What It’s Like to Be Home

Today I woke up in a bed that I will sleep in again tonight. I did not have to unpack my life from a tattered backpack. I don’t need to set up a tent, or wait for it to dry, or pack up a dirty, soggy glob of material back into the bottom of my bag. I will not have to meticulously repack any of my things in the morning. I just place them, here or there, where they go. And when my clothes are dirty, I may change them. And when those are also dirty, I may wash them.

When I want to pee or shit or brush my teeth, I go to the room at the end of the hall. I don’t have to ask anyone if it’s okay that I go in there. If I want to, I can even take a shower in there. The shower has a shower curtain and there is soap. The toilet has a seat and there is toilet paper. I can even use the soap at the sink after I use the toilet. And I don’t have to double check with someone about the soap or the toothpaste or a towel. No one is banging on the door wondering when I’ll get out. No one is telling me, “Sorry, but company policy is customers only.”

In the kitchen there is a refrigerator. Sometimes I have more food than I can eat all at once, so I put it in the refrigerator and I can eat it later. There aren’t any bugs on it. It doesn’t spill onto my clothing. Because my clothing is not in the refrigerator. Clothing now lives in a different space than food. And the food doesn’t go sour in the hot sun.

It’s hot here in Georgia. Not unlike the summers we’ve spent the past couple years chasing around. There is a fan, right there on the ceiling, and I can turn that fan on by simply flicking a switch or pulling a string. It comes with a light. And they’re all attached right up there to the roof which doesn’t leak at all so when it rains I’m dry.

When I’m thirsty I can go to the sink and get water. I don’t have to boil it or pour iodine in it or wait for a pill to dissolve in it or swish a UV light around for 10 minutes inside of it. I don’t have to go somewhere and buy it in a big plastic jug. I don’t have to beg anyone to spare some from their jugs. I can just walk right over to the faucet and turn it on and out comes this wet stuff that I can drink. And then I’m not thirsty. I can do that whenever I want. I don’t even have to be in this house with the fans and the toilet seats and the refrigerator. I can go to other houses and they all have this same quality water in their faucets too.

If I want to use the internet I can. And if my computer needs to be plugged in, there is a plug. These things work all hours of the day and are pretty much always there. I don’t have to ask anyone for the password.

If I want to see someone I know, I can do that, pretty easily, within a matter of minutes. And if I don’t want to see anyone, if I just want to read or wallow around for half a day severely and inexplicably depressed, punching myself in the thighs as hard as I can, hoping that it may help me feel something, then I can do all that too, behind a door and walls that shield me from view and give me space to not be watched. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission to sit where I am and read, nor to wallow around, punching my legs and wondering if they will bruise and then marveling at how much my legs can ache without showing any visible evidence. I can do all these things. Or not. Either way, it’s cool.

Suddenly there’s this vacuum to try and fill in. Its magnitude is immense. The abyssal freedom before me overwhelms. Where once there was a full day ahead of handling the basics, where to eat or excrete, how to get there, where to sleep… suddenly all of that is just handled. Peeing takes no more time and effort than the time and effort it takes me to pee. There is all this time and there are all these possibilities.

Depression hangs like a cloud here as it did all over everywhere I went. It does not go away, but sometimes the darkness lightens. Today has been a fascinating mix of the darkness and the lightness. Today is not unlike many days of the trip. Life rolls on much as it did for me and for others while I was on the road. And with all that, there is too the awareness of just how smoothly everything continues without me, without any of us. The inertia of life itself supercedes our own.

So we must make our own momentum, carve out our own spaces. I’m trying to do that in a meaningful way, but still wandering the funhouse of aliveness, bumping into walls, trundling through confusion and hopelessness, determination and optimism.

What do I do with all this time? What is meaningful? Years of living out questions yields ever more questions. In the hundreds of days spent wandering and watching and listening there was also a lot of time to think and reflect. All the idealism such time yields fits well in the cracks of society, fluttering in the winds of transience. Now suddenly things are measured again. There are schedules. People have bills and rent, landlords. And I no longer float in and out of their lives. The struggle of a long string of goodbyes is converting itself back into the cyclical struggle of familiar hellos. This town, full of lords exerting their will to which we are beholden, is not unlike the others through which I’ve passed, and it is not so unlike itself before I returned.

So for now I have a place where I’m allowed to be. I don’t have to ask permission. No one is telling me what to do. Survival is not a quest in the same sense as before. Maslow’s bottom tier: check. My pieces fracture at times, but I’m holding it together, about as well as any of us it seems.

So now what?

What’s It Like to Be Home?!

-Oh hey! So good to see you! What’s it like to be back?

-Well, kinda weird, really. It’s more-

-How was the trip?!

-Oh man, how do I sum up two years of my life? It was a real mix of good and bad. Some of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming experiences of my life. I’m really happy I did it. But I’m glad to be in one place again. I’m definitely going to enjoy just being in one place for a while. It’s like-

-What’s your favorite place you went to?!?!

-You know, I hate picking favorites. But people ask this a lot and I usually say Uruguay. It’s gorgeous there, warm year round. The people are-

-Wow! I’ve never been to Uruguay. Where is that again?

-It’s on the Atlantic coast between Argentina and Brazil.

-Brazil! Cool! World Cup!!! I bet it’s really something, going all over the world and then being back here. You know, I went on this trip to Europe last year. It was amazing! I got to see the Eiffel Tower and everything. People are really rude sometimes. I think they hate Americans, haha. But I found most people to be nice actually. And the food! Oh, the food. I bet the food in – wait, what was it again?

-Uruguay.

-Yeah, Uruguay. I bet the food there is awesome, huh? So spicy!

-Um, yeah, kinda. You know it’s funny, they don’t really like spicy stuff there. In parts of Latin America, especially México or Perú, everything is spicy. But further south they really don’t-

-Oh man, I love spicy food!!! This one time, for my friend’s bachelor party, we drove down to Tijuana from Vegas. The fish tacos were so good… so spicy! And at first I thought my stomach was acting up because of all those jalapeños. But you know what they say? Don’t drink the water. Haha. We got so sick. But I dunno, we drank a lot too. Tequila, man. And you know what else they say… What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Ha-HA! I guess that saying just goes for that whole area, you know? I mean, you know.

-…

-So where to next???!

-Nowhere. I’ll be here a while.

500 Words

Santiago, Chile.

Wine. Red. Terra Andina. Merlot-Syrah. A fly. Hovering around the glass. Swat. Afuera. Regresa. Repeat. Try not to kill. Keep swatting.

Earlier. Human Rights Museum. Tragedy, Hopelessness, Hope. Criticisms. Confusion. “Mentira.” ¿Es verdad? ¿No es verdad?

Days ago. Completed Waiting for Godot. Question everything. Laugh at it all.

Why so serious? The Joker echoes in my brain? But how can we laugh? All this tragedy?

-It’s how we cope.
-It’s how we belittle.
-It’s how we overcome.
-It’s how we forget.

Laundry hangs outside, the patio. Nitza’s house. We met yesterday. Starbucks. Chance. Invitation to stay. Share: thoughts, time, food… Pinochet vs. Lefties. She prefers the former. Bed. Showers. Her friend in prison. War crimes.

Like Isabel. Buenos Aires. Crying, saying goodbye. Remaining in touch, Facebook. Her husband, in prison, war crimes, would’ve killed us if we were alive and in Argentina 30 years ago.

How can one make sense of any of this? Processing, or beginning to. Still: a foreign country, in motion, navigating the side of the road with a thumb, plodding about in a second language. Marveling. Inebriating. Tiring. Waiting. Absorbing. Wringing out.

The internet here is strong. The infrastructure here is strong. The strength of the dictatorship. The economy. The backing of the mighty United States. The red. The white. The blue. Lots of red. Bodies in rivers. Batons to the heads of the bold. Torture. A group of soldiers stomps a teacher to death on the floor beneath the chalkboard of his classroom. September 11, 1973. Never forget.

Graffiti on all the street corners. Across the street: “Tu comodidad avala la pobreza.” The beating heart of the people. It bleeds. It continues to pump blood. Hasta la victoria siempre

Why write? I want to scream. I want to throw fire. I want to bite off ears, hurl rocks, spit in the face of every helmeted buffoon with a gun and a twisted notion of honor coinciding with murder.

Where are the badges for the peaceful? True, maybe we should not reward those who simply do what everyone ought to do. Like praising the man for not beating his wife. But now Chris Kyle is a box office boom and I am too confused, too deflated, too thoroughly neutralized by awe to even have the energy, the conviction, the clarity to be angry, to throw fire, to take a side.

Are there sides? Yes there are. Whose am I on? Give money away. Get some more. Give  a homeless man a coin. We talk. Approach a woman in a cafe. Ask for food. Receive cake, coffee. Wash the dishes. Later, buy carrots, onions, potatoes. Cook soup. Eat, chat. Nitza has never been to Human Rights Museum. Says she will go now.

Soon: Lima. Then Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver. The journey ends. Or does it? When does it end, begin? “La vida es un viaje” – so reads the title of a future blog post. We shall explore: time, arbitrary designations, meaning.

– Jesse

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

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

IMG_8721

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

*I changed her name for this story.