Saturday, February 27, 2016

Going Under Cover

       Okay, I didn't really go under cover. That would've been cool, though. I always thought I would've made an awesome spy. But that's not really what I'm here to talk about.
       I'm not going to bore you with the details, but this week was pretty much awful. By Monday afternoon, I couldn't wait for the weekend. No, that's normal for me. I was especially dreading this assignment that I had to do for my off-stage theater class. We have been studying alternative forms of theater in plays like The Laramie Project, Fires in the Mirror, Body of an American, and others that take real life, interview accounts and turn them into art. So my professor instructed us to observe and interview our surroundings on Thursday, the 25th. I, being the introvert that I am, was none too excited about interviewing a bunch of random strangers, especially people that weren't students. I could deal with talking to students, but people on the street? What if they got angry and yelled? What if they didn't want to share? What if they said something I didn't want to hear?
      So I found a solution. I paired up with a friend who is much more exuberant than me, and together we walked to downtown Chattanooga to interview the city-folk. And here's where we went and what we learned:

1. Hart Gallery--this art gallery services and supports homeless, mentally disabled, and other unconventional artists in the Chattanooga area. When we walked in a group of 6 men and women were sitting around a table working on a variety of art projects. Some were just talking. We talked to the owner of the gallery, along with two of the artists who were more than excited to show us their beautiful artwork. It was wonderful to see how proud and happy they were about the art that they had created. And I have to say, I could never in a million years create the art that they did. Even if society doesn't justify their experience, they are supported and justified by Hart Gallery.

2. The Crash Pad--"An Uncommon Hostel" in Chattanooga that may be one of the coolest places I've ever heard of. This cool, chic hostel not only affordably houses travelers to our city but also encourages and enhances their outdoor experience in our awesome outdoor city. All of the products in and used by The Crash Pad are local to Chattanooga. The roof is a green roof (so a garden on top of the building) that heats and cools the building. They're providing a unique experience to our visitors with the goal of making Chattanooga one of the top tourist destinations.

3. We interviewed a volunteer at the Chattanooga Aquarium. This woman does not live here but volunteers once a month because it allows her to get in the water with aquatic animals, an experience that she would normally only have every few-several years. She doesn't normally explore the city, but she has ventured into downtown, and says everyone just seems so happy here. It's a joyful city. Then we got into a discussion about coffee, and it just took off from there. My favorite quote "Once you start analyzing coffee, you become a snob." :) I guess I'm a snob.

4. Then we hit the most nerve-wracking part of the afternoon--riding the city buses. I know this shouldn't be a big deal, but for me, growing up in a suburban bubble, this is a big deal.  Our first bus driver was a kind old man who talked to us about the history of Chattanooga. He has lived here for 50 years, which means he's seen a lot of the changes that the city has undergone. If you didn't know Chattanooga before the awesome hipster city that it is now, it wasn't such a wonderful place. But it's made bounds and strides to be one of the top cities in America. Then we turned to one of the bus passengers, asking him how he was today, and his response was: "I'm blessed! How about yourself?" It was such a happy response that it made both of us smile. Unfortunately he got off before we could really start talking to us about his playwriting. The next man we spoke to had stunted speech, but I was able to hear a few words: "stuck." "fifteen dollars." "church feeds." Then it was time to switch buses.
       Our next bus took us into the North Shore area, and I think the female driver was probably my favorite of the day. She seemed more interested in finding out about us then in us finding out about her. She wanted to know who we were, where we'd been all day, what people had told us. We could tell that she has a relationship with some of her passengers when they got off the bus, and she asked them what they were cooking for dinner so that she might try that. When she finally let us talk to her, we asked what makes her angry. She was silent for a moment before responding: "I don't get angry. I'm just not that type of person. I'm a happy person." It was such a surprise--no one so far had responded like that, so we asked, "Well what keeps you so happy?" "People like you young ladies. Talking and finding out about you keeps me happy." What a great way to end the day, both for us and for her. We were her last round.

      This assignment is something I never would've done in a million and one years. I just couldn't imagine it. Now, I'm beyond grateful that I was forced to. It turned a horrible week into the best day. I'll always remember the people who were happy even though they're suffering or may not be in the top tier of life. A common theme among our interviewees of what made them happy--their families. They worry about their families. They care about their families. Their families are the lights of their lives. And that's so beautiful. In a world of chaos and violence, people are worried about their families.
      So now I'm challenging you to do what my professor challenged us. Go out in your city. Talk to strangers. Ask them about their day. Ride the city buses and get to know the bus drivers. You never know what you might learn, who you might meet, and what might change you. Happy interviewing!

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