Transient America

In my imminently approaching old age, I’m running out of ways to make my friends and family feel shocked, scared, confused and concerned for my mental state. 18 years of juvenile delinquency, flunking out of high school, burning through 30 jobs in fewer than 10 years, taking the “couch tour” off and on, dropping out of community college with less than a semester to go, doing medical studies for a living…How am I supposed to top all of that (without serving time)?!

We’ve become an increasingly, claustrophobically sedentary society. The shakier the economy becomes, the more grateful people are for their educations, their jobs, their homes, whatever they can latch onto. We’re like vermin in the mansion of the big dogs, scavenging for table scraps, standing still on our hind legs eagerly awaiting the crumbs that fall off the edge of the table. Fear of so-called scarcity reduces most people to glorified beggars, and this is what passes for freedom in the “land of opportunity.”


1930s Image via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the greatest icon of liberation in the midst of this malaise is the American wanderer. It’s an archetype that’s taken on various forms over the past century-and-a-half: the post-Civil War and Depression-era drifting laborer; the Woody Guthrie-style troubadour; Kerouac and his crew; hitch-hiking hippies; New Age/ultra-environmentalist weirdos; derelicts evading the law and/or loan sharks; teen runaways; and the group I’ve had the most contact with, the bastard children of the peace-and-love fallout, gutter punks.

Just as it’s conveniently easy to dismiss hippies as unrealistically idealistic burn-outs (I do it all the time), it’s easy to write off my generation’s iteration as a bunch of poorly socialized, nihilistic wastoids with crappy facial tattoos and lice infestations. Even my punkest DC homies have taken those cheap shots.

There’s no denying that the stereotypes are true in some cases, but the real reason so many of us talk smack is because we’re jealous. I know I should be qualifying that statement with an “in my opinion” or “speaking for myself,” but I don’t care.

The friends I have in the transient underworld speak of the same discontent that I’ve felt in my guts since day 1, a contempt for 9-to-5 banality, a hunger for real experience and real understanding, a sense that the prescribed daily ritual is only a sliver of what life has to offer. We can’t help but chafe against the utterly unnatural routine we’re born into. It’s an insidious ache that far more people have than are willing to admit or are even able to identify.

The old cliché is truer than I thought: nobody’s gonna give you your freedom. You gotta grab it for yourself.

So for my next act, I might have to chew off the golden handcuffs, hawk everything I own that doesn’t fit in a duffle bag, stick my thumb out on I-95 and just say fuck it.


  1. I love this! And, I relate to it “somehow”. Hmmm. Barbara