Saturday, September 30, 2006

Crazy Doppler.
We drove through the main street of Mart, ringing the bell as we went. The sound of the bell bouncing off the walls of the buildings is amazing. Zingy doppler shifts. This is pretty special- It's not very often that you get to hear the sound of a 250 lb bell traveling at 40 mph down the road ringing and echoing as it goes.

Day26. Stopped in the streets.
While we were waiting for an ice cream vendor to pass,someone stopped and asked if he could ring the bell for family members who had died.

Day26.San Antonio, TX
We visited the Alamo in the late afternoon. I don’t know if it was the heat or just fatigue, but I finally stopped trying so hard to get people to ring the bell. If they didn’t want to do it, I would just think, “Well. OK. Too bad”. It’s a more relaxed approach and it made it easier to have conversations with people. So, I’ll try that for a while.

DAY26.Rosedale School. Austin, TX
We visited this remarkable school for children with multiple severe and profound disabilities. About a dozen of the children were led outside to encounter the bell, each in their own way. Because the children expressed themselves in ways that were sometimes unfamiliar to me, it was not always easy for me to tell if a child was enjoying the bell or not. However, each child stayed near the bell as I carefully rang it until they were satisfied. It’s amazing how much a smile indicates pleasure and approval and the lack of one usually signifies the opposite. However, in this instance, only a few of the children were capable of smiling and so I took my cues from other behavior. Standing or sitting very still or reaching towards the bell were responses I watched for.

And then suddenly I started to hear all these little voices. They were coming from all over the place and were saying the same exact phrases with identical voices. “Wow! That is a really BIG bell!” “That is the loudest bell I’ve ever heard!” “I have never heard anything like that before”. I finally realized the children who couldn’t speak were tapping big yellow buttons on their wheelchairs and the buttons were triggering prerecorded responses. Although the phrases were limited, the tiny cacophony they generated felt very exciting, and I believe it was a good experience for everyone.

Plus everybody got some Mardi Gras beads that Liz’s friend, Moe had given us as we were leaving Louisiana.

Day26. Rosedale School. Austin, TX. These special children came out to ring the bell. They were the most unusual and attentive group of bell ringers so far.

Day25.Changing of the Guard
Goodbye Liz! Hello Jessica! Liz and I went to arrivals at the Houston airport and picked up Jessica. Then we all went upstairs to departures and said goodbye to Liz. This past week seems like a month, and we still have 4 more days in Texas which also seems like a long time. Jessica has since informed me that she does not want her image to appear on the blog.
Day 25.Huntsville.

This was the last town where Liz and I stayed. It is infamous for executions. Jessica has been here before and will write this blog entry.
By Jessica-
Huntsville. This city looms large in Texas history. The former home of the great Texas hero Sam Houston, both his grave and the museum celebrating his life are here. The 66 foot tall statue of Houston is the world's largest of a noted American, and the city is noted as a center for learning, housing one of the state's university. It is also the city that houses the execution chamber for Texas inmates. Just before their executions, the prisoners are brought to "The Walls". There are other jails in Huntsville, and because of this, a large part of the city's economy is based on the prison system.

You can't help but feel a solemness and a spookiness while driving through the city, especially at night, when the lights of the prisons blaze brightly.

There are plenty of places to have a good night's sleep and a great hamburger and even to get a good price on an automobile. But you're always sensing the world of incarceration looming in the background...and it's unsettling.
Bell in the Car Wash

The car was really dirty and the bell was right behind it. I loved sitting inside the car while the car washing machine moved all over the place, and I didn't know which way to look. The bell ended up getting much cleaner than the car.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Day24. Waco, TX. Branch Headquarters

On April 19, 1993 the FBI and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms destroyed the compound of the Branch Davidians burning 85 people to death. 4 FBI agents were also killed. We went to the property to see for ourselves what was left there. It was easy to find. The gate to the driveway was open, and we just drove in. There were no people that we could see but we heard the voices of children in the distance coming from an area where there were a few buildings.

No one came to question our presence, and we felt comfortable looking around. The main sight one is presented with is an old twisting tree surrounded by a circle of small, upright granite markers. A closer look at the markers reveals not only the names and the single date on each stone, but the age of each person who perished. More than half of the 84 stones were those of children and the unborn. The stone for the 85th person that was noticeably missing was the one for David Koresh.

Thank you everyone at Camp Casey
Day24. Camp Casey

The site is hard to describe not so much for its appearance, but for the feeling upon encountering it. It’s overwhelming. The landscape is pretty typical of this part of Texas- scrubby, flat, some small trees and the beginnings of a fence. In an open sunny space in front of a few tents at the back of the property is a small field of crosses. And a plaque. Seeing this site in the middle of open ranch country so close to Bush’s ranch was like getting punched. While listening to Jerry ring the bell and looking at the rows of little crosses, I realized how direct the connection is between a tolling bell and individual lives lost. It just happens. So they would like to have a bell there.
Cindy Sheehan's Peace House. Crawford, TX

We found Cindy Sheehan’s peace house in Crawford and stopped there even though we knew the place was closed for the month. There was a welcome sign on the porch and we walked around the grounds as invited. While there, Jamie stopped by to get a shovel and some Gatorade. She lives at Camp Casey, and after ringing the bell she invited us to follow her over to the Camp.
Day24.Peace House. Crawford, TX

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Day24. Search for Prairie Chapel Ranch. Crawford, TX

After several hand drawn maps and discussions about the best way to find Bush’s Prairie Chapel Ranch, we set off to find it. For the next hour or so, we drove through the Crawford countryside, passing ranch after ranch, side road after side road. There was no evidence of anything special at any of the places we passed. We had been told not to expect any Secret Service agents sitting around and that the entrance would not be marked in any noticeable way. So we just rode and rang and rang and rang. We covered the ground and filled the air with constant bell ringing up one road and down another until we came full circle back into the little town of Crawford. On our way out of town we dove by Camp Casey and rang the bell as we passed. Then we headed toward Waco.

This is our new mascot. Liz's friend Moe gave her to us as we were leaving Lafayette
Day23. Carol- Groesbeck, TX

We cut over to a small road on our way to Waco and kept an eye out for a possible place to stop with the bell. At the convenience store in Groesbeck, we met Carol who worked inside. She was eager to run out and ring the bell for someone special and then ran back in to attend to some arriving customers. She was fast.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Day22. Convention Center

We stopped at the George R. Brown Convention Center on the way to our hotel in downtown Houston one year after Katrina.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ringing the bell with the accelerator

Driving down the road in East Texas while ringing a 250lb bell by pulling it behind my Honda on a little trailer. I got the bell ringing by timing my foot on the gas pedal to accelerate and coast with the motion of the swinging bell. This ride goes from 0-60mph. It's hard to maintain a constant speed while ringing the bell.

Day21. Opelousas, Louisiana

After leaving New Orleans we headed for Lafayette where Liz’s good friend Moe took us to visit Jim and Christie in Opelousas, the birthplace of Zydeco. Jim transformed an old train depot into a dance hall where he and Christie regularly host Thursday night film screenings often with good food and wine. We watched Kurosawa’s haunting “Dersu Uzala” slowly unfold.
Day21 New Orleans, LA

When we first got off I-10, we realized we had gotten off too soon and were driving around, lost in a neighborhood with small damaged houses. Windows were broken or boarded up and it was very dark. It took a moment to realize that this wasn’t the all too common, impoverished urban landscape we encounter in some city neighborhoods. This dark place was abandoned.

We eventually found our way to our hotel in downtown New Orleans where we stayed in a really nice room at greatly reduced rates. Other guests that evening included the Louisiana National Guard and State Police.

The next morning, we walked over to the French Quarter and ate beignets and had some coffee at the CafĂ© du Monde near Jackson Square. It was very luxurious to be a tourist for a moment and we just sat and looked around. Someone was singing “My Girl” to a table full of tourists. Another group of young people were flirting with each other, playing with their powdered sugar. Once we finished, we went around the square checking out possible sites to park the bell later in the day.

Then we checked out and headed over a bridge into 9th Ward.
DAY21.NinthWard. New Orleans

Driving through the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, one year after Katrina. We stopped at one of many abandoned strip malls to ring the bell and met with some of the workers in the area.