XC USA 2015



This is a mini-project, similar to the larger project of my recent travels in Europe, but equipped with far less material. I didn't write journals on this trip (only one day did I feel up to it), and I took very few photos. Most of these posts are visual journals of phone pictures, to which I am adding what I remember.

This is a story of friends crossing the country, with hopes of a new life - it is the "go west young man" story always written about here in the USA. I read Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" as we went, at least until I lost it.

We were kids. We could never be kids again.

Let me first give a little background:

I graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in May 2014. With zero help from any advisor or the school, I found myself without a job despite having sent over 80 applications and interviewing at a few places before graduation. So, that summer, I snagged a job as a bike tour guide with Teen Treks, out of Buffalo. I'll probably make a mini project like this for that trip. That company turned out to be a dumpster fire, so I only did one trip with them.

Afterwards, I decided I ought to buy a car and try to make something work in Rochester - I knew people there at least. I (very stupidly) jumped on the first cheap and fun-looking car that crossed my path, stayed with a friend for a while, and eventually got a job in a restaurant, then added a job catering, then added another restaurant job. I was working 16 hour days, sometimes 10 days in a row, and basically living out of my car, which had some issue every month, ending up costing me $500 or more each time. One time, as I was heading to work, it wouldn't start (again), so I pushed it up a hill in a snowy parking lot and tried to jump start it going back down, but it didn't work. Just as one example. I mean, this thing would just turn off while I was on the highway shifting gears (later assumed to be a crankshift position sensor - never fixed, never had the money).

I was able to keep this up for a while, but things were wearing thin with my friend and roommates, and I'm not about all that drama anyway. (Un)Fortunately, at just about the same time, my best friend, Teysia, began looking for a new place when her now-exboyfriend cut and run and left her with all kinds of bills and rent, etc. We found a room in a house occupied by 5 younger students - yes this is illegal, no I don't recommend it, but hey, we could afford it. The room's window didn't shut completely, and the floor had water damage under it, so we put plastic over the window for the next few months. Luckily, we got to use the previous person's bed and dresser for the first two months, so we didn't have to buy any furniture.

Listen, if you want a happy-go-lucky story of how great it is to travel the world, this ain't it. This is a real story of what people my age have to negotiate: we're pretty highly educated, extremely highly indebted, working poor, and yet expected to do all the things the middle class has been able to do for decades now, i.e., have nicer cars, travel, have big TVs, etc. We were told, go to school, get a good job, you will have it all. Teysia got in to MIT and Cornell, but we were living in a $300/mo. room with 5 other people (and cats and dogs), just scraping by. This was actually a very good situation for me, considering the living situations I'd had in the last 4 years. I won't bore you all with those details.

This also isn't a sob story. It's a story of freedom, of escape, of journey, and of struggle (both positive and negative).

Once Teysia graduated, she'd said to me, "I'm going to Seattle. I don't know why I feel so compelled to, but I just have to live there for a while." So I said I'd come, too. I quit my jobs, deposited by shoeboxes of cash (lol I didn't have shoeboxes, that would mean I could afford new shoes - I had rubber bands), and sold what I could (including my work shoes…).

The Spring had been creeping in week by week as I biked to work on the tolerable days, sitting behind the bar of that wonderful Chinese restaurant for 13-14 hour shifts, wishing I could be doing something, just something that let me feel more alive than I did asking the lunch guy if he wanted Tiger or Tsing Tao that day. So this was like letting a broken mustang out of the corral. I wasn't quite sure how to run again. We packed the car and we went. That's all it takes - just go.


this pretty much sums it up. (click to enlarge)

Jacob Sell Hicks