A Journey Across America

Karim - Alexandria, Virginia
Entered on September 12, 2005
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: community
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I planned to walk across the country with no money. I wanted to find out whether there was an economy based on our shared humanity. I believed that there was, and that I would make it. And so one foggy morning in early July, I crossed the Golden Gate and headed north, through towns named Larkspur and Mill Valley, Sauselito and Corte Madera.

I met a FedEx man who gave me a map, and an art student who offered a ride. Around noon, in San Rafael, I stopped at a small deli for lunch.

“I know this’ll sound strange,” I said to the owner, a large Italian with an open shirt and a gold crucifix. “But I’m walking across the country with no money, and I was wondering if you could spare a sandwich.” He turned his back and walked away.

“I’m not interested,” he said over his shoulder. But down the road, another deli owner–an Indian immigrant–gave me a tuna sandwich on a roll and, when I told him my name, asked if I was Muslim.

Around dusk, and 50 miles later, I labored along the highway shoulder towards a small gather of houses, the only ones for miles around. It was farm country, flat and certain to get cold, and I hoped to find a place to sleep. I hopped a cow fence and knocked on a door. A lady answered, her children peeking around the door or hanging onto her shorts. I explained my story, and asked if she had a garage or barn where I might pass the night.

“Didn’t you see the ‘No Trespassing’ sign?” she asked, and closed the door.

I went to the next house, which belonged to a police officer. I signaled to him from the road, and he came down and looked at me through a black iron fence. He held a Rottweiler by its leash, and I told him my story.

“Nope,” he said. “I can’t help you.”

Curious, I asked why not.

“I’ve just seen too many bad things in my line of work.” He looked at his feet as he said it, and I could tell that he felt bad: that he realized how jaded he had become, and how powerless he felt to change it. As I left, he warned me not to sleep in the fields.

“You never know. A rancher might shoot you for a poacher.”

“Thanks,” I said.

As I headed up the last driveway, a car stopped and the driver rolled down the window. “I know this will sound strange,” I began again. The guy riding shotgun just stared at me, disgusted, but then pointed to a bar down the road.

“Meet me there,” he instructed.

He showed me into a little house in the back, and gruffly instructed that I’d be fine there. A few minutes later, he returned with a sleeping bag–“It may get cold tonight”–and then a blanket–“I really do appreciate your help”–and then, finally, he came in and asked if I liked beer.

We sat on the porch for a little while, telling stories. I told him about getting lost on horseback in Kyrgyzstan, and he told me that he had been convicted of smuggling over $200 million worth of cocaine into Miami. He told me that he had been kidnapped by paramilitary troopers in Colombia, and that he always carried a knife in San Francisco.

“For the bums,” he said.

When I told him I saw through it all, he smiled and promised that he’d take me for a good breakfast in the morning, and then he said goodnight.

The next morning, after breakfast, I told him I had to get going. He gave me an uncle’s kiss on the cheek, and then his cell number.

“If you ever need anything,” he explained. “You can even call collect.”

He gave me maps, and even tried to give me a jar of pickled okra, until I assured him my bag was full. He wished me good luck, and waved goodbye as I headed back towards the highway.

That evening, I decided the walk was over: that I had seen what I needed to see; that I had to start in order to stop, and stop in order to start.

I believe in community. I believe that we are merely mirrors for one another: reflections that help guide us towards ourselves. I believe that we are all perfect, but simply need a chance every once in a while to see it. I do believe that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ and neighbors’ keeper and that, deep down inside, we all believe it.

Yes, I believe I would have made it across America. And I believe that, in some way, I did.