The Road and the Streets - A Backpacker's Prerogative
by Keichelman on June 16, 2011
There I sat in sad San Francisco surrender. I said goodbye to the car that could take me back east. I said goodbye to the security of a reliable route and sure shelter. Worst of all, I said goodbye to my friend. It was a guarantee that our friendship would never be the same. He left. He knew why I couldn't go back with them. Nothing more needed to be said. I remained in the sunset, but I had to keep moving.
There was no time for emotion. I had begun traveling. I knew no one in Los Angeles. And now, as a matter of necessity, I sent an email to a hitchhiker I once picked up as she was bound for Los Angeles. “I’ll be there in a day’s time. Could you be a friend?? Is there a place for me to stay? There’s nowhere for me to go.”
This is when I learned the difference between the road and the streets. There’s always an end of a road, always a known destination and a place to rest and redefine the boundaries of your comfort zone at your leisure. Maybe you’ll meet others on the road. Maybe you’ll keep to yourself. You can depend on yourself on the road. You can reject generosity as to not forsake politeness. The road can be trying at times, but mostly it is comfortable. You see the world from behind your windshield and you can control the variables that affect you.
In the streets, you field it all. Where will you sleep? Will you sleep? Who will you meet today? Hopefully someone trustworthy because you’ve really no choice in the matter. Or maybe no one’s there. I’ve walked 10 kilometers out of a mean, damp jungle in Chiapas, Mexico, where the only passersbys were Zapatista revolutionaries who wanted nothing to do with my white skin. I’ve had my doubts out on the streets as men driving by offered me the opportunity to bed down in the back of their van.
But circumstances have always worked out well for me. I made it out of the jungle. I found missionaries in Memphis who were more than willing to lend a couch, and some stories for the night. I’ve been handed money and food by strangers who envied my travels. I’ve galloped down Skid Row in Los Angeles as the street people cheered me on, clueless as to what I was running to or from.
I’ve done everything my mother warned me against. Sometimes twice. My great luck has tricked me into believing that strangers are kind and the world is conspiring in my favor. I know this isn’t always the case for those going the way of the streets. But folks don’t always get the choice to be here or leave. I met a fellow in Little Rock, Arkansas who had walked the soles clear off his shoes all the way from Minnesota as he tried to find work and failed. He would be heading to Texas in a few days. It might be better there. The world of the streets is anything but routine. It is a constant search for opportunity. Timing is irrelevant. Luck is key.