I Want To Take The Great American Roadtrip Through The Heartland, But I’m Scared Because I’m, You Know, Black » VSB

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I Want To Take The Great American Roadtrip Through The Heartland, But I’m Scared Because I’m, You Know, Black

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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.

Brian Broome

Brian Broome is a Creative Writing/English major at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has been published in Creative Nonfiction, The Ocean State Review, and Delta’s Pride Magazine. Brian's work explores the topics of racism, masculinity and the African American male.

  • Uncle Remus

    Dude, you been on fire. Thank you for these great essays. I’m glad to see that you’re becoming a regular.

  • FarbissinaPunim

    I swear on Black Jesus’ name that I will not be found in Adair County, Oklahoma dead with sh*tty drawls and a pile of drugs on me that I didn’t have when I got there.”

    In my head, all i could hear was, “Don’t do it. Reconsider. Read some liter- ature in the subject.” I swear, with all the anxiety we carry, there better be an evolutionary benefit to our progeny at some point.

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    I’m black and I’ve driven both halves but never the whole. That includes the deep South and Appalachia. Haven’t done the Great White Promised land, but I can’t imagine Spokane being worse than northern Alabama.

    Random redneck shouldn’t be your concern.

    It’s the cops that should concern you. And that danger is omnipresent

    • Uncle Remus

      Couple weeks back, the wifely one and I celebrated our 20th by camping. The no-front-teeth-havin’-a55 Army Corps of Engineers rep suggested we bring our weapon with us, just in case. We both froze and looked at him (mind you, we’re in the VA mountains in spitting distance from WV and had seen several Stars and Stripes AND Stars and Bars right next to each other… which is abject ahistorical foolishness… and so had reason to freeze when he mentioned weapons) and asked him why. Deadpanned, he says, “Well, for the bears!”

      Moral of the story: as Black folk in this great country of ours, our fellow citizens are scarier than 6 ft 500 lb apex predators. Now let’s all sing: This land was made for you and meeee.

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        Lol.

      • Mary Burrell

        You remember that movie from way back in the day Deliverance?

        • Uncle Remus

          Yes I do. We did not do the sequel. We had a fantastic and restful couple of days with no one around but each other. We’re trying to figure out how to fit in another trip before the weather gets too cold for me.

          • Mary Burrell

            How romantic congratulations on twenty years as sweethearts

      • Ms.Moon

        Camping can all the way miss me. It was just in the news here a boy scout troop went camping somewhere upstate and the scout leader (grown man) woke up to a bear chewing on his head and trying to drag him away. Not happening here I cannot get eaten by a bear on a cruise ship or in an all inclusive there is no way that is not a vacation. My ancestors lived like they were camping their whole lives I have civilization and endless drinks ain’t happening here.

        • Uncle Remus

          My wife pointed out that exact same story to me the other day.

          While we were out, my wife paused in the middle of doing something and said, “I know the ancestors are looking at us, like, ‘we went through all of that for them to PAY to come back and do this?'”

          We camp for a lot of reasons; because its fun, because I’m country and need some no city time every once in a while, because somebody has to be ready to lead and feed the masses when it all burns down, etc. But mostly, its just nice to be out in the woods.

          • Kat

            Can we be friends. I try to keep folks who can skin animals and build a fire from air and wind as friends. Cause zombies

            • Uncle Remus

              I’ve already shared my interpretation of the zombie motif: WE are the zombies threatening the civilized world and preparation for zombie onslaught justifies arming against the infection (remember, a premise of the alt-right, et. al., is that they as a ‘race’ are at risk of obliteration due to mud race reproduction, thus the 14 words). Be very wary of ‘zombie preppers.’ They are not planning to help you. They are pre-conditioning minds.

              • Kat

                Well damn.

                • Uncle Remus

                  But, yeah. We can all talk about go bags and the proper rationing of sterno together. Make sure you buy some easy to grow seeds (collards, broccoli, black beans, okra) and some big jars of peanut butter too.

                  • lkeke35

                    I’m into prepping tho’. I get it. I learned a lot of it from my, born-in-Mississippi-poverty, grandmother and mother. They was ALWAYS ready for something. Grandma had skills too, stocking, canning, fishing, sewing, knitting, gardening, all “dat”. I know maybe two thirds of what she knew before she passed. I was one of the few grandkids who understood the need to know it, so she taught me.

                    • Uncle Remus

                      Mother wit is a real thing.

                • Darlenemburns


                  my classmate’s step-sister makes $60 per hour on the internet. she has been unemployed for nine months.. last month her income was $20316 only working on the internet for four hours each day… ?see
                  ???http://www.GoogleFinancialCashJobs307GroupNational/Home/Wage….
                  ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????::::sy17

              • Brother Mouzone

                I have always said that when it comes to wypipo, they force certain narratives for a REASON. They don’t do coincidence. The proliferation of zombie and ape shows and movies, past and present are, as you said, pre-conditioning minds. The pushing of white man/black woman images in every aspect of media fits this category too. There is an intended benefit for them, and detriment for us, guaranteed.

                • Uncle Remus

                  Have you seen The Long Kiss Goodnight or Enemy of the State? Have you watched either of them post 9/11? Watch em again and take a look at this http://www.salon.com/2011/08/29/sirota_military_movies/

                  • Brother Mouzone

                    Yeah, the N.F.L. is the military’s beeyotch too.

          • Ms.Moon

            A bear tried to carry off a grown man by his head. Ain’t happening here Black Jesus no. There are place where people own guns because they worry that bears will bust down their doors to eat the food in their fridge and they have to shoot them to get them to leave or kill them. Camping is an invitation to getting eaten by bears in my mind I’m not getting eaten by a bear I an not an entree on legs.

          • MsSula

            I am with you. I camp because as citified as I should be given how none of my parents even lived in the country, my little heart aspires to the country and nothing else. I hear that deep call of nature every other month or so.

            • Uncle Remus

              You’re over in Cote d’Ivoire, right? All the Ivoriens I know are from Yamassoukro or Abidjan, but even they talk about how beautiful it is in the countryside there. I plan to visit once I can afford the flight!

              • MsSula

                Yes!! I am. I was born and grew up in Abidjan even though I will never say I am FROM Abidjan (the way our provenance is set up is linked to our ancestral homes and not the cities we grew up in).
                Whenever you decide to visit let me know. Be ready to rough it up in the countryside!!! But the food makes up for everything else.

                • Uncle Remus

                  Oui, je se moque de mon collegue que ses fils sont Marylanders et pas Ivoriens par ce que ils sont nee ici. Il fais chaud! C’est tres drole.

                  • MsSula

                    Il te répondra toujours qu’ils ne sont pas Marylanders! Lol.

                    • Uncle Remus

                      Et je dis, mais, ils jouent basket et baseball. Combien des Ivoriens font ca?

                    • MsSula

                      Le basket est très populaire ici. Par contre pour le baseball, tu as tout a fait raison. Lol.

        • Mary Burrell

          I read about that.

      • Cleojonz

        Happy Anniversary btw. That must be nice actually just the two of you out in nature like that.

      • Val

        Happy anniversary.

    • TheUnsungStoryteller

      What is the great white promise land?

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        According to the Militias – Idaho, Montana, Washington, Portland.

    • My grandmother has wanted to take a tour of the South, alone, for decades. But, you know, she was born in 1953 and she’s worried. You think she should be?

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        My grandmother used to take me from NYC to Florida on a regular.

        I’d be more concerned about her mechanic skills than anything else.

    • Jasmine

      Spokane is just desolate. The people were surprisingly pleasant.

    • RatchetPatrick

      Stay in the city where it is safe. The black man gots no business going into places like that. If the local po po don’t get ya, them klu kluxers will.

  • miss t-lee

    Take your trip man. Just take your self defense weapon of choice.
    I’ve taken many a road trip alone, and if I ain’t shook, you shouldn’t be either.
    My advice, don’t rely on GPS, get an actual map, or atlas for them just in case situations.

    • Val

      Maps are fun!

      • miss t-lee

        You need em. Got caught out once with no mobile service. Ever since then, backup plan.

    • Mary Burrell

      I love how you are out here just living your life unbothered.?

      • miss t-lee

        I came to a realization a bit back that you just gotta do it. Lived too many years scared to do sh*t.

        • Mary Burrell

          You only live once??

          • miss t-lee

            Indeed. Plus listening to the stories of my grandparents, and they weren’t scared to move about the country during Jim Crow. We have it so much easier than they did.

            • Mary Burrell

              I know I read The Warmth of Other Suns about the Great Migration.

              • Still one of the best books I’ve read in the last decade.

                • Mary Burrell

                  It was beautiful

          • Val

            Maybe twice if your a Buddhist. :-)

            • Mary Burrell

              I need to read about that I have a book on world religions.

    • Kat

      Agree. I drove from MS to San Jose Cali solo, twice. Even stopped in Juarez Mexico. Don’t ever stop in Juarez Mexico. Smooth drive. With the exception of Juarez Mexico. Don’t ever stop in Juarez Mexico.

      I’ve traveled through most of the states via car. Go. Be black. Be dope. Don’t transport dope.

      • Uncle Remus

        Now we have to hear the story.

        • Kat

          So…picture it, 2000. Black chick just exiting the military, driving to Cali to do Meterology in the real world. Happy and scared. I’m driving, listening to pre-made CD’s. Im looking at the map as I’m driving through TX and thinking, Mexico is right there. Why not do a two for one deal. I get to the border crossing, all excited.

          Then I cross over. It was like the Mexican version of Good Times. Instead of projects there were shacks, barely there buildings and beggars. Everywhere. Americans don’t know poor.

          I drive to the visitors center which is maybe a block from the crossing. I’m sitting in my car, contemplating my life and stupid decisions when I’m suddenly surrounded by Jesus and 5 friends who ask me if I need a ride. I’m in my car. It’s brand new.

          Finally my Mississippi common sense kicks in and I said naw I’m good, through the window. Put my car in reverse and went back over the border. All told I was in Juarez Mexico, 5mins.

      • miss t-lee

        LOL Yeah, I would’ve told you not to stop in Juarez…lol

      • Gibbous

        Only if you want cheap Kahlua or Amaretto, and then park in El Paso and walk over.

    • Cheech

      I used to get a new Rand McNally atlas every year. Dig to the bottom of my trunk you might still find 2 or 3.

      • miss t-lee

        Smart man!

    • Yahmo Bethere

      I’m a big believer of knowing cardinal directions. I despise drivers who solely rely on GPS. It keeps people from thinking.

      • miss t-lee

        Definitely can’t rely on GPS for everything. Gotta take it back to basics at times.

  • Cleojonz

    Take a train maybe. They still have cross country trips. Don’t drive it. It’s not worth your emotional well being.

    • miss t-lee

      I still wanna take a train ride. It’s on my list.

      • Val

        You’ll love it. It’s my favorite way to travel. Get yourself a sleeper car if you can.

        • Wild Cougar

          I gotta do the sleeper car one time. I love trains

        • miss t-lee

          *noted*

        • The train across America. That sounds so painful. I have trouble with the Acela. LOL

          I think he should take the train somewhere pretty. Do the Rovos Rail, See the Garden Route!!!

          • Val

            It’s fun if you have a sleeper. Bring a couple of books and a dvd player and it’s nothing but fun and relaxation.

            I want to do it in Canada next on Via rail. They have much better trains there. Same with Europe.

            • I am looking forward to trying that out. I think I might for my bday. The train from Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam. I wanna suite :) That must be sooo cool.

              My parents took another route with the Rovos rail. And Raved. The photos of my folks all dressed up for tea, and for dinner. It melts might heart.

              Canada sounds beautiful.

            • Mary Burrell

              Duly noted

            • Gibbous

              I want to see the Canadian Rockies by train. They still have the fabulous lodges along the train routes that you can stay in. They’re stunning!

        • Glo

          This is on my bucket list.

        • Cleojonz

          See this looks pretty cool:
          https://www.amtrak.com/all-inclusive-train-vacation-packages

          I’d love to do this one: https://www.amtrakvacations.com/vacation/yellowstone-national-park-family-adventure/

          I don’t like the idea of having a car trip portion though.

      • Cleojonz

        Me too. I would take the train more often if it actually was faster and cheaper.

        • miss t-lee

          Definitely can’t be in a hurry.

      • Mary Burrell

        Now that’s something I would like to do

        • miss t-lee

          You should! :)

    • NonyaB?

      Love trains!

    • Mary Burrell

      Now that’s something to consider I would love to do this by train

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        Get a sleeper car, trust me

    • arafat

      I do believe a while back there was a kid that was harassed by cops on one of those and had all of his savings confiscated, for having “suspicious” amount of cash.

    • cedriclathan

      Be the first time in history a train got pulled over. “You know, you was traveling 75 in a 70 mph zone, right?” As Officer Redneck whips off his Raybans. “But, officer, I wut’even driving the train….”

  • Wild Cougar

    Frightened people give me heaves. We had an RV growing up and drove every damn where. It was boring as fuck. Next post.

    • miss t-lee

      *stifled laughter*

      • Wild Cougar

        Oh my Gawd. Please let people get it out of their heads that having your mama cook grits while swaying in front of the tiny bathroom that hasn’t been emptied while you listen to the same cassette for the 15th time and play uno on a sticky table in buttfuck OK is some sort of white people luxury. You will pray for a motel 6. Trust and believe.

        • Uncle Remus

          *unstifled loud laughter*

        • miss t-lee

          I couldn’t imagine my immediate family in a RV for an extended period of time.
          There would be carnage…lol

          • Wild Cougar

            I know I can handle jail cuz my parents were road tripping fiends. We drove coast to coast several times. FOUR DAY ROAD TRIPS of you got motel 6 and McDonald’s money, were stopping on the side of the road so you can stretch your legs and eat this bologna sandwich, We’re having fun! And that’s just one way. Through the south. Nawl.

            • miss t-lee

              Mannnnn. You’ve been through the fire.

              • Wild Cougar

                Don’t tell me that’s a white people privilege. Get in your damn car and stop being scary

                • miss t-lee

                  Amen.
                  Folks have looked at me crazy for traveling by myself. Like…why can’t I?

                • Uncle Remus

                  Show us how. Lead the RV convoy. We’re right behind you.

                  • Wild Cougar

                    You first. I’ll meet you there. On a plane.

                    • cedriclathan

                      LOL

          • There would be no more Young’s from my line if we RV’d.

            • miss t-lee

              I understand…lol

          • Cleojonz

            We did it once when I was growing up. Notice I said once lol.

            • miss t-lee

              LOL!!
              All 6 of us in my Mom’s 77 Bonneville in the 80s was enough.

          • Mary Burrell

            Lol??

        • Uncle Remus

          Yeah, but these new ones have mp3 compatibility and you can dump at any Walmart in the country (and there’s a lot of them). You should try it again. Tell us how it goes.

          • Wild Cougar

            Nope. Nope. And…….nope!

          • Cheech

            There is something appealing about dumping gallons of shyt at Walmart.

        • Cheech

          Then there’s the time when Uncle G didn’t get the electrical ground right, and when you stepped in wet from swimming, barefoot, you got the shock of your life on that first metal step.

          (Lucky I’m still alive, mumble grumble +#&÷?×_÷,#_+&*!….)

    • Val

      Yeah, we had one for a bit. The fun starts to wear off when the RV begins to smell like bread, corn chips and feet.

    • Jae Starz

      Yikes this makes me second guess my family’s thought that if we drove to SC again from NY we would look into renting an RV. 5 adults at damb near 6ft+ is not the most comfy ride in a minivan.

  • Lisss

    And that is why I dont completely resent it when black folks say things like “thats some white people ish”. On some level, it’s true.
    Some spaces/activities are reserved for them/ by them and as a normal socialized human being, who wants to willingly go into a space where you know you might be ostracized…or even get hurt?
    Surviving the job market alone is a feat for only the fittest.

    • Wild Cougar

      Just because YOU are afraid doesn’t make it for white people. My ancestors didn’t die for me to be a frightened adventureless whimper in this big country. It’s mine and everybody gonna step aside while I get what’s due me!

      • Val

        I agree but some of it isn’t about being afraid though. When you are on vacation you just don;t want to deal with any racist bullshot.

    • Someone has to be the first Black person. It may not be you, but I don’t mind. Sometimes, we as Black people have to MAKE a space ours.

      • Uncle Remus

        Way I was told, as long as it ain’t more than 15 other people there, once I walk in, they got to change the music.

  • AKA The Sauce

    I refuse to drive through Texas…so yea…I get all of this.

    • miss t-lee

      Driven all over this state alone. So…there.

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        I’ve driven through Vidor and Jasper. Not Tulia though.

        Not saying I sped through them joints though.

        • miss t-lee

          Ain’t nobody trying to even get stopped in Vidor. Or stop on purpose…lol
          You don’t speed through them speedtrap jumps…and you’ll be fine.

          • Brooklyn_Bruin

            It’s the towns I don’t know about…
            But the idea that something *might* happen is the effect of terrorism.

            These folks is literally scaring us to stay where we belong.

            Naw B.

            • miss t-lee

              It’s terrorism alright, and f*ck that. IF I wanna see it, I’m going.

            • Uncle Remus

              This is why I get frustrated with NPR, for instance, still talking about the argument over classifying white militia groups as terrorists as though it is only a quibble over legal definitions. It isn’t. It’s an argument over whether Black people are seen as part of the civil society.

              • Hmmm. From everything I’ve read the govn’t considers those militias just as big a threat as ISIL. They just won’t say it.

        • Val

          Jasper? Nope.

      • BrothasKeeper

        Got pulled in Pearland today.

        • miss t-lee

          good ol Pearland.
          They give you sh*t?

          • BrothasKeeper

            Of course! They couldn’t come up with anything because I was riding clean, so they let me go with a warning.

            • miss t-lee

              Sounds about right.

        • grownandsexy2

          What they stop you for?

          • BrothasKeeper

            He tried to say I was following too closely.

    • Val

      Me too but only because it’s take effing forever to drive through it.

      • miss t-lee

        It’s only 8-9 hours. :)

        • Val

          Only? That’s a lot when all you see is dirt and road in front of you. Lol

          • miss t-lee

            LOL The “only” was a joke. Trust I know it takes forever. I’m in Central Texas which mean I have a good 5+ hours in either direction before I’m even out this b*tch.

            • Val

              I was so happy to see the entering New Mexico sign. Lol

              • miss t-lee

                Ha! it’s a long drive. My uncle was in Albuquerque for a while

          • miss t-lee

            We got plenty trees…lol

        • Uncle Remus

          Stop lying. I distinctly remember being on a road trip from SC to CA in which I fell asleep like three times, woke up and was still in TX.

          • miss t-lee

            I don’t know how long you were sleep…lol

      • Cheech

        When you enter at Texarkana there is a sign that says “El Paso … 995”.

  • Junegirl627

    I think an RV with Kids negates suspicious black person. I mean there will be a “n” word here and there but i don’t think cops will pull up and shoot the guy in the ultimate family mobile.

    Then again i might be a little too trusting.

    • Uncle Remus

      glue gun on campus? suspicious black person.
      licensed carrier in an open carry state? suspicious black person
      holding an air rifle in a store that sells air rifles? suspicious black person
      child holding toy gun? suspicious black persons
      off duty cop coming to assist other cops? suspicious black person

      I think you might be a little too trusting.

    • Darkchloe144

      Sometimes I wonder.

    • Val

      Nothing negates the suspicious Black person in Merica.

    • Cleojonz

      You have to step away from that RV every now and then so…

    • They’re gonna at LEAST what you’re doing “around these here parts”…

      • Junegirl627

        Yeah but that happens anywhere. Sheeit depending on where you live it’ll happen in the hallway infront of your apartment

      • grownandsexy2

        lol

    • Cheech

      Clarence Thomas is said to be an RV enthusiast.

    • Mary Burrell

      We in black bodies will always be suspicious.

  • Darkchloe144

    This resonates with me a lot. I got a cousin my age gender and height (average to small) who will dip alone whenever and where-ever on vacay days. Did I mention alone? Across skip over states and sundown towns, and I can’t comprehend what she’s thinking.
    There was a time when the idea of traveling across US of A seemed like fun, even alone. I travelled a lot as a kid, from ATL to Annanopolis Maryland to LA to fill in the blank. Now not so much, lol. The midwestnorf region is a no go zone, and parts of the south hayle no.

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