What are you looking for, Adam?

This isn’t one of the five most common questions we get, but it’s one that tends to make me think, so now, apparently, I’m writing about it. We’re obviously looking for something, right? Well, everyone’s looking for something, probably plenty of things, I guess. The man with the yacht is looking for a distraction from his caring, unexciting marriage, or looking for the feeling he gets when the breeze pushes him and his knees wobble with the bouncing of the waves, or maybe looking for a bigger yacht, or looking for a yacht-purchaser, his large white boat a careless whim requiring too much maintenance. You get it. If you’re not looking for anything, it’s probably hard to find much purpose. Maybe happiness is looking for what you already have and finding it, repeatedly, like a dog with his squeaky toy or a baby playing peekaboo.


I wonder what Pacino’s looking for…

But as to us, we’re not looking to get away from anything. I love the people I’m so often so far from. And yes society is fucked, but frankly it’s fucked in our favor, so I’m not running from a pile of injustices. Getting away itself isn’t going to make the world any better. So if we’re not looking to get away from something, we must be looking for something out here on the road. I don’t think I’m trying to “find myself”. I know who I am, more or less, and I even have a pretty strong set of beliefs about the world. Am I just looking for fun? I don’t think so. I like fun, quite a bit, but I think there are probably things that are more fun than hitchhiking and talking about society. I know I want to learn, so am I mostly curious, looking for knowledge? I really like learning, but what’s drawing me specifically to learn about the variety of people out here and these places? I’m not looking for a free ride, by the way, despite not using money. There are way easier ways to live than this.

I think I’m trying to figure out how to change the world.

What the hell does that mean? I’m not the smartest person in the world, and I’m never going to be the most powerful. I could study linguistics (as I did in graduate school), but it’s very unlikely I’d do anything super relevant. I could teach 8th grade social studies, and I imagine I’d be slightly better than the guy I’m replacing. I think that would be a good thing. But I think it might be possible I could be even more useful to society than that. I’m intelligent, I care, and I’m more able than most people to be OK with sleeping in parks and getting into cars with strangers. So what do you do with that combination? Well, there’s more. There’s your analysis of what better is and how to get there. If you’ve read anything on this blog, it’s pretty clear that for us better is a world where more people have more well-being, and we get there through personal and systemic changes that make for more love, more cooperation, and more access to needs and desires. We think the ideas of the political left – from progressivism to socialism to anarchism – are fundamental to this change. So is just being really really good to people, but that’s one that anyone else can help to bring about probably as well as we can, and we do try to do that. We think the ideas of the political left shape our society more if we’re taking action to put them in place. And so, we think being an activist is one of the best things a person can be. Every human is an activist to one degree or another, but some people spend a lot more time on it than others. And some activists spend that time a lot more usefully than others. I think being a Young Republican is a particularly poor use of activism time. So we’re looking to learn how to be the best activists we can, by combining our passion and activism experience with a bunch of unique perspectives gained by living a particularly intentional and different lifestyle that we’re maybe unusually suited for and definitely have the privileges to facilitate. I’m really glad there are people pouring over Marx, Kropotkin, and Piketty right now. I think their study is really important. I’m glad our friends in Athens are working to organize an active leftist movement there. I’m glad someone’s rewriting the curriculum to more accurately portray the incredibly terrible Christopher Columbus. And I’m looking to broaden my experience and knowledge in such a way that I can contribute something particularly significant to the building of the windy road to a more reasonable society.

That was quite the paragraph. I also put a lot of words in Jesse’s mouth. And what are you looking for, Jess?

I’m looking for more, too. I’m looking for variety. I crave the mental stimulation of newness. New things to process. New challenges to my ideas. New people to love. My neurotransmitters reward me when I build maps of new cities in my head and when I articulate ideas I didn’t have before. It’s so hard to do things our neurotransmitters aren’t into.

Oh, I’m also looking for hope. I want so badly to get to Uruguay and find it a society that’s actually moving toward something really better, without the moral noise of the United States in the time of income inequality and gay rights. (To be absolutely clear, income inequality = bad, gay rights = good.)

On the most superficial level, I’m looking to get better at Spanish and get a better body. For the latter, I don’t want to die of diseases, I want girls to like me, I want to run really fast, and I want girls to like me. We’re all just animals.

I want every human to have food to eat, much like my dad wants everyone to enjoy themselves when we’re at a football game. I guess I’m looking for the best tailgate organizer I can be.

– Adam
from Miami Beach, FL, USA

This was written in Fort Lauderdale where I spent the day playing in a pool, for what that’s worth.

This was written in Fort Lauderdale where I spent the day playing in a pool, for what that’s worth.

Ahoy!

Boats. We don’t know much about ’em. And I can only retype this opening paragraph so many times, so on to the next one.

Look at me. Pondering the sea.

Look at me. Pondering the sea.

Lotsa people we meet think hitching a boat to Latin America right now from Florida is impossible. That’s fun for us. I mean, we’re not sure it’s possible either, but if you’d asked us in 2006 whether we thought it was possible to live two years without any money and travel all over the United States, Canada and México, we probably would’ve laughed just as hard as Jesse did last night.

Laughing-Jesse, in this case, is not the same Jesse typing this right now. It’s another Jesse we met in Fort Lauderdale who knows all about boats and has sailed all over and thinks we’re nuts. Charming, but nuts. Why? Because we don’t know anything particularly useful about boats. And the Gulf Stream makes it even harder for boats to get from here to México than other places. And because it’s the exact wrong time of year to sail South from Florida thanks to hurricanes. Hurricanes! And because three people is way too many to fit aboard a ship as extra baggage. And because who the hell wants three strangers on their boat to function as nothing but a liability in the middle of an ocean where they can’t dump us off and we can’t get out even if we wanted to?

Touché. Nonetheless, here we are. We’ve learned plenty about the power of asking and the expansion of what’s possible on land. Maybe we’ll learn that hitching a boat long distance with no money and no seaworthiness at the wrong time of year is indeed possible too. Or maybe Jesse, that is laughing-sailor-Jesse, is right. Either way we learn.

Here’s to knowledge.

Somewhere out there, a lonely foghorn beckons new friends.

Somewhere out there, a lonely foghorn beckons new friends.

Jesse, the still-laughing-but-totally-not-a-sailor Jesse
from Mark’s ninth floor flat in Miami Beach, FL

Sunrise in Jupiter, FL.

The Wild

Adam’s Fantasies

I run almost every day of the trip. Lately it’s been barefoot on the long beaches of the Atlantic. While I run, I think. Sometimes I fantasize. Sometimes it’s about revolution.

I am a panther.

I am a panther.

This particular fantasy is not meant to be realistic. It’s an anarchist creation myth. Like any creation myth, it’s more about helping us understand what something is than how it comes to be. So, to be clear, if we ever achieve a much more free and equal society, without private property, that could be described as anarchist, it certainly won’t come about in the way presented here. This is revolutionary bubblegum literature that also serves to highlight the differences and similarities between the world we have and the world we could have. So come, strap on your shoes, get this blog into an audio MP3, and fantasize with me. 🙂

It’s the culminating day of years of popular struggle for non-capitalist direct democracy. State authority has collapsed as a result of mass defections to the revolutionary cause and the people consider the egalitarian general assembly the most just and effective way for managing those affairs that require large-scale coordination.

On the first evening, the people take the first step. They agree to public policy (a recommendation, the compliance with which is based on trust, cooperation, and reason, rather than the threat of force) eliminating the use of money beginning the following day. The recommendation is to go about your day as you would, but leave the money out of it. The teachers don’t notice much of a difference, but the bank tellers have a pretty odd day.

On the second evening, the people take the second step. Those who don’t have enough of basic necessities are encouraged to take what they need. A child eats kale instead of Cheetos. He’s a bit unhappy with the revolution at the moment, but probably less likely to die of diabetes. A foreclosed family moves back into their home. The doctors are launched into weeks of chaos.

On the third evening, the people take the third step. Those whose jobs are useless are instructed to find something else to do, and those who are overworked reduce their labor to what they deem appropriate. A single-mother goes home to read to her daughter after her shift at the solar panel factory. An Ameriprise account manager takes over that mother’s night shift at their neighborhood Starbucks, where he used to begin each day with a purchase. The coal miners call it a day at 2:00 and plan a meeting to discuss whether or not they should continue mining coal. The Wall Street bankers end their two days of mindless wandering and get to work organizing the relocalization of the economy. A sugary cereal advertiser stays home to play video games.

On the fourth evening, the people take the fourth step. They release the non-violent prisoners and recommend all military personnel return home. The police are only to protect people from violence. Christopher puts on his own clothes and meets his family for dinner. A soldier dismantles her gun, but chooses to remain in Afghanistan for awhile to help build schools for girls in the mountains there. The borders open to human travel. A deported mother reunites with her kids at their soccer game in Galveston.

On the fifth evening, the people take the fifth step. They reprioritize the economy. Large numbers of workers who have stopped doing useless construction, advertising, and nothing begin the rapid transition to renewable energy and more localized infrastructure. Rust belt factories start modernizing and reopening to produce necessary goods without relying on exploitation of desperate workers elsewhere. Styrofoam production stops forever. Automation is pursued wherever possible, to reduce the amount of human labor necessary and expand time for leisure and education. A process is laid out to train hundreds of thousands of new teachers, plumbers, and doctors. All adults are encouraged to attend socially and personally useful university classes.

On the sixth evening, the people take the sixth step. The food and medicine immediately needed in less wealthy parts of the world are sent there. Raw materials in the developing world remain there where workers make shoes and salads and soccer balls for themselves, not just for us. The ships crossing the Pacific, now half as many, stop bringing disposable junk to California and instead deliver anti-malarial bed nets to Southeast Asia. For the first time, a family in Honduras eats three meals in one day.

On the seventh evening, a bunch of people throw a crazy party, some meditate in the woods, and a family plays scrabble, using the dictionary as arbiter of challenges. It’s anarchy.

– Adam (w/ Jesse)
from Fort Lauderdale

Anarchists

Anarchists.

Yup, That’s Racist

We’re eight miles from the Atlantic shoreline on US-192 eastbound through Melbourne from St. Cloud, a half hour into our ride with *Glenda. I’m taking the last sips of a Black Cherry IBC that she gave me; it’s her favorite. Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual is playing at low volume. The mid-afternoon sun is shining. This should be our last ride without ocean waves in sight before we finally re-enter Latin America and she’s been wonderfully kind to us in a motherly and friendly way. As the light changes to red and we ease to a safe stop, I’m thinking, “it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Out my window, the left window, the driver’s side window, a big purple Cadillac idles with two men in the front seat. A mural of their resting-in-peace friend is painted on the trunk which is lifted off the ground at an unnatural height above shiny waxed chrome rims. The woofers are thumping hip hop. If this were a movie scene, the beat would’ve stopped abruptly with the sound of a record scratching.

“Fuckin’ niggers, “ Glenda says with casual, lighthearted disdain.

Uh-oh.

We’ve been here before. Too many people pick us up and then, somewhere along the road, reveal their discriminatory underbelly. Sometimes they’re saying something vaguely anti-Semitic. In Canada the racism typically targeted Asian and First Nations people. Wherever ya go, the minority group (usually immigrants or descendants of a marginalized native population) varies, but the general problem is the same.

Our usual approach to the situation is a combination of asking Socratic questions and expressing our anti-racist sentiments while trying to understand what makes people continue to think and act this way.

“What?”

“Look at ‘em,” she continued. “It’s disgusting.”

What was disgusting remained unclear to us. They preferred a different aesthetic, sure. But their car certainly guzzled no more gas than Glenda’s truck. We tried our usual incredulous approach. Asking what she meant, why she would say that, why she thought those were appropriate words and thoughts. She explained that there’s a difference between black people and niggers. That white people can be niggers too. Some halfhearted apologies were mixed in, citing her age and how she grew up and how she isn’t really racist. I’m sure she has a black friend. Or at least there’s a dark-skinned cashier with whom she exchanges routine pleasantries at the grocery store where she buys her IBC.

We’ve all heard the Chris Rock spiel and we’ve all witnessed its painful regurgitation by white non-comedians as if all of history and culture can be altered and such a term rendered a-ok because a black celebrity said that thing that one time.

We were nearing our destination drop-off point and our question-asking wasn’t going as productively as we’d hoped. She had, with some amount of consistency, stuck to the explanation that people can be niggers regardless of their skin color and that being a nigger was about how you presented yourself… you know, like a black does. And, oh boy, she loved saying that word.

“Okay then,” Adam finally replied with resignation. I don’t think any of us knew exactly where to go from there. Her argument wasn’t sound, but it was unclear how we could say anything that would truly stick. And hey, maybe her explanation was sufficient.

Except that it’s not.

Why? Because when she pulls up to a light with white people blaring Metallica in their Jeep, I doubt she says to herself, “those fuckin’ niggers.” And even if she does, it wouldn’t mean the same thing.

Why not? Because white people haven’t been referred to as niggers for centuries while being enslaved and then systematically oppressed – to this day – by a visibly different group of people with lighter skin who continue to benefit from, maintain, and promote white supremacy.

Sorry, but calling people niggers is racist. The word is racist. Using it as a joke is racist. When you say something you think might be racist and then follow it up with, “but I’m not racist,” you are, in fact, being racist.

When you start a statement with, “I’m not racist but…” you should probably cut yourself off because the second half of your statement will contradict its introduction.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Am I racist?” then the answer is almost certainly yes.

We’re all products of a racist culture. We are all, to some degree, racist, try as we might to not be. It’s ingrained in our media, our economic and social structures, our geography – all aspects of our daily lives. We must work actively to fight the culturally rooted, institutionally promoted racism that leads to the aforementioned scenario – one which is, unfortunately, quite common for us on this trip. And in order to work actively to fight racism – something we must do personally, socially, and politically – we must understand how it is part of our lives.

It makes me sad that hitchhiking around North America is so much easier for me simply because I’m white. It’s no accident that a majority of the backpacking adventurers we meet and read about are white. White folks like us can do unusual things and be praised more and bothered less than our black and brown comrades. People don’t see three white people and reflexively react suspiciously the way they do with black people. Cops don’t arrest white people as often. And they don’t assault white people as often. White people are less likely to go to prison. White people are not profiled by border patrol and airport security as often. White people get paid more and harassed less.

Calling black people niggers is not okay. It’s not okay in public and it’s not okay in private. Please wake up and grow up. It’s 2014. You are not Chris Rock. You are racist.

– Jesse
from Indialantic, FL

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I get rides easier because I’m white. No, I don’t agree with your racist statements.

*I changed her name for this story.

Peanut’s Back!

Remember Peanut? Me neither, until he showed up at our doorstep this morning. I had heard about the infamous Peanut after Jesse and Adam met Kim (“Ms. Kelly”) and her son Brady while crashing a hotel hot tub last year. Did you know that a peanut isn’t actually a nut at all? In this case, it’s a cat.

About three months ago, long after their last visit to Indialantic, Peanut ran away. After reuniting with Kim and Brady this week, we discussed various possibilities on where he had gone. Did he run away and join a cult? A gang? Meet some other friendly, cool cats and is now living the good life? Did he take off on a moneyless adventure to try to make the world a better place? Was he the noisy critter the neighbours kept hearing in the wall, worried that whatever it was would break through at night to attack them? Okay, we only discussed a couple of these, but I think about cats a lot.

No one knows for sure what really happened, but he’s back and skinnier than ever. I guess whatever happened, we do know he’s not one of those mean cats who kills more birds than he knows what to do with. Unless he didn’t know what to do with them at all. Either way, it worked out for Kim and Brady. A cat has to eat.

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Epic life events happen when “we” visit, apparently, and this time it was in cat form. Last time Adam and Jesse visited, Kim’s partner left. This time, a cat arrived. One door closes, a cat jumps through the window. Or however that saying goes.

– Jessica
from Indialantic, Florida, with heat and rain and friends and a happy Peanut

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