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Meditations On Leaving
My not-so-original idea was that I’d travel the world in search of adventure, or better yet, some indefinite glory. And for the sake of purity, I’d bum it. I’d be Kerouac without the bop, Gauguin without the syphilis. The front end of this scheme was propped up by a pale-green tax refund check. The tail end was in the wind somewhere and I didn’t care. I was restless, and almost desperate for differentiation. Then too, I’d been dumped by an upwardly-mobile girl and I was tired of tonguing that tooth, of driving with the radio off. I wanted vivid experience and the expanded world view I’d heard travel would confer.
Hitchhiking is an alien experience at first. Like all daring things, it’s half exhilaration and half dread. You feel a sudden, squinty-bright isolation when you first step onto a vacant highway. It leaves you lonesome, unnerved. But soon you hear the far off whine of a purposeful life hurling in your direction, a tiny swatch of space/time. Can you slow it down, stop it with a look? You’re going for broke this time, feeling for change in every pocket. One thing’s certain: no one stops until you look them in the eye. And when they do stop, when they overshoot and you run to them like a child, you find these folks to be romantics, full of good stories and wry humor. They’re average Joes with the gift of gab. They’re older guys, mostly, a few students, once in a blue moon, a girl in a V-dub. You like them, and they like, at the very least, the idea of you. It’s why they stopped.
So you find instant commonality. For an hour or so you’re the best of friends, enough that you imagine staying in touch. You almost suggest it. This is the irrationality of faith. You both should harbor suspicions, but you won’t let them in. You engage, speculate, dream your serial dreams. You’ve just strapped yourself to the cusp of time and you’re tickled to be there, glad you’re not scraping dishes at the campus gag, or walking soybeans somewhere, chopping your way toward a gallon of Kool-Aid. You’re all impulse and sensibility, riding high. You’re gesture painting, flowing out, talking a mile a minute. For a few seconds at a time, you can actually feel yourself living.
So how do you travel with little money and no practice, when you haven’t even known addresses, when you get so homesick that you puke? Poorly at first, with too much reliance on others, but ultimately, with the cockeyed faith of a dry-land farmer. You just toss your hat over the fence and go after it, then toss it over again. It’s like following your headlights into the night; the road doesn’t need to be familiar. You go, in fact, because it’s not. You’ve had enough of familiarity. Bad enough that it breeds contempt, but it breeds right there in front of you. Better to skedaddle.
In Europe, I supported myself playing guitar and singing in subway stations, by handing out leaflets in train stations, by moving furniture, by serving breakfast and making beds in hostels, by helping refurbish 200 year old flats, all without papers. I was a WOP. I smoked ten good cigarettes a day and I walked everywhere, often with my head down, often right past things I needed to see—the Ann Frank House in Amsterdam, the lotus eaters in the park—but I was working on containment, self-sufficiency, and it was a great relief to see no one I knew.