I've Lived Here my Entire Life.
Issue No. 5 - Autumn 2018.
The skyline of Minneapolis is the most beautiful skyline in the world. Perfectly balanced and varied, not too gaudy or elaborate but with a very impressive golden tower. The skyline is small, mainly comprised of four or five main buildings, just enough to call them by name and give some attention to each without taking up too much time. It takes on different compositions with each direction you approach it from, of course, the most notable view to me being from the west. I don’t remember the first time I saw it, (I was probably 4, when we moved from LA) but I always remember the last time I’ve seen it. To this day, when I lay my eyes on the columns of glass and steel, their height ratios strike a chord in me that sounds like a door opening.
During my childhood I used to see this skyline each time we drove into the city from the western suburbs when we took the curve on Highway 394 past Highway 100 in St. Louis Park. I gasped at the sight. From the car window, the skyline would bob and grow as we neared and suddenly it disappeared and we were part of it.
Being a part of the city meant going to the farmers market, the fresh smells of roast- ing corn and sounds of new languages. It meant seeing curious art at the museum and seeing people who looked different from me. It meant tasting things like ginger and egg bagels and chopped liver and poblano peppers and nori and gnocchi and baklava. It meant seeing things that challenged and enchanted me. Disappearing into the skyline was like appearing into the world, my senses ablaze. It stood in stark contrast with our quiet house in the suburbs, a contrast that heightened my experience of those beloved trips into the city.
While living in Arizona, I befriended a man who skateboarded across the country from Wisconsin. It had taken him two years, on account of some work time and some jail time. Our friendship began one day on the street near my basement walkout apartment in the tiny town of Jerome, balanced on the side of a mountain overlooking the Verde Valley and Sedona.
I was walking back from work at the jewelry store when I spotted him coming out of the bushes across the road, carrying his skateboard and peering out from under his baseball cap through thick, black rimmed glasses. Off the board, he moved in semi-lurches like he was punching his way through the air but on the board, as he threw it down and hopped on in a single gesture, he glided with the grace of an otter swimming through calm waters.
“Hey!” I called out and he floated over to me. I’d seen him around town the last few days picking cigarette butts out of the ashtray outside Paul and Jerry’s bar and skating with mountain-road speed around hairpin curves.
“Do you need a place to take a shower?” I asked. He came back to the apartment and introduced himself to me and Emily, my roommate. Jesse was his name.
At the time, I was working occasionally for a nearby vineyard planting grapevines. I got Jesse a job there. We saw each other around town and sometimes he’d stop by and we would eat fresh tortillas and beans. One day in the heat of the summer I told him that I planned on hitching back to Minnesota in a week’s time.
“I’ve been thinking about heading back up there myself,” Jesse said, and so I pro- posed we travel together.
We sat in bleached plastic chairs outside the front door on the cement slab of our front yard, sun blazing and black beetles around our feet. He had his backpack with him as he always did. With it placed on his lap, he pieced together a hobo cigarette, taking the unsmoked segments of three cigarettes and shoving them together into a frankenstein-style smoke. I asked him what he had in his pack.
He looked at me and spoke in a serious tone. He said every day he would take out all the contents: toothbrush, ballpoint pens, scrap paper for writing that he’d retrieved from the post office recycling bin, extra pair of socks, tools, knife, tobacco pouch, bedroll, etc. He would then clean out the bag, removing all dirt sometimes washing it. Then, he would organize everything and put it back in, sorted and clean. It kept him sane on the road because what else do you have, after all. It is important to keep your things and your- self clean. I realized that he was not talking about his pack at all, but his home, the space that his home grew out of wherever he was.
At first glance, it would possibly come as a surprise that Jesse took such meticulous care in this way; he was loud and brash with erratic behavior and a weathered look like a surfer dude who had been put through a rock tumbler and taken out too soon. It was that moment when I knew I could trust him with my life, trust him as travel partner, a ‘road dog’ as he would say.
On our trip, he was the best road dog, teaching me lesson after lesson on urban camp- ing, finding free food, reading potentially dangerous situations, train hopping (although we never got a chance) and how to keep yourself in one piece during long stints on the road. Jesse was a disciplined traveler who elevated the life of constant movement to an artform. I taught him all I knew about hitchhiking, which, to my shock, he had never done in all his time getting to Arizona: he had skateboarded or walked the entire way.
As we rode through the Southwest and up into the Midwest, I watched him care for his pack and body, washing socks and his shirt in rivers or truckstop toilets and hanging them to dry overnight, delicately rolling and unrolling his bedroll, and constantly organizing anything that came into his possession. With Jesse, I always felt comfortable, as if he was the gracious host of every forgotten public space that we found ourselves in.
One evening mid-trip, as we gave up hope of being picked up by a driver before sunset, we sat together on a remote highway on-ramp in New Mexico, eating bunless hot dogs and cracking jokes as the light disappeared from the scorched earth around us. Perched on the curb, I stretched out my legs and leaned back onto my pack as Jesse handed me another hot dog. I looked lovingly at all that surrounded me; the warm asphalt stretching before us, the darkening manzanita bushes decorated with feathery plastic bags, the patterned lights of the passing semis, and my friend gesturing as he told me another story.
“I could do this forever,” I thought, and wondered if we would.