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

Featured, Race & Politics

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

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.

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.

  • Giantstepp

    My ex’s mother was from Alabama. The three of us drove there from DC one summer for a few days. Now– my mother is originally from NC, so I’ve been south many times, and NC was a second home with so much family still there. But NC south was nothing like Alabama south. It’s the difference of south and DEEP SOUTH. It literally took me back to the films and books I’ve seen and read about the civil rights movement. I remember being a little afraid riding thru towns late at night.

    That was a fleeting fear specific to that trip. But this election and beyond has been a reminder to stay out of melanin deficient areas. I am looking at you Heartland.

    • Michigan, Illinois and New York have similar proportions of Black people. California hardly has any left. Alabama has about twice as many black people as New York. But it’s in New York that we just saw nasty Slavs attack a black man. Which place should I be afraid to travel? =)

  • Val

    Meh, I’ve taken the train across the country twice and there’s absolutely nothing to see in the middle. Nothing. It’s a vast wasteland. It’s flat and boring.

    But, yeah, it’s a shame that we have to consider being Black when thinking of doing some things. It’s the Black tax rearing it’s ugly head again. And I’m sure a lot of White Midwesterners who may read this are glad you have reservations about making the trip. It’s one of the reasons so many White folks love the police. They figure they keep us in our place. You know, in the urban areas.

    • “You know, in the urban areas.”

      The fact that “urban” is synonymous with “black” still bothers me.

      • Furious Styles

        In the nineties it was associated with blackness. Then gentrification happened (urban homesteading, urban mayonnaise shop, urban brewery, urban farm-raised goat jelly, etc.)

    • Kansas City and St. Louis are important for Jazz, but other than that I don’t see a reason to go to any midwestern city that’s not Chicago. Can fly over all that.

      • I want to go to the Negro League Museum and check out the BBQ.

        • miss t-lee

          Also. That’s the main reason I wanna go.

        • I’ve heard good reviews with both. They’ll BBQ anything in KC, even turkey. I’d like that.

        • Gifcollector

          Just came back from KC seeing John Legend and wandered into Slaps bbq almost by mistake. Best BBQ I’ve ever had. Didn’t even need the sauce. Came back home and saw the owners on a kraft commercial about award winning bbq! Just a little hole in the wall, you lose your bearings going in because it’s so dark. They have maybe 10 tables and a sign on the door telling folks where the line outside should go.
          That bbq is worth the return trip alone lol

      • MsSula

        Any city or town where people live have something to show. At least it’s my belief.
        Even Quad City, Iowa had some redeeming qualities. So did Midland, MI.

      • TheUnsungStoryteller

        I lived in Indiana for half of my life. I confirm that this is true.

    • Erin Dorbin

      No! You’re wrong! It’s not flat and boring. Check out the Driftless region. I live in it! I’m a white Midwesterner who would love to host you at our place :]. I could at least prove you wrong about the landscape? heh.

  • Mary Burrell

    Will black people have to have that green book for black travelers like they used to have back in the 50’s and 60’s to go to safe spaces? Just asking since 45 is making America great again? The Negro Motorists Green Book.

    • Val

      It would definitely be nice to have. They would need to update it with listings of the most racist police departments.

      • Mary Burrell


      • KMN

        make it an app…like a google maps app but while driving it alerts you to slow down because this is where highway patrol is thick at or Siri alerts you of the racist PDs or some ish like that. Or even black historical sites.
        I need an app maker to make this happen lmao

        • Val

          You’d get rich.

          • KMN

            @disqus_QGKOTi1oX5:disqus @disqus_ytfDYTj8lX:disqus I really should huh? Patent that bihh and give all VSS/VSBs free access to it lmao
            I need people lolol who builds code up in here?

            • MsSula

              Call Wild Cougar!!!

              • KMN

                Thank you!!!

        • Cheech

          Seriously, you oughta. Somebody could make money on it and provide a service. Remember to include the folks who put out the original book for their cut.

    • truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

      I heard of that book before.

      • Mary Burrell

        It’s a beautiful book

        • truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

          That’s very interesting Sister.

    • Hammster

      I’m late to the party but the new green book (online) kinda already exists, for SC that is. Here ya go:

  • Don’t let anyone else determine how free you are, Brian. Just be smart in your travels.

  • Mary Burrell

    Great writing Brian Broome??????

  • Alessandro De Medici

    Just buy a glock and blast this on repeat all the way thru


    And remember, “Never hesitate to put…”

  • NonyaB?

    I don’t blame you, Brian! With the current temperature at boiling, I can’t even lie: I have and would rather travel solo to a bunch of countries elsewhere before approaching certain cities/states in the US.

  • BrothasKeeper

    Real talk right here. At the same time, be free. Yes, I thought I’d never make it out alive when I traveled to Montana, but I did. My mission still remains to explore every state in the US, although if I’m traveling through the SE, I put the pedal to the metal through Alabama and Mississippi.

    • miss t-lee

      I heard Montana is gorg.

      • BrothasKeeper

        Your pics will come out like wallpaper.

        • miss t-lee

          Man…I really wanna go now.

    • Val

      I drove through Montana. I really never saw anybody. It was like being on the moon.

      • Wild Cougar

        My most memorable drive was from Denver to San Francisco. The great Salt Lake. Mannn…… One point the land is totally flat and the road is totally straight and there is nothing on the land. Zero. Not a shrub, weed, nothing. I’m driving and the sun is setting on one side directly across from the full moon. If they had 3D cameras back then…. I couldn’t get it in a picture!

        • Val

          My best drive was from LA to San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Hwy. Really beautiful and relaxing. Do it in the off-season though, otherwise traffic.

          Been to Utah but on the train. It was just a lot of mountains and nothingness. Didn’t see the lake. I hear it’s beautiful. And there’s another place in Utah called Moab I’d like to see.

          • Cheech

            Moab is beautiful. Great if you’re into hiking and mountain biking. It was the rendezvous for my best vacation ever–9 days floating down the Green River to the conflluence with the Colorado.

          • Cheech

            My buddy and I got pulled over at the bottom of Big Sur by a Chippie who was grinning from ear to ear. He said, “man, you guys gave me a run for my money!!” Like chasing a couple of college grads down Big Sur at 95 mph was the most fun he’d had that week.

            He had my buddy at 95 but only ticketed him for 75, so no reckless/arrest. Same treatment I got later that day in Indio.

      • BrothasKeeper

        Camping there is a whole different animal. But it is breathtakingly picturesque.

    • Uncle Remus

      The Dakotas are great. Go to the Crazy Horse memorial; it is worth the trip to honor a true freedom fighter. Go to the Black Hills National Park and ask the ranger to explain how the treaty was re-negotiated since water is still wet, the sky is still blue and the grass is still green. The stutter in their reply is always entertaining.

      • I my head the Dakotas are made up of ranches, reservations, and missile silo sights.

        • Uncle Remus

          sounds about right, but add in a few thousand square miles of national parks.

      • BrothasKeeper

        Ha! They treated treaties like toilet paper. US knew exactly what they were gonna do beforehand.

    • NonyaB?

      I ideally want to see every province in Canada and every state in the US but I’d require security convoy for some of the latter. ?

  • PDL….HE still working on me

    Naw, I’m keeping my black self home.

  • Kat

    I cried like a 2 yr old in a week old pamper when I drove from MS to Oklahoma.I had orders to Vance AFB in Enid, OK. Take the I out… I’m driving and seriously asking out loud, around snot bubbles, who in life I had pissed off. Nothing but flat, treeless, grassless land. Ugly.

    The entire state could disappear tomorrow and life will go on. We won’t even notice.

    Don’t bother with the midwest.

    • NonyaB?

      Had to cackle at the picture of you a-drivin, a-cryin and a-cursin.

      • Kat

        I even cut the music off…

        • NonyaB?

          Not the music!

    • Michelle is my First Lady

      I drove from New Jersey to Iowa for my mother’s graduation and THAT was pushing it. The corn fields in Iowa were scary…. All I could think about was Children of the Corn.

      • Uncle Remus

        Quietly, there Black midwesterners in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, etc. A lot of folks after emancipation were like, eff it, not sure exactly where we’re going, but we ain’t staying here and made their way west.

        • Also, Black workers were used as strike breakers in a lot of smaller Midwestern cities. After the strikes were over, the Black people hung around and started a life.

      • Kat

        I was stationed in Illinois. Fields and fields of corn. And depressing.

        • KeciB

          I hate driving through Illinois. I drive from the Chicago area to Louisiana at least once a year and once you get outside the metro area, there’s nothing to see but billboards about adult stores, corns, cows and signs telling you you’re going to h3ll.

        • StillSuga

          Illinois is a hard drive


More Like This