All around me, people in suits and too much hair gel swarm in and out of condos and skyscrapers all in slightly different shades of beige. Underground tunnels connect buildings and bus stops to each other, so the streets feel eerily empty. The tunnels are bustling with people hiding from the sun in Starbucks and chain shops.
My only conversation was with a suited man who saw me with my backpack and seemed excited to talk to me about my travels, but as soon as I asked him what he did, he looked down and muttered that he worked for the man (the bank), then quickly departed.
*NOTE TO SELF: never take a job that I’m literally to ashamed to talk about. No matter how much it pays, it isn’t worth it.
I dived underground to find wifi, but was so unnerved by the city that I decided to spend the last two hours of sunlight desperately trying to flee Dallas and make it to Oklahoma. I failed. Several people flipped me off, most people glared with a kind of disgusted grimace, no one stopped. I found a McDonalds. Worst case scenario, you can always drink hella coffee in 24-hour joints and just wait for the sun to come back up.
Worst case scenario. It is awful. And sitting in McDonalds, listening as a Burger King commercial come on TV, I thought I felt my soul scream. But around 11pm, a friend of a friend from Tar Sands Blockade called. He had a car! And a bed for me to sleep in! Rather than stay the night in the grossly sanitized faux-diner booth, I stayed up all night talking about the true stories from TSB, about social conflicts, about climate change.
By morning I was back on the road, determined to get out of Dallas. For about two hours I stood by the on-ramp downtown. In case you don’t know, hitchhiking in the city is nearly impossible. People always assume someone else will stop. Or maybe they just are more bitter. I’ll never really know. At one point my wait was interrupted by a cute antiques dealer who asked about my travels, thanked me for inspiring him, and handed me a $50 bill (this is dangerous! I am now terrified I’m going to lose it!) But he wasn’t going my way.
Finally I did get picked up. What a trip. Hanging from his rearview mirror was a Jesus figurine and a cross, and religious books were piled up in his back seat. He was in Dallas to volunteer with Meals on Wheels. His three kids were about 10 years older than me. I felt immediately safe. But that was the wrong instinct. He started talking about how he couldn’t help being attracted to me, how the fact that I hadn’t showered all week was sexy, my smell was sexy. At no point did he physically threaten me, but this was by far the scariest ride I have been in. He let me out with no trouble, but it definitely shook me up. It reminded me that you can’t ever rely on your assumptions, that every person is both a potential friend and a potential threat. Fortunately, I am safe.
My next ride was only a little less frightening. He was an ex-army ops guy who picked me up because he could empathize – he’d been homeless for a while before the army – and drove me just a few exits to the edge of town. He spent our entire (short) trip, talking about his PTSD and telling me all the various ways I might be raped, murdered, or otherwise killed on my travels.
“I don’t want to scare you, but you might get stranded in the middle of nowhere and slowly die from lack of food and water, or you might get eaten by a mountain lion. You should have a gun. I don’t have a gun, I’m not allowed to have a gun because I’m dangerous enough anyway. But you should have a gun.”
My blood was pumping pretty hard when he dropped me at the further gas station out of town, so I decided to just hang out for a minute with my banjo, and try to calm down. But immediately I was offered a ride by two of the nicest truckers I’ve met, and they dropped me off nearly on the front porch of my good friend here in Norman, Oklahoma. The two of them had been friends since they were kids and had been driving together for nearly two decades.
And now I’m staying with my friend and his family in the hippest town I can imagine existing in Oklahoma. I’m sitting in a coffee shop that feels like it’s more suited to Oakland or Portland, with a radical free library and bikes hanging from the ceiling. This family is feeding me delicious food, and getting me drunk on some of the best wine I’ve ever tasted.
and…I feel happy!
My thoughts about climate change, activism, hopelessness, etc have not shifted much, but I think at least some of the crushing sadness I was experiencing came from loneliness, isolation, lack of physical touch. Sharing kisses with my date in Houston and friendly affection with the friends I’ve made has really pulled me out of a dark place. I have decided to take a break from the darkness for a week, and am currently deciding whether to try to visit my sweetheart in Boise, my close friends in New Orleans, or my wandering lover in Georgia, but I know I need to be around my community to stay happy. People are important, and wandering forever will never work for me because the solidarity I have with my community is absolutely a part of who I am.
I hope to share some more stories and reflection on love, travel, and loneliness soon. Thanks for the reassuring phone calls, emails, comments, letters. All of it keeps me going.