Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ATX: Deserts and Dumpsters

I knew immediately that I liked Austin when I got here. I saw a girl get off the bus and she was wearing big 60's starlet glasses with a breezy dress and big fuzzy boots, her hair was bleach blonde except on the left side where it had been cut down to a buzz showing her natural light brown hair. It's a free spirited town full of life, individuality, youth and a touch of rebellion - the city slogan for the Austinites, "Keep Austin Weird."

It wasn't long before a man with dreadlocks, a long grown goatee and tribal looking facial tattoos was walking down the block towards me. He had that bull piercing that goes through both nostrils and bandages on the fingers of his left hand which was holding a small white box.

"You're walking across the country?" This is how people always address me at first, they've read the sign on my back and this seems to be the standard greeting.

"Yeah," I said. We talked for a few minutes, he gave me the box which was filled with organic high energy pomegranate juice and told me how he had biked from Seattle to Maine a few years back. We hit the road again separately and it was only then I noticed he had come from a white van which was old and rusted in places. I thought it was nice for him to donate the juice, it seemed clear to me that it was all he had on him and that spirit of giving and helping inspired him to give even that away, life on the road will force you to see how good people are, despite what they say on the news.

Austin is filled with tattoos and piercings and it is bringing out my natural proclivity for them as I consider which of the numerous tattoos I want would be next if I got one today. The more I get the more I realize the necessity for a long term plan to fit them all together or else I'll wind up a hodgepodge of eccentric ink and skin with ugly negative space and no semblance of design.

When my mind turns to body art it turns to the man with facial tattoos and the visible commitment he has made to never returning to the life that so many people think is the only choice, I'm not that brave, and besides, I like my face just like it is. His ride made me think of Jolly Green and this morning I ended up calling him.

Jolly Green had just left Austin as I was coming in. He had made the 200 mile ride to San Angelo, TX just a while ago, or had tried at least. He told me about my future route, 60 miles of nothing to the town of Llano, then 60 more miles of nothing to Brady, nothing but hills and 88 degree heat. It had nearly killed him. He reached a stage of dehydration where your body pours water, you vomit and you simply are starting to lose function. I had seen this before in Survival School, it's not pretty and it would be pretty scary in the middle of the desert nothingness West of Austin. He was 10 minutes from calling an ambulance when a trucker drove up in the night and gave him a ride to San Angelo. The nice thing about dehydration is you can make a very fast recovery, he's fine, the problem wasn't lack of water, but that of electrolytes, his body simply had nothing to hold the water in him. I thanked him for the warning and the description of my route and we talked about CSing and hosts.

In Austin he had stayed with a host that had taken him dumpster diving - this is generally a practice in which you go to a dumpster behind a grocery store and root through all the things they have thrown out. Often entire cases of some product which are fine to eat still but have passed the date by which they are sellable, it's a skill that you learn eventually if you make this a permanent lifestyle or opt for some other alternative life-path. He said they had walked away with probably several thousands of dollars in free groceries, later on I thought of the man with the face tattoos and the box of juice he had give me, was it a dumpster dive? Did I care anymore?

I've never dumpster dove myself, but I can't say that I wouldn't. What once seemed disgusting now seems like a still slightly scary but feasible way to cut out my only major expense: food. I have no rent, no insurance, no transportation, no taxes, no gas, just food. I immediately suggested to Kodiak that he surf with these people before he left Austin, I may not be there yet, but it seems like it might be a wise skill for him to learn. Couch surfing had seemed scary at first too, but now it is one of the great loves of my life, like rock climbers love rock climbing, I love Couch Surfing, could Dumpster diving be too far off?

Like I said, I'm not there yet, I like restaurants way too much, but as you get deeper and deeper into the road, and real freedom, not the cereal box brand name freedom we are fed in the papers, you start to hear rumors not unlike those of a new world where the streets are lined with gold. You find communities with bright lights of leaders that have been traveling and living extraordinary lives for years, no money, no job, just life. You wonder, is this another fountain of youth, an el Dorado? Is it a revolution? Is it a coincidence that all the people I meet are getting filled with wanderlust and the spirit of travel and possibilities, and not just the ones I meet anew, but the old friends that always seemed so stable. A stream of mission statements and manifestos and value changes is running in a wave over the country as I see it. Is it that collective consciousness that we here about so often where an idea suddenly, and out of nowhere, is everywhere, like when two people simultaneously came up with calculus. Are these leaders the non-militant generals of a new age of subculture freedom fighters that fight by simply living and inspiring others? Could I be one of them? A ball of Tim Leary and Kerouac and Johnny Appleseed and Che all rolled into one with no fight except the one to find a full life and it spread like a rumor.

Could it be Kodiak? He's ready to fly on his own already to Dallas from Austin while I head West to San Angelo. Are we all standing on the precipice of a great but quiet change that will lead many of us down a new and novel road. Who else will walk into this precipice, do you feel anything inside you that says, "I'd like it to be me?" Do you hear another part that is afraid it is? I implore you to listen to the desire to do absolutely whatever you want without fear if only for one day. See what it is like and join us.

1 comment:

J Forest said...

That was very moving...I always thought Austin was the place to be, no where better to go. Now I know it is.
You speak of a movement everyone feels, finally personifying, now united by fiber-optics.
Of course we could look back and see how we came this way, but the future is so much more welcoming.
Let's embrace this change and realize the possibilities.