Already I've learned something here on the road. Well, actually, I've cemented it because it has always made me cringe. I have a problem with the word "interest". Social networks, college activity fairs, and even job interviews want to know your interests. What interests you is what they ask, as if it's supposed to be some magical combination of no more than three separate items. Base-jumping, Camping, Kayaking. Horticulture, Meteorology, Weed. Beer, Women, Beer. We all have our limiting factors, but "interest" does little to define me.
Everything interests me in the vaguest sense. Ham radio? Sure. Latin American politics? Why not? For me to say I'm not interested in something is too dramatic. At least, that's what I thought until the entire world was in my hands. Suddenly, it was too heavy.
The stars aligned when I hit the road. I injured my back well enough to know I didn't want to do junk removal anymore. I'd been saving money for nothing in particular and I finally had my own car. Interest gave way to possibility and action. So I took it and ran.
Days later, the Renegade Handmade Festival was abuzz with excitement in Wicker Park (Chicago's Williamsburg, Brooklyn for my Northeast buddies). Karen and I moozyed through the entire 300+ stands way too slowly for the hot September sun. Karen is the best friend I made during the days I lived in Brooklyn, through the Couchsurfing social network. I surfed through her section in Washington Heights, NY once but moreso she was someone I could bounce ideas and thoughts off of for hours. A true friend, she opened her home to me when I made it outside of Chicago in the suburb of New Lenox.
We stopped for alcohol fuel every couple of blocks at the festival. I was seeing the other side of my junk universe. For months I had been tossing what these artists had been manipulating into endlessly clever transformations. There were belt buckles made of Polaroid prints, jewelry made from broken fine china, and Dr. Seuss books turned into fresh, new notebooks. It was my first glimpse at the treasure I set sail for. These were people adapting the world around them to mold their vision.
And here I was in Chicago and Ohio and Kansas, doing nothing. I was seeing the world, but barely doing more. I was more interested in unwinding from hours of constant highway drives that I had no energy to strike up conversations or explore the rainy parts of America. I had the most delicious and destructive fast-food and hit the hay. Without official plans, I'm not the guy to take action without already-present interest. Something has got to give, America.
Case in point. I spend a day in New Lenox, right outside of Chicago, at home with Karen's mother, Sue. We watched what Karen has termed "mom porn" on HGTV. Trashy in a weird way, I found all the house-flipping and home-decorating shows thrilling. It was a mash-up of unskilled nobodies trying to flip a pile of garbage into the dream home and design experts making mansions even more glamorous and gaudy. Through the lens of endless, pseudo-celebrity-hosted mom porn, I was able to consider that a career for me should be more of a project. My insatiable gauge of interest and requirement to plot out my pathways might just be the key to finding a job juggling different parts of the world.
Fast forward to the end of a rough day through the midwest. I sped down Route 70 for 20 miles before remembering I'd left my journal in the bathroom of Jubelt's Bakery and Restaurant. I called the City Museum of Kansas City, Missouri ahead of time to find out their winter schedule already kicked in, so they were closed on Tuesdays. No problem, I thought, and sped to Re-runs Thrift Shop only to find out their thrift store prices are not quite as I expected. Add in a weird thudding when I turn my car too slowly to the right and nothing but fast food options for dinner in Topeka, I was a beaten boy by the time my head hit the hotel pillow.
The pain didn't stop there. Left to my own thoughts and the glowing background of The Office on television, I couldn't help but wonder if this is real. So far away from anything I hold truly close to me - family, friends, familiarity in all ways - I felt outside myself. Is this me, laying in these cigarette-burned sheets? Is this fun? What is this? The questions kept coming rapid fire until the pit of my stomach got the tingles.
The next day, one hundred miles in, relief came in an off-kilter way. I found myself in the type of conservative Kansas that boasted pro-life billboards along its highways as if pregnant teenagers thought speeding down the Interstate highway would save them from motherhood. Amidst the Bible-thumping was, of course, the Lion's Den, an adult superstore chain spanning halfway across America, providing us with the type of sexual perversions any boy or girl could adore.
Close to a pint of coffee coursing through my veins I made the physical effort to peel off Route 70 for a pornographic pause to my cross-country trip. Without questioning myself or my actions, which I am wont to do, I jumped into a world of colorful, graphic sex. The cashier behind the counter, let's call him Bill, was more than willing to lend a hand. I asked for a trashy novel that men could enjoy and after assuring him I wasn't looking for the male-on-male stuff, he pointed me in the direction of the trashy novels. We discussed my options like they were new shoes or car parts, simple and straight-forward. Where so many people concern sex with trash vulgarness, Bill took it as his everyday and made me feel comfortable in buying a paperback about a Vietnam Vet on a cross-country roadtrip to find himself, and instead finding two sexy sisters. I could not make this stuff up. Or could I?
As if an omen of more trash and treasure, Bill said I happened to hit the last Lion's Den around if I was heading west. I still am heading west and so far Denver had brought me the best of both worlds. My first night in the city provided what else but rain, tons of homeless strangers, and a disgusting hostel, complete with frat-boy cologne and a sketchy shower in the basement. And then, as if it drifted down from the Rockies themselves, my second night found me at Mariel's house. Mariel is a sweet-as-pie New Jerseyan that made it to Denver (and I suppose is now a Denveran to me) and never looked back. Now, her living room couch is my bed and her roommates are my new buddies. And it's Friday, friday! Gotta get down, it's Friday!
Next stop, Rocky Mountain National Park and some Denver nightlife. Wish me luck!
Until next time...
I explode into space.