I Want To Take The Great American Roadtrip Through The Heartland, But I’m Scared Because I’m, You Know, Black
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
On the last day of fourth grade, when the final bell rang, we all came roaring out of the front door of the school as you do when you’re nine years old and it’s the last day of school. Out into the sunlight with that feel for freedom that you haven’t felt since your very first bill arrived in the mail. It was jubilant. We still had cupcakes on our breath from the nice teacher who brought them for the last day of school and, as we fanned out onto the front lawn of the building, we all stopped cold in our tracks and a silence swept through the crowd. We all stood staring with our mouths open at what towered before us. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen and I’ve never forgotten it.
In front of all the stark yellow busses meant to ferry us home, was standing a man. A big white man with a big white belly and a big white beard and behind him was a behemoth glinting in the sunlight. It was white and tan and brand new and it sucked up all the air around it. It was something my classmate called an RV. Big enough to fit all of Kool and the Gang. From the front to the back of it looked like a mile and this big, white man was standing in front of it with his arms folded proud as punch. He was the father of one of my classmates, and had come to take her directly from school into their summer vacation. We all stared at it and approached it carefully. She, his daughter, was already on the boast.
“We’re going to the Grand Canyon and then we’re going to Yellowstone and then we’re going to…”
I had stopped listening. The sheer grandeur of this vehicle had left me green with envy. My family didn’t have no Grand Canyon money and I really didn’t know that people outside of TV did this sort of thing. Her father was nice. He let some of us wander through it and my envy grew greater. There were beds! Friggin beds and a bathroom with a sink and toilet that worked and a little makeshift kitchen-like thing and room to walk around. I swore on that day that I would experience this RV life. I swore it to the portrait of white Jesus that hung in our church the very next Sunday. I would have an RV and I would travel the world in it by myself.
Since then, I have often dreamed of the Great American Road Trip. I’ve fantasized about the open road and leaving my cares behind while listening to John Denver. Just me and a dog named Too Short or Bushwick Bill. I still close my eyes and think about driving through America’s Heartland. But, as I’ve gotten older, there’s only one thing keeping me from my dream and that’s America’s Heartland.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was a guide for black people who wanted to travel the United States. It was published from 1936 to 1966 and it did just what it advertised. It guided black Americans as to what places we could stay, what roads not to take and what time black people had to officially be indoors in this great land of ours. And, even though the book went out of print in 1966, you can’t convince me with love nor money that we don’t still need it. I watch the news. I’ve seen what goes on in the Dust Bowl states and, what good is the open road if it’s not open to you? I do not want my trail to go missing somewhere in Adair County Oklahoma.
Some might say that I’m being histrionic. But, they always say that until something happens and then there’s the wave of “I can’t believe this happened in America!” shock until it all dies down and something else happens. I do not want to travel alone through Trumpland as a black man and that’s a shame because it adds to long list of things that black Americans are dissuaded from doing in the U.S.. Like laughing or walking the streets. I still fantasize about doing it, though. I still want to feel the wind whip through my afro while Bushwick Bill sticks his head out the back window and let his ears catch the same wind. But, I’m gonna have to gain weight first. Take a deep breath. Learn how to use GPS and how to keep my head up at all times. I’m still working on that.
One time, when I was a kid, my sister bet me that I couldn’t go on the Scary House ride at Geauga Lake all by myself. Because sisters are always wrong, I took her up on it and climbed into that little green car by myself. My friends were all watching and it was all tickertape and balloons and streamers and shouts of encouragement and I gave them all a big thumbs up before that little vehicle took off with me inside and then it got really real. This was back when funhouses were meant to cause you emotional trauma and I’m gonna tell you the damn truth. When the ghosts and goblins and witches started jumping out at me from the pitch blackness, I was a mess.
I shit myself a little bit that day and had to spend the rest of our time at the park tryna hide it. It was uncomfortable.
I swear on Black Jesus’ name that I will not be found in Adair County, Oklahoma dead with shitty drawls and a pile of drugs on me that I didn’t have when I got there. I won’t do it.
But one day I will. When the time is right. Bushwick Bill isn’t even born yet.