Appalachia, Day 1

We left New Jersey at 5 in the morning, following a rather successful and incredibly fun session I had with the amazing Debbie Miller at Creamery Studios in Brooklyn. I thought it was only going to be some quick overdubs and we would up spending 7 hours, laughing, playing inventing new sounds.  Ali and I met up later and spent some time with our Gramma (who is an insomniac like us, it was midnight!) before I drove out to Jersey to get ready to go…

Very little sleep ensued before our good buddy, the Rabbi of our NJ synagogue, picked Mama and I up from our house at the aforementioned hour. I was so frickin wired from the cool session and lack of sleep I simply ran my mouth off until the sun rose, then had a sandwich, which knocked me out into a carb crash.

At precisely 11 am, I took the wheel after we stopped at (mmmm!)Waffle House (where I had a delish egg/cheese biscuit and played Hank Williams, Jr. while waiting for my coffee). The good Rabbi replaced me in what I had dubbed “Jeremiah’s Sleeping Cave” as I continued to run my mouth off with my cockamamie socio-political leanings, and listened to lots of Bob Dylan with Mom, who took the opportunity to photograph this interesting license plate:

The lovely irony is that we saw this car as we were passing the exit for the road to Damascus…. Virginia.

I drove for about three hours, then we got off onto side roads for the last 80 miles to Whitesburg, Kentucky. The Rabbi took the helm again and I actually passed out for a good hour, having exhausted my own litany of foul jokes to try to counter the Rabbi’s incredibly quick wit. Knowing I’d been beat was the best sleeping pill. Sigh.

Coming in closer to our final destination, the Rabbi began pointing out all of the little things that his trained ey saw…the coal cuts across the now-jagged mountainscape, the geography of all the hollers, the trailered communities..explaining to us that what we tend to see, even on the back roads were the faces of the town..even going 200 yards into any of these communities, he said, we’d see poverty unlike that we’d ever experienced.

Perhaps a little background of WHY exactly my mom and I were going to Kentucky with our Rabbi is in order. About five years ago, he was given an opportunity to do large-scale charitable outreach by our congregation. His first notions were to help with Katrina relief, Mississippi flood relief, and the like–but ultimately those experiences, while helpful and worthwhile overall, were disappointing as the bureaucracies of said environs were about as fucked as the places themselves after the disasters.  It must be heartbreaking to have the ability to help people and to see efforts wasted through lack of trust, checks and balances on the other end. I’ve heard about stuff like this before, but it was obvious from listening to the Rabbi that it was a big bummer.

Concurrently, the director of the Good People Fund, also based in our town in NJ, had been approached by the town of McRoberts, Kentucky, for some assistance for their local schoolchildren..a so-called “backpack” program, which gives schoolkids who are on the government-subsidized breakfast and lunch programs food on the weekends.

Take a second to think about this. These are people who wouldn’t normally have enough to eat on days they didn’t go to school. Wow.

The director was intrigued and went to McRoberts, a very down-on-its-luck community, where she met with the local organizations and began what is now a three-year relationship with this tiny town. The Rabbi came soon after, and realized they’d finally found not only a noble cause but people they could really work with to make real change happen.

In the time we’ve been there, our synagogue and other organizations have donated trucks full of food, musical instruments, school and building supplies, and had annual trips to help the town build and rebuild with volunteer labor. Mom and I are here to both help with specific construction stuff (you may not know my mom’s an architect and has taught her children lots of valuable construction skills) and to be a part of the support team. I’ve got my guitar and mandolin in tow, too, so am hoping I’ll get a chance to play some music with some of the local folks. We’re not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow when we see the town–we’ve been told it’s a proud, warm community with real needs, unlike anything we may have experienced before, and that we’ll be making a real difference. I sure hope so.

At the very least, we saw some really adorable baby ducks and their mama in the parking lot of the Gas n’ Go. Actually was really cool to see this bird family..the mom letting the kids wander but keeping an eye on ’em and softly herding them along.  Check it out! 

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