I often live my life not through action but observance and so consider myself a collector. I love the wild and humanizing moments that emanate from the city streets and thruways of America. The singular happenings that only I care to catch and remember: Homeless make out sessions and bus stop foot repairs. Some drunken old man checking the time on a statue’s watch. A hitchhiker with jars full of hobo teeth. Each day is a chance to see a new set of humans whose interactions few will ever witness. A chance to live a life through others and outside myself. To absorb a city’s energy and abundance of life. So I walk on aimless quests to observe idiosyncrasies and strangeness, falling deep down the obsession hole for people with no sense of public awareness. In Minneapolis I did this on my own, chatting with an Uptown hobo about the seven inch fatty nesting in the crotch of his Hanes. About how he wouldn’t rob me because I’m cool. In downtown the Black Hebrew Israelites donned their robes every Friday to preach about white folks engineered on an island by scientists. The purpose of this creation was to offend God by licking interracial pussy. Below the Stone Arch Bridge I’d sit in an old hobo camp littered with graffiti and broken bottles as I listened to the street musicians above. For hours I’d absorb their music and stare out at ducks cruising on down the Mississippi.
In Portland I look for these odd and compelling moments with each step I take. I’ll catch sight of a one-armed hobo licking his nub like a cat and its paw. Outside a shuttered theater, which once beamed hentai to its screens, a man might be passed out with a cig in his mouth and faithful BB gun at his side. Young travelers walk the bars to examine butts not yet burned down to filters. They stuff the best into Ziplocs already filled with sticks of gas station flame. I’ll catch myself flipping between the terms ‘traveler’ and ‘hobo’ depending on the age and condition of the person, unsure of what my language bias means. I never investigate these people beyond simple observance, stopping only to watch before drifting on.
I find discarded street signs on the ground, each piece of cardboard ephemera telling its own story. Some make attempts at humor, others belie a desperate situation. I collect what’s discarded and barter for signs still held in the hands of those who’ve scrawled their words across them. If I can get one in exchange for lunch I feel happy knowing I’ve preserved a little slice of street history. But my actions certainly aren’t selfless or done to highlight the plight of those suffering. After collecting the signs I move on, cycling through the steps of acquiring and discarding. I nail the pieces to my wall and impose my own retelling on the history they hold. I do this rather than asking the sign makers themselves. My interactions with others are often limited to what I want, whether that be companionship or merely an act of taking. Like cutting open a fish’s belly and forking out food as it’s still flopping, I steal what pieces I want and leave the husk behind.
In more prosperous parts of Portland you’ll see discarded carts turned into gardens growing herbs and flowers. Disparate items are set in front of houses and marked for the taking from passers-by. These free boxes are usually stuffed with shoes and books, their once owners afraid to let anything turn to waste. But much of Portland is littered with trash and forgotten people. Scraps of cardboard flit beneath gray skies. Summer heat draws piss off city sidewalks. Piles of fresh human feces can be spotted beside crumpled pages of the free paper used for impromptu TP.
Then there are the people who create the sights and smells I so avidly hunt for. The elderly stand at intersections holding signs as rats fatter than them crawl by. The mentally ill, the lost, the addicted, all spread throughout the city in search of unsullied recycling and a place to sleep. At night they curl in flower beds or doorways barricaded behind shopping carts. These rolling closets are stuffed so full that tarps are tied to hold their contents in. I’ve pared my life down to what I can stuff in a car but not yet a cart. Perhaps one day.
I often joke to friends, family, and lovers that in time I’ll be homeless. I romanticize the hobo life and convince myself it’s a legitimate plan. I tell myself I’ll save so much money by sleeping in my car. Each day will be a new adventure. I’ll have my own sign: Draw on me for a dollar. I’ll enjoy concerts from street musicians with sheet music taped to the side of Macy’s. I’ll wait on park benches for conversations with randoms like the guy who approached me smoking a joint, ranting about Microsoft and Montana deer meat. Like the girl who hangs by the downtown food carts with a raccoon tail pinned to her ass and a radio blasting Korn as her necklace. Like the guy who meditates all day, astral projecting himself around the world in search of gold. I tell myself that this will be my life and it’ll be exciting. That for once I won’t live through observance but rather action. That I’ll be the one observed and having their stories collected.
Then I think of the many uncomfortable nights I’ve already spent sleeping in my car far from home. How I’ve spent entire days trekking a city only to find myself burnt out and hours from my apartment. How I often just want to recede to my bedroom for a bit of privacy and rest. How yes it’s interesting to skip around the country like I do but only because I always know where my next shower and meal are coming from. Because I’m always on the move to somewhere new. Perhaps the hoboes are making more of a life in these cities than me because they interact with it. Whether by choice or not they invest themselves in a place and stay there. But for me I have to be in motion. I don’t enjoy the risk of feeling stuck, of having to overcome and grow instead of just moving on to whatever’s next. I seek travel and joy, selfishly plumbing the world and its people for my collection.
So after moving from Minneapolis at the end of summer I spent my time drifting back and forth along a straight line. Minneapolis. Portland. North Dakota. It was a series of transitions from cityscapes to abortion signs hung on cattle fences. From mountains to more towering cities. I wasn’t really doing anything new, just the same three places. But at least I was living a version of the vagrant life I fantasized about. For four days I trunk slept and crept along the lakes of Minneapolis while doing a study. They shot me up with drugs and filled gas cans with my urine. I figured as long as I kept refilling my bank account I could stay in this indefinite place. I didn’t mind driving thousands of miles so long as I didn’t have to make a decision.
Noises emanating from deep in the engine filled my car so I never had a perfect quiet peace where my brain could pester me. The car’s interior was dirty and full of what little I owned. My ass always ached as I shifted it around the thin and wiry seat. I came to know the icons of the road from afar. In the distance I could pick out every fast food logo and info sign symbol. Each acted as a signifier of easy comforts just off the freeway, whether that be some rest, a bite to eat, or a place to piss. I tried avoiding that ease as best I could, only stopping to use McDonald’s internet to check what was happening in the live’s of those I knew. It gave a bit of comfort and encouragement to know I had others out there. Even if I avoided them at least they existed.
In those endless hours of movement, either on foot or behind the wheel, I’d sink into my mind and ask it questions. Do I absorb the world just to smirk at it? To never interact with it? The answers rarely bubbled forth. But sometimes while coasting through America I’d swallow my shyness and take a chance with a hitcher, knowing there’s no commitment in someone who’ll be dropped off in a few short hours or couple hundred miles. I like that I can step outside myself for that brief time and get to know someone.
I scooped a traveler named Ben and his dog while exiting my home state. He was thumbing from an underpass in the nowheres of North Dakota. His dog and pack went in the rear but he sat beside me with his feet on my mess of Nos cans and Taco Bell. Ben was chubby, tall, and blonde. His teeth were a fucked mess but he smiled with them anyway. I ate strawberries going bad on my dash as we chatted.
Ben had been bopping around the country since his car broke down on some mountain road. From there he thumbed his first ever ride. He signed the car’s title over to the first people that stopped and had been travelling America since. He told me of wandering Vegas sipping booze found in the trash behind casinos. About buying pot on the Arizona-Mexico border where a fistful of shit weed is passed over the fence in exchange for just a few dollars. Ben loved the stuff and referenced it often. He followed various harvests for work and wanted some kind of permanent job on a pot farm. But for now he was on the move.
I told him a few of my stories but they weren’t much compared to what he’d seen and done despite our similar ages. That was fine and I was just glad to hear about life from his perspective. It was good to finally interact with a section of society I’d always just observed. I knew his life had its hardships but overall he seemed fine with where he was heading. I took him within a half hour of Minneapolis. I was headed into the city and he decided to try his chances at a truck stop for he said it was harder to hitch out from urban areas. I offered Ben the last of my bad strawberries but he declined. Instead I shook his rough hand and watched him and his dog approach a row of semis. I left feeling glad to have done something where both parties gained from it. As I carried on with traveling my straight line and still having nowhere to call home I found more hitchers along the east-west crisscross of I-94.
When I departed back to Portland I picked up a man who smelled of cow shit. Unlike Ben his circling the states wasn’t for adventure but survival. Cow Shit was living out a hard life and it was a counter balance to some of the excitement I felt from interacting with my pot loving rider. He rode and chatted with me for a few hours but then it was time to let him go. As I exited the interstate to rid myself of this human barn I noticed another hitcher standing at the head of an on-ramp. I left my passenger at a gas station and two minutes later had a new guy seated beside me. I gave him my standard greeting.
“Hey dude I’m Nolan.”
“I’m Dave and ready to blast west.” We shook as a hello and in agreement of where to hurl my shitty old car.
He was a couple years younger than me. Dave was quite handsome with good skin, white teeth, and a head of curls. He told me how he doesn’t shampoo anymore and I said he smelled pretty damn alright. We talked about how he could’ve stayed in a hotel the night before but instead roughed it in some field. He was headed out to Washington not far from my destination. I said I’d carry him as far as mid-Montana but then would need to get back to being alone.
We cruised and chatted, only stopping on occasion to piss at some desolate turnoff. I discovered we both had roots in the same swath of country. “My dad sprayed a lot of cum across the Midwest in the 80s. For all I know we’re brothers.” He laughed at my dumb joke which interrupted a period of silence following our initial exchange of stories.
Dave said he won’t lay down in a semi’s sleeper due to all the fat trucker cum that must coat the mattress. I understood him and yet sympathized with those truckers. At times I’m not sure there’s more to life than travel and ejaculation. Sometimes ya finish in a human ya love but more often than not it’s a rag that’ll go to the dump for some gull to peck and swallow. I thought of how many crusty old rags must populate America’s landfills. There’s a whole breed of unborns lucky enough to have been shot into cupcake wrappers instead of this world.
I left Dave somewhere in Montana. He ducked inside a gas station with his sign marked WEST. He possessed a willingness to adventure in a way where he never quite knew what came next. I had the same uncertainties but not the confidence to pop into the world and let it take me where it may. I knew I could easily be homeless if I didn’t have my endless safety nets of family and friends, a bank account and working car. Homeless in a way that’s not a choice. That’s not an idealized, romanticized version of street life. One not viewed from afar but up close. And if that were to happen I fear I wouldn’t even fit in with the others stranded on the street. Unlike Dave I couldn’t live out my adventurous spirit in a way that didn’t culminate in feeling sad or alone. With these meditations in mind I carried on.
Alone once again in the car I thought of where my life began a year before, a few weeks after I’d moved to Minneapolis. I had a gun deep within my mouth, the barrel pressed atop its tonsils. Heaven was just a squeeze away. Being in a new place with its endless unknowns and uncertainties was overwhelming. I couldn’t handle the incessant blast of sadness echoing through my brain and body. I was full of all the same anxieties that’d been part of my being since childhood. As a kid I was so scared of interaction I couldn’t even ask my grandma to turn on cartoons. Before school I’d vomit in the shower or sit on the toilet over and over, my stomach racked with nerves. Then I’d get to class and mostly feel fine. As with all my worries I didn’t know what the consequences would be just that I feared them. I learned to avoid thing or have others do for me what I couldn’t handle. In high school I’d hide away with movies and the internet. In college I stuck with a small group which through my own inaction dwindled ’til only I was left. Then in Minneapolis I became an ever increasing mess. This lifetime accumulation of sadness and worry built to the point where I found myself wanting to pull a trigger.
My tongue licked the gun’s cold metal. It tasted of blood. I had to open wide for the thing to fit and so soon my jaw ached. I took it out, if only for relief. It gave me a moment to think of my family. Of the dipshit move I was now contemplating. Of all the adventures and people I wouldn’t be able to experience. I couldn’t do it. I knew that my life was mostly guided by a series of vague and shifting plans. And so I abandoned this one knowing another, maybe better, would materialize in time. The god I didn’t believe in would have to wait on nature’s course before slurping my soul. Even with that conviction it took lots of energy to be vigilant for I knew the world was always slurping. Just waiting for me to lose sight and let go.
Along the road I’d see a cattle fence spiked into the ground. An endless series of green tin bolted to poles and overpasses with information painted across the metal. Minneapolis 239. Portland 107. Manvel 7. It hurt every time I left home. It’s the only place I had friends and family yet where I least wanted to be. What I’d had all my life didn’t feel right but what I wanted for the future wasn’t working. In this I could see myself heading toward a quiet and solitary existence. One to be lived out in little rooms on dirty cots stained with semen and TV dinners. Sleeping on floors littered with bottles of bottom shelf. Sitting hunched while endlessly scrolling through phones and Facebook, fighting the urge to contact my past. I assumed this would be it for me. And that was okay for I’d come to realize that for better or worse it’s all I was willing to work toward. I gave up on the fantasies of what could’ve been, of things I knew I’d never enact even if I had infinite retries.
In my car, when it was dark, when I’d be alone for another thousand miles, I had so much time to think. I’d scrape as deep as I could within my soul and still find nothing to make the world clearer. Instead a series of wishes clattered through my mind. I wished I either wasn’t alone or could live with being so. I wished I could better connect with things beyond myself. I wished I was capable of building a new life without floundering and failing over and over. But those were just wishes, not actions. They certainly weren’t realities. I’d already restarted several times in new places. I tried being optimistic that it’d work out. But in the end I was always ground down and so retreated to North Dakota to recover. I still loved big cities but feared they’d soon all feel the same.
I started my Minneapolis year with a gun down my throat and ended it on the city streets and thruways of America — alive but lost as ever. In the end I circled back to Minneapolis to give it another year. I could no longer cut it with the wannabe vagrant life. I’d just continue on with being a collector. I knew my homeless fantasy was finished and so rented another apartment. It was time to get back to the endless cycle of concerts, drug studies, and jacking off on a lonely mattress. I’d have fun but not happiness. Stories but not sustainability. I expected to be miserable. And so it came to be.
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Wayport Access is the seventh and final part of a series on loneliness, friendship, and selfish endeavors in my semi-recent life. If ya want to read about more of my fucked choices then part one can be found here:
Thanks for reading. Here’s the rest of my street sign collection:
For a slight peek into my second Minneapolis year you can read this piece: