The awesome music fest I attended in the Ozarks lead to me meeting many cool people. There were many people with interesting stories to tell. One story that my mind keeps going back to this morning is the story of Tina.
Before I even met Tina I had observed her. I had saw her play the guitar real well at the start of my first evening in the Ozarks. She was rather lithe, and when I saw her from a distance I thought she was a young woman. I got the impression that she had of a lot of energy, and she walked with an air of confidence. She wore a jean jacket the same color blue as her jeans, and she had on a baseball cap on, which obscured her face in the dimming dawn light.
When I was introduced to her I got to see I was wrong about her age. As I shook her hand I saw that she had the attractive weathered face of a woman whose hay day was in 1970’s. Once close up I could feel the confidence she exuded. I was introduced to her and another woman by my my friend Toni.
Tina had jumped up from her spot, where she was seated on the ground, when I reached to shake her hand. I had to ask her name twice because I hadn’t heard it correctly the first time. Toni announced that I was traveling around the country, and Tina jumped in with a grin, “I did that,” she jutted out the thumb on her right hand and said “with my thumb.”
Tina was one of the first people to volunteer their tale of adventure and I was so excited to hear it. The excitement went beyond the mere adventure, it extended to my interest in her as a female.
Let me tell you Tina’s story.
Tina had been living in New Orleans before she took off (or that’s what I heard, she told me she had lived in a few different places). She felt the need to find something else when she was in her late twenties. With twenty dollars in her pocket she decided to stick out her thumb by the edge of the road and travel the U.S. by herself. She was picked up by truckers mostly. She carried a bed roll and slept where she could. She told me that she took off with twenty dollars in hr pocket and ended the trip with the same bill. I asked what she did for food and she told me that she ate a lot of truck stop food, because the truckers who picked her up fed her. Without prompting she told me that when sitting in the cab of the truck she would bring up the words sister, and aunt, and mother, “keeping it family friendly” she told me.
Tina told me that the first time she realized that the world just is and is nothing more came the first night she had to sleep on the road. A trucker had picked her up, and when he dropped her off it was late in the evening. He had dropped Tina off on the edge of the road and she was exhausted. It was dark, so Tina just walked off the road, beyond the ditch and into a group of trees. She laid out her bedroll and went to sleep. Tina wasn’t without fear when she did this. She was very aware that she was near the road and that anyone could walk past and see her. She wasn’t fearless, she was just tired. She said she woke up in the morning in one piece, laying exactly where she had laid the night before, and something in her perceptions had changed. She got up, picked up her bedroll, and went about her adventure with the knowledge that the world is what it is. At this point she asked how I was traveling and I told her about the motorcycle, the camping and the couch surfing.
She responded to that, “when I took off I thought, it feels like, absolute freedom. Independence on the open road you know, but that isn’t how it is. Sure when I’m standing with my thumb out I’m the one in control, but the moment I was in the cab of that vehicle I had given up my control to something higher, and I was just along for the ride. Now on a motorcycle, on a motorcycle that’s different. ” She was right.
I told her about my first night camping. The false bravado I had put out to the external world, but how on the inside I had experienced that first needle of terror when the wind rustled a leaf right outside my tent. I told her about the kindness of strangers, and how at that very moment my bike was sitting in Toni’s garage, in need of work, while I was at the festival. Tina nodded. She admitted it was the same, but not the same.
“I have been thinking of it as a trustfall with the universe,” I told her. A big grin turned the corners of her mouth. In the silence that followed I decided to ask her the question that her gender brought to mind. I told her about everyone questioning my solo journey. I told her that her comments about keeping discussions with strangers, especially men, as family friendly as a possible was spot on. I told her I knew that I would have to interact with men and women differently when I took off because I wasn’t naive, but still, “is that right? I mean, from a feminist standpoint it just makes a person want to get pissed off. It makes me feel like punching every sterotype in the face.”
Tina gave me her big grin again, and then her face took on a serious expression. She sort of straightened up, and I saw the young twinkle in her eye change a tiny bit. “What finally changed me, and the way I viewed it, was the moment I realized that the cat was what it was and I couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, change it, and the same with the dog. The dog is what it is, and the way the cat and dog interact will always be, that is something we,” she said we while waving her finger at me and then herself, “cannot change no matter how much we want to. You see when I was doing this there were women who were setting up communes and living away from society with the sole idea that they hated men. Some of them they even hated women like me who didn’t hate men.” She paused for a brief second and tilted her head a little bit as though she were trying to recapture a thought. She started again with a bit more certainty in her voice, “I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to figure out how not to do that. You know, realizing that people are just people, and then just changing the conversation. It’s easier. So, that’s what I did.”
I nodded my head and told her that was exactly it. Her grin came back, and so did mine.
I haven’t talked about gender on this blog all that much (or at least not as much as I think about it), but I have come to conclude that it has played a large role in the adventure. Well, not relly gender per say, but appearance and the stereotypes that come with. I tryed to toss the topic of gender out of my bag as I took off on Little Wing. I didn’t want the discussion of my gender to weigh down my commitments, I just wanted it left behind in one of the many boxes of stuff I left in Minnesota. But no matter what I did, or where I went, the discussion was there. It was like Dad always told me, “no matter where you go there you are,” and he was right. No matter where I go my physical makeup and superficial appearance make the topic of being a female a discussion point. Because it is a constant topic it has been a constant on my mind, but I have been unsure how to talk about it.
Now, though, as I said, I have come to embrace it as a large part of the whole trip. It is one of the only constants I have had, and for that reason I have come to love it. Yesterday I stopped at a truck stop to have a small bite to eat. I parked my motorcycle out front and went inside, tank bag, helmet and water bottle in tow. I sat down at booth with some chicken and hot sauce. When I finished up I went back outside to Little Wing. I hung up my helmet on the handlebars, and started to stuff my water bottle in my panniers. As I did so I looked up to see an older African American woman standing on the sidewalk looking at me.
“Do you ride that?” She asked.
“I do,” I answered.
She paused and I knew what she was thinking, but I let her ponder over it for a second until she figured out exactly how to say it. I was rewarded with blunt honesty, “I thought it was a man riding it.”
I was so glad I let her finish up the thought because the words were so great. The honesty, reality, and lack of waffeling around the issue was quite beautiful. “Most people do,” I said with a grin. “I’ve got to change the stereotype somehow.”
And that’s the truth, right?
As Dad always used to tell me, “it’s a man’s world. It doesn’t mean it’s right, it doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be, but that’s how it is.” The teachings of Dad had me well aware of the dichotomy between equality and the way our country goes about its daily business. People are different. The way a person perceives gender is based on the individual. A person can chose to not buy into sterotypes. I can be me with no regard to gender, but being aware that others may not interact with me with the same mindset is healthy. For some people what I’m doing is strange, out of the norm. It is something that warrants extra conversation. I have been asked the question “by yourself?” more times then I can count. I have been reminded by well meaning people that the world isn’t friendly to women and that there are many ‘weirdos’ out ‘there’ to watch out for.
Just because I see the world differently, just because I know I am smarter than to fall into a den of ‘wierdos,’ and that being by myself isn’t anything but awesome, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be proud that I am bending others perceptions of reality.
Tina took off on her adventure to change her reality. She wasn’t trying to change those truckers reality, she wasn’t trying to change mine, and she wasn’t trying to change the world. Her goal was to change her own world. To finish Tina’s story, a trucker dropped her off in Arkansas and she fell in love with the place. She saw it as the place she wanted to live, and so she set forth on making that happen. Her reality changed, and her world has become something different. I met Tina, and now, regardless of what it was she was or wasn’t trying to do, she has changed a bit of my reality. I heard the words of a woman who has been the change. I heard her answers to key questions and now she has become a part of my answer. She had nothing to prove, and yet, without realizing it, she proved something to me.
It is what it is. We can not train the cat or the dog, we can only work with them. What we can do is change the conversation. People will say that I should watch out and be careful based on who they are as people, and this means my very actions have changed the conversation. People are who they are, the world is what it is.
This conversation is the right one to be having there is no need to change it.