I’ve never seem a black woman hitchhike before, have you? After 8 months in New Orleans, and several months of writers’ block, I needed to shake things up. Perhaps I was bristling against the idea of New Orleans feeling like home. Maybe I wanted out of the art house for a bit and was too lazy to look for something new. Who knows what alternative reasons sat in my subconscious.
“What are you doing?”
“Exploring the United States”
“Curiosity, I’m a writer”
That simple exchange is now as practiced as telling someone my name, and asking how far they are going. It’s as regular as my disarming chuckle as I tell them I’m 40 and have two kids in college. Which upon writing that, I remember that I turned 41 on the road. Whatever it was, I am a different person than I was a month ago.
I’ve been hitchhiking for over a month.
I started in Austin Texas after a two-day writing conference (The Smarter Artist).
I’ve slept in Hostels, couch-surfed, stayed on the beach, with a friend, on park benches, and the front of a closed gas station.
My pack weighed over 40 pounds when I started, it now weighs 29 pounds.
I haven’t had one bad ride where I felt scared or in danger.
So far, I haven’t felt the need to decline a ride either.
Growing up, I learned to listen to my gut or intuition. I also learned to avoid strangers and that the world was a dangerous place. So, when I found myself facing yet one more event that seemed to say, ‘don’t go back to New Orleans yet,’ I was nervous, but I listened.
In Austin, I’d picked up expensive new plugs for my ears and left them in the REI dressing room. They wouldn’t open until 9 or 10 the next day, my ride was leaving at 4am. I faced the decision to leave my new earrings or find a different way back to Louisiana on my own. I chose the latter and the next day I sat in a local Starbucks looking at the Greyhound website. Single one-way ticket, Austin Texas to New Orleans Louisiana, my screen said. I was holding my credit card in my hand when a thought crossed my mind. If I was a Christian, I might say I was called. If I was someone else, I might say I was open to the universe. Regardless of the framework, something said “Go on Craigslist… isn’t there a ride share? Didn’t you want to go camping and see Miami before going home anyway? Maybe you should experiment with trusting humanity?” I coined the phrase, Radical Trust, and went on the website. Craigslist is where I found Molly and Bow.
Molly and Bow were like hitchhiking training wheels. Kind, young, fun, and in a big recreational vehicle they’d just bought in California. Musicians and antiquers, we traveled from antique store to antique store. I discovered my love for the Native American flute as I looked at their stash of instruments, then found one of my own in an antique junk shop the next day. I road with them from San Antonio Texas to North Port Florida. I recorded the following video with them, and felt sad getting out of their RV. Sitting in a local restaurant, I was hit with the irresponsibility I’d just displayed and a sudden rush of possibilities. I didn’t know anyone in Florida, but there was a hostel, Cuban coffee, and my favorite author in Miami. At least I had my rudder set in the right direction. It was dark and suddenly rained, so I huddled in a gazebo and napped with the frogs while praying to avoid rabid locals and alligators.
A kind English woman picked me up for a couple exits and I experienced something that’s become a bit like writer’s crack for me. Sitting in her car, facing forward, she opened up. She taught underprivileged deaf children and tried to arrange resources for them. We talked about the difficulty in getting people to donate old hearing aids, get the state to understand their needs, and teaching children who don’t have language because their families never learned sign language. Then she spoke of her own hitchhiking adventures as a youth in Europe, gave me a banana, and dropped me off.
Every single person who’s given me a ride, has a story. They might not know it but by the end of the ride, I’ve coaxed it out of them. Sitting forward, they don’t have to look me in the eye. Being a stranger, they know they’ll never see me again. People have told me things they’ve never told anyone else. They’ve talked out issues. They’ve shared their lives, and as a passenger, I’ve been blessed to sit next to them and hear it.
My last blog post was written right after I’d arrived in New Orleans. I was angry after three years of constant deaths of black boys by police plastered across TV screens. Dropping my second kid off at his first apartment, I couldn’t wait to leave and find a country that wanted my love as much I wanted to love. I was burnt, tired, and angry. My faith in humanity was low, and my faith in Americans was lower. This trip taught me to love people again. People are not the comment sections of Youtube or Facebook. They are not cable news. Every single person I’ve met has been kind, hurt, lonely, scared, funny, curious, and… good.
Even those so different from me that I’ve struggled to see their goodness, was at their core a person just trying to be good and live in this world. I talked with gun enthusiasts, DJ’s, truck drivers, ex-special forces, teachers, students, business owners, Democrats, Republicans, immigrants, rednecks and every single integration thereof.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once gave a talk where she discussed a story about going to a tribe of people or a town in Africa. The people would say, “oh we are fine but be careful over there… those people…” and then she’d go to those people and they’d say the same thing. I’ve seen this played out over and over as people expressed concern about my safety is such and such town because “those people.” But when I’d get to “those people,” someone would give me a ride. They’d be kind and funny and concerned… and then “be careful when you get (insert random city/county), you know… cause “those people.”
So, sitting on a self-described “rednecks couch” after a good nights’ sleep, I’ll leave you with my first lesson from this trip. There are no, “those people.”