GREENSBURG, Kan. – I failed to post an entry Monday that discussed Greensburg.
I couldn’t do it.
I met Matt last year while working with this project, and he left a strong impression. This year I almost feel as though he is a friend, especially since I learn more about his story every day.
Monday night was almost an emotional breaking point for me, though.
I empathize greatly with what this community has gone through. Though I’ve never experienced anything similar to it in my own life, I understand how difficult it must be for them and hearing their stories tugs at my heartstrings.
And that’s what happened last night.
I had heard a majority of Matt’s stories before. However, last night he seemed to open up even more.
No longer was he just an ambassador to Greensburg. Last night, he was a real person sharing his life with a group of outsiders.
He told of some of his old stories, but he also told a few new tales, such as how he personally was given an ATV and how he gave up his dream of developing a shopping cart washing machine that he estimated he could have made millions off of.
He put his life on hold to help his community in its time of need, and I almost lost it.
As I sipped on my cold can of Budweiser, I had to choke back tears.
A huge lump of emotion filled my throat, and I had to force it down by taking large swigs of the beverage.
Listen to Matt talk so candidly about what he felt was difficult for me.
It made me take a moment and look at my own life.
I know in my heart of hearts journalism is what I am supposed to be doing, but am I doing it in the right place in the proper fashion?
My heart is finally starting to understand what my head has been saying, which is a bit strange considering usually I lead with my heart, but I need to take care of my community. And in order to do that, I need to feel as though the community I am in is mine so I would do as Matt did and put everything in my life on hold to help those around.
Family and friends are the most important aspects of my life, and I would do anything for them; however, I feel as though I should be able to take that a step further and be willing to do whatever necessary to help my neighbors.
I don’t feel I should become a doormat, but I need to do better by everyone and use my God-given skills in journalism to do just that.
Even as I write this, I feel tears welling up in my eyes, just as I did while talking about my emotions for a video piece Cort and Rebecca will be producing.
I have never been anywhere that causes me to do so much self-reflecting and it is nearly overwhelming to think that every moment I spend working with this incredible group of journalists and hearing the inspiring and tragic stories of Greensburg, I am changing.
I’ve always been an emotional person, but only during my time with the American Legion Boys State of Kansas have I felt like what I am doing is as important to others as it is to me.
Every day I wake up feeling so many different emotions I struggle to digest and make sense of them.
I work my way through them, though, and I feel like I grow each time I do such soul searching, even if it causes me to go to bed nearly crying as it did following our talk with Matt.
Of course, Monday was a tough day for me in general.
From the time I woke up I didn’t feel right. My emotions were all discombobulated.
It might have been because I missed one of the largest news events to strike my hometown area when a double homicide and suicide took place mere miles from my parents’ home.
Part of me wished I could cover it, but at the same time I was also feeling down for my community. I didn’t know the three dead people well, but I knew who they were.
And it struck incredibly close to home.
Normally I process such events by slipping into journo mode and covering them.
I couldn’t do that this time. Instead, I just had to make a few calls and keep scouring the Internet for information.
That was very difficult for me.
But I think my day also started off wrong just because coming to Greensburg Sunday night finally gave me the chance to slow down and process this year’s project.
It was an emotional experience for me last year, but this go around I feel even more wrapped up in what is taking place because I perform small-town journalism every day while at The Ledger, and community journalism is what this project is all about.
I understand what it means to be a part of the community you cover, so I understand how important even the smallest story is.
Knowing that, though, makes this soul-searching I am experiencing even more difficult because it makes me question if my heart is in the right place performing my professional journalism career in my current location.
As shook as I was by the unfortunate events of Sunday night and knowing Matt came back home to take care of his community, should I be looking toward the Canton and Galva areas?
I think so.
I feel as though I am at a cross roads, and a few different paths are becoming quite clear. My head has been telling me about these various directions in life for several months, but now my heart is finally listening.
Now I just need to find a way to make that happen in some fashion.
Lunch Choice Doesn’t Sit Well
Monday was humbling as well.
After eating a smothered burrito at the Greensburg Lunch Box, I went with Sarah to Pratt to shoot a photo for a story she was working on.
On the way I got sick, on which I blame the burrito.
I began to vomit, and Sarah pulled the car over. She is driving a rented car, so I was glad I got only a little puke on the seat belt, which I easily cleaned up.
However, my shirt wasn’t dealt with quite as nicely.
It was covered in the remnants of my burrito.
I took it off and used it as a rag, which left me only in my undershirt.
Illness couldn’t be an excuse to not do my work, so I went with Sarah to meet her interviewee in the Pratt Public Library with my undershirt as the only piece of clothing covering my upper body.
I received several strange looks, but I got the photos I needed.
I was quite embarrassed, but I felt fine afterward.
I guess my body just didn’t agree with the smothered treat from the Lunch Box.
At first I was so embarrassed I didn’t want to show my face, but that quickly went away because it doesn’t matter. Things happen, and it is going to take more than a burrito coming back on me to truly embarrass me for any length of time.
Sadly, though, I had to throw the shirt away. I wasn’t going to store it and then transport it back to Moundridge.
This creates another interesting situation.
I only packed enough shirts to wear one every day.
I had to use two on Monday.
Wednesday should be interesting.
Radishes Take On New Life
After several project members either read about or heard my story of nearly being pummeled Saturday night, the situation has become a perfect way to crack wise with me.
For example, Les Anderson was particularly amused with my radish reference.
Today before supper, he presented me with a bag contained a few radishes all chopped up and ready to eat.
I ate most of them during our Mexican meal, which was prepared by Shae West and Angela Hampton and was delicious.
I tried to give Les a radish or two, but he said he feared getting radish breath.
Today’s guest, Amy DeVault who is also helping produce the magazine at the end of this project, also declined because she said she might stop at a bar on the way back to Wichita. She didn’t want to ruin her chances of picking up a guy, I guess.
People seem to have truly enjoyed my post about that experience, and nearly everyone has commented in some fashion about Mr. Hospitality’s “and you can put that in the paper, bitch,” comment.
Taking my cue from a request made by fellow Kansas-newspaperman Dan Thalmann, I have made merchandise cashing in on that quaint little phrase.
Check out all I have to offer at www.cafepress.com/toddvogts.
Group Members Road-Trip To Buster’s
Prior to all the radish fun, though, Les, Cort, Amy, Rebecca and I all followed Haviland’s Bill Johnson and his friend to a small town by the name of Sun City.
Our goal of the trip was to eat at Buster’s, which is a small, country bar with tons of character and atmosphere.
Following our two tour guides, we experience an incredible look at the Gyp Hills and the winding cattle trails that allow people to traverse the undulating landscape.
This was Rebecca’s first taste of the real rural Kansas since she has a complex background involving much large cities.
To make sure the experience was the best for her, Cort and I blasted Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash the whole way there and back in between stops to get out of the car and take in the incredible landscapes.
At Buster’s, the beer glasses were large and plentiful, and the cheese burgers were beyond amazing.
The best part, though, was listening to a man recount his experience during the tornado.
He said he was in the Kiowa County Jail in Greensburg due to a DUI charge when the tornado hit.
All the other inmates were taken to safety. The jailers forgot about him.
First he said he heard the sirens sound. Then his television set went dark. Then the howling began, and the entire place began to move.
He said he thought he was going to die, but he still held onto the cell’s bars, which he could feel flexing under the might of the storm.
Luckily he survived.
I was in awe of the story. I couldn’t imagine going through the tornado like that.
Of course, he said it in a very nonchalant manner, which is indicative of how he and others in the area are.
They are just laid back and don’t get too excited or in too big of a hurry.
They are my kind of people, especially since they came prepared for our journey to Buster’s. They were equipped with the ability to stay hydrated and satiated had the group gotten lost.
People like Bill and his friend and the people we met in the bar are the salt of the Earth, and they make me feel lucky to live in Kansas where people care about people.
By the way, a band will be playing at Buster’s Saturday night if you are interested.
I would go, but I have to dj.
However, I want to go back very soon, so if anyone wants to go, hit me up . . .