Some of the things my son and his buddy saw or did or heard or thought during their summer of backpacking from San Diego to Seattle will always remain untold.
Most of what we live, does.
Unless you journal or blog or Facebook or photograph, I suppose most of our lives go by in a blur and a blink. And for most folks, that’s okay. We are busy living lives, and stopping to record it is a distraction.
This life experience, though, it was meant to be shared. It was meant to be discussed around campfires and pondered across the universe and with strangers on street corners while sitting on your baggage and holding out your thumb.
You learn about how other people view this thing called living and the impossible variety of ways that they pull it off. You form your own always-changing perspective and opinions, and because you are free-floating upstream, you don’t take yourself or the next guy too seriously.
The boys met the “regular bums” of each town they passed through. They watched the bums take shifts on popular street corners with their signs, sitting in wheelchairs or holding crutches and gathering hand-outs. They watched them return to the haven under the bridge and remove the casts that were unbearable in the heat but worked so well for sympathy.
The boys listened as the forgotten men complained over and over about their lot in life, and watched as nothing ever came of it. The men would talk about an aunt sending them money or winning a million dollars soon and that living like this was not their fault and they were going to make it big any day now. They cycled between excused discontent and wild optimism but had neither the will nor the plan to change it. Actually believing their own delusions, they woke up every day and hit the “repeat” button.
Perhaps the forgotten men had forgotten themselves somewhere along the way.
But not everyone was a charlatan.
Some were actually disabled. Some were mentally ill. Some were mentally fried from previous drug use. There was a reason they were living on the street, and there didn’t seem to be any expectancy that their lives would change in any other direction.
They met tweakers, – who were homeless or not – and who, you must know, “are the worst thing ever to run into”. Apparently, you don’t see them coming until you’re close enough to hear them talking, which they will do nonstop until you walk away. Their movements are agitated, their faces have been around the block a few times, and they want whatever you have but if you try to interact with them, they are simply full of angry random words.
Meth leaves nothing but the shadow of what the human might have been.
They met the train kids. Much like Peter Pan’s lost boys, they live completely anonymous lives and don’t have a string tied to anywhere or anyone. Comparatively, our hitch-hiking boys were playing mini-golf in the backyard and these train kids were playing the masters at Augusta.
Gutter punks live hard and deliberately. They pay no mind to weather, they know everything about the railroad system, and they fly solo. Tattoos, dreadlocks, dirt and discomfort are trademarks. They have no names, no social security numbers, and no bad attitudes. ‘Just passing through’ is their lifestyle; although they are happy to set up camp and share stories of the road with you, they are just as happy to pack up and drift off the next morning with a philosophical wave.
Once in a while, our boys ran into them again in other cities.
It was like a reunion.
But just for a day.
The city is not the only place humanity wanders.
There are communities of transient camps in the forests, too. They aren’t putting up cabins and homesteading, they are tenting or sleeping under the stars. Some found areas to linger in and keep marijuana farms, which I imagine is a modern way of raising crops to trade in the city for your food and blankets. Some are single or with a spouse and child, just barely living off the land and traveling where and when the spirit leads them.
They seem content.
Pursuing happiness doesn’t always involve white picket fences.
But it’s nice if you have choices to work with.
When the sepia summer faded into fall, rain arrived in Seattle.
My son went over his options and decided to come home.
Because he could.