I left Delaware on a Friday afternoon. A storm had caused chaos that week. I remember the electricity was still out at my parent’s house. But I was going west. My first stop Pittsburgh.
I expected Pittsburgh to be an industrial wasteland. Instead, I found a pretty thriving city. I knew one couple in Pittsburgh but not very well at all. They were more like distant family friends. I sent Sara a Facebook message at the last moment before driving off.
I had also tried to find people to hangout with through reddit and couchsurfing. A few people even offered to buy me a drink. Once I got to Pittsburgh, my inner alarms went off. Too weird. Too dangerous. No, I wouldn’t meet strangers via the internet.
Instead I used yelp to look for a hipster bar. I parked my RV. Went to the bar. Had a drink and talked to the bartender. But I suddenly felt nervous, terrified, and lonely. What the hell am I doing? The same thoughts and feelings overwhelming me once again.
I was too terrified to talk to strangers at the bar. I went outside and started calling down my list of friends. Just hoping one of them would pick up. The first leg of the journey, just five hours away from home, and I was getting cold feet.
Finally, one of my friends, Camille picked up. We talked. I settled down.
Eventually, I returned to the bar, talked to a few people. I went back to my RV half drunk and went to sleep. The magical, adventure of traveling cross country. Had I spent two years for this sad experience?
Sara sent me a message. She couldn’t immediately meet me, but her husband, John, could. The next morning we met up in a coffee shop. I planned on leaving after our coffee meeting to Chicago.
John was a most interesting guy. I had only meet him twice before, very briefly. He was getting a Ph D in the humanities and read books of philosophy for fun. It feels oddly rare to meet another Asian/Korean American young intellectual. So many of us end up focusing on just thriving in the world as doctors, engineers, or some other profession. To prove to our parents, to our fellow Americans, and ourselves through our wealth and career status that we belong here. So, I felt an immediate kindred soul in John for doing such an odd career.
We chatted for a few hours about teaching, academia, Korean American experience, relationships, and so on. Towards the end, he invited me to stay around longer at least to see the wife. Remembering the previous night’s loneliness, I agreed to stay the night. Later, I met up with Sara who was going to be a pastor. How interesting, a female pastor. I asked her did anyone ever teach her how to pray? It seems curious that in Buddhist circles in America, there are different meditation practices. Yet, remembering my Catholic days, I don’t think anyone ever taught me how to pray.
I spent the afternoon exploring Pittsburgh by myself. I would suggest skipping the Heinz Museum if you’re ever visiting.
What I took away the most from the 36-48 hours in Pittsburgh was just how much people are good yet how important framing matters in a situation. Here I was. I wasn’t really friends with this couple, didn’t have either of their phone numbers beforehand. If we were living in the same city, it would of been rude and odd for me to just call upon them to stay over.
But I was in a RV driving cross country. That in itself was enough for people’s interest to be peeked. Obvious to everyone, I wasn’t trying to take advantage of anyone. The situation was such that they could help me, and I obviously could use the help. Time and time again, many friends, both old and new, would offer their homes to me, sometimes weeks on end. People want to do good, want to genuinely help others. But, we also don’t want to get hurt or mistreated.
The next day, I’d sail off for Chicago.
I spent less than 24 hours in Chicago. I was on a schedule to get to Boulder, Colorado soon and had already spent too much time in Pittsburgh. So, the next 2-3 days went by in a blur driving endlessly west through an ocean of corn. I worked in the day, drove in the evening, and slept in the RV in forgotten lands.
Photo is the Cathedral of Learning, taken from Univ of Pittsburgh’s site. Quite a cool place to checkout.