From three miles away I could hear a small, janked up, 1990-something Pontiac Sunbird. He pulled halfway onto the shoulder with the ass-end jutting onto the highway. A shirtless, tattooed, late-20’s white man shouted out the window, “Hurry up. Get in the car.” It definitely wasn’t the way I preferred to be greeted. After extensively reading hitchhiking strategies I learned that I should always hustle to gather my bag(s) and bust ass, hop in the car, and accept most/all rides before they had time to change their minds.
My “norm” or regular levels of comfort aren’t often challenged; this ride certainly pushed me.
The driver’s name was Tu-Pu. From the back seat I saw three bars pierced through his eyebrow just above his cheap, dark-tinted sunglasses that stared at me through his rearview mirror. He had unidentifiable tattoos stained up and down bare spine. He was aggressively drumming his fists on the steering wheel, not in rhythm with the heavy metal pulsing through the beat up car.
Tu-Pu’s underweight girlfriend(?), Ashley, was in the passenger seat. Her legs were folded under her as she turned herself around in the seat to make eye contact with me. I consciously made an effort to make consistently direct eye contact with her. I figured that if she was in danger with this man that she would be able to communicate said danger to me via eye contact. Despite being in a weird, rushed, somewhat-dangerous-feeling situation I felt a really good energy from her. (Funny things happen when you make genuine eye contact with someone, something that I’d like to study more.)
A second man shared the cramped backseat with me. He was hollering into the cell phone because the speakers were blasting erratic drumming, screeching guitars, heavy strums of bass, and shouting heavy rock at 8:30 in the morning. I asked his name, but he was too busy screaming at the phone to respond.
Finally the nameless man got off the phone. He told Tu-Pu, “I’m going to kill that G.D. son of a fucking bitch.”
Tu-Pu kindly informed me that the man on the phone signed his death wish a very long time ago due to a bad drug deal.
The nameless man stopped and looked at me mid-conversation and said, “Wait. What the fuck are you doing in the car?”
Trying to conversationally fit in as naturally as I could, I unnaturally said, “Bro, I’m hitchhiking.”
He sharply retorted, “Don’t call me ‘bro’. Isn’t hitchhiking dangerous?”
Before I could respond, Tu-Pu answered for me, giving me the kind of insight into their lives that a police-issued background check might, “Yeah, it is. But so is shooting meth like we did last night.”
The nameless man accepted my/his answer and said nothing more.
We can discuss whether hitchhiking is safe or not later. That’s not the point of this anecdote.
If I lived my life according to what people thought was smart or if I heeded the advice, “I don’t think that’s a good idea; you shouldn’t do that” then I wouldn’t be interesting and you wouldn’t have anything to read right now. Observing all the “it’s not safe” remarks would limit me to a normal, standard, mediocre, status quo lifestyle, which – if it isn’t already frank – I abhor. I wouldn’t have traveled to Asia. I wouldn’t have kayaked through the Midwest into the South. I wouldn’t have tinkered with my sleep, trying to make it on 2-4 hours per day. I wouldn’t have attempted hitchhiking. I wouldn’t have lived out of a hammock during college. I wouldn’t have spent time downtown as a homeless man. I wouldn’t strip my wardrobe down by half every winter. I wouldn’t have skydived, bungee jumped, cliff dived, or paraglided. I wouldn’t have been the only “farang” (white man) in a musty Muay Thai fighting arena in Bangkok. I wouldn’t have trusted a random man in rural Nepal on the back of a motorcycle to take me to his country-fried village after my trans-Asia bus broke down. I wouldn’t have visited a leper colony in Calcutta.
Do I encourage doing these types of things? No, not exactly. However, I do strongly endorse personal adventure and exploration. Be curious. Be interesting. Self-experiment. Don’t be normal. Instead of Kroger, go to the farmer’s market. Instead of local news, try NPR. Instead of Florida, visit Colorado. Instead of texting, call. Instead of shaking hands at a business meeting, high five your boss. Get a membership to a rockclimbing gym or yoga club. Randomly ask for a 10% discount at Starbucks. Meditate or pray, then…. Talk to the girl sitting next to you. Read a book. Start a blog. Journal. Draw. Learn to crochet. Connoisseur something. Start a dog-walking business. Explore the world around you, just one or two steps outside your comfort zone. My comfort zone is a lot bigger than most people’s, so I do a little weirder things, but for the love of all that’s holy, DON’T BE NORMAL.
The growth that takes place when you stretch your limitations just beyond your level of comfort is exponentially more than years of conscious, structured practice. Being open to accidentally placing yourself in odd situations yields forced lessons of patience, determination and perseverance, negotiation, comfort in/with the unknown, trust of fellow humans, ability to tolerate risk, thirst for curiosity, and a refined palate for the beauty of human nature. I implore you to do something out of your ordinary today. You will find freedom. You will achieve something great.
“What did you learn today?” is something that I ask my highschool-aged sister when I talk to her. “[Any given subject] is boring and pointless/School is lame/Girls and/or boys suck” are her typical responses. I challenge her to give me a legitimate response and she usually does. Challenging yourself and reflecting on your day is a valuable habit to instill.
Be out of the ordinary today and let me know how it goes. Call (or text), email, comment below, Facebook message, tweet, or Instagram me with an unnormal thing that you do today. I want to start conversations about the growth that comes from doing something borderline or blatantly crazy.
Ladies and gentlemen, a man who was not normal and sees the beauty, Walt Whitman:
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.