{ Kearney’s giant calzones }

April 5, 2014 § 1 Comment

Let’s start from the end of the day, when Andrea uttered, “I am going to tell my grandchildren about this calzone.”

The most unassuming restaurant I think I've ever seen.

The Flippin Sweet. Pretty sure it’s in an old garage.

As journalists and lovers of rock music, we were obligated to order the “Almost Famous.” Pretty sure it’s the best calzone I’ve ever had. Or best food I’ve ever had? I’d post a picture, but this isn’t Midwest Living, and we ate it all in five minutes. “If you were a baby, you would fit in the calzone,” says Andrea.

Anyway, to her credit, after the calzone she did add, “and the cranes,” rather quickly.

Because that’s why we’re really here. To see the Sandhill Cranes staying over near the Platte River. Us and dozens of these other suckers:

Viewing deck on the Platte River just off the Lowell Road bridge south of I-80 exit 285.

Viewing deck on the Platte River just off the Lowell Road bridge south of I-80 exit 285.

This is my third year in a row to see the cranes, but the first time I’ve planned a trip myself. First, I went with a group of journalism students, and last year I went with ornithology students. Now I’m with my Grampa Marty and good good friend Andrea. Very different experiences. I should write a guide book.

I'm fixing my hair, not tired of Grampa's company.

I’m fixing my hair, not tired of Grampa’s company. Although he does tease us quite a bit.

I knew they wouldn’t judge me if I royally messed up plans, and I needed someone to write down our bird list!

Thanks, AK!

{ Not pictured: } our hike around the Eastern Nebraska Platte River Preserve Native Prairie Nature Trail. (That’s a mouthful. They could work on marketing.) Anyway, I’ve been following Chris Helzer’s blog, “The Prairie Ecologist” for several months and was excited to see some of his work. Even though it’s April, and you kind of have to poke around in the grass to see green things.

Also, there’s a great Vietnamese/Thai restaurant on 4th Street in Grand Island, Nebraska. But what is this, Midwest Living? I’ll shut up now.

Can you tell I’m tired? I’m writing like Ernest Hemingway. We’re waking up in four hours to go to the blinds at Rowe Sanctuary. Those birds better appreciate it.

{ Stacy Kranitz: representation in an exploited place }

March 11, 2014 § 2 Comments

Do you come from a place that outsiders get wrong? That’s probably everywhere, right? I know for here, people drive through Missouri on I-70 and just see corn fields, or they know about the Ozarks and think it’s only populated with slow, happy hillbillies. However, I don’t think many people know what to think of the Midwest, or even if they ever do {evidence}. That’s quite different from Appalachia, which invokes broad images of poverty and pretty mountains with pretty much anyone you talk to. I started thinking about this when I came upon the art of Stacy Kranitz a few days ago.

From "Chasing Meth in Laurel County, Kentucky" | Mother Jones

From “Chasing Meth in Laurel County, Kentucky” | Mother Jones

“It became evident that Appalachia was a place where representation had long been vexed,” Kranitz told Mother Jones in a Q&A about her photo essay on meth. In the series, “As It Was Given to Me,” her Appalachia photos trail through the expected foggy mountainscapes and scenes poolgoers draped in American flag towels to the surprising, like portraits of gold-bedazzled men grabbing each others’ thighs and a woman standing between a Native American flag and KKK statue.

To introduce the series, Kranitz writes:

I am initially drawn to stereotypes. Then I look to demystify these stereotypes only to find that they are rooted in some sort of reality. I do not (cannot) exclude the stereotypical image from my representations.

The resulting images are interwoven with both typical and atypical lives captured through controlled and chance operations in the central Appalachian region of America. Ultimately the photographs highlight the flaws of representation in a place with an extensive history of exploitative othering by outsiders.

Photo by Stacy Kranitz
Photo by Stacy Kranitz

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{ Q&A with the Rich Hill directors }

March 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

Now that half the town of Columbia has seen Rich Hill, some people might be interested in this interview with directors Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo that I originally did for Missouri Life magazine. This is the extended version. We talked about their connection to Missouri, how they found their characters, and how not everyone has an equal shot at success. As a bonus, Andrew offered an etiquette guide to waving on country roads.

Fun Fact: Andrew’s stepdad’s grandfather started Missouri Life. “He took photos like crazy, of course, so we have all the slides and prints of his photographs in our house, and we just have all these bound volumes of Missouri Life, which is kind of awesome.“

Tina Casagrand: You two are cousins, and your parents grew up in Rich Hill, right? How did you two reconnect to the town?

Tracy Droz Tragos: Our grandparents still live there. Our grandmother was a schoolteacher and grandfather was the mail carrier. For me, my father was killed in Vietnam when I was a baby, so the relationship with my grandparents in Rich Hill was very very informative. That was sort of my connection to him and to that side of the family. So I would spend most of my summers in Rich Hill and most of my winter breaks.

Andrew Droz Palermo: My mom stayed in Missouri. She went to school at MU and taught grade school in Jeff City. So I’ve lived in Missouri all my life, with the exception of going to college.

TC: Tracy, I read how your grandmother would go around town and show you off. Can you talk about that?

Tracy: And my grandfather, who was also a greeter at church. They were both very big on that, and it would kind of drive me insane. You had to pay your respects and visit all the people, and that was important to do. And I was representing the Droz family, so there was a lot of responsibility in that. But then I would get into it. I remember there was a lady who collected salt and pepper shakers, and all these interesting places. Often older people. Grandfather moved at a really slower place, just had a way with people, and he would take time to talk to them.

TC: So did you kind of use that method trying to find the characters in your film?

Tracy: It goes a long way that we were Dorothy and Clem’s grandkids, so basically doors just opened to us, and there was a lot of trust, and we were really grateful for the way that we were invited into homes and community places.

Harley from Rich Hill.

Harley from Rich Hill.

Andrew: I think all the boys interested us in different ways that really drew us to them. Andrew has such a light to him that we were very drawn to. He’s seemingly wise for his age, and soulful, I think. The same is true for Apache. I think were so touched by him, and I think Apache for me was one of the boys I was most drawn to. He said he wants to be an art teacher in China, and he’s kind of a kindred spirit. He’s just so sharp. And Harley I think, we met Harley through his cousin who we were following for a little bit. Harley’s very comedic; He’s kind of like a car salesman in some ways.

Tracy: Very charming

Andrew: Yeah, charming is the word, for sure.

Tracy: You know, finding the heart of a documentary, you kind of know when it happens. You know generally what you’re hoping to find and look for, but there’s a moment when you realize, OH this is the direction we need to be going with. I don’t think it was just our connection with these kids, it was also their extended families and their stories, and the fact that there was a real desire to share something, and the notion that no one had been interested in their stories or thought that their stories were necessarily worthwhile, and they were so surprised and honored that we did.

TC: I thought it was interesting that it was about young boys. A lot has been written about the downfall of the American boy, by success in school and all that, so it’s an interesting time to document them.

Andrew: Important things too about it being a young person. There are some arguments about impoverished people that they are waiting for handouts or they can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but I think it’s much harder to dismiss young kids; they’re much more victims of their society in a way that hopefully is a lot harder to dismiss. And also their views on the world are interesting because they can be less untainted. They still have some hope and they have these wild dreams at times. It’s certainly very appealing.

Tracy: They’re at this vulnerable time in their life. It’s less about economic security, it’s about social capital. There’s not the social capital there to support their hopes and dreams right now.

TC: What were some of the more joyful moments of making this film?

Andrew: There’s so much love within Andrew’s family. They struggle, and they don’t have a lot, but they have a lot of love, and they’re not afraid to show it to each other and also to say it. There’s a scene early in movie when he says, very outwardly, “I love my mom, and I love my dad, and sister.” He’s just, it’s such a great outpouring of love. Very touching to see.

Andrew and his mother.

Tracy: We are not experts, and we are not policy people, but sometimes it’s missed in conversation about low-income families, about what they do have and how to support that. So, if, it doesn’t necessarily mean taking kids from their homes if there aren’t enough resources, it means you need to get resources there to them. There’s a myth we hope gets busted: It’s not about picking themselves up by their bootstraps or about their choices, they’re there because they simply don’t have social capital to support a lot of things that they’d like to do. That hope that they can be a meaningful part of the conversation.

TC: There’s a scene in principal’s office where Harley says he doesn’t need an education, he just needs his family. The principal just stares at him when he says that. Is that kind of where you’re going with it?

Tracy: One of our target audiences is teachers and educators, administrators because I think an increased sensitivity or understanding around what kind of baggage kids are bringing to school, emotional and otherwise, is important. I think change and understanding needs to happen all over the place. Schools also have to have educational alternatives and programs like Big Brothers Big Sister.

TC: You’ve said, “Rich Hill is not unique,” as in, these problems are everywhere. Do you hope it will have some policy impact?

Tracy: We do see generational cycles of poverty, and it’s not an easy fix. There’s no single policy that you can point to and instantly make things better.

Andrew: To that end, I would say it’s not a particularly popular topic in American politics at all. Sparking that conversation, if it helps that, for instance in election time it’s not going to be talked about, and it’s not something that many communities even want to address themselves, and I would hope that perhaps we can put it on someone’s radar.

Tracy: It’s interesting the shame that is associated in America with being in need. People say, “This is the land of opportunity, and we all have an equal shot.” To that I would say no, we do not all have an equal shot.

TC: Yes, I was talking with Eric Norwine, the director of Walking Man, and he said the same thing. Especially in rural areas, there’s a idea of rugged individualism, that our grandparents pulled themselves through and we just have to do the same.

Tracy: I don’t think that that myth does anybody any good. It’s something we’re clinging onto, the idea that it’s the American way. It doesn’t help the country by holding onto that fairy tale, Wild-west mentality.

There is a lot of joy, and these kids do a lot of stuff that kids do, but there’s also depression and despair. Do we just say, ‘tough luck for them?”

TC: What else are you working on?

Tracy: I have several documentary films I am developing with Dinky Pictures right now, as well as one narrative.

Andrew: I’ll be shooting a narrative this summer. Originally I wrote it for Missouri in mind.

TC: Are you going to film it here?

Andrew: No, We were talking about filming it in Missouri and then Missouri lost all the tax incentives for film. The film commission used to have a full-time staff, and now it’s somehow rolled into commerce and tourism. There’s really no reason any film outside of Missouri would want to come there. As a result I’ll likely be filming in Washington State.

TC: What are your favorite things about Rich Hill and Missouri?

Rich Hill is famous for its Fourth of July celebration.

Tracy: Visiting Rich Hill is such a sensory experience. It’s so different from LA, where I spend most of my time. In the summers, it’s the cut grass, and it’s the sounds of the crickets, and it’s the lightning bugs. It’s such a comfort and sense of place when I see them and experience them. We’re trying to capture some of that.

Andrew: Something I’ve always loved, and this is such a Missouri thing, is the waving at every body when you’re driving.

TC: The two-fingers off the steering wheel, right?

Andrew: Yeah it’s like, one if you don’t know them, and two if you do. I love that culture, and when I come back home, I feel like that should be a thing everywhere. People just need to be more friendly to everyone. Should act treat everyone like you know everyone. That’s something, too, that I think helps a community.

The rest of the interview is in this month’s Missouri Life magazine, along with four other filmmaker Q&As and a long feature about the True/False film festival. Go get a copy, or better yet, subscribe! It’s a good issue, I promise.

{ February: Osage County }

February 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Flint Hills called me back.

I know, so soon? This time, I drove to Pawhuska, Oklahoma. More cow herds and oil derricks than Kansas, but still, gorgeous country.

Sidenote: Today I discovered that I’m not alone in my Flint Hill love: William Least Heat-Moon (another Missourian, of Blue Highways fame) wrote a book called PrairyErth (A Deep Map): An Epic History of the Tallgrass Prairie Country.

Angela, my extraordinary Couchsurfing host and Pawhuska tour guide.

Angela, my extraordinary Pawhuska host and tour guide. She made me walk across the scary swinging bridge.

This trip was mostly business, no buffalo. However, I was lucky to land an extraordinary Couchsurfing host named Angela. In addition to enlightening me on the town name’s pronunciation (mnemonic device: the high school mascot is the Husky — Pawhuskies!), she showed me cool things to do in Pawhuska and took me to a couple of her favorite spots in town. It felt like I was let in on a secret, so we’ll keep it that way for the most part. The one bummer was that so many businesses were closed on President’s Day. The bright side is that it’s an excuse to come back.

{ Things to Do in Pawhuska, Oklahoma }

  • Visit the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Bluestem and buffalo, a winning pair!
  • Go antiquing! My favorite was The Twisted Bronc, and I’m not just saying that because Angela runs it. It’s well curated, and her mother sells a lot of her own leatherwork. Two other shops, Comin’ Home Again Antiques and Sister’s Attic, were both pretty nice. I also wanted to check out Osage Outfitters and Clifton’s, which purports to carry a lot of local art.
  • Gawk at Ree Drummond’s new studio in downtown Pawhuska. I wish I had realized this was the same person who gave me the phrase, “whatever makes your skirt fly up” and whose chicken salad recipe I follow religiously. I might have paid more attention. At any rate, everyone I spoke to seemed very excited for the extra tourism her Food Network show might generate, and I’m excited about chicken salad.
  • Eat at The Prairie Dog, a gourmet hot dog shop. Which is fascinating.
  • Explore the Osage Nation Museum. A stunning array of photographs, sculptures and artifacts. Just don’t be a jerk like me and try to take pictures. (In my defense, I did not see the sign!)
  • Walk downtown to see beautiful murals, statues, and other fine details.  An oil boom in the 70s gave rise to beautiful, tall brick buildings, worked around much older stone structures that were early Osage governing sites. Boom became bust; the tall buildings emptied out. From what Angela and others say, there’s been a slow burn of businesses establishing themselves inside the town over the years. See also: the Catholic church, which has gorgeous stained glass filled with local history. Pawhuska is worth a day’s trip at least.
  • Visit Osage Hills State Park or Bluestem Lake. I didn’t see either one for much time, but it was lovely scenery.

I wish I had more time with Angela, because she seems like a really fun, deep-thinking lady. She told me, “I have more of a life in little Pawhuska than I did in Tulsa,” and I can believe it. Small towns bring people closer, especially if you have a group of outsiders intentionally living in a place like that. Same mindset, you know? They want to live there. They go to football games and benefit dinners and make hikes into adventures. A really inspiring bunch.

I’ll leave you with some wisdom from one of those secret spots:

Well if you insist...

{ Also }

Outside
Snow Geese!

Published
“Flying Green–we’re not there yet…” and “Driving Green-Running on algae?” in Global Business Travel magazine

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