Friday, June 13 11:06a.m.
I met Johnny in the trainyard. His hair was matted, his beard bushy, and he was shredding on the mandolin. I immediately identified him as someone to share travel tips and stories with, so I sat down next to him and offered to share my ice cream. I listened to him play for a while before we really talked. He was an awesome musician.
But our conversation left me struggling for clarity about my own identity.
About four years ago, Johnny had a girlfriend, a house, a car, a full-time job. But he was unhappy. Deeply unhappy. So he left it all, hopped on a bicycle, and started traveling. He’s been on the road ever since (although now he mostly rides freight trains). I could relate. I think a lot of people know what it’s like to be attached to stability and yet deeply dissatisfied with life. But I can’t really imagine being on the road for so long.
I told Johnny that lately I’ve been having a hard time feeling enthusiastic about meeting new people. That the shock and awe that was once flattering has become almost oppressive, to the point where I just don’t talk to new strangers about what I’m doing. I told him that I felt overwhelmed, and yearned for just a little stability to recharge myself. I wondered if this was something he ever experiences.
He told me that he feels homesick frequently, and yet doesn’t have any home to go back to. He has friends in lots of places, but every time he tries to go stay somewhere longer than a few days, he realizes that his friends are still sitting on the same porch steps, smoking weed. They haven’t changed while he has been all over the country having new experiences.
Our conversation was interrupted by a little girl, thrilled by Johnny’s mandolin. He serenaded her and her father handed him a dollar. When they left he beamed and said he’s made enough to by a 6-pack of cheap beer. He offered to share it with me, but I declined.
I left him feeling melancholy and somewhat bitter. So many travelers have left shitty jobs and debt shackles, and yet it can be so hard to find true liberation on the road. I’m lucky. I have some pretty amazing friends, and when I go home I know that they’ll be able to share their stories of political victories and defeats, of mini-adventures, of relationship dramas. They will have changed and I will have changed, and we’ll be excited for each other. It’s a privilege I haven’t ever really recognized, but it’s there. Not many people have communities that set them free. So thanks friends.
I’m not speaking of Johnny now, but I think a lot of travelers are also running from problems within themselves. Being part of a community allows you to grow in really unique ways because when you get close to people, they are able to call you out on your bullshit, your privilege, your prejudices and are also able to help you heal. It’s hard to find that in passing moments and introductions. And I think that’s why a lot of travelers end up still feeling kinda empty. And why fuelingdissent is so important to me.
I’m still negotiating my place in the traveler world.
PS: Johnny wasn’t really an oogle. He was a smart, articulate, seemingly sad human traveler
*Oogle: a migratory human that drunkenly stumbles onto your porch and sets your couch on fire. they are the uninvited guests who throw inappropriate things (i.e. veggie oil, pressure treated lumber, spray paint cans, someone else’s full beers) into a bonfire. while under your roof, they will talk shit on “house punks” while their shitty dog attacks your dog. the term crosses subcultural boundaries