“Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright. Automatically, as we shine who we are, asking ourselves every minute is this what I really want to do, doing it only when we answer yes, automatically that turns away those who have nothing to learn from who we are and attracts those who do, and from who we have to learn, as well.”- Bach, ‘Illusions’
“ There seemed to be hundreds of coffeeshops in Nashville. This was the one where all the Belmont music kids hung out. This is a place with local photography and art all over the walls. They have a devoted following that rivals the loyalty of church-goers. They know who roasts their favorite drink, and why they do it that way. “Starbucks over-roasts ALL their beans,” the barista said to the customers ahead of me, two young guys with their arms folded in flannel, stroking their mustaches. Her septum piercing moved as she talked. “That’s why none of their coffee tastes as fresh or non-acidic as ours. May I suggest you order the spinach- tofu quiche with your soy latte? Made in-house, and all vegan by yours truly!”
These are the elitists of one of America’s snobbiest music academies. Half a block from the campus at this coffee spot, these young people are the ultra-hip, embarrassingly so. They are mostly- whether fortunately or not- fantastic young musicians and mixers. These are folks who flaunt all manner of laughable fashions. When you’re young and good at something everyone respects, you can and should do whatever you want; your ego has silenced your judges, and you are free.
They were strutting around like strange ostriches, caffeinated, in leggings and plastic jewelry and furniture-sized glasses, cellophane-tight pants, leather jackets, suede boots and torn shirts. Every recognizable body part was pierced, and most of the holes were way bigger than they should have been, filled with twisted wood and sanded rocks and curving metals. Some were so big I could have climbed through, or used their lobes as a swing. They carried their cigarettes and lip gloss and moneyclips all on one silver chain, in bags with the om symbol and patches sewn with floss, haphazardly, to cover their perpetual hangovers. They had colored bands around their wrists, hemp necklaces and beads and stones around their necks.
Everyone sat like wallflowers staring at each other but never making eye contact or talking much as they pretended to write and type and sip and read, a hundred sets of flicking eyes avoiding the others and grazing the splatter-art selling on the walls for way too much. It had been hot out, that Southern hot that continues into the night, but these hipsters were chronically cold. All those bad haircuts and over-dyed frizzled follicles were mashed under flatcaps and top hats and berets. I listened to them mill around saying things like “Right on, right on,” and “It’s chill homey, relax-o, let’s go on a fixie ride,” and “You should burn that CD. We’ll get coke and a handle and make a night of it.” How anyone in the place could get a single activity accomplished without blatant distraction was unfathomable. To me, it was a whole new breed of hipster, seeming to exacerbate its own stereotypes of bike-riding vegan party-hardy music-inclined selfishness to such a level, they seemed nearly to mock themselves.
I sipped my hot drink in a cast of dreadlocked mullets, shag beards and tattoos (swirling fingers to shoulders), skin-art where I counted an animal on every body, with the exception of one person, who had a technicolor scene of robots fighting a war against dinosaurs.
Then again, I’d been here before. I’d seen these ostriches plodding about the tea and coffee houses of San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Madison, Chicago, NYC. I was again lost in my own mind, watching these characters, gypsy and trendy and hippy, whacked on their saucy love for their own evolving image within the context of their youth scene, in their limited geographic pocket.
It wasn’t different, I realized, just because I was in another new place. It was simply a clear version of another web of young ‘uns who probably cared too much. Don’t they know all that matters is if you’re doing something different from the crowd? I suppose they all thought they were.” – September 2010, The Thousand Mile Thumb
In October of 2011, Freakonomics radio broadcast through NPR and other public-radio enterprises that asked a very relevant question: Where Have All The Hitchhikers Gone? (….follow for the podcast.) It is a 30-minute news special discussing how cultural, economic, and political factors destroyed what used to be a fast, easy, and empowering method of travel. Now, as one of the interviewers said, “…the hitchhiker is invisible.”
The follow-up article, three days later, was a haphazard band-aid that listed only two online hitching resources- niether very useful- and one niche hitching market, as an example of modern necessity.
It is important to recognize that just because there’s a lot of information, does not mean a thing is “coming back” or “happening”. For example, just because there are infinite resources for making gumbo, it doesn’t mean there is a gumbo revolution occurring. It is interesting to note, however, that a large majority of alternative travel sites have seen an explosion in membership over the last five years, and it’s only continuing (Couchsurfing only got started in 2006 and now has over 4 million active users… see their stats). It is also important to emphasize that there are a ton of alternative-travel sites that alleviate the stress of hitchhiking.
In response, I have begun compiling only the effective resources I have used and had success with over the last several years of traveling. They are all listed under the category Road Resources on the left menu. I’ve included links for hitchhiking, housing, food, work, and even ways to get sponsorship for your traveling project. Help by adding to what I have not!
The fact that there are so many portals for the modern alternative traveler makes me think it’s possible that:
1) The internet is sponsoring an unintentional alternative-travel renaissance.
2) There are small sacrifices to make as an alternative traveler that’ll save money, and let you have A LOT more fun.
3) Freakonomics Radio needs a better follow-up article.
4) Yes… hitchhiking can, indeed, be dangerous
5) …but it can also be the most rewarding, superfluous, significant time, ever.
“Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am- a reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness… Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts In a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.” -Edward Abbey
“ We packed slowly and deeply into a 4-bedroom suite already sticky and smelly with singing counselors and cackling directors and yelling staff on the 5th floor of the Hotel Carter, only half a block off of Times Square. The air conditioner was lying, and was actually a heater, and it was a blistering City evening indeed. There were two windows. Both were filled the whole night with two-at-a-time smokers hanging over the street. What seemed at least 50 people were sharing two setups in the dirty, smelly hotel, whose halls were filled with decrepit and cracked paintings in chunky gold frames, and a woman stood behind a counter full of countless brochures advertising in the lobby: Tours! Events! Shows!
This was a place the mafia left their murdered in the seventies and knew it would be kept quiet. It was a place where everyone looks like they’ve been staring at the sun for too long whenever you see them next, somehow worse off than before, rubbing their temples and groaning.
This was a place where a British cheerleader clinked a Scottish student’s glass into one of her front teeth and cracked it in half. This was a place where Kansas Kip and Irish Watson wrestled themselves and each other into a large bedroom mirror and shattered it, where the toilet seat was torn off and thrown onto the bustling road below, where bloody tissues littered the bathroom floor and where I witnessed, while on the pot, someone urinating into a shower that two others were using (loudlyand passionately, too!). I washed my hands under a faucet with more hair-clumps than water coming out of it.
Before everyone was asleep and after the management had threatened to kick us out, myself and a few others left for a starless night stroll. Next, I was darting, like a deer racing in a forest, through crowds of wide-eyed tourists in Times Square, bellowing like a foghorn. The others were yipping, too. Did it even happen? That 20-somethings could stampede along like recess on a playground through such an epicenter, so hideously full of people even in the dead of night, without being stopped, was as surreal as the moment itself.
We were barefoot carving wavery paths through clusters of young Asian women giggling and taking pictures while holding their designer-store bags full of expensive clothes; between hulking men and their tiny tan girlfriends; past family’s with thick accents, agape and enraptured by the blinking billboards and manifold ads the size of the skyscrapers they were on. I was ecstatic and darting in an absolutely absurd moment, total unreflective fizz, a celebration of our freedom from a typical life, 21 and in the bellows of a summertime America. I could see my friends heads pop up occasionally in the milling AM crowd, parallel to me as I moved quickly, laughing like a child. When we got to the end of Times, with not a clue as to why we were running except that we could be, we bantered just long enough to catch a breath and take off and through again, faster than before.
The next morning was a muggy cloud-covered dream, and the streets were wet with a strange New York mist. We wandered, hungry, through the alleys below gridwork smirking windows of a thousand buildings I would never explore, alongside my English friend, Elias. He was still only wearing black socks on his feet through the puddles. We complained about $5 cups of coffee and $6 pastry prices on Times Square as we shivered and smoked a cigarette, it’s smolder grey as the morning, the exhaust, our breath, that moment.
The victory of such mindless partying is quiet and temporary; it lies in the banter and drag of the following day. It is slight, but rich, so it can be easily forgotten and later, easily discounted. It is, therefore, a perpetual trophy of youth, that they survived another self-inflicted assault on their beginning bodies. Certainly in every young person’s life, there is a point when one must decide how to waste their youth, and how to spend it. Nights like these always seemed well spent. What celebration is a waste?”
– July, 2010, The Thousand Mile Thumb
It is very late. With lamplight on the shag brown carpet and curtains drawn, not a thing seems to be changing. The mugs are empty and the pillows are everywhere. The local stations have gone off the air. It’s utterly silent. I love to pretend, at times like this, when even the moon is only a few hours away from resting, that everything HAS stopped. I imagine for a while that change hasn’t been creeping around again, while I’ve been off dreaming of things I’ve done. Time has frozen.
My body and face will always look like this. The trees on that hill will always be that size. My mind continues to be this sharp, didactic and overstimulated. The countries that exist always will, in the shapes that they are, with the names that they have. My energy will forevermore answer the cries of my spirit, and march forth in a fiery, animated mania. These friends are permanent and will always be single, my mother will always be healthy, and winters will still be full of snow.
It’s only pretend, though. While I should be preparing for the evolution into my next Best Possible Self, I’m just imagining things. To entertain the idea that profound silence means a Stopping, a Slowing, is ingenuous, irresponsible.
I can’t imagine it means less than the opposite: such silence is the medicine of reflection, often making it quite loud. This is especially true for those who cannot find silence. It is the common soundtrack for those who find nothing but.
For four years, I’ve been working on a project called ‘The Thousand Mile Thumb’. I was hitchhiking to and through all 50 states and writing a book about it! Now, I am back in Colorado to spend the next year writing!
I wake up every day and make an enormous cup of coffee. Fort Collins, in the northern part of the state, has a new radio station that comes in more clear up in the hills than any other on the FM or AM dial; it’s an oldies enterprise that plays everything from 30’s static-era Depression tunes to big band with Elvis. I turn it up loudly as I open up the curtains and step outside.
I now live in a 35-foot trailer in the northern mountains of Colorado and my life is entirely contained in this very flammable, very simple box from the early eighties. Replete with wood paneling, broken sconces, curtains stapled shut and no running water, I couldn’t be happier. My view on every side looks over a swell of pines and oaks, and a thick aspen grove shakes with spring to the south. The ground is covered in thick post-winter dust that moves aside at such an incremental pace it’s barely noticeable. Still, the landscape is altered every day: the lake water rises and lowers, the tire-textures printed on the dirt roads evolve, the weeds are more erect than the day before, and more than the day before that. The wind always blows.
Nesting for the first time in two years is nothing shy of a holy experience. I am doing things in this home I haven’t done in two years… just to do them. I’m not sure why I get dressed or make my bed most days, when my only regular visitor is my friend that got me the job up here. I do anyways. I vacuum at least once a week. I wash dishes all weekend. My crockpot sits with its mouth open on my fake-marble kitchen counter. It watches me expectantly, waiting to be filled with delicious food it can cook for the next five hours. I drink more coffee, I smoke, I write.
I’ve been trying to get this blog going for months now. I was struck with urgency as I woke up this morning thinking, there’s no time for anything else. I went to get this up. At least once a day, I wonder if I will have enough life to do everything I want. and here again, this genuine burning feeling has established itself somewhere behind my stomach to get this done! With only 4 notebooks left to transfer, I can’t wait to get this first step of the writing process over with, and actually start WRITING!
Lots to come!