They’ll usually mention the beautiful places that you’ll see. The foggy forests, and seas of sand. The feeling of jumping out of a semi cab blocks away from the ocean, running straight there, pulling your clothes off and diving into a wave, feeling the freedom of infinite possibility.
They’ll tell about the kindness of strangers. The kinship with other travelers. How every day is new.
But they’ll skim past the times when the driver “can’t take ya any further,” and drops you on the freeway in the pouring rain. They certainly won’t mention that you’ll stand on the side of that freeway underneath your tarp trying to catch a ride for 5 hours until you decide to sleep under an overpass on a ledge coated with pigeon grime. They won’t tell you about the way your head warbles well into the next day because of the deafening sound of cars screaming by at 80 MPH.
You’ll hear about the fascinating characters.
The way that some people will spill themselves to you, simply because you’re a stranger who they’ll be in close quarters with for 10 hours and then never see again. You’ll hear about the folks with eye patches who tell you about the time they hitchhiked to Panama, or the ones who had mothers who never turned down a hitchhiker, would even take them home and set a place for them at the family dinner, and how they now carry out their mother’s tradition.
You’ll hear about the chicken salad that those sons feed you.
You’ll even hear about the ones who lift the center console so that you know they have a gun.
What you won’t hear about, are the people who for reasons you could never describe, chill you to the bones.
The ones who make you want to be in your mom’s arms.
Who you would lie to about where you’re going to get out the ride if you hadn’t just waited on the exit of a casino for 10 hours in a blizzard.
The ones that make you glad to be a male.
They’ll make sure that you know there were tough times-
but fear that if they tell you the full extent of it, you’ll know that it wasn’t a grand adventure at all-
that they were just running away from themselves.
They won’t mention how exhausting it is to never sleep for than two hours at a time, often wet and cold on concrete somewhere unsafe and uncertain.
They might tell you the funny story about the time they couldn’t find anywhere to sleep in LA so they climbed a tree on the sidewalk, pitched a hammock in the crown, and accidentally dropped a bottle of pee on a passing pedestrian.
They won’t tell you what it is like to be woken up by the police every other night.
The way all police officers drop the same one liner, “you sure get around,” when they run your ID and see that it has been run every other night for 3 weeks.
They won’t tell you about how you shake, half from hypothermia, half from the scene that plays repeatedly in your head after watching your friend jump off a train, losing a tooth, splitting her head open, and breaking three bones.
They won’t tell you about the ache of loneliness when you’re sitting under your sleeping bag on a sidewalk and everyone speeds up and looks away as they pass you.
They won’t tell you about the hate that you receive for being dirty.
They won’t tell you how the grime is inescapable. How it makes you feel like a different person.
Or how much it hurts when you realized how much you took showers, and warm beds, and mothers for granted.
They don’t tell you about the fear you get when the broken, zombified homeless men see you and reminisce on their days of traveling. How all at once you’ll want to go home and clean up and never travel again.
They don’t tell you how boring it is, waiting for a ride.
How exhausting it is, reading faces of disdain all day, and trying to wear a smile, especially when you’re prone to melancholy and don’t smile for the sake of smiling.
Or how hard it is to talk to a stranger you don’t click with for 12 hours.
How much you want to open your eyes because you know the sun is rising over a beautiful mountainous panorama, but the guy driving will keep blabbering if you don’t pretend to sleep.
They don’t tell you about the track marks and rib cages.
That they’re all just too afraid to go back home. Or don’t have a home.
This piece was written by Adison Smith when he was a student in my Creative Nonfiction course during the fall of 2019. He also performed this piece at Duluth’s monthly community storyshare event, Gag Me with a Spoon. I so appreciate his willingness to let me share his talent. Thanks, Adison.
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