Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Go West Young Man

Horace Greeley is often cited with the quote, "Go west, young man." This quote has often served the mystique of the great west, the realization of manifest destiny. This concept has become so ingrained in the American conscious that today some of the most beloved and influential authors' works (specifically, Kerouac and Thompson) focused on finding themselves, or something in the west, often in a car. In my transitional state, a college senior on my last spring break who recently turned 22 years old, sought out the west for my last hurrah, in a car. There seems to be a myth that road trips are this amazing experience of fun and self realization that can only happen when one spends more than 6 hours in a car, especially in an unfamiliar land. I'm not saying that this myth is completely unwarranted. I have had a number of incredible road trips, but it was on this particular trip that I came to a completely new realization. When on a straight shot road trip, where there is no stopping for sleeping before the initial destination, it is always best to go with three people.

I went on this trip with just my friend Marcus and we spent a lot of the time falling asleep at the wheel and more importantly just worrying about getting to our immediate destination as fast as possible. John Steinbeck once wrote in Travels With Charley: In Search of America referring to the U.S. interstate system that it's "possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing." This concept of travel completely goes against the folklore of "the roadtrip." Thus, the importance of having a third driver. The additional driver allows more time for rest, which gives way to less emphasis on time and being able to stop and experience what the road has to offer. Case in point, In November I drove with a group of friends from St. Louis, Missouri to Columbus, Georgia. There were more than two of us. So, we created our own route, not what google maps recommended, and had a fulfilling journey through the south. We experienced Memphis, the Loraine hotel, Sun records, ate at a greasy spoon diner in Potts Camp, Mississippi (and yes I had to say the rhyme to remember how to spell that), and actually looked at an atlas to determine which roads to take along the way. This trip, however, was filled with Del Taco and "we better hit the road." I was in the southwest grazing the Mexico border like a 15 year old boy trying to cop a feel while making out with his first girlfriend, and just like him I never got to paradise.

Despite not entering Mexico and having an average time, at best, in America's suburb (Arizona), I still held on to the hope of attaining the roadtrip I was looking for with Horace Greeley ringing in my head, "Go west, young man" as I approached California. However, it wasn't Horace Greeley who originally said that, he paraphrased the quote from the title of an editorial by John B. L. Soule, "Go west, young man, and grow up with the country." Yet, when I went to San Deigo I soon found out that in the west no one had grown up. For two days in San Deigo I was surrounded by materialistic sexist homophobes who cared about little else than drinking beer and establishing their status on Mission Beach. Being around these people ignited an aspect of anger in me that I hadn't felt in a long time. The first night there I got into a verbal confrontation with a freshman named Alex from the University of San Deigo where we traded insults, never a good idea when I'm involved, that led to the kid grabbing my hair and tauting me by saying, "What are you going to do about it you hippie, sign a petition?" This kid is lucky that I am mostly a pacifist, I say this in the least egocentric way possible because I am not exceptional strong or vicious but my friend Marcus is and was ready to "go" as he put it. Instead of starting a fight over a verbal pissing match, I told him I thought we got off on the wrong foot and introduced myself. But, this bowl cut in a Bob Marley shirt wouldn't shake my hand and mockingly congratulated me on taking the "high ground." Although not as satisfying as knocking his teeth out everyone there looked at him like the low class cliche he was. The following night I nearly got into another confrontation where I could have easily got my ass kicked by a Real World reject who used the word f*g three times a sentence. I'll spare the details as the story isn't especially interesting, much less so then the last which was weak in it's own regard. However, the reject did get arrested later in the night for being belligerent in public.

This similar theme carried over the next night in San Dimas, which by the way is not as cool as Bill and Ted made it seem but I did see the San Dimas High School football field. I was continually frustrated by one individuals cocky bravado and his consistent references of homosexuality about inanimate objects. However, later in the night I had a long conversation with him about a number of things and he began to get really open up about his personal life. Normally this is an uncomfortable situation, but I have noticed recently that when talking to someone I'm constantly searching for a narrative. My conversations have become interviews. After talking with him I realized he was just lost in a transitional time in his life and didn't no who he was, as a result he masquerades his true self with the ultra cool Eddie Haskell persona.

As I was driving along the pacific listening to "7/4 (Shoreline)" I heard the words, "And you're walking away, But where to go to?" Those words struck me because I ran away to the coast, I wanted to escape responsibility and reality. I wanted to avoid "grown up" issues, but where did I end up? On Mission Beach surrounded by the kind of people I might have partied with as a freshman. My mind was enthralled by these feelings and consequences, until I was driving through Utah on I-15 as the sun was rising over the mountains on Sunday and I heard Nico sing, "Sunday morning and I'm falling, I've got a feeling I dont want to know." I realized the feeling I had, I needed to accept my maturity and adulthood. I can't go back to the apathetic freshman playing beer pong, I had to embrace being a "grown up." I journeyed west in search of my last hurrah, a collection of beer bongs and sleeping on kitchen floors, my farewell to college and youth. Instead, I found myself consistently in confrontations with a population of phoney douchebags and myself. I had not hit the road in search of finding myself as so many do, I hit the road to escape. I wasn't trying to be Kerouac, I was trying to be Boon from Animal House. In the process I did find myself, well the part I was avoiding at least, and said farwell to my youth in a way I didn't expect. Like Horace Greeley I will paraphrase Soule, "Go west, young man, and grow up."

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