_C1_4046I just got back from my first official vacation as a grown-up from my grown-up job. I used it to see places I like and people I love up north in St. Joseph, Mo., and Lincoln, Neb. Of course the camera was brought along, too.

First was St. Joe, where one of my best friends now works. Before he got off work I spent a couple of hours getting acquainted with a town that’s about the same size as Fayetteville but lacks the heavy dose of college.





_C1_3823St. Joe sits right on Missouri’s edge along the Missouri River. Like towns across the Midwest, railroads sustained it. Now the wedge between the rail and downtown, mostly neighborhoods, is in pretty rough shape. But religious statues stand solemnly in many yards and kids found plenty to do in the afternoon.

A woman named Karen asked what I was doing walking around with a camera in a way that was somehow friendly and demanding at once. She’s raising her grandkids, she said, and didn’t like creeps. “Like that guy,” she muttered darkly, pointing to a white man walking in the middle of the street. But Karen was good-natured, busily clearing weeds and leaves from her front yard and chatting with her good friend Patty before picking up those grandchildren from school.

Later my friend took me to a restaurant that had the greatest calzones, bulging with cheese and thick dough that shone with garlic butter. The next morning, it was on to Lincoln.



_C1_3883It was the weekend of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln football team’s spring game — essentially showing (or finding out) what next year’s team can do in front of 40,000 people. Games in the fall will bring more than twice that many.

If you’re not familiar with Husker football, I’ll tell you one thing: It’s an institution. There are no professional teams in the state, and you won’t find anyone who doesn’t at least have a relative or friend bleeding Husker red. In short, even the spring game is exciting here, and my hotel was packed (though a wedding or two also helped).




_C1_4124If you don’t know, I played trombone for the Cornhusker Marching Band for four years, including the last two as section leader. I almost wished I had brought my trombone along. But the most important part of this trip was my friends. I can’t even say how great it is to see them. I hadn’t been up to Lincoln since August, and my pulse was up the moment I stepped out of my car. Energizing is the first word that comes to mind, but that doesn’t really cover it.







_C1_3973On Sunday the 80-degree and sunny weather gave way to an epic cold front that dumped the hardest rain I’ve ever encountered and sent temperatures into free fall. Pelicans had arrived for their annual migration at the Bellevue lake where another friend lives.

By Sunday night, the unthinkable happened. It snowed. Good to see you, too, Nebraska.


_C1_4207I mean that, though. Good to see you, Nebraska.

Thanks for looking,


Old Emma Avenue

_C1_0706The Apollo Theater opened its single screen in 1949. Past the box office with 45-cent tickets stood a statue of the Greek namesake under a chandelier and a $20,000 organ. The first movie shown was “It’s a Great Feeling,” starring Doris Day and including a Ronald Reagan cameo.

Today the doors are boarded. A sign taped to the box office window declares the building unsafe. It’s been empty for about a year, and bail bonds and printed signs are for sale on either side.

The Apollo is the grandest building on East Emma Avenue, which runs through Springdale’s old downtown. I see the Apollo as symbolic of the street as well, because half of the other buildings are also empty. Antique shops, hardware stores, second-hand clothing outlets and a Dollar General fill the rest.




It seems like every town has a main street that’s just a shell of its former self, often near a railroad. Up in Lincoln, Neb., it’s O Street east of downtown.  In Springfield, Mo., it’s Commercial Street. And for Springdale, it’s Emma.

I know it’s cliche to take pictures of this kind of thing — urban decay, how original — but it’s interesting to me for two reasons: First, that these streets are so common, and second, that even here some people always work to fill the vacuum.





On Emma Avenue, a lot of those people are first- or second-generation Latino immigrants — people who, in my experience, often do what they can both to settle in and to find meaningful work. As Latino people make up a larger proportion of people around here, they have plenty of people to sell to and buy from.


_C1_0757Even the fading streets have life.



_C1_0787Thanks for looking.