Grace_Chicago_4Chicago - The Windy City.  Read about our (brief) time in the city - the food, the architecture, the music and the culture of this metropolis in the heart of America.

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Los Angeles

OSCAR!The city of angels... and home to Hollywood's brightest stars.  Find out what we did in the heart of tinsel-town.

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Dodge City

Dodge CityDodge City - Home to Wyatt Earp and legends of the old west.  Follow along as we spend some time kickin' up dust and tumbleweeds in Kansas!

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HenriqueAustin8Austin - Music capital of the world and the state Capitol of Texas.  Follow along as we explore the food and music of this great southern city.

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Albuquerque - Before Walter White started making the "blue stuff" in Albuquerque, it was home to Buggs Bunny's numerous wrong turns. Oh, and rattlesnakes.  Come with us as we explore this jewel of the Southwest U.S.

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St. Louis

Hannah_St.Louis7St. Louis - The gateway to the west and home to great blues, this city sits on the shore of the mighty Mississippi.  Follow along as we explore the history and culture of this amazing city.

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Amtrekkin' 2015: A Sense of Place

Emilie Bezzeg


Her skin sagged slightly around her mouth, worry lines etched into her forehead, and I pulled my pencil across the thick paper of my sketchbook on instinct, trying to capture the way her experience shone through every crease in her face. Of course this would be impossible without talking to her.

I could imagine what her life was like- she looked maybe late sixties early 70s, a grandma? Probably retired... I sighed, trying to push away the shyness that naturally clings to me, and walked up to her table. "May I sit with you?" "Oh sure, okay" "I'm Bari" "Mary?" "no Bari with a B" "oh like the fruit" "yeah haha I suppose so" I giggled nervously through the introductions and we got a bit acquainted as I sheepishly showed her the beginning's of my sketch. She exclaimed "oh you're an artist!" to which I replied "an aspiring one." She explained that she too was an artist, a quilt maker- quilts "that look like black and white photographs."

The image she showed me on her blackberry cell phone (after quite a long struggle with the different menus "machine's and I don't get along") was beautiful. She attacked each piece by dividing the photograph into simplified tones and the shadows melted into each other, the darks and lights contrasting dramatically. She talked abut how she always loved photography, especially black and white because "its more truthful and revealing than color photography" It's "stripped-down" and her viewers couldn't be distracted by the colors in the picture and are able to better focus on the "essence" of the subjects in the image.

I asked who the subjects of her work were. "Family," she said simply—"In a broad sense and personal sense." The first image she "quilt-ified" was her husband, Gerard's, grandparents. She hadn't known them but felt closer to them and to her husband by experiencing them through her artwork. Other subjects included other Hungarian families, their antique photographs as well. She explained again that she felt closer to her past by embracing the cultures around her in a familial sense. She summed it up well: "If family is a quilt I'm stitching mine together one piece of fabric at a time."

Upon asking more about her family and life she told me about her daughters. All five of them. Loesa, she said drew fairies but Emilie has most of them because she got bored and decided she didn't want to draw fairies anymore. She started a series of doors recently, and a series of mutilated Barbies. "She's an enthusiastic feminist," Emilie explained laughing proudly, "but we are all drawn to the creepiness of girl dolls." "I have this doll named Marianne; she's a couple feet tall, pretty creepy, and I dress her up in my daughters' clothes and set her up in their rooms and photograph her as if she's doing things... and then I have a laugh sending them to the kids."

Emilie's outside appearance was quite conservative, her long braid and solid shirt appearing very traditional, but I found her to be an extraordinary artist and fascinating woman. Loesa even happened to stop by while I was there and I got to see some of her work- Colorful and bright, polar opposite to her mother. She had lots of piercing, bright red lipstick, and jet-black spiky hair. The two were quite a pair and a wonderful juxtaposition. I decided after this wonderful experience and chance to talk to a brilliant woman, I would try to be more outgoing and talk to more people more often. I hope the rest go this well!

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A Little Piece of Latin America

I would consider the city of Albuquerque to be a very bi-cultural city, I have been told that over 40% of the population is considered Hispanic, you can tell from the architecture of the houses in the neighborhoods that we walked through, the houses remind me a little bit of where I am from, differently from the houses over in Ohio, the houses are made from bricks and concrete instead of wood, in my opinion that makes them look cozy-er than the ones in Ohio.

The Albuquerque Hispanic Cultural Center shows the cities love for its second culture. The cultural center is full of Hispanic art made by locals or non-locals who send them in. Our guide, Ken, explained how a lot of institutions don't even recognize Hispanic art as a genre of art, he also explained how some institutions that do accept Hispanic art as its own genre, but don't take in the art for it being too low profile, the guide said that the Cultural Center accepts the art from the people who get rejected and add it to their collection. Th e Center also was having an exhibition about African culture in Brazil, that would be there for a limited time, one thing that I noticed from the exhibition, and from the Cultural Center as a whole, is that it is not focused on showing big, famous pieces of art, and instead showing smaller, local pieces of art, for example, I think I was able to identify only one of the pieces there, which I saw in History book once, most of the stuff in there I had never seen before in my life, and I am from the place those come from.

In the Cultural Center, we also met some people who talked about the culture of Albuquerque, one of them was Elfida, or Effy as people call her. She came to Albuquerque from Los Angeles when she was younger and has been in the city since then, she said that, when she came to Albuquerque, she was surprised to find out that there was such a huge Hispanic population, how it felt like there was a greater sense of community, and how there was very little, if any at all, discrimination from the people.

From what I have heard and seen from Albuquerque, I think that it must be a terrific place for people who were born South of the border and are now in the United States.

A Man Named Cornbread


Good god were we up early, and pointlessly so too because of a two hour delay in the train schedule. If it weren't for the fact that it was the first day, I fully believe that we all would've been more on edge. But it was the first day, so we all happily piled on when the train finally arrived, and after a few minutes of shuffling around the unfamiliar upper deck of this metal behemoth, settled for as much sleep as we could get. After a few hours of restless napping, a number of us got up (including myself as I already had a little bit of writing to catch up on) and meandered forward through the cars searching for the "lounge car," whatever that meant.

As it would turn out, the lounge car was a specially designed second level of a car. It was comfortably bright inside with soft white light streaming in through the skylights that lined the corners. In the first half rows of seats lined the walls facing large panes of glass and in the second there were four, four person booths. One was filled with another group, two were filled with our own, and the last only had one person in it so as Henry and I stood there waiting for one of the group members to move to the side so as to accommodate us when the man motioned to seat beside him and mentioned that we were free to sit.

Later we came to know this man as Cornbread, (as he originally introduced himself). Cornbread was equal parts friendly and eccentric, every time he saw someone over five foot eleven he would stop them in the isle and ask them if they played basketball. He seemed unable to accept that I, six three had never played. When I mistakenly asked him if he used to play he shot back "Used to?! I still do! i bet i could beat you right now! " Interestingly his only knowledge of how technology worked seemed to come from detailed memories of calls to tech support. That being said he was in love with new tech because as he loudly proclaimed, "it is absolutely positive!"

His full name was Cornelius J. Morris and he must've been in his late 30s or 40s he had watched technology grow and develop almost from the sideline and despite this, he loved every bit of it. With no access to it growing up and little residual income from selling magazines to splurge on the newest computer now, he seemed to have idolized it from afar. What could possibly best describe Cornbread though was that his job brought him all over the country and yet his favorite places had nothing to do with the landscape or the cities, it was only which ones had "the nicest people." Cornbread was at his core a people person and I'm sure he has already given many more people their own Cornbread stories.

Maybe a One-Time Thing

 I've always heard stories about L.A. "Oh it's filled with people who just want to be movie stars" or "L.A. has all the crazy people". I think if you're talking about Hollywood specifically then yes that could easily fit the description, but for L.A. as a whole I don't think that's true. After talking to Grace's uncle and his girlfriend they seem to have plenty of thoughts on Hollywood and how it compares to L.A. as a whole. They seemed to think and know that no one who lives in L.A. really goes to Hollywood and that it's more for all the tourists and people just moving to L.A. They both agreed if we come back to L.A. we should visit everything else and not just Hollywood because they seemed to strongly believe that Hollywood isn't the real L.A. and that it's more of a one time thing for anyone.

Back to Hollywood, I was amazed with the amount of people trying to give people things or sell stuff on the sidewalks. Most of it being junk and scams, especially the blank CD we got from some guy claiming that it contained his new "mix tape". People had plenty of ways to try and make their money, the people dressed up would wait until you took a picture with them and would then tell you that you needed to pay for it, or the classic hand you something and then tell you it costs money or ask for some mandatory donation.

Overall I would say Hollywood was most definitely nothing like I have ever experienced before. The environment was different with all of the really unique people and constant harassment walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard along with our warm welcoming bomb threat in the metro station that occurred not too long after we arrived from that exact place. Hollywood was quite the experience and if I came back to L.A. I'd probably be able to skip the boulevard.

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Hostel Hell


Our Hostel situations so far on this trip have been pretty okay. Hollywood and Austin were above average and Albuquerque wasn't horrible either (In Dodge City we stayed in a Travelodge so that really doesn't count), so when we got to St. Louis I was hoping for the best...

When we arrived at our hostel we were confused. There was a sign that said the name "Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel" but the building that the sign was under's windows were covered on the inside and the door was locked. Thankfully a nice lady pointed us toward the small, dark alley with a small fence that led to the hostel's office. Anyone can imagine what we were thinking when we saw the alleyway and would be right. I already had my doubts, which were only exemplified when we walked into the dorm that we were staying in. Right when I walked in the door there was the bathroom on the right with a sign that said "knock before you enter" because there was no lock on the door. On the left was the shower room, which was detached from the rest of the bathroom. In front of me there was a line of bunk beds which culminated in one maybe double bed and a bunch of junk at the end of the room. I walked down the line, trying to take in all of the sights without judging it too much. As I turned around to walk back to the door I noticed something: there was a man sleeping. This was a room rented to students and they had a random dude sleeping there.

These were just the start of what was wrong with that hostel. The girls bathroom was broken and wasn't going to be fixed and when people returned to the hostel the door was wide open with no attendant on duty and our room was open just to name a few. All I can say is thank god we got out of there.

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