I am hitchhiking across America in search of stories, and I have some guidelines for my trip:
- No money: no cash, no checks, no cards.
- No interstates: stick to small towns and back highways.
As for why—because for many of us, small towns and rural areas are unknown, romanticized, or stigmatized—and when looking to the future, we see the most promise in urban or suburban areas. I want to find the twenty-and-shrinking percent of Americans who live outside metropolitan areas. I want to explore places that have escaped chain restaurants and strip malls and cultural homogeny. I want to meet people who do not work 9-5 in florescent-lit offices, and I want to hear their stories—stories about life and work, about hopes, fears, and faith.
And that leads me to the second reason why I am hitchhiking: to discover firsthand the virtues of our society—virtues that news reports and horror stories and suspicious prejudices claim do not exist. But there are people who stop to pick up hitchhikers and talk to strangers, who show love without the expectation of reciprocation. These are the people who I hope to encounter, and these are the people from whom I want to learn.
The third reason: with money, it is easy to live a relatively isolated life, easy to be independent and professionally aloof. Money makes it possible to stay in our own social and geographic circles and not venture into new, uncomfortable situations. As an introvert, I like that ability. But that ability also keeps us from connecting with others. Millions of richly storied lives are unfolding right now in this country—lives far different from our own, whatever our own may be. By asking for rides, by trying to trade a few hours of work for a meal or a place to sleep, I hope to cut through the patterns of expected interaction and connect with people personally. By defying the norm, I hope to startle people into openness and honesty. I hope to hear stories.
I will record my discoveries and my experiences through this blog, updating every Monday and Thursday. My posts will be delayed—several weeks behind the actual events—to give myself time to better reflect upon what and whom I encounter. As I will not have any sort of reliable Internet access, this delay will also let me schedule my posts in advance. They will appear even if I am walking along a deserted Nebraska highway at the time, or talking with a trucker as we cross the Rocky Mountains, or splitting wood in New Mexico in exchange for a home-cooked meal.
I invite you to share in this experience with me. Read the stories I discover. See if those societal virtues exist. Find out if I really can do without money. Challenge your prejudices, live vicariously, or just watch to say, “I told you so” if it all crashes and burns.
And if you see a hitchhiker on a state highway or country road, know that it just might be me.
Thank you for reading.