Flying gets you places fast, and sometimes that is the only way to move from place to place.
But road trips keep you close to the ground–literally. We’ve seen the red, red earth of Oklahoma, the lush green roadsides of Missouri, the wide flat plains of the Texas panhandle (and until you’ve seen the panhandle, you’ve never really seen flat.) You drive through an ever-changing landscape–and that change can sometimes happen within a mile or so, as it does when you cross the Missouri-Kansas border.
You meet and talk to people learning their history–and the history of their place.
So we learned–or were reminded–of the painful recent history of Joplin.
We were supposed to stay in Carthage, Missouri, at the classic Boots Motor Court, but we received a call a few days before our scheduled arrival telling us that the motel, undergoing renovation, would not be ready in time. Dash scrambled, and found an Air BnB a short distance away in Joplin, Missouri.
Our rental was obviously newly renovated or rebuilt. There was a large cement pad in the back where a garage once stood. It was in a part of Joplin that seemed, to us, to be undergoing almost explosive growth: new apartments, new houses, a huge new park.
What we discovered, when we stopped at the visitor center, was that it wasn’t new building, but rebuilding. In 2011, Joplin was hit with a massive tornado that leveled a third of the town–the part of town where we were staying–and had killed more than 160 people. They lost a major hospital and eight schools. It was a Sunday, we were told, and the tornado dropped out of a clear and cloudless sky.
Eleven years later, the town was still rebuilding, and healing.
There were a number of murals around town that appeared as after the disaster as a way for the community to cope. This one, with a quote by Langston Hughes, was designed by artist Dave Lowenstein, and completed with the help of more than 300 members of the community.
A local disaster that quickly disappeared from national news, but that is still healing more than a decade later. This is the kind of history, the kind of connection you can’t see from the air.