We sprinted up to the house to see a historical sight; I was not prepared for the gravity of the event. Lincoln was a man of unbelievable humility. He sought no glory, fame, or wealth. It seems he accepted the office almost reluctantly; why does this phenomenon seem to appear in all of our greatest heroes?

It is always arresting to realize that our heroes were folks who sat in chairs, ate meals, purchased furniture, and made choices about wallpaper. How inspiring to realize that the giants upon whose shoulders we stand were not giants at all, but carbon based, oxygen breathing, companionship seeking humans no different from you and me.

We reluctantly left Springfield and made our way to the Rabbit Ranch. I know each of us could write a novel about this meeting, and perhaps we will need to compose a collaborative account of the experience to fully do it justice. Basically, we spent an evening with an eccentric man determined to keep the passions of his heart from melting into embers. A fourth generation trucker, this man retired to run the Rabbit Ranch because he wanted to. He told us a touching story about his father, a trucker from 1937 to 1997. He was proud of his father, but confessed that he had no hobby or passion to fill in the empty hours when he quit. He sadly reported that his father passed away just two years after retiring. This sage of the route learned from his father's mistake and poured himself into the ranch, the bunnies, and especially into the people who stop by on their tours of 66. What an individual. Check out the photos.

We're headed to our school in St. Louis tomorrow! We are eager to get started with our leadership workshops and encourage high school students to "Choose to Lead."

Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Kind of Town

What a wonderful day we spent in the Windy City! We awoke in Libertyville and hit the road early after trying to express our overflowing thanks to our gracious hosts. People are pretty wonderful, as they are so good to remind us.

After a brief "driving tour" (read: getting super lost) along LakeShore Drive and Michigan Avenue, we headed immediately to Millennium Park for a photo shoot at the big silver bean. The sky was blue and the air was a crisp fourteen degrees - a little rough on the extremities, but most flattering to the view around us. Chicago is a beautiful city.

We warmed up inside the Chicago Institute of Art as we toured an exhibit of portraits by Yosuf Karsh that featured a diverse selection of the 20th century's most influential public figures. It definitely gave us pause for reflection as we focus our attention on the meaning and implications of leadership this week.

The museum's permanent collections dazzled. Each time we turned a corner we were confronted with a masterpiece we'd seen in textbooks, studied, written about, and hung on our bedroom walls years ago. I wonder if anyone has even been able to articulate why it our hearts catch in our throats as we stand before certain canvases.

We walked across the street and saw the official beginning of Route 66 before stepping into a cafe for a bite of lunch. Then we drive to the Steppenwolf Theater to catch a matinee performance of Art by French playwright Yazmina Reza. The play tells the story of three male friends, one of whom has recently spent a fortune on a plain white painting. The purchase of this "work of art" (?) causes an explosive argument between the three, exploring the nature of friendship, the definining traits of selfhood, and the power of art to evoke our deepest thoughts and convictions. We were able to stay for a discussion afterward with the director who shared wonderful insight with the crowd.

We spent our evening exploring Michigan Avenue. A few girls took a walk down memory lane at the American Girl Place (I'll admit, it may or may not have fulfilled a childhood dream long forgotten). We enjoyed a glorious deep-dish pizza dinner at Giordano's, lingering at the table for good conversations and the cherishable process of getting to know our fellow travelers.

Chicago is a strikingly American city. People were very courteous and friendly. They seem hard-working but not stressed, highly aware but optimistic and unafraid. It is already apparent that this part of the world is different from home.

Our itinerary then led us to Wheaton College to spend the night with a crushingly kind group of students in their cozy apartment. We were glad for the chance to spend some time in a kind of "cousin" school to ours. We enjoyed good conversations and a great night's sleep.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Arrival in the Windy City

We have made it to Chicago, and boy is that wind biting! A stark contrast from 70-degree Malibu, we are looking forward to a fun-filled day tomorrow scoping out downtown Chicago and interacting with the people we have already found very friendly and welcoming. We landed at O'Hare, picked up a twelve-passenger van, and hit the highway in the midst of a delicate Illinois snow flurry.

We're staying with a Pepperdine student's family in Libertyville, a town of about 20,000 located thirty miles north of Chicago. Our hosts are gracious and welcoming. As we write, we are cozy and warm in a basement den; supplemented by the clinking of a pool game and tired laughter, the sound of the wind has turned from menacing to cozy.

Our first culinary encounter was at a pizza place called The Silo. We were able to try deep dish Chicago-style pizza, and found it to be quite tasty. The waitress asked about our trip and wished us well, delighted that we had traversed the country to begin our trek in her restaurant, and reminded us, "You're only young once!" We were pleasantly surprised to have an impromptu interview and discussion with our hosts around the dinner table. He works for a pharmecutical company and talked to us about the importance of ethics and morals, as well as the challenges facing large corporations in today's world.

Our dinner conversation beautifully set the stage for our trip. Our host asked if we all take an ethics class at Pepperdine; the answer is no (although a few majors require it). He explained that ethics are deeply personal and vary significantly among individuals, they are not necessarily innate. The function of the American system, from the interactions between neighbors to the policies and practices of big businesses, demand that we acknowledge some absolute boundaries between right and wrong. As young Americans prepare for careers, it is essential that educational institutions do not imply through omission that ethics should or can be considered apart from the acquisition of skills. He noted that his college-age interns showed great interest in the topic, which is encouraging as we think about the future of our country. He made it clear that a good leader is responsible for establishing the ethical boundaries of a group. It is strange to partake on a quest to broaden our horizons by experiencing a different culture in our very own country, but even the past few hours have shown that there will be some lessons to learn on this road from people who live and think differently than we do.

Tomorrow we'll wake up and head into Chicago. We plan to see some some museums, attend a play in the Steppenwolf Theater, sample some more midwestern fare, and commence our journey at the official beginning of Route 66 on Adams Street.

Have any advice? We'd love to hear it!

Friday, December 19, 2008

And the Journey Begins!

Welcome to our blog! We are so excited to get on the road, and start exploring Middle America!
Our trip is scheduled for Spring Break 2009, and we will be embarking on an epic road trip conducting various workshops for high school kids and also interviewing community leaders as we make our way from Chicago to Santa Monica.
Looking forward to a memorable and eye-opening trip!

Departure date: 27 February, Friday for Chicago