Monday, June 30, 2014

The Train Ride from Memphis to Milwaukee

I had the pleasure of driving to Memphis to catch an overnight train from there to Milwaukee, connecting through Chicago. As you are well aware, there's not much to see on the train in the middle of the night, but there is certainly a great deal to experience.

The train heading north actually originates in New Orleans, flowing up the Mississippi River from the severely hot to the unbearable cold. The ride helped me appreciate the journey most took during the extreme times of racial oppression in the south, to head north to something a little better. What many found were new opportunities and a new chance. The racism was still there in a different form, but the venture upward to the midwest brought about a new environment of an area better equipped to tolerate, sometimes appreciate, diversity. Germans, Italians, Catholics, Jews, all assembled to find prosperity and freedom.

There are remnants of that past, some evident in blighted buildings of the industrial boom's past, others in the form of abject poverty for those who never quite found a good base to build that bright future. Nonetheless, it's a place I can truly appreciate, especially from the fact that I was born in the area. I spent some time during the train ride and my time in the area wondering what would have become of my life if all I knew was the mid-west. And strangely, I didn't find it to be a bad thing. I saw in Chicago, and even Milwaukee, a life of never-ending opportunities. A place to be an artist, an engineer, a banker, an academic, or just a local with strong ties to the area and the pleasures of sports and culture. I saw a world much different than the south where I have spent most of my time.

The ride back was much more scenic, as the sunlight didn't fade for a few hours of the ride. I guess I could summarize all the little towns and quaint areas as a testament to how we design our environments to be what we choose them to be. In the areas from Milwaukee to the middle part of Illinois, I saw a framework of accommodation, not just in the faces and hues leaving and boarding the train, but in the architecture and infrastructure that seemed to be more, well, public in nature. As I headed beyond that point, southward, the environment seemed more personal, more specific. Better put, less inclusive and inviting. And to say it plainly, I want to be included and I want to be invited.

You can make your brand whatever you want it to be. You can pay millions for agencies and consultants to reinforce what you think the world wants to hear about you. But upon first sight, your presentation to the public will clearly state you true promise. I sometimes wonder if we should return to the days of being ignorantly honest. I know we should strive to have the world function in a better manner, but how long can we hold up to the resistance from inclusion? I sit here writing this blog thinking about all the time I may have waisted investing in a region for what it could potentially become. And I wonder if the tradeoff was the simple pleasure of walking off a train to some small town that accepted and appreciated me, and left potential for those who feared change. 

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