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

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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.

The Pull Is Stronger Than the Push

There are many reasons for each of us as independent humans to set out on this indefinite journey to indefinite places, living differently and learning about humanity. This entry fits in the densely filled space where our reasons overlap.

Taking off indefinitely is the kind of thing that prompts questions like, “What are you running away from?” But we’re not running away from ourselves or anything else; we’re running to other places and people, to things we’ve dreamed of and read about, to the things we would’ve rather been doing while toiling at Market Basket or FedEx.

There are some factors pushing us away from the lives we’ve led to this point. There’s a deeply held conviction that we should limit, as much as possible, our participation in actions and systems we feel are more destructive than constructive. There’s a commitment to not let our lives be dictated by momentum and convention when we’re more than capable of creating our own, hopefully more useful, paths. There’s a recognition of the difference between being comfortable and being happy. And there’s the pressure of time, the knowledge that we don’t live forever and that our life situations might not be as conducive to this in the future.

But what’s pulling us is so much stronger. We’ve both slept til 4 in the afternoon on probably too many days after reading Wikipedia articles about Comoros or debating the feasibility of an anarchist society until sunrise. We want, intensely, to experience things on a human level, first-hand. And we hope that we can be more productive facilitators of a better future by spreading our ideas, and our questions, beyond the relatively local and homogeneous gardens we’ve thus far been pollinating.

Unlike the oft-referenced Chris McCandless, we are not turning our backs on, or experimenting with dropping out of, society. We are investing ourselves in society by filling what seems to us a necessary yet largely underplayed role in it. It’s certainly true that many of our opinions diverge from the mainstream or from generally accepted ways of looking at things. But they are the products of years of earnest, fervent reflection on ourselves and the world we live in, and we think that sharing them with the people we encounter is a real contribution to our common endeavor of bettering the human condition. And while we have a responsibility to share the insights that our genes and our experiences have combined to create, we also have a responsibility to take what others have to offer, to incorporate it into our ways of seeing the world, and to share it widely.

In terms of our utility, we’d argue that we do more good via idea pollination than through a more conventional role as a cog in the material economy. Our society has more than enough stuff. What we can work to provide on this journey are the novel experiences and social connections that our isolated and routinized society so dearly lacks. These oft-belittled opportunities in everyday life are what the social sciences have consistently and convincingly shown to be the more important components of happy lives.

As idealists, we strive to live out not only our ideals, but also the questions hovering around them. Doing so requires repeatedly asking ourselves how necessary compromising those ideals may be. There is a constant struggle between idealism and reality, between the perfect and the good, between the good and the merely less bad, and between personal convictions and the status quo. We also can’t forget that the status quo represents, to various degrees, large parts of the human race with which we feel so intimately connected.

We are often told, if not by people we know then indeed by the droning rhythms of our societal machine, that we have our heads in the clouds, that dreams and ideals can only go so far, that we need to come down to Earth and acknowledge the need for jobs, for money, for routines. To this we ask, what makes those things so necessary? It seems those things are at least less necessary for us than for most, as we are, for whatever reasons, more comfortable than most with having less, with giving in to chaos, and with challenging so many of the arbitrary conventions our society disguises as obvious truths. The supposed guarantees of capitalism, routines, and isolation are not on par with gravity.

This exploration is both something we want to do and something we think is right. This may indeed be a rare convergence of those two things, desires and convictions, but for us these things have come together quite well, both as individuals and conjointly. Our friend Zach Peckham has a song that says something to the effect of, “I don’t believe that you can be anything you set your mind to, but I do think you are the only authority on your own life.” That sums it up pretty well for us too.

Ultimately, we know we have the capacity to have an impact on our world. Actually, it’s unavoidable. (All actions have consequences, inaction is action, and all that.) We all have a responsibility to one another. We feel that this responsibility exists to an even greater degree for people like us, given our relatively privileged roles and our personal tendencies toward intellectualism and activism. A world built on exploitation can only succeed at perpetuating an unjust, prejudicial, and damaging status quo for as long as we remain ignorant of others and the many ways in which we are so constantly and significantly tied to those people.

We may indeed find that our future selves will better serve the world in some different way. Until that moment arrives this will be a learning experience, and a shared experience, that hopefully leads us to an even better understanding of the world and how we can best live as part of it.

So yeah, we aim to contribute as wholly as possible to the happiness of humanity. This includes not forgetting that we are a part of humanity, and that our own happiness is as valuable as anyone else’s. This adventure, done in this way, seems to us at this time to be the best means of accomplishing that end. And it’s certainly refreshing to live lives in which, moment by moment, our means and our ends look an awful lot alike.

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