HANNIBAL – "We are seeing a love of the river, with fishing, hunting and boating," said Victoria Bradford Styrbicki, who met Hannibalians Tuesday during her Relay of Voices expedition along the Mississippi River.
"People are coming back to family" living along the river, she said. "We are seeing a slowness and charm in small towns."
As she runs on highways during her 2,400 mile-journey from Minnesota to Louisiana, accompanied by her husband and traveling partner, Tom Styrbicki, she is collecting stories from the local residents. Her four-month Relay of Voices expedition began in July and will conclude in November. She is visiting 104 communities, 20 to 40 miles apart.
Later she will write a book about the people she met, sharing their stories. At this time, she said, "the focus is on listening."
During their journey, Styrbicki said they were surprised that some people believe the river is cleaner than it was in the 1970s. "We are also seeing generosity in small towns, such as when someone has an accident," and people have a dinner to raise money.
They have found small towns are making "Main Street" attractive, but not the side streets, she said. "They don't want people to visit side streets."
In Hannibal during a Six Voices Reception at the Hannibal Arts Council the couple met representatives of the HAC, Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department, Hannibal Area Chamber of Commerce and Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau. They heard about Hannibal's riverfront project and how it will provide more docking areas for the big riverboats bringing cruises to Hannibal.
Discussing the economy, local Mark Twain professional actor Richard Garey said in his eight years of performing on the American Cruise Lines he met many affluent people taking cruises. "I got to know 180 people a week, and all of them were asking 'Why can't those (low income) people do what I did? I worked hard and I made it. Why can't they?' I said, 'You had a lot of luck.'
"We hear this over and over again. So many people believe that anybody can do what they did. It's luck. I know many actors who have been out of it (acting) for years. It's luck."
The Styrbickis described some of the bridges they saw between Minnesota and Hannibal, and Tom Strybicki said he is involved in building bridges with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Victoria Styrbicki is executive and artistic director of A House Unbuilt, a nonprofit organization focused on movement research. She refers to the work she does there as "social choreography," moving people both physically and conceptually toward greater connectivity.
They are distributing postcards to be mailed to them at Relay of Voice, c/o A House Unbuilt, 4431 W. Prien Lake Road, Lake Charles, LA. 70605.
The postcard asks, "Why do you make this place home?"
It states: "Relay of Voices is an effort to gather the stories of the Mississippi River Region and carry them forward, building connection. Help us to listen to the landscape and life today by sharing your voice."
Photos of their journey are on relayofvoices.com