On the Road Again: Looking for the Face of America in New Jersey and Pennsylvania

By Tony Mussari

There is more to life than just increasing its speed. Mahatma Gandhi

On this beautiful January morning, we packed up our 2007 Toyota Prius, and we headed for New Jersey in search of the new Trader Joe’s in Princeton. As fate would have it we got lost, and we never made our destination.

Fortunately a pleasant attendant at a gas station showed us how we could get from where we were to where we promised to be at 5:30 in the afternoon, East Windsor New Jersey, and the home of Chivon, Doug and Adam MacMillan.

In some ways, it was a harrowing 20 minute ride. People were in a hurry. We were driving cautiously, and at one point, I thought the SUV behind us was going to drive right over our hybrid.

If there is one lesson I am learning from our Face of America journey, it is this. Americans do not obey speed limits. If the speed limit sign reads 55 miles per hour, most people drive 65 miles per hour. If the sign reads 65 miles per hour, most drivers accelerate to 75 miles per hour. I call it the 10 mile paradox. It applies to every vehicle on the road including those mile long tractor trailers.

Americans want to get to wherever they are going in a hurry, and anyone who gets in their way puts himself at risk. Eleanor Roosevelt was right: “America is all about speed. Hot, nasty speed.”

Adam MacMillan greeted us at the door, and his dad helped us get our things into the house. For the next five hours we talked, laughed, and watched Adam demonstrate a number of incredible things with his Legos, his animated Star Wars video game and an ingenious remote controlled helicopter.

Our dinner was baked ziti prepared by Kitch and heart healthy carrot cake. After Doug said a beautiful grace, we sat at the kitchen table and enjoyed an hour of good food and good conversation.

Chivon offered to take Kitch to Trader Joe’s. She accepted. Doug and I stayed at home to talk and watch Adam do his magic.
It was a wonderful visit, and a heartfelt sense of belonging that filled our hearts the next morning as we followed Doug to the entrance for the New Jersey Turnpike and the second stop on our New Jersey visit.

It’s about a 45 minute drive from the MacMillan’s home to the North Plainfield Senior High School. It’s just enough time to shake off the sandman’s dust from a relaxing sleep and focus on the many things we had to accomplish at the high school.

As we drove up to the front of the school, we noticed a sign of welcome, and three people who were assessing a World War II monument in the front of the school. Our hostess, Dr. Hope Bleacher-Sass took a minute to say hello, and after she left I assessed the damage to the right front bumper I damaged when the car hit the curb in front the school.

Skip Pulcrano, the North Plainfield cheerleading coach, helped us with parking as he has done on every visit, and in no time we were signed in and on our way to the library on the second floor.

For the next five hours Kitch handled all of the logistics and she took over 200 digital pictures. I interviewed four members of the Rodriguez family about an incredible 9/11 project. I honored a promise to work with a member of the film club who wants to be a producer. I sat for an interview with the editor of the student newspaper, and I completed two interviews with the co-captains of the cheerleading squad who were a part of North Plainfield’s community service project in Shanksville.

From shortly after 3 p.m. to about 5:30 p.m., Kitch and I attended the 9/11 commemorative committee meeting.
One or two quick good-byes and we were on our way home, a trip I might add that was slowed by three major accidents. The most likely cause, speed.

You will find a detailed account of our day in an article we published in the News and Notes section of the Windsor Park Theater, www.windsorparktheater.com
Two Different Worlds: Visiting North Plainfield with J.D. Salinger on My Mind.

Lancaster, PA

On Saturday, we left Windsor Park at 11 a.m. Our destination on this winter day was Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a meeting of the Lancaster Spirit of Kindness Club.

Susan Hagen, a registered nurse, started this marvelous group shortly after September 11, 2001.
Kitch and I were a bit apprehensive about this trip because a severe winter storm was heading east with the most miserable mix of ice and snow anyone could imagine. The prediction for Pennsylvania was iffy. According to the experts, if the storm made it into Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Lancaster would feel its fury.
For most of the day, images of being stranded like we were on that cold January evening in 2006 weighed heavily on our minds.

When we arrived at the community room of the Park Center Mall, Susan and her husband Brad were finishing the arrangement of the chairs and tables. They stopped what they were doing and they welcomed us like long lost family members.

Members of the Spirit of Kindness Club began to arrive, and we got down to work immediately.

Elizabeth Martin is a college student studying mass media and business at Temple University. She has the distinction of being the first member of Susan’s Club. I asked her the obvious question, please describe Susan for our viewers.

This is what she said:

She is one of those rare people. She just walks into the room, and the whole room lights up, I have never met anyone so kind in my entire life. She sees a hurt in the world, and she does what she can to make it better.

Kitch and I agree.

Marcy Herr will study at Penn State University next year. She helps to define spirit of kindness activities by her own deeds. Whenever she can, she donates things to people who are less fortunate. She does it at home, and she did it for people suffering in Haiti.

Like Elizabeth Martin, Marcy is a young woman who has her priorities in order. And like the members of the club, she does at least one act of kindness every day.

Katherine Arnold is a woman who radiates peace and kindness. She was at the meeting as a new club member because she honestly believes that she has not been doing her part to be kind in this world.

Can you imagine what our world would be if there were Katherine Arnolds in every neighborhood on the planet?

The meeting began with a summary of old business. Then Susan turned to an agenda of items that would take up a good part of the year to complete. One that caught my attention was a proposal to visit a homeless veteran’s shelter to lift the spirits of the people who served our country on their good days, and now needed help and encouragement on their bad days.

Nothing else need be said about the goals of this group.

Then it happened. Susan was joined by Marcy and Elizabeth in the front of the room, and she began to talk about a new activity. It is called the annual Spirit of Kindness Club Award. What a wonderful idea, I thought to myself as a focused my camera and made sure that it was recording.

The next few minutes is a blur because to our surprise, Susan announced that Kitch and I were the recipients of the award for what we have done in our What is America? series and Windsor Park Stories.

I stopped recording and I joined Kitch in the front of the room to accept the award. It was an unbelievable moment and one we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

The words of Leo Buscaglia filled my heart:

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

It was snowing when we left Lancaster, but for some reason it didn’t much matter. There was a feeling of belonging that I have seldom experienced in my lifetime. As we drove the blue-lined roads that led us back to Windsor Park, something that Charles Kuralt said reverberated in my mind:

The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.

In Plainfield, New Jersey, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania we were among kind people who affirm, encourage, and help us to do what we do, tell stories of hope, inspiration and service, stories that reflect the healing light of kindness that can be seen very clearly in the face of America.

Until the next time, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

Please provide feedback on our contact page or directly to: