It’s not easy being free

For several years now, I’ve celebrated my home-free-ness, writing and talking about how much work and social capital is required to maintain my liberated position. The status in fact carries quite a lot of privilege. It’s not at all like home-less-ness, I’m always sure to clarify for the sake of my pride and the comfort of others. It is intentional, well-planned, hard-fought.

There are, of course, intersections of the -free and the -less which reveal themselves most strikingly when my efforts to remain car-free too force me in to community with the car-less who often also have less home than society feels comfortable with.

Back on the Greyhound en route to Savannah, my potential seatmate with the EDM playlist invited a biker with a 9-inch long gray goatee and tattoos on his knuckles to join her. For the rest of our time within earshot of each other she didn’t stop telling stories.

“I lived with fundamentalist Christians in a hippy tent camp. . .”
“When I hitchhiked from Santa Fe to Seattle. . .”
“One time when I accidentally overdosed on my anti-depressants. . .”

“I was one of the lucky ones on the streets. Some of those people don’t have ANYTHING.”

She went on to talk about how her father died, and her mother. There was a dysfunctional foster family. A string of friends and cousins and godmothers who took her in. A halfway house with a short-stay limit and now a bus ticket to a distant relative in rural Pennsylvania. She wasn’t sure how long she’d stay. Long enough to get her feet under her, figure out a next step.

I understand that thinking. It’s in fact the animating sentiment of this rather expensive trip celebrating free-ness.

She was recognizing, though, that despite lacking most every comfort of life, she did have far-reaching if not particularly intimate relationships and social networks, a quick mind and a free spirit. Her neighbors on the street only had burned bridges and addictions and debts of all kinds. They were on their own. And their luck was not good.

That’s about the time I got distracted from her story. Just outside Savannah we stopped at a random convenience store just off the highway where a gaggle of youth, dressed in navy and khaki so nouveaux-institutional they might have been ironically dressed hipsters (except they were black), got on.

Realizing the bus was filling, I reluctantly offered my carefully preserved free seat to an over-grown boy confusedly wandering the aisle clutching a manila envelope.

Back in motion, just 20 min from the Hostess City, my neighbor began perusing the contents of his envelope. There were some sheets of wide-ruled notebook paper with crude printing I couldn’t quite make out, several pages of itemized expenses, and an “official” letter addressed to M. Innocent (his real last name, I’ve expurgated the details of his first) from the Georgia Department of Corrections stating the terms of his release from their facility.

I couldn’t quite figure out how to start the conversation, but I did have lots of questions. Not so much, “what were you in for?” but “Do you know where you are sleeping tonight?” “How are you going to pay for/plan/create the next thing?” “What would you want for yourself, if anything in the world were possible?”

I wasn’t thinking of these questions because my seatmate had just been released from prison, but because I ask them of myself all the time and his reality and its very evident limitations cast them in a whole new light for me.

A convicted criminal very well might not be welcome back in his family home; his earning potential over the past months would have been limited so he could not have had much more than a few dollars in his pocket and I doubt his great-grandparents set him up with a trust fund from their publicly traded company. As a black man with limited education and a criminal record was there in fact anything else in the world than this for him?

I was raised to believe that I was smart and talented and good enough to create any kind of life I wanted for myself and no one should tell me I couldn’t or shouldn’t. I wonder how often he heard that message?

Ironically it’s the very reason why, I chose to be on this bus in this community and not by myself in a car, and why I was planning to walk upon arrival in Savannah meanderingly through town to the bed in a nouveaux bnb in an up-and-coming neighborhood I had booked for myself that night.

My spacious Magnolia room opened on to a sun porch, furnished sparsely but efficiently, stylishly but not expensively. All three rooms in the house were booked that night. There was not a planned cocktail hour. Around 3.30 I thought of organizing one, but then thought of the logistics (getting invites to guests, would they receive, would they want, where can I shop, how much do I get, what time. . ).

Instead I just took myself for a tipple to a famous watering hole in a mansion on the park where I met a South African/Polish couple living in Charlotte. Did you know London is a financial capital because of its time zone? You can eat biltung raw before it’s been cured into its more recognizable jerky like form? Las Vegas has the highest concentration of Michelin starred chefs in America (the world?)?

I had one round in these plush surrounds (plus an extra the bartender slipped me) before tearing myself away and on to the next thing. Through sleepy squares with monuments to war heroes like Count Casimir Pulaski and picture-perfect houses of worship like the first Reformed Synagogue in the States, my senses were tuned to the beautiful, lively and well-loved.

A divey-dive bar in the shadow of stately mansions with a blinking PBR sign out front. What could be more beautiful, lively and well-loved than that?

There I met neighborhood landowners with accents so slurred I wondered what they’d sound like later in the night? Also SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) grads with whom I had a rousing convo about arm-knitting.

“Where should I eat dinner?”

“The organic, farm-to-table, burger place in a converted fast-food joint on the outskirts of town I’d sniffed out earlier in my meanderings?”


A “bloody,” grass-fed, pimento-cheese spread burger later, I was back in my expansive bed with the weefee planning the next day.

My train to Charleston left at 8.20 in the morning. The self-identifying artist/writer/traveler/proprietor of my home in Savannah suggested I schedule a taxi which I thought was ridiculous until looking at the transit map and realizing it was the only possibility. You literally cannot walk to the train station and there are very few public busses.

In the morning, my taxi was half an hour late. . . Chalk it up to the South’s slower pace? En route, I noted that the train station was So Far Away. He said it used to be downtown, but folks were concerned about all the homeless people who hung out there, so they moved it out of the way.

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1 Comment

  1. Love following your interesting travel observations. You have a gift for
    seeing and writing about situations many would be unaware. Enjoy the rest of your journey.

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