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Across America

Friday, June 30, 2017

Here's a favorite passage from the writer Studs Terkel: "It was a momentous adventure, uniquely American. Out there was more: a reservoir of untapped power and new astonishments." 

The words describe Terkel's nine-year-old self - they called him Louis back then - and a train trip he took from New York City to Chicago. He sat coach, with his two brothers, Ben and Meyer, sharing sandwiches during the twenty-four hour haul. He had the window. Almost 100 years have gone past, but I like to think of his trip and imagine a bright light warming in Terkel, a fire that all Americans would come to love through his legendary radio broadcasts, oral histories and printed stories. As an author and cultural historian, he surely tapped his own reservoir for more. 

At Wildsam, we cherish the feeling of quiet exhilaration that comes when we see the world with a fresh sense of curiosity. And in the spirit of Studs Terkel, we can't think of a better way to explore that "power and astonishment" than traveling across America and meeting the people who make it such a wonder. From Brooklyn's view of the Atlantic, to the downtown towers of Detroit, to San Francisco's western post, we've gathered a few of our favorite people and places from three classic American cities.

See you out there-

Taylor Bruce


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BROOKLYN, NY
When I was a kid, my first intro to Brooklyn was through basketball. Specifically, a point guard from Lincoln High School named Steph Marbury, who was the star player for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets when I could barely dribble with my left. Twenty years later, when we started the BK field work, I knew that talking hoops with the coach of Lincoln was priority one.

KENNY PRETLOW
basketball coach

Coaching at Lincoln High is like Broadway versus off Broadway. There’s a big difference.

Stephan Marbury, Lance Stevenson, Sebastian Telfair. They all grew up in the projects. And they used their talent to get out.

I think every kid in Coney Island aspires to be the next one.

Every year, (former head coach) Tiny Morton would say, “We’re not defending a championship.” You have new kids every year.

The most underrated skill in basketball is the ability to read the floor.

The game’s changed since the 80s. Today, they all want to shoot 3's. And there aren’t many real low post players.

The best New York City player I’ve ever seen was Kenny Anderson.

I remember Lance Stevenson in the borough championship game against Boys High. We were down 15 points and he said, “Give me the ball ‘cause I’m about to bust these guys.” He scored 15 straight and then assisted on the game winner.

My great-grandparents came to Brooklyn in the 1930s.

Crack was really, really, really bad in the housing developments. I saw it firsthand.

I stayed in Williamsburg with my grandmother a lot. She made homemade biscuits from scratch. Eggs, flour, and love, she said.

My number one job is not winning championships. It’s graduating each and every one of my players.

Dean Smith taught his players that they had to learn the whole game. It wasn’t enough if you can score. You gotta learn to pass, to dribble, to be a good defender, and you gotta learn to be a good teammate.

We have to exercise our minds like we exercise our bodies.

I never get tired of the grind of basketball. Never.

 

BROOKLYN ESSENTIALS

 

DETROIT, MICH.
I just love Detroit. I'm admittedly nostalgic about it, even thinking of the bitter cold days on my first trip in January 2014. (That's what I get for crashing in an old elevator factory turned "loft.") The real Detroit comes at you with no pretense, no fool's talk. Lonzo the barber. Maggie the bus driver. Lakishka the watchmaker. If there's a city more comfortable with itself than Detroit, please tell me. My favorite conversation was with Father Tom, who runs a half-way house not far from the remnants of old Tiger Stadium. 

Father Tom Lumpkin
priest

I grew up in Detroit. Back then, if you were Catholic and you were a boy and you were interested in God, you almost automatically thought about becoming a priest.

It was thought that priests should give up everything. Human friendships, human life. You’d flee the world.

Christianity is a very fleshy religion. We have this sense that you find God in stuff.

I asked the Bishop for the job 36 years ago. I had a need to get with poor people. I had this feeling that I was in danger of losing my soul.

When we’re at the soup kitchen, we don’t preach. Not with words. And we don’t hurry people.

I think they get a little taste of heaven.

Another picture of heaven is a mansion. A house with many rooms. Right now, we have nine rooms in Day House. Yes, we’re giving the homeless a place, but I think it’s more.

The Gospel is about love and joy. You can also find God in people who are wounded.

I did a 37-day water fast in 1972 against the Vietnam War.

"When you did it to the least of these, you did it for me." The new Pope has gotten us back to the essentials.

The big danger of affluence is that you get the illusion that you’re self-sufficient.

Working with the poor shows you a shadow side of yourself. I do feel overwhelmed at times.

My best friend is a woman. And, yes, that’s been tricky. We have dinner twice a week. 

We come to God through other people all the time. It’s not a solitary experience. 

Detroit is a great place to try to live out the gospel.

 

DETROIT ESSENTIALS
Eat: Supino Pizza
Drink: Astro Coffee

 

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF.
I'd never heard of Telegraph Hill or the Filbert Steps or its famous parrots. But when my friend Jay showed me, I thought to myself, "This feels like the San Francisco of my imagination." SF is probably the most beautiful city in America. It rises and falls, rises and falls, neighborhood by neighborhood. Full of joyful little surprises, wonderful encounters that seem like gifts. 

MAGGIE ZENG
master sewer 

We moved from China at the end of 1983. I was 19. We lived in Richmond district.

My first impression was that the city was very quiet. In China there are people everywhere. In San Francisco, there’s not a lot.

I didn’t know any English. Zero. Hello. Bye-bye. I love you. That’s all. But I could smile.

I’m the oldest of my brother and sister, which is why I needed to get a job right away to take care of my family.

My aunt worked in the Levi’s factory, and they trusted her, so she got me the job.

At Levi’s, I only did 501s. There were 60 women sewing, all in one room. I was the youngest, so my first job was setting the waistband.

I learned in China from my neighbor. The first thing she taught me were the pants. Easy. Front panel and back panel and the elastic.

The 501s are the only Levi’s with a button fly. They are the first ones.

One time I sewed my finger with the orange thread. But only once.

Now, it takes me four hours to sew a pair. Our Valencia department could do 2,000 in a day.

When it closed, everyone was really sad. I thought I’d work there until I retired. I worked a little while in a restaurant.

I’ve only been back to China once.

When Levi’s opened the new factory this year, they called me. I was really excited and a little bit surprised, because I thought they’d never come back from overseas.

I’m the older person now. It’s opposite of before. The younger sewers ask me things, and I share whatever I know.

SAN FRANCISCO ESSENTIALS
Drink: Trick Dog