When I was a kid, my mother would often rebuke my rebellious tendencies with the reminder that as soon as I was paying my own bills I would then be free to make my own decisions.
I took that to heart and set my sights on freedom.
Growing up in the suburbs of Tulsa in the 90s, popular social life was anchored by the greatest things the 'South side' had to offer: Woodland Hills Mall, Taco Bueno and whatever non-denominational church had the coolest youth group. I knew from the first time I laid eyes on my uncles’ impressive collection of National Geographic Magazine that there was more to life than Muchacos and Abercrombie catalogs. I wanted desperately to escape. I needed to explore and find out why my life felt impoverished despite the relative abundance of material comfort. This escapism was motivated, at least in part, by a less than tranquil home life but I also understood that the world I lived in was mayonnaise and I needed hot sauce.
When I hit the road, I was naive and fearless. I had met depression and suicide at an early age. I accepted a fatalistic philosophy that allowed me to approach new experiences with an honesty that saved my life.
My first apartment was a van, then I moved into a 1971 Honda CB350 named Bell. I left the motorcycle with a friend in Louisiana and hitchhiked into New Orleans alone. Foolish as it was, I survived. I slept in the parks by day, enjoying nights filled with music and friends whose real names I never learned. Two blurry weeks went by at break-neck pace and I needed to slow down so I caught a ride to Portland Oregon with some people I had just met. Three days after that, I hopped on my first freight train. I was eager to explore.
I continued to travel by any means necessary; train, bike, car, boat. I found myself in exotic communities in the middle of America’s largest cities and most remote rural outposts. Being a young white male, I was able to negotiate the extremes of American society with relative ease. I may have arrived in Memphis covered in train dust but I could wash my face, snag a pair of fresh khakis and a t-shirt from the homeless shelter and soon be comfortably resting in the University Library waiting for a good opportunity to snatch a meal at the nearby cafeteria. I met hookers, grad students, psychologists, meth addicts, rednecks, preachers, scammers, thieves and bankers. I could drink malt liquor with bums under a bridge, clink buds with small-town good ol’ boys, or hold the beer bong for the bros at the frat party. I had no rent, no job, no responsibilities. I was free.
I learned that self-determination has a price. I couldn’t decide where a train would take me or when the wind would die down so I could get back on my bike and get a little closer to wherever I was going. Sometimes I went hungry. Other times, I was forced to subsist for days on Slim Fast and South Beach Diet Bars because I had no money and I had found a case of each behind a CVS in Amarillo. I recall one dry afternoon in Northern Mexico when I had run out of water and I watched in dismay as my dusty Central American traveling companions filled their bottles from the iridescent, green-gray water running through a ditch next to the railroad tracks. There are profound lessons to be learned from these experiences but there is also a fair amount of frustration.
The Road left me with a desire for more control. At first I pursued a simple life, dreaming of settling down on a farm for the rest of my days. Lacking the resources to start my own farm, I worked for others. Turns out, this doesn’t work for me.
Luckily, I met a friend who is even more fearless. She had silversmithing skills. We decided together that we would build from scratch the economic engine that will allow us to live life on our own terms.
Slowly but surely, this little engine is gaining momentum. Freedom is the ultimate destination. Exactly what that looks like, I’m not sure.
I think I may have arrived.