Thursday, December 3, 2009

8,700 Miles

Life across America
I suppose the best place to begin is the very beginning itself. In late August I was hired for what would become the job and adventure of a lifetime. A job, which during two and a half months, would take me over 8,700 miles, 20 states and land in cities with names I've never heard of. Paducah, Arkadelphia, Corinth, Tuba City, Manchester...

I'm no stranger to the road. Before this trip I had driven across the country twelve times. I've seen the way the land changes from green to yellow to dry to sea all to come back to itself again. I have felt the surging rush of freedom upon realizing the control we have over our own lives and destinies. As long as we have the courage we can hit this open road which disparately calls our names, encouraging us to be whoever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want. But what I would learn on this trip would be something much more - something I never thought I was capable of experiencing. A compassion I never thought I had.

When driving across the country you don't see much: Applebee's, strip malls, Waffle Houses, cheap hotels, grease, fried, fat, obese, Jesus and Red, White and Blue. But, there is a cliche that rings true; that beauty is within the detail and it is only when you pull off the main roads that you'll find the little gems within this huge nation.

I never thought I belonged in the South - what's a born and bred East Coast gay Jew supposed to think? But now, after my travels I have an understanding, appreciation and respect for the land I thought had no desire for my kind. Here in NYC in our ivory bubble it's easy to cast stones. After all, it is we who live in an multi-cultural urban megaplex! It is we who are so attuned to art and culture and life but unfortunately, it is we who often believe our own assumptions as to what this nation is and who our neighbors are. The South really isn't that different. It is not as backwards and red neck as we assume it is and in the end we're all just Americans and none of us are really that far apart from one another. We all want the same thing. Money and happiness. Or, at least enough money to afford us happiness. That's it. Throw in a few close family members and friends, a hobby or two and what do you have? An American.

In this city I have been pushed and shoved and rushed and shushed. I have had eyes rolling at me, breaths exasperated at me and in turn I have done it all back to someone else. Just a few days ago I nearly karate chopped an elderly woman for going down the subway stairs too slowly causing me to miss my train. Did she have to walk right down the center of the stairs? Why is she even taking the subway anyway? I fumed these thoughts as I shuffled the little bits of trash off the platform and onto the tracks. Then I thought there is not this rush elsewhere in this nation, this is just a tax for living in this city.

In the South I was never pushed or rushed or shushed. Life moves at a slower more temperate pace there and thus the need for the "me first!" mentality is limited. Neighbors say hi, communities work together and the lady selling boiled peanuts on the side of the road genuinely wants to know how you're doing. Yes *some* Southerns have different views on race, religion and sexuality. Yes, many of them do not support what we call our liberal free lifestyle but in the end how accepting are we of them? How willing are we to be dismissive when we hear someone say that they're from Overland Park, Kansas or Lynchberg, Tennessee or that they go to Church every Sunday? Besides, isn't it this great big urban melting pot that denied me and my friends our right to marry just yesterday?

Throughout the Southern states I experienced a level of hospitality and compassion I never knew existed. At every turn I was offered a hot meal, a great handshake and there was always, always, an extra room at a house if I needed to stay. And trust me, they knew. In the end, I'm not that butch and really I'm only one quick google search away from total exposure. Some people in the south may say that they hate the sin but love the sinner and whatever the case may be they have the right to do so. But for the people I met and the eyes I looked into I felt we shared one common bond; that of being human. I didn't wave a flag, I didn't stamp my feet, I didn't scream at the top of my lungs. I was simply just myself and appreciated I was.

So after 8,700 miles, 20 states and now back to my home in NYC where does this leave me? Who am I now? I never considered myself a "blogger" or an "activist" rather, I just liked being someone who was interested in things I cared about. Sure I screamed, sure I was opinionated, sure I was a blind-talking anti-republican rantivist, and for sure, I've certainly made my stance on safe sex, HIV/AIDS and barebacking clear. But as I've said before, blogging is like a homework assignment that is always due and never done and what makes doing that assignment even more laborious is when you spend time fighting for a community so willing to tear you down. Throughout my posts I've been called "belligerent," "stuck on my high horse," "judgemental" a "hypocrite" and the list goes on. Mostly I've used that as fuel to extend my middle finger even higher but I've tried very hard to pander to everyone and I know that is just not possible. I'm sure right now the commenters on gay blogs or Joe.My.God are slaughtering one another with exclamation marks and bold face font about how stupid everyone is and how stupid the last protest was or how much conservatives should suffer or how ineffective the latest grass roots campaign was. Everyone's a fucking genius, right? Everyone is wrong - YOU have the correct answer, right? Sure, whatever. Eat each other alive, it seems to be what we do best.

So here's my plan: I'm just going to continue being human and being myself. I'll post when I want to and say what I want to. I am going to try to find that human compassion in all of us and continue walking down this road which keeps unraveling itself before me.

17 comments:

Jeff M. said...

Erik,

I'm a southern born and southern raised 45 y.o. gay man who has been living in Los Angeles for the last 20-something years. I can attest to the truth of what you write. We ARE all more alike than we are different. The more we tap into that, the closer we come to treating everyone we meet with the dignity and respect they deserve. The golden rule is about the only thing I've kept from my Baptist upbringing, but I find I'm much happier when I filter everything through it.


As far as name calling goes... here's some that come to mind whenever I read your (too infrequent) blog posts. Passionate. Compassionate. Handsome. Loving. Articulate.

Keep it up. :)

-jeff

Jeff M. said...

Darn... EriC. Least I could do is spell your name right.

Patrick said...

I'm so happy you had this opportunity. I'm happy you got to go to these places and see what people can be like there (and not just assume that all southerners are alike or what you read about on others blogs). I'm happy that you can make your own observation of these people and I'm glad that you have such a positive view of these humans. But most of all I'm happy I know you because you totally get it. You really can see the best in people. You're a great human. You have always been just yourself with me. Inquisitive, compassionate, honest, loving, funny, a diva-queen on the dance floor and (my favorite) sarcastic. And this is why I'm happy to know you. I love you, Eric.

David said...

Welcome back, Eric!
I was starting to get worried about you; but when I searched the Internet, I read that you'd been spotted at a recent event. Anyway, so glad that you are posting again.

AJohnP said...

Excellent post!
Welcome back. :-)

rptrcub said...

You have an open invitation to come back down here. Make sure you say hello when you're in Atlanta, which I must say exists in an urban bubble of its own.

Marc said...

Great post, Eric. I grew up in a small Midwestern farming town, and those traits are pretty universal where ever you travel in our country.

Welcome back!

ewe said...

Well i have to first say welcome back to you but fugghetabatitt sonny. I don't buy it, not one bit of your conundrum. Go try and live in those loving little towns you just got back from and you will be screaming for what you have. There is a lot to be said for culture. So there! You are such a sentimental wreck. lol. Maybe it was a job but you just described a vacation. Snap out of it.

jeremio78 said...

hey Eric!!, happy to read you again and know that your trip was rich of new experiences. write soon
Jerem

Scott said...

Welcome back Eric! Great to hear your new perspective. And looking forward to hearing more, when you feel like sharing. All my very best, - Scott...

Brian said...

I heart this post.

David said...

Well it's about freakin' time. :-)

While there is some truth to ewe's comment (visiting a place is 180 degrees different from living there), I also do agree that we should be able to do better than the cannibalistic attitude that is all too prevalent on so many of our community's sites.

But I will still fight for my right to body-check the next granny blocking the subway stairs. Bitch, I NEED to catch that D train.

David said...

Oh, and you don't consider yourself an activist?

Bitch, please.

ewe said...

hahahah.lol. David is so funny. It feels good to belly laugh. I should have it at least once a day.

Lacey said...

Great post. Welcome back.

Joey said...

Actually, I always thought you were another of the know-nothing silly gays who move to Manhattan so they can hide in their little ghetto where everyone thinks the same and pretend that they're cooler, smarter, hipper than everybody else. But I admire this post. Maybe you're smarter than I thought. (Or just changing your opinions, as so many with half-a-brain develop over time).

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