Bob dropped me off in comfortable territory: a large rural Mobil station that happened to be alongside US-7, the road with whom I’d begun the trip almost a week before, and a short walk from I-89.
Mostly out of habit (I had Subway and plenty of water from earlier), I took a lap around the store to see if I wanted anything and caught the attention of three kids whose age I couldn’t judge. They could have been anywhere from 15-21. Seeing the backpack, they said something to each other then the brave one asked, “Are you just out traveling around to see what’s out there?”
“Yeah. Pretty much. Somethin’ like that,” I chuckled without bothering to break stride.
“Whoa. That’s like…inspiring.”
Wait. What? I didn’t quite know how to respond to that. So I stopped, tilted my head, smiled, and said thanks. I should have been more prepared with something sagely and wise to the teenage ear. It never struck me to give the kid a photography card until I was half way across the parking lot on my way to the exit. “Beacon, fucker,” I told myself as I bounded toward the highway lot with the Socratic youth-corrupting thoughts triggered by Bob now intensified by these three. It was already an eventful day. And just getting started.
As it turned out, Bob had dropped me off not only where I’d begun the trip, on US-7, but also where I’d begun the day: at Route 2, not far from where it left the islands and islets of Lake Champlain and re-joined the mainland. I had a decision and for once acted decisively. I could have resumed my Route 2 “plan” (ha!) but, since it parallels I-89 anyway and I still wanted to make up time (and money) lost to Ticonderoga’s Revenge, I chose to stay on the freeway until US-2 splits free in Montpelier and meanders east toward northern New Hampshire. You know that thing about the plans of mice and men? Insert *here*. It helps with brevity.
|I got yer "plans"right here!|
The ramp had the hated divided entry but also a suitable place to plant myself and hang a sign from a reflector pole. I’d barely sat down before a second rapid-fire counterbalance to the repeated looks of fear and parental soul-killing I’d witnessed earlier unexpectedly arrived.
When a small SUV with Florida plates driven by a skinny and rather attractive young lady pulled along side I almost couldn’t believe it. After 5-minutes, I was moving again. I love our interstates sometimes!
The first thing noticed once inside: a large dog almost filling the back seat. That required no supernatural observational skills; he immediately slurped my arm, neck, and cheek several times. Friendly, if not sloppy, vibes in here! The dog whimpered a couple times before lying down as we settled in to move south. Amy said she was surprised at the “calming effect” I’d had on him; apparently the pooch had been suffering with anxiety prior to them stopping. Rather than me, I deduced it was the sweaty and salty taste of shitty cigarettes and road he’d craved.
The goal from Colcester? Simple and unambitious: beyond Burlington. Tiny as it is, I wanted nothing to do with it or any city. Amy and Slobberpuss (I’ve forgotten the hound’s name and find mine clever) were on their way to a hiking trail near Waterbury, south of Burlington and almost to Montpelier, so negotiations were easy.
“Drop me someplace I can find water if I need it?”
Obviously, curiosity isn’t rare among those who pick me up. But Amy stood out.
“So, what are you doing? Just traveling around?”
“Yeah. That’s pretty much it.”
“That’s sooo inspiring!”
There was that word again. Twice in 15-minutes!
Then I told her about my five extended Latin America trips, the months spent at Chris’ eco-hostel in the Peruvian Andes, and how I’d taken up photography and sold pictures as an unintended result.
I think I saw Amy’s ears literally perk up and am pretty sure she purred. Being a devout practitioner of the Progressive Religion, and a raging vegan™/environmentalist™, anything “off-the-grid in the mountains of Peru” would interest her. But, more importantly in my mind, she’d recently returned to Vermont after living in Florida and was struggling to figure out how to break free from The Machine. She wanted to detach and head west. The big block? The familiar one. The same barrier I needed to climb before taking a single “real” step: fear. How to survive beyond the plantation’s gate.
When I was exploring standup comedy in Chicago, my primary question was, “how do you write and refine your jokes?” I never got an answer and it pissed me off. Finally, I took the hint: don’t ask. Aside from maybe where I sleep, money has been the most common question I’ve heard. I’ve never typically provided an answer beyond the photography cards and probably for the same reason: everyone needs to figure out their own method. Each are unique with different resources, tools, skillsets, and even boundaries for what they’re willing to do in exchange for their “freedom”. What’s worked for Chris certainly won’t work for me. What works for me isn’t right for you. If you really want to cut the chains you’ll figure it out. And that’s what I told her.
Eventually, Amy asked about panhandlers and I told her that the overwhelming majority, not quite all, are blatantly full of shit and not to be trusted if they’re within sight. But, while I’ve never done it (at least not intentionally) I don’t see anything wrong with flying signs. Yes, even the ones decorated with the emotionally exploitative “Homeless Vet” and “God Bless” lies. In practice, for many people these folks play the dual roadside roles of interactive cultural thespian and ego-fluffer in helping people achieve a state of at least self-perceived godly self-righteousness. Many even announce their Holy Deeds on the new street corner for all “men to see”: social media. Even if all the while God laughs hysterically at the hypocrisy and what’s fundamentally naked egocentric intent.
Fluid ethics and philosophy aside, quite frankly I see nothing wrong with plucking crumbs from Mammon’s massive red, white, and blue muffin top. Anything given is by choice. Sign-fliers aren’t leaping thru windows to snatch nickels, dimes, and the occasional quarter. A large part of me believes that the disdain many display toward those engaging in the practice has it’s nexus in the aforementioned reminder of their own shackles rather than some oblique, cliché, and blustery pronouncement of their own work ethic. Otherwise, why would someone sitting in the sun flying a sign invoke annoyance? Don’t want to give money? Don’t, workin’ man. Just drive on by and enjoy your day sweating at the metaphorical foundry. Yeah. That’s what I thought.
|Spent an afternoon with Ernie at a gas station off I-5 in California, 2010. |
He made over $100 in just a few hours.
Apparently I’ve strayed. Back to Amy.
From there the rapid fire conversation continued to Waterbury. In fact I found myself short of breath as we discussed fear as well as consumerism, boutique media and my new nemesis: social media! I was speaking too quickly hoping to share as much helpful information as I could, especially about conquering these Internal Narratives of Doom; the “what if” scenarios we manufacture in our minds that paralyze us with fear. I have written volumes on that but realized that, because much of it’s buried in various places spread out over different trips spanning nearly a decade and epochs of growth, I had no specific place to send her.
The ride only lasted maybe 45-minutes but we could have filled I-95 from Bangor to Savannah with conversation. I liked this Amy.
Once she figured out where she was going, Amy fulfilled her water pledge dropping me off at a gas station/general store on the northern tip of the little town next to a roundabout that was inundated with July 4th traffic. Infinite ride possibilities! And the store had ice cream! Score!
Passing its ramp, I had a sense of dread about getting back on the interstate; this entry was nearly impossible. But, Amy was putting me back on a Route 2 that was much busier than Alburg and Colcester—and still running adjacent to the freeway—so I didn’t think much about it with my mind already buzzing.
With a new practical application to connections several months in the making, I snapped a photo, handed her a photography card, and extended an invite to email for specific links. I patted Amy’s pup on the head and said goodbye wondering if I'd hear from her.
I never did. That’s too bad because she probably thought that the conversation and its benefits were all one-sided. She’ll never realize the impact our short chat had on me. Amy reminded me of myself in 2005 in that she was potentially on the threshold of something remarkable. But, she was 10-years younger than I was then and I was excited for her. Those early days when everything is new, if terrifying, and unbearably exciting are priceless and unforgettable once fear is managed. Unfortunately, I’m well aware that it isn’t always overcome and desperately wanted to help and encourage Amy to get there because once you face them, the vicious dragons we imagine guarding the gate to our Neverlands are usually in reality something closer to squawking crows.
Once the water was restocked, I plopped down in the sun next to the busy roundabout, put on my headphones, and fully “connected” for the first time on this trip. One of the first things I thought of was Jordan and our short conversation at the Phoenix Greyhound station last fall where I realized that, while I want to remain the intrepid existential explorer, the wide-eyed student experiencing the excitement only felt when everything is new, I can’t. The apprentice died. My role has evolved. Brace yourself—and I endorse blocking this site from your kid’s fucking iPhone—I’ve become an unwitting mentor. I promise, the thought horrifies me as much as it does you Machinists. I’ve repeatedly run it thru my high-powered ego-shredder hoping to relieve myself of the idea but it’s unmistakable. After a decade, I clearly have something to offer at least to those struggling on the cusp of departure. Had I either met myself or read this stuff in 2005, it certainly wouldn’t have taken another 3-years to step forth. In that sense, if executed properly the last 13-years was certainly not wasted on only me.
And it was barely noon!
I spent the next few hours sitting, pondering, and glowing. I don’t think I’d felt as in-tune with The Voice/Signal in years. At least since Limon, Colorado in 2013 and probably well before that. I’m not engaging in exaggeration when I say it was profound. The deafening thought seeming to synchronize everything: “forget your stupid “plans” (ha!), destinations, and directions, dumbass! Quit trying to steer the fucking ship! Just let go. Raise your thumb-shaped sail then see where the winds blow you.”
The trip was trying like hell to take me.
For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. So sayeth Newton. Newton: wise. That fundamental law of physics also applies to the man who refuses to engage what’s jumping up and down right in front of his nose. After nearly three hours of profound intense personal insight and “let go” bliss? I lurched for the wheel. Again.