The Man recently came up with a great idea. What if you get people to tell you their wildest travel stories? he asked. Awesome! I thought and asked my friends and fans on social media to share those stories with me. I’ll share the stories with you, my readers, as they roll into my inbox.
If you want to share your wildest travel story, submit them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, I am unable to pay for any guest posts. I am NOT interested in or willing to run posts that are racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, or mean in any way. The post you submit should be finished and polished and ready to run immediately. Please include a brief biography at the end of the post.
Today’s story is about a cat, and a police officer, anda hitchhiker with only a vague idea of where to find the friend she wanted to visit,.
My friend Sherrie moved to Peshtigo WI without giving me a forwarding address before there was any such thing as a cell phone. Being my free-spirited self and the fact that Peshtigo is rather a small town I hitched a ride up with my black cat following behind me everywhere I went. It wasn’t far between DePere and Peshtigo, only a little over an hour on the highway. The rides were fast and easy because who wouldn’t pick up a gal and her cat?
My ride dropped me off right at the beginning of town as requested. I didn’t know how I would find my friend but I was going to at least give it a try, hike around and see if I could maybe stalk her. I started my hike noticing there were no sidewalks in this rural area. The houses were spaced a good distance apart and I had only walked through about three or four front yards when a lady opened her front door and stared at me. Right away I thought ‘oh God she’s gonna yell at me for being on her property or walking on her yard’ and sure enough she started hollering at me but she was yelling my name! As in “Grimit?!” (my nickname) in a questioning tone. Then, “Is that you Grimit?”
I was totally floored! It was my friend Sherrie’s MOM! I couldn’t believe the luck! After several questions about why I’m in her front yard with my cat and much laughter she directed me to my friends new place across town on the opposite end of Peshtigo!
I set out again hitchhiking sporadically and walked only about a mile in when the Peshtigo police officer pulled up complete with lights and sound. He told me hitching was illegal within the city limits and after checking my ID he would give me a ride through town and set me free on the other end near my friend’s place. Lucky me again, I’m not getting busted!
I gladly accepted the ride but explained to him that since he had done the lights and siren thing for a moment when he pulled up my cat had scurried up the nearest tree for safety and I couldn’t just leave her here. He understood my dilemma and turned everything off, engine included. We just stood outside his car silently waiting for about two or three minutes, and she came right down.
We rode through Peshtigo with me in the front passenger seat and my cat on the back of the seat between us like the princess she was! We, all three, totally agreed it was one of the most interesting rides we’d ever had! ….and I found my friend. We still laugh about how I ended up in her mom’s front yard!
It’s just me and Louise now, a dog follows me instead of a cat. Just sign me Maryl (not Thelma) and Louise. email@example.com
According to the National Day Calendar website, April 5 is National Read a Road Map Day. To prepare us for this holiday, today I’ll share with you my ideas about why GPS isn’t enough, make suggestions about what maps to use depending on where you’re going, and give you tips on where to find help if you need to brush up on your map reading skills.
When did everyone become dependent on GPS and a computerized voice telling us when to turn left?
My dad was a salesman during the early years of my life. When he went out looking for clients, he used paper maps to find them. When I was very young, we moved to a major metro area. My dad had not a single paper map, but an entire large, thick book that showed each neighborhood, each street, each back alley. The book was laid out with some mysterious logic I still fail to understand which involved flipping to a whole new page in mid trip. How did my father possibly read that map while driving? I can only assume he studied the map and planned his trip before getting into the driver’s seat and stopped in a parking lot to consult the map any time he had to confirm his route or start over and figure out new directions.
In 1998 I found myself at a music festival with a need to get back to my home base sooner than planned. I didn’t have a car and didn’t drive. I was facing a multi-day Greyhound bus adventure, but a friend of a friend of a friend pointed me in the direction of a woman who was headed to the same city as I was. She had an open passenger seat and room in the back of her pickup for my gear. After she accepted me as her passenger, I found she also had a TripTik Travel Planner from AAA. Does anyone remember these customized booklets that AAA members could request from the local office? AAA members could get request directions to a specific destination and the local office would provide turn-by-turn instructions. I spent a lot of time holding that booklet from AAA, as I was immediately promoted from passenger to navigator.
(True confession: I still managed to send us off in the wrong direction, despite the turn-by-turn instructions in my hand. In my defense, we were in the outskirts of Chicago, and the proliferation of road signs had me befuddled. Luckily the driver quickly saw the error of my ways and got us back on track ASAP.)
I can’t remember exactly when I learned about MapQuest. Perhaps it was in the very early years of the 2000s when I got my first laptop. Maybe it was before that, and I’d use my computer at work or go to the public library to get my directions via the World Wide Web. I do remember finding directions online and either printing them or writing each step out by hand. MapQuest let me down multiple times (including on so many occasions on a single trip to Missouri that I grew convinced that no employee of MapQuest had ever driven one mile in the Show Me State), until I swore to never use that website again. Now I’m a Google Maps gal.
The first time I heard a talking GPS navigator was 2009. The parents of the
guy who was then my boyfriend flew into the major city where we lived and rented a car because the guy and I didn’t have one. The car’s talking navigation system seemed to be more trouble to me than it was worth. We asked it to take us to tacos; instead it took us in circles as we tried to find a taco stand that apparently didn’t exist. I feared we would be directed to drive off a cliff or through a river.
Until I met The Man, I never let the navigation lady in Google Maps talk to me. I’d get directions from Google Maps, then write them out on a piece of paper I’d clip somewhere on my dash so I could refer to the instructions as I drove. I soon agreed with The Man that listening to the Google lady is easier than writing everything out, but it sure is a wrench in my system when she decides to send me on a wild goose chase. (I call them “wild Google chases.”) Why does the GPS lady get confused? Doesn’t her job require her to be omniscient?
And yet, I often wonder how our society got around before Google Maps or other GPS technology. When I think hard, I remember as a teenager having to ask friends how to get to their houses before my mother drove me over. Invitations to birthday parties often included small hand-drawn maps. Vacationers used road maps and those AAA TripTik booklets (if they were so fortunate as to be AAA members–my family never was). When folks got lost, they’d stop at a gas station and ask the worker for help.
Yes, I do appreciate GPS technology. I use it often. I’ve made friends with the Google Maps lady who guides me from inside my phone. (I call her Megan.) But for goodness sake, no matter how convenient GPS technology is, don’t forget your paper maps and don’t forget how to use them.
There are a few types of paper maps that you may need during
your travels. Be sure to get the right map for the job!
(I’m going to assume you’re traveling in the U.S.A. since
that’s where I’m writing from. I’ve you’re traveling in a country other than
the U.S.A., I‘d love for you to leave a comment describing how your use of maps
is different from the suggestions I’m giving here.)
For your day-to-day driving on the interstate and highways, use a decent road atlas. Rand McNally makes a good one. You can buy these bound sets of maps at bookstores or even Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart also sells a Rand McNally road atlas that shows the location of every Wal-Mart store in the U.S. This atlas would be a great investment for anyone who plans to spend a significant number of nights in Wal-Mart parking lots.SimplyRVing made a YouTube video all about this Wal-Mart atlas and how it can help you on the road.
If you’re planning your travels ahead of time, you can order an atlas online or through a local, independent bookstore. (Believe me, an independent bookstore will appreciate your business!) An atlas will show you the main roads to get you from town to town. The maps often show rest stops and campgrounds, as well as state and federal public land. Many of them also show basic maps of major cities and the most popular National Parks. If you purchase an atlas that covers all of North America, you’ll get maps of Canada and Mexico too.
If you’re only traveling in one state or region and you don’t have the space
(or money) for an atlas, you can probably get by with one or more state maps. You can sometimes find state maps in bookstores or Wal-Mart stores, and you can certainly buy them online. However, state maps are typically available for free at visitor centers or by mail if you contact the state’s tourism office ahead of time. I was recently in the visitor center in Deming, NM where there were free maps available for New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas.
Sometimes a stand-alone state map will be more detailed than
a state map in an atlas. It may show you county roads and tourists attractions.
A state map may also include basic maps of major cities within the state.
If you want to explore a state thoroughly, especially if you want to boondock for free on public land, you may want to invest in an atlas or atlas and gazetteer for the state you are exploring. These bound maps of individual states break the entire state into blocks, then enlarges each block to show not just county roads but also forest service roads, old mines, campgrounds, public land, historic sites, hunting zones, and more. Having a state atlas or atlas and gazetteer combo is a good plan if you want to find free camping areas that are off the beaten path. The two most popular brands are DeLorme and Benchmark.
If you’re going to spend some time in a National Forest or BLM area (especially a popular one), you may be able to get a map from the local ranger station. These maps will show Forest Service roads, natural attractions and landmarks, and campgrounds. These maps will also save you from buying a gazetteer if you don’t really need it because you’ll be boondocking primarily in one part of the state. (The map of the National Forest I worked in for four seasons cost $20, but the ranger station may have free handouts that will get you where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to ask for freebies.)
On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time in an urban area, you may want to get a good map of the city where you are based. Gas stations or Wal-Mart stores may have city maps, or you can order them before you hit town, if you’re the type to plan ahead. If you get to a city and need a free map of the area, try the local chamber of commerce. You don’t have to say you live in your van (if doing so makes you uncomfortable) when you explain you’re new to the area and need some help finding your way around. You could also go to the public library and print out some maps of the city that show the parts of town you plan to frequent.
Once you have your map, don’t just stick it in the pocket
behind your seat and forget about it. Get that baby out and study it! Trust me,
the best time to pull out your map is not when you are already lost.
If you’re using GPS to get to your destination, compare the route the
computer gives you to your map. Does what the GPS tell you make sense? Some camp host friends punched “Sequoia National Park” into their GPS, and after following the instructions given, found themselves turning down what seemed to be a dry riverbed. Oops! Had they consulted a map before the trip, they would have seen there was no reason to leave the pavement to get where they were going.
I’ve had Google Maps send me on wild Google chases even in cities and towns. Once when on the interstate, driving through the metro Los Angeles area, the Google Maps lady routed The Man onto Sunset Boulevard. Why? Why? Why? Google Maps often sent me on strange, roundabout routes through Porterville, CA. In any case, using a paper map to get familiar with an area before a trip can help do away with this type of nonsense. Simply being familiar with street names and the lay of the land can help make recovery a little easier if the GPS starts spewing incorrect information.
If you’ve never learned to read a road map or your skills are rusty, no shame! You can find lots of map-reading help on the internet. The Beginner Driver’s Guide will give you an informative overview of what different components of a map mean and how to use them. wikiHow has a thorough two-part article on “How to Read a Map,” including how to understand a map’s layout and how to use a map to get where you’re going. If you’d rather watch a video, there are several on YouTube dedicated to teaching folks how to read maps.
However you go about sharpening your map-reading skills, do
it before you get on the road. Trying to interpret an unfamiliar map while
trying to drive and read street signs is no easy task and could be a recipe for
GPS is quite helpful in getting you where you’re going, but
it shouldn’t be the only tool in your navigation toolbox. Make sure you have
the correct paper map for the particular journey you’re on, and know how to use
it so you can reach your destination with less worry and stress.
As always, Blaize Sun takes no responsibility for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. Do your research and decide for yourself your best course of action.
travel but worried that being away from home is going to make it difficult to
stay sober? Today’s guest post from Patrick Baily gives you plenty of tips for
staying sober on the road.
Traveling has always been a part of life since I was a child. When I started working, I was able to afford to travel to more distant places with family and friends. However, when I started on my path of recovery from drug addiction, I had to live differently than I had in the past. I had to do things differently when I traveled too.
I realized things needed to change during a trip
when I almost lost my life. It was a good thing my family was around. I decided
to stop traveling and get myself into the 12 step program for addiction. Now that I can handle myself so much better
with the help of the skills I learned during my stay in a rehabilitation
facility, I have put on my traveling shoes again.
My first attempt was a fairly short drive away
from home. I tested my resolve to stick to my sobriety with an overnight stay
at a familiar resort near my place.
At first, I was really scared because I had a
lot of memories there. A lot were good ones, especially with family and some
friends, but I cannot deny there were also days I would rather forget connected
to my drug addiction. Thankfully, I learned in my 12 step program that I have
to be honest with myself and acknowledge what happened before, learn from it,
So I pursued that overnight stay in the resort
cautiously with my family around. This trip led to another, and I slowly
traveled farther away.
As I progressed with my rehabilitation I came across
some good reading on solo traveling. I was now ready to take my yearly summer break to the next
level. I was going to a place I’d never
been, a place my soul had always wanted to set my foot.
This was just one of the places I wanted to visit. I wanted to make this first long solo trip a success in hopes it would be the start of successful travels throughout my life. I packed light but full of learning from my 12-step program and my friends from the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings I attended.
First things first. I packed my journal where I record my 12-step
experiences. I cannot and should not go without it because it is my map to sober days ahead. It reminds me of my successes and why I should stay sober throughout my trip. I bring it with me because I do not want to fail, not this time, not ever again!
My desire to complete the whole trip clean and
sober led me to consult with my therapist and doctor. I wanted to make sure
they knew where I am going and what I would be doing so they could be only a
call away when I was traveling.
I requested they help me prepare a plan that I
could follow while I was away.
I asked them what necessities to bring; I only wanted to bring what was safe for me.
I downloaded a 12-step app on my phone in case I needed more resources during my travels.
I made sure I had contact numbers of my therapist and doctor, so I could easily reach out to them.
I also made sure they had my emergency contact information: my family, friends, and sponsors. I made sure this information was accessible to my support people.
I brought along a map. I don’t mean the ordinary kind you can buy of the streets of the area where you are headed. I have learned that it is not sufficient to know the landmarks and the sights to see in the country. It is vital to know where you can be when you are done savoring the beauty of the area. I highlighted the places where I could be safe and stay sober.
I also made sure that I knew the times and locations for all the NA and other 12-step meetings in the area. That’s always good information, but I did not settle for that. Awareness is not sufficient. The people would surely welcome me when I walked into their meetings and introduced myself as one of them, but it is different when someone looks for you to remind you they are there waiting for you. I knew that I should have someone who would be ready to usher me to the meetings.
Your tired feet will have to rest for a while and the safest
resting places are with the people who know your battle. Having bottles all
around you can be disturbing, even if you don’t have an addiction to alcohol. I
should stay away from addicts and temptations and spend time with those who are
sober enough to guide me.
So, I contacted a few local people ahead of time.
I got to know them, and they me even before meeting. Our initial conversations showed
me that they know the country well. They shared other spots to visit that I
didn’t find on the Internet.
The best part of our initial contact was that it
gave them ample time to arrange their schedules to fit mine. They offered to
tag along on my travel. They were very generous to open up their lives so that
I could safely visit their country’s beautiful sights.
At first, I was hesitant because I knew it would
take so much of their time. But then again, I needed to be surrounded by the
right people. It is a nice feeling when someone is looking forward to meeting
you. I was also ecstatic to meet them.
They were also excited that they will be meeting others in the area whom they have not met before. We have created a nice little group of addicted individuals—not to feed our addictions to drugs or alcohol but to enjoy our lives sober.
I was all packed, light but full. I was determined to remain sober, yes, but I also to find the adventure of a lifetime, to go to places I had never been but where my soul has always wanted to be.
I was free and I could travel with my 12 step program for addiction in my pocket.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. Read more of Patrick’s writing on his blog and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please remember that neither Blaize Sun nor Patrick Baily is a health care professional. Please consult a health care professional about your particular situation. This article is simply a starting point for your research. Only you are responsible for you.
Recently, the Divine Miss M had Amazon.com send me a couple of books. I hadn’t asked for the books or even heard of them until they showed up in my stack of mail. One was a novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I haven’t read yet. The other was nonfiction, a travel memoir called No Baggage.
In No Baggage, author Clara Bensen tells the story of the existential crisis she had in her early 20s when she concluded she might not be able to follow her bliss and live her dreams. Heck, she was barely able to complete applications to grad schools. She had a prolonged mental health meltdown and spent quite a long time wracked with anxiety and unable to eat much more than choked-down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
She slowly pieced her fragile psyche back together while living in Austin, TX, and decided she needed to start dating. She joined OkCupid, posted her own profile, and began looking at the profiles of men on the site with advanced degrees. She encountered the profile of an intriguing college professor and emailed him. They went on a date, immediately hit it off, and started having fabulous times together.
The first part of the book read a little much like a teen romance novel to me, and I was a bit turned off. I have to admit, I was more than a little jealous and a bit bitter. I haven’t met a decent, unmarried man to date in years, but this gal met an incredible man on her first try. (It probably helps to be young, thin, and live in a major metro area.) But I stuck with the book to get to the good part, where Bensen and her beau went on The Trip.
The fellow was already planning on taking The Trip when he met Bensen, then invited her to go along with him. While it was risky enough to go on a multi-country journey with someone she only knew a short time, the No Baggage of the title refers to no suitcase, no backpack, no tote bag.
Here’s what Benson took with her on the three week expedition: in a “small leather purse,” she somehow puts three pairs of underpants, a deodorant stick, a toothbrush, a retainer, a contact lens case, a pair of glasses, two tampons, an iPhone, an iPad Mini, a notebook, a pen, her passport, a tube of ChapStick, and “a stack of cowboy magnets to hand out as Texas souvenirs.” (There’s no mention of a credit card or traveler’s cheques or cash, so I don’t know how purchasing food and transportation tickets worked out. Maybe the money the guy carried was for both of them?)
Since I live in my van, I have fewer material possessions than most Americans, but I still have so much stuff! The part of me that makes do with less was intrigued by the minimalist approach to travel introduced by Bensen’s guy, but after all, it was only for 21 days, not a lifetime. I’m pretty sure I could make it on no baggage for three weeks, especially if I had a new love interest to keep me company. (I’d leave behind the iPad Mini–which I don’t even own–and the deodorant and the cowboy magnets, and take my water bottle with me.)
I like travel stories, and I enjoyed Bensen’s. I enjoyed her tale of spending the beginning of her time in Istanbul not knowing if she were in Europe or Asia. I liked hearing about the positive experiences with Couchsurfing.com, especially what happened in Turkey, when Bensen and her guy arrived unannounced at a dark train station, only to be met by a woman on a bicycle who said, “I recognize the hat from your Couchsurfing profile.” She was one of the many hosts they’d emailed, and she’d somehow known when and where to meet them, even though they hadn’t known when they might arrive.
The book was full of such stories of traveling serendipity. Some call it luck, and the Rainbow Family refers to it as “Rainbow magic.” Hikers of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails know about it too. Sometimes it’s as if the Universe is conspiring to get people where they need to go and make beautiful things happen.
In fact, this book is not just a love story or a travelogue or a treaty on minimalism. It’s also about coincidence and serendipity. It’s about What are the odds? and What are the chances? What are the odds that two people so well-suited to be together would meet on OkCupid and find a “weird, magical thing” happening between them? What are the chances a Couchsurfing host would appear exactly when and where she was desperately needed? Bensen’s guy “was in the preliminary stages of developing software to measure the experience of coincidence,” so they ended their three week journey with a visit to a “professor of Risk at Cambridge University…one of the premier researchers on the subject.” The book asks what causes the “connections between seemingly random intersections?”
The day before I finished reading No Baggage, I wrote a blog post partially about a road trip song by Dar Williams and partially about an idea of SARK’s about managing expectations. To illustrate my point, I told a story about a road trip I took in the late 1990s. In telling that story, I mentioned my friend who owned the car and did all the driving on that journey to a women’s gathering in an adjacent state. My friendship with the woman was intense during our time on the road, but mellowed out when we got back to the city. We still liked each other, but our everyday lives kept us busy, and we saw little of each other. When I moved away from the city the next year, I thought of her fondly when I thought of her, which wasn’t often. I could only remember part of her name, so there was no Googling her or looking her up on Facebook. And then suddenly there she was, driving through my blog post.
The next day I finished reading No Baggage on the afternoon of my day off, while lying in my bed with the back doors of the van open to the meadow. That was a good book, I decided after I’d read the last page. I liked it. I’m glad I read it.
Then I flipped the page and saw the heading Acknowledgements. I’m the kind of book geek who at least skims an author’s appreciations. I’m not sure why. I never see a name I recognize. Only this time I did. There among the four names thanked for their “generous feedback and critique” was the name of the woman I’d written about the day before, the woman with whom I’d shared a road trip and not communicated with for nearly twenty years. What are the chances of that?
I know in my heart of hearts that I’d not glanced at the last page of No Baggage and seen my friend’s name, not even for a split second. I know that Clara Bensen didn’t mention my friend in the book in any recognizable way, wrote nothing that would have made me think of her. And yet, as I read a book about travel written by a mutual friend, I wrote of my own long-lost, seldom thought of friend and a time we traveled together. What are the odds of that happening?
I plan to write to Clara Bensen and tell her of this coincidence and our connection. Maybe she’ll tell me how to contact my old friend.
Were you ever really excited about a road trip in the preparation phase, only to find the actual time on the road left a lot to be desired? Maybe your traveling companion(s) annoyed you. Maybe the food you ate left you feeling sick. Maybe the roadside attractions were boring and not worth the money. Maybe you couldn’t wait for the entire “adventure” to end.
As an adult, I always had high expectations for road trips. I wanted my travels with friends to be so much better than the boring trips full of bickering I was forced to go on with my family when I was a kid. (Dad often got lost, then tried to pass it off as taking the scenic route.) As an adult, I wanted my road trips to be full of singing along to the radio and stops for ice cream. Other than “Take It Easy” with Mr. Carolina, I don’t recall much singing during road trips as an adult.
I remember a journey to a women’s gathering when I was in my late 20s. I was riding with two other women, and only the owner of the car knew how to drive. I thought the other non-driver and I would take turns napping so someone would always be awake to keep the driver company, but after the first couple of high excitement hours on the road, the other non-driver passed out and was pretty much comatose for the rest of the trip. The only time I remember her awake was when we stopped at a diner for breakfast, and an old man in the parking lot insisted on telling us a joke about a “polecat.” We couldn’t decide if he were actually trying to be funny or if he were trying to offend us.
We got lost in a large city in the wee hours of the night, and a man approached the car while we were stopped at a red light. He didn’t seem to want to give us directions. The driver and I were terrified, but the other non-driver—of course—slept through it all.
The trip took hours and hours and hours longer than it should have, and once we were close to our destination, the driver nearly fell asleep at the wheel, then got caught in a speed trap to the tune of a $300 ticket. The old man cop then asked the driver if the pressed leaf in glass hanging from her rearview mirror were marijuana.
When we finally arrived on women’s land, I was exhausted and overly emotional. I cried when I had to cross a rain-swollen creek to get to the main gathering spot. I do not remember singing at any point on the trip.
Now that I live in a van, road trips aren’t the big deal they once were. I usually travel alone, and time on the road is a means to an end, the way I get from point A to point B. Sometimes I eat ice cream, and I always sing at the top of my lungs, at least for a little while.
In one of her books (which I must no longer own, since I couldn’t find the exact quote), SARK writes about managing expectations about parties, but the same could be said about road trips. SARK says we often go into parties (and road trips) feeling pressure to have a good time. If we don’t have a good time at a party (or on a road trip), we feel disappointed, maybe even as if we have failed somehow. SARK suggests that instead of pressuring ourselves to have a good time, at a party (or on a road trip), we simply expect to have a time. Expecting only to have a time removes the pressure we may feel if we think we are obligated to have fun. Expecting only to have a time allows us to feel whatever we are authentically feeling, whether that is happiness, irritation, joy, exhaustion, boredom, sadness, elation, or some other emotion.
So if you are traveling this vacation season—whether alone, with your children, with strangers, with your parents or your partner or your friends—I wish you a time. And I hope there is singing.
I’m currently reading “A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow,” by Tim Brookes. I picked up this Ocean Beach Library discard from the free pile at the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Three months later, I actually started reading it.
It ‘s the perfect book to read after a long day of mentally exhausting work. The writing is not overly challenging–no words I need to look for in a dictionary, no complicated sentence structure to contend with–but not simplistic either. The story is upbeat (no abused family members, nothing to send me down a spiral of depression) and interesting to me.
Here’s the plot: Author Tim Brookes grew up in Great Britain. In 1973, he bought a cheap ticket to NYC and hitchhiked clear across the United States and back again. After this tour of the U.S. he settled in New England. Twenty-five years later, he recreated his first trip and hitchhiked across the country and back a second time. (He had more resources the second time around and could buy a bus ticket or rent a car when he needed to, but he still relied extensively upon the kindness of strangers.)
I’m about halfway through the book now, but something I read last night rang so true that I wanted to share it here.
Brooks is telling a wealthy twenty-one year-old man about his adventures hitchhiking.
The young man says he doesn’t understand the appeal of hitchhiking. He tells Brooks that he prefers to ride in limos and stay in five-star hotels.
Brooks answers, The problem with that kind of travel…is that you’re never vulnerable.
The young man asks, Why should I want to be vulnerable?
Brooks says, Because otherwise you’ll never feel grateful for anything. You’ve got to make yourself vulnerable before you need something from someone else, and you’ve got to need something before you can feel gratitude. And unless you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you never have any chance encounters. All the most remarkable people I’ve met on this trip, I’ve met by chance.
I’ve been working in the parking lot since Memorial Day Weekend, and again and again tourists have asked me How do I get to…?
Usually they want to go to Babylon, or MegaBabylon, but sometimes it’s Northern Babylon and yesterday it was Babylon Springs. Sometimes a tourist just throws a number at me: How do I get to the 342? (or whatever).
When my co-worker is around, I let him field those questions. He’s lived in the area for years; he knows how to get places. But after he leaves for the day, the tourists are left with me and sketchy knowledge of geography.
The other day, a tourist (I think he was European) driving a big, rented RV asked me how to get to MegaBabylon. I said I was sorry, but I didn’t know. I told him I was new to the area, and didn’t know how to get from where we were to where he wanted to be. He looked at me as if looking at me long enough would cause the answer to pop into my brain. I suggested he look at his map. He told me he didn’t have a map.
Come on! Who comes from Europe (or Maine or Alabama or wherever) and rents an RV, but fails to pick up a map? Who takes a trip to the mountains without first getting directions home from Google Maps or Yahoo Maps or MapQuest or one of the other internet sources of maps and driving directions? Obviously many tourists do.
People probably think they can get directions on the go, like they do in the city. Probably many of them don’t realize how far into the wilderness they are going, don’t realize they’ll be lacking constant internet and cell phone services. And since GPS devices are often wrong, even in the city, they can’t really count on those things either.
(Side note: The parking area is a one-way loop. Drivers pull in and are determined to go the wrong way because their GPS is telling them to go left, even though real live human people are gesturing–and sometimes shouting–that the car needs to stay to the right.)
Since I’ve been working at the parking lot, I’ve heard my co-worker give directions to Babylon and MegaBabylon enough that now I can more or less do it too. I also found a map in a free info guide for tourists which shows the area we are in and how to get out. I’m learning, but the company I work for gave me zero training in helping people get where they’re going. I wasn’t provided with a map to use to help people either. (My co-worker has a good map of the area. He got it from the Forest Service and paid $10 for it. No way am I forking out $10 for a map.)
The company seems to think my job entails nothing more than collecting $5 from each car that parks and then handing that money over to my supervisor.
The tourists, however, want more than that from me. They want me to get them home.