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New York volunteers get taste of Southern hospitality in Thomson

They came in a convoy early Sunday morning: 117 of New York City buses, police vehicles, even a large mobile command center.

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New York City Transit Bus Operators Herb Ivey (right) and Kenneth Burnett pose by a bus during their McDuffie County visit.

Nearly 24 hours into their mission of mercy to 2005's hell on earth along the Gulf Coast, they pulled off exit 172 of Interstate 20 in Thomson to get gas for the buses and fuel for the drivers.

"Everybody has been really exceptional on the road," said New York City Transit Bus Operator Herb Ivey, adding that passing motorists frequently honked horns and flashed "thumbs-up." Folks also stepped in to pay for their meals or soft drinks, often telling the drivers and police officers to keep their money to help the folks in Katrina's wake.

Even in McDuffie County, some restaurants - including McDonald's, the drivers said - stepped up and offered free food. Think of it as a little Southern hospitality mixed with a healthy dose of the human spirit.

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New York City buses line up along Washington Road in McDuffie County.

Outside the Golden Arches, Mr. Ivey sat with fellow Transit Bus Operator - and Treutlen County, Ga., native - Kenneth Burnett.

The two men were steeling themselves for the drive ahead.

And especially for the final destination.

A man who saw Sept. 11 and the ensuing recovery up close, Mr. Ivey figured the worst was waiting several states away from McDuffie County. But he also remembers the response from the world just a few years ago and wanted to do his part to give back.

"I actually expect it to be a lot more devastating than Sept. 11," he said. "That was 16 acres as compared to the whole city and everything around it.

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A New York City bus sits on Washington Road.

"And the death at the World Trade Center was instant, this is prolonged," Mr. Burnett added with a sigh.

Both men volunteered for the trip, which will put them at Katrina's Ground Zero for at least a week - two if they so choose.

The call from their headquarters came Friday night about 9 p.m.: anyone wanting to volunteer was to report to work Saturday morning at 6 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., they were on the road, heading south to Georgia, then adding hours and miles through Atlanta, Alabama and over to Mississippi to hook up with the Army before heading father west.

In McDuffie County, the convoy lined up along Washington Road as they filed out of Circle K after getting gas. The big white buses with a blue strip down the side still advertised New York events: Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler on the Roof at the Minskoff Theatre and the Fashion Rocks concert with Destiny's Child, Joss Stone and Rob Thomas.

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From left, Thomson City Policeman Kalvin Johnson, McDuffie County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Coke, New York City Police Commissioner Sgt. James Kobel, McDuffie County Sheriff's Deputy Kerry Johnson and New York City Police Commissioner Det. Danny Badillo pose in front of a New York City police car.

But these buses wouldn't be ferrying folks to glitzy shows.

They'd be destined for Angels' work: moving the tired, the poor, the huddled masses to safety - a mission these men who work in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty volunteered to take.

For that, they - along with the thousands upon thousands of others out there (including McDuffie County's own Damon Davis) deserve our thanks.

And the thanks and respect of a nation.


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McDuffie County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Coke holds up traffic as a New York City bus turns onto Interstate 20.




Web posted on Thursday, September 8, 2005











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