Thursday, January 28, 2010


Here I am!

Howdy ya’ll. I’m getting to spend my first winter in the deep south and I’m thinking this needs to become a yearly tradition. Who knew there were places in the world where you could get a tan in January?! The weather down here has been pretty amazing. Highs in the 70’s and I’ve got quite the farmers tan going on. I’m really starting to wish AmeriCorps would issue me some a work appropriate tank tops cuz these puppies need to breathe. The only draw back to being here in Mobile, Alabama is that rumor has it that this is the wettest city in the 48 contiguous states. I would tend to agree because we had two days of torrential downpours like I’ve never seen in my life as opposed to Seattle who likes to slowly drizzle for the whole month of January. Let me tell ya I don’t miss that.

So for my project down here my team has been working with Habitat for Humanity on new construction projects and so far it has been so much fun…well…except for yesterday when I literally shoveled a pile of dirt, moved it several feet, spread it out with a rake, and then repeated the process for approximately 6 hours. Talk about stimulating. My site supervisors are hilarious and luckily have enough patience to deal with someone like me who hadn’t a clue on how to build a house. Of course all my questions usually result with an eye roll or a “are you serious?” remark, but I know they do it out of love. So far the main things I’ve worked on was putting up siding, soffit, and shingles and of course nailing everything in sight. And not to brag or anything but I push a mean skill saw these days.

The whole culture of the south is very fascinating to me and very different from Washington. For one thing I think it’s mandatory for ever food chain to carry fried chicken and the biggest fashion statement here are guys who buy enormous fishing hooks and hook them around the brim of their hat. I mean I guess it looks cool and you never know when you might feel the spontaneous urge to fish but it seems a little dangerous and I’m curious as to how many of these cool kids have lost an eye all for the sake of fashion. Another big thing is chewing tobacco, especially among the Habitat site supervisors. They are constantly spitting everywhere and thank God for hard hats because you never know when a stray spit may strike from someone laying shingles. Another big thing down here are churches. Last week I went to the largest church I’ve ever been too and their parking lot equally rivaled that of a Wal-Mart. It’s insane. Churches down here are like Starbucks in Seattle. The amount and close proximity of them seems a little ridiculous at times and I had no idea how many denominations there were which has made picking a church on Sundays quite the ordeal. Last week we found a church online that sounded good and once we arrived there on Sunday morning we saw that it was held in part of an old strip mall. This might be my favorite things about the south and possibly their most ingenious idea which is put every human essential into a strip mall and call it good. I’ve literally driven down the road and seen a strip mall with a church, a bar, tanning salon, and dollar general all in a row. Talk about convenience!

The living situation on this trip has been interesting to say the least. There’s 21 of us living in a trailer who’s previous owner must have found a blind carpenter to work for cheap because it has the worst add-on I’ve ever seen. Every room has as many beds crammed into it as possible and the only place I’ve ever been able to get Wi-Fi is on top of washing machine. We have only one couch so we eat all our meals on the floor. I’ve never felt so claustrophobic in my life. My bedroom is literally the size of my room in Ashton Hall and there are 6 of us guys living in it. One of the guys snores but thankfully I have my Yosemite Falls noise machine to put me to sleep. The neighborhood we live in is definitely lower income but pretty decent although I like to be dramatic and tell people we live in the ghetto. Last weekend I volunteered at the Convoy of Hope which was an community event where people could come get food, groceries, shoes, etc…Anyways, I was working in food services and had just bagged my 600th hot dog when a girl I’d been chatting with called me a Yankee after I told her I was from Washington State. I’m pretty sure Washington wasn’t even in existence let alone part of the union during the war and I could have sworn that the war ended in Gone with the Wind but she told me she gets along well with us Northern folk so I guess there were no hurt feeling. Then I was asking her where she lived and she was saying how it was pretty nice area and I was like “oh yeah well I live on Westchester Road in the ghetto.” Then she turned to me and was like “I live a block away from there. Are you saying I live in the GHETTO??!!!” It got awkward real fast and she was obviously offended but it was too late for damage control because out of nowhere an old man next to her chimed in and said that his church was on that street. Long story short I didn’t make any new Facebook friends that day.

One of the things that I think has surprised me the most about the south is how everyone apparently lives in a trailer. I mean I knew that the south had it’s money issues but when every right turn is a trailer park called Craig’s Place it can be pretty aggravating trying to find the nearest Wal-Mart. Also I constantly find myself thinking that I’m in the 3rd season of the OC where Julie Cooper Nichols loses all her money and has to move to a trailer park and soon comes to the hilarious realization that she can put her house in reverse. Haha. Man I miss that show. But even more aggravating than the maze of trailers has been the dog situation. I realize now that when Bob Barker would end The Price is Right by saying “remember to spay and neuter your animals” that he was speaking directly to the state of Alabama. The amount of dogs per square inch is out of control and they all just wander around mating with each other and making some of the ugliest dogs I’ve ever seen. I’d honestly be surprised if there was a single purebred in this city. Three people on team have already been chased down by dogs and one even tore my friend Kyla’s shorts. I’ve always felt that a dog could sense I was a dog lover but that doesn’t seem to be the case down here and going for my weekly run has become the most stressful part of my week. I feel like I owe mama Sesser an apology for all the times I made fun of her when she’d claim a dog tried to attack her during her power prayer walks around the track.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It's a new year and I'm back to the land of below 0

Well here I am. Back in Iowa. Three flights and 15 hours of travel later.

My first flight went pretty smooth. Pasco to San Fran. Once in San Fran we were stuck on the runway for a while and the man next to me started talking to me and asked me where I was going and what I did. So I explained the whole AmeriCorps thing where I’m giving my country a year of service by helping with disaster relief, building houses for people in the south, etc... You know, the usual. I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I asked him what he did. He told me he worked for the government and was flying to DC for work. I was intrigued so I asked him to be more specific. Turns out he’s a nuclear engineer who’d been hired by homeland security to develop technology that would keep America safe from nuclear attacks from places like North Korea, or maybe it’s South Korea…I always get them confused. Anyways how do you even top that!!! Needless to say I felt kind of lame and wished I had a more exciting job.

My longest flight was between San Fran and Chicago and it was roughly a four hour flight and I had planned ahead and asked for an isle seat because I knew with all of the cran-apple cocktails I tend to consume on flights that I’d be visiting the little boys room probably twice every hour and I hate having to climb over people and ask them to move. Then from the end of the isle I see this red headed kid with freckles hobbling down the isle on crutches with those sad puppy eyes and wouldn’t you know it he is supposed to sit in the middle seat of my row. So the cripple(I think he had a broken foot) comes up to me and just stares at me with those crocodile tears welling up and I’m trying to stay firm but I totally cave and offer him my seat so that he can get out easier. I figure why not, be the bigger man, what’s another crown in heaven to lay at the feet of Jesus? So I got stuck in the middle seat, which also sucked because I’m extremely claustrophobic on planes. 4 hour flight. Had to ask the poor little guy to move out of his seat three before I nearly wet myself from all the juice. And the only movie they showed on the plane was Four Christmases. Apparently Delta didn’t get the news flash that Christmas is long over and its actually 2010 now. Happy New Year.

Another awkward thing that happened during my travel was while I was waiting for my Chicago flight to board I figured what better time to whiten my teeth with my new crest white strips then while I’m waiting for my plane. So I go to the men’s bathroom and slide on the strips with the thought process that I’m not a very sociable person when I’m flying and tend to keep to myself so I won’t have to try to talk to people while wearing these things. Go figure, there I am clutching onto my Eclipse book of the Twilight Series and up comes some lady who’s holding the first book and she wants to know how I like it, if I saw the movies, am I team Edward, blah blah blah. Meanwhile I’m doing my best to not drool all over myself when I speak as I make sure my lips are constantly covering my teeth and of course whenever I give a courtesy laugh to something she says I turn the other way so she’s not wondering what the hell is one my teeth. Moral of the story: whiten teeth only in the privacy of your own home because those commercials are misleading where they pay actors to make it seem like you no one notices when you’re wearing them.

It was nice being back home for the holidays. Mama hooked me up with a $50 gift card to McDonald's which means any weight loss aspirations i dreamt of just flew out the drive through window. I also got to see tons of great friends and family, learned to knit slippers, and had myself a Disney marathon which is always delightful but it was more work and less play as I tried to make up for lost time and get some more community hours. I’m trying to get the Presidential award this year which is a piece of paper that Obama will sign if I complete 100 hours of individual community service. Kind of a gold star kind of thing. It’s gonna look pretty sweet on a resume if the fact that I served at an old folks home and cleared nature trails means anything in the graphic design world. You never know. But either way that thing is going to be framed and hanging about my fireplace for all my guests to see unlike mama and papa Sesser who used to have a Christmas card from George and Laura Bush on their mantle. Tomatoe, tomatoe.

During the first week of break I went and volunteered at Odd Fellows Home, which is where my grandma lives. While serving there I did tons of exciting things like rewinding 45 VHS tapes and playing dominoes with elderly women suffering dementia who must of thought I was born yesterday with the amount of times they tried to cheat. The Wednesday before the holidays was the big Christmas party so I was pretty stoked to help out and spread some Christmas cheer. I put together little gift bags, wrote some of the residents Christmas cards and set up all the chairs for the concert. After all that it was time for the party consisting of what turned out to be a cart full of peppermint schnapps hot chocolate and a local Elvis Presley impersonator who I would have sworn was Ted Kennedy in a blue jump suit if I hadn’t been in DC during his funeral. RIP. So I can’t say I’ve ever been much of an Elvis fan and I’m even less a fan of Elvis impersonators so it quickly turned into an hour and a half of pure torture. I mean I know I was getting community service hours for simply sitting there but I would have taken laying sandbags along the Mississippi river in the pouring rain over this any day. Even grandma hated it and kept asking me when he was going to be done. I think she really just wanted a smoke. We both agreed we wished there had been a Bing Crosby impersonator instead.