Detroit, Macon, Hartford, Bloomington, Indiana…do these cities come to mind when planning a summer vacation? Probably not on your bucket list, nor were they on mine. However, my eyes were opened to the wonders of these towns while attending annual conferences of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC), a gathering of gifted and enthusiastic writers.
These destinations have so much to offer in terms of American history and cultural milestones, as well as tragedies and triumphs which helped shape the ever-changing character of our country. We were schooled in the rise and fall of the automobile industry in Detroit, as well as its funky record of Motown’s musical creations, allowing us to better understand the current status of this troubled place. We were also introduced to new industries and start-ups, which are trying to revitalize the city center and bring new creativity and economic success into the area. Detroit became one of my favorite American cities.
Macon, Georgia, provided yet another education, this time in Southern rock and roll. We learned about the Allman Brothers and their creative time living in this town, touring the home in which they lived and created so many unforgettable tunes. We were introduced to several celebrities who currently or once called Macon home, including Nancy Grace; Durwood Fincher, aka Mr. Doubletalk; and Ed Grisamore, The Macon Telegraph columnist. The conference was an experience in Deep South culture, food and humor.
Before visiting Bloomington, I only knew it as the home of Indiana University. Exploring the campus, we understood why Travel and Leisure named IU Bloomington one of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses. The city also is host to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Here we were shown the bedroom used by the Dalai Lama when he is in town. Humbled by the room’s sparse décor, we were reminded of his humble, peace-loving existence. The academic culture of this town where theater, arts and sports activities abound, makes it a wonderful place to visit on more than one occasion.
This year’s conference was held in Hartford, Connecticut, home of Mark Twain. We learned that he lived in the Hartford house for seventeen years with his new wife and children until unfortunate financial decisions forced him to leave his pricey abode and travel Europe on speaking junkets to earn back his losses. Mark Twain’s quote is timely as we see signs of bigotry still prevalent in parts of this country. Our minds cannot help but expand when being exposed to cultures beyond our home town and culture.
Hartford is also home to Billings Forge Community Works, which bills itself as “a driving force for community participation and empowerment…through promoting access to healthy food; engaging youth; and developing employment opportunities and economically sustainable social enterprises.” They have taken a blighted area and turned it into a diverse community which includes mixed-income housing, nourishing gardens, afterschool care programs, as well as providing employment, encouraging civic engagement and promoting access to healthy food.
Having only attended four NSNC conferences so far, my intent is to plan each future year around this event, regardless of how innocuous the locations might appear. Our country’s cities, both big and small, offer too many edifying opportunities to pass up. Once again, Mark Twain says it best, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”