Hello, friends and family, old and new,

How are you today? Did you notice the new moon yesterday? I actually haven’t seen the moon in days… and I’ve been living outdoors and looking for it every day.

I’ve gone from days in the forest to days in a smallish town, to Washington, D.C. I’m sitting on the national mall as I write this. It’s a little surreal, actually, to be in a place of such… mythic importance to the culture I come from and modern empire. I’ll tell you stories from each place soon enough, but today I want to share something different with you.

I’ve been craving time at a piano. Every time I enter a new place, some part of me is always asking, “is this the sort of place that has a piano? It should be.” Well, Sunday, the Lutherans in Gaithersburg let me use their gorgeous instrument after their services were over, and I made a few scratch recordings to share with you.

It’s all pretty laid back. In fact, I think of the first two songs as lullabies. Why is the Desert so Lovely is from the Little Prince musical (with Gene Wilder). Tender Shepherd is from the Peter Pan musical. I played Michael Darling in it when was about 7 years old, and this song always stuck with me. I guess that was my first performance experience.

The Lone Wild Bird is a hymn I learned from my friend Aimee Wilson. It’s been on my mind lately as I have been trying to spend time in nature:

The lone wild bird in lofty flight
Is still with you nor leaves your sight
And I am yours, I rest in you
Great Spirit, come, rest in me, too.

The Water is Wide is probably the best known of the bunch. I want thinking of the progression of verses as I played through it this time; I was just looking for variety, but check out the marvelous descent from love to heartache in the lyrics.

And finally, there’s an improvisation on the spot. I had no idea what I was going to play when I hit record.

So there you are. Something a little different. Please let me know what you think.

Your wandering minstrel,

Joby

This is one of my very favorite poems. It’s from When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne (yes, the guy who wrote about Winnie-the-Pooh). 

I started my morning journaling about what could be next in my trip and I realized that I’m living this poem out more than I ever had before. 

My most obvious choices appear to be to go into Washington, go back to the woods, or just go wherever my feet take me. I still haven’t decided. 

spring1

Spring Morning

by A. A. Milne

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
Down to the streams where the king-cups grow -
Up to the hill where the pine-trees blow -
Anywhere, anywhere, I don’t know

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You’d sail on the water as blue as air,
And you’d see me here in the fields and say:
“Doesn’t the sky look green today?

Where am I going, The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all,”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
“That’s where I wanted to go today!”

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow -
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.
spring2

Hello again, friends old and new,

Like I said in my last letter, I’m staying in town for now. Today I’m cheating the rain by sitting in a coffee house and writing, studying tunes to learn on the ukulele, and talking to strangers. I’m well and having fun and I hope you are, too.

I don’t think I mentioned how interstate 80 holds a special place in my heart. I moved from the San Francisco bay area to the Midwest when I was 16, and whenever I cross paths with I-80 I know I could just head west and this one long road would take me all the way back to my ocean and my mountains. In fact, the first time I hitchhiked was to do just that. I’m overdue to do it again.

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This time, though, I was headed west on it, standing outside the oasis near Akron. Right next to the sign that said no soliciting or loitering.

Now, I contend that I wasn’t technically soliciting (let’s call it… hoping. Being friendly and hoping.), but I couldn’t claim not to be loitering. In fact, I loitered there for around two hours. Highway patrol cars passed me right by though, and didn’t seem to care (what if I wasn’t white, though, I wonder?) and no one came out of the building to bother me.

My patience paid off, though, when two different people said they’d talk to me on their way out if I was still there. I wasn’t, for one of them.

Jim is a bricklayer who specializes in forges inside of steel mills. I think he said there are only 27 left in operation in the US, and he’s worked on about all of them. He was on his way home to West Virginia from a job in Michigan. That’s a long commute.

For all his gruff, chain-smoking appearance, he has a strong sense of the Golden Rule. “How could I walk right past you with an open seat in my truck? How could anybody?” “Some people are givers and some are takers. I want to be a giver.”

We were deep in conversation right up to the moment his way split off from mine. In fact, he left me right on the side of the road by the exit for his highway. Not my first choice, but I was another hour closer to my destination and another friend richer.

After half an hour waving my thumb around, I was a little surprised not to have been kicked off the road by state troopers. I wasn’t surprised nobody had picked me up. You can hardly blame them. Hitchhikers are a leading cause of death and dismemberment. It is known.

If you were standing by the side of the road, how would you amuse yourself prove yourself friendly and safe to drivers hurtling by? This is a serious question, by the way. It will probably happen to me again and who knows: it might just happen to you.

I chose to build a six foot tall balloon hat. As one does. It took longer than normal on account of trying to twist it while keeping a thumb out to any passing traffic. And you know what? The first car to come along once I’d finished it picked me up.

Jessie spent five years hitchhiking before he got saved. He makes a habit of picking up every hitchhiker he sees, so I can’t claim this ride as a balloon hat miracle. He was on his way into town to pick up guitar strings. Normally he goes to a different shop and he didn’t know why he thought he should go to this one until he saw me. I was the reason why God told him to go to guitar center.

I tagged along with him to get his strings and a bite to eat. There was never a moment of silence. Now, Jessie is excited about Jesus. I’m cool with that. I like Jesus. He’s also excited about warning of the evils of the Freemasons. And the way they corrupt youth, through the boy scouts’ lifelong fraternity the order of the arrow. If I followed his logic correctly, Jesus says not to take oaths, so OA is demonic. I wonder what Jessie thinks of marriage vows?

Jessie had a scripture quote for every topic of conversation (he even impressed me by quoting the Koran, with references). He also had absolute confidence in the deeper meaning and application of every phrase quoted. Sometimes it was cool – I’m sure his convictions influenced his habit of helping hitchhikers. Sometimes it was a little odd. He took time to complain about an elder he knows who likes to use a prayer shawl. “It’s a disgrace for a man to cover his head when he prays.” Really? Your God is offended by a bit of linen?

My heart really broke when he told me that, “it says that it was the woman who was first deceived. It’s true, you know. Women are more easily deceived than men. That’s why it says not to suffer a woman to be a teacher of men and women are to be silent in church.”

Good Lord, the richness I’d miss out on if I’d never ‘suffered’ to learn anything from any women because I have a penis. I told him so, and that I couldn’t accept every phrase Paul ever wrote as God’s perfect instructions with no regard to my own conscience and Paul’s culture and background. I suspect that Jessie views me with pity for being so “backslidden.”

I guess I lied to you last time, because Jessie did leave me at an oasis. I guess next time I’ll pick up the story there, near Cranberry, PA.

I gotta know, though, are these stories interesting? Too longwinded? Would you like to see videos instead?  Let me know what you think and how I can better connect with you.

Until next time,

Your friendly pedestrian,

Joby

Hello friends,

How’s life in your neck of the world? I guess it’s day five of my walkabout. I’ve picked up a new story or two to tell you, but I promised I’d tell you about my rides into Philly. I think I’ll stay where there’s electricity over the weekend, so I’ll be able to tell you all about being led (and danced at) by deer, the Zen masters I met, and the trouble with trying to do laundry in the woods. All this and more… eventually.

Let’s go back to those first moments of hitchhiking:

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Look at that pack. Look at that collection of bags! It doesn’t look much better now, but I promise I stashed some heavy books and other silly things when I was in Philly and it’s much more manageable (when it’s dry…)

So there I was, standing outside the door of the “service plaza” being friendly to everyone, wishing them safe travels. For a while, the most interest anyine showed had was in my ukulele. I’d only had it a few days at that point but, when someone asked, I managed a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s Hobo’s Lullabie. It didn’t help in the ride department, but anything to have fun, right?

After I’d been waiting about two hours, someone asked if I’d like a ride just to the state border. And did I mind dogs?
I was up for anything.
He led me to a brand new car, introduced himself (let’s call him Greg – I’m not comfortable using someone else’s name here), his daughter (I reckon we can call her Lucy) , and the white poodle snowball.

“I heard that poodles are one of the smartest breeds of dogs,” I said.
“Well, snowball is the exception to that rule,” Greg replied.

Snowball and I shared the back seat and it turned out that he was an excellent cuddler. That was just fine in my book. They’d got him in Europe when they lived in Luxembourg because of Greg’s wife’s job “in the energy industry.”

When he realized I’d lived at Jesus People (the intentional community where I lived for 10 years), Greg seemed excited. He was a fan of Resurrection Band, the rock group from the community, and read the magazine we used to publish, but he’d never met a real life “JPUSA” before.

“If you had just had a sign that said you were from JPUSA I wouldn’t have even hesitated about picking you up. It’s a shame that we Christians have to hide ourselves or…” I don’t remember what his or what was, exactly… just that he thought that advertising yourself as a Christian in the Midwest of the US would somehow bring trouble.

They sound up giving me a ride all the way to their home town of Akron, OH. They were coming home from visiting grandpa before Lucy headed back to college. They stopped at an outlet mall on the way, but they were happy to take me farther if I would wait. I was, and wandered around and found this fun-free pond behind the mall:

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At some point, he told me that he thought that the reason that JPUSA works when socialism doesn’t is because everyone contributes. Gosh… how do you gracefully discuss politics and religion with your host when it becomes clear that you disagree? I don’t want to bore you with the details (read: I’m tired of writing and this is already long) but I will say I had an interesting lesson in diplomacy. I did get him to laugh a time or two as I hope I got him to consider the idea that the problem with our system isn’t mostly deadbeats, it’s capitalists choosing who has the right to services (through job scarcity at least).

I will say this: he was the only driver who let me off at a service plaza for my next ride. Thanks, “Greg,” for your kindness and thoughtfulness to me and the spirited discussion. If you should happen to read this, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m glad to be writing again. I’ll get more out soon. I hope you’re well.

Joby

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Hello, friends,

Are you well? I’ve been so immersed in this wedding celebration and spending time with everyone here that I haven’t kept you up to date. I’ll tell you more about it later (and I haven’t forgotten that I owe you stories from my hitchhiking earlier in the month).

Right now, I just wanted to send you a quick note to say that the walking has started. I’ve said my goodbyes and spent some time alone centering myself and I’ll spend at least an hour or two walking today without any destination in mind. I’ve already spent some time walking on this property and in a rustic labyrinth. I thought it was a beautiful sign of the idea that the walking is the thing, more important than the destination.

I think I’m about 30 miles from Washington, D.C., and I might well wind up there in a day or two. Right now that’s not what I want. I’d like more solitude for reflection and vision-seeking.

Anyhow, I figured I’d let you know that I’m still alive and well and following through on this crazy idea. I’d love to hear from you. What are you dreaming of? How can you make it happen?

Godslow,

Joby

Hello, Friends,

Blessings on you and your family! I’ve pretty much shaken my cold. I’m still in Philadelphia, looking forward to another week catching up with old friends and making new ones. Do you know anyone here that I should know? I more or less have my clothes for the wedding sorted and today I got my hands on a cello I can use in the ceremony.

I’m eager to try busking here making balloon animals at least once before I leave. Have I mentioned that I’d been doing that? It’s so much fun. The last couple of weeks I was in Chicago, you might have found me hanging around farmers markets or outside the zoo wearing a great silly hat twisting balloons into various creatures or bits of costume. I enjoyed the interesting creative challenges (Can you do a jellyfish? How about an owl? I want Batman!), adding color to the place (literally and figuratively), practicing showmanship, entertaining families. Oh, and earning a little bit of money on the side. I developed a bit of a circuit in Chicago. I haven’t been out in Philadelphia yet to find my audience.

At any rate, I promised you that I’d explain my method of hitchhiking. Now, the common image of a hitchhiker in America is a person standing on the side of the road giving drivers a thumbs up. People still do this. In fact, I did it for a little while the other day when a driver dropped me off right on the side of the road. I understand that folks stand on onramps more often than they stand on the main highway, but in any event, I discovered a different way the first time I went out.

My trick is to stand near the door at a truck stop and just be friendly. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only person to find a ride this way, but I did discover it on my own, and I’m a little proud of that. The first time I went hitchhiking, I planned to wait at the onramp, but I was ready to start waiting long before there was any traffic. I wandered over to check it out, and it offered a wonderful view of the sunrise, but it would be a few hours before there were many travelers passing through. So I went where I did see people: back at the truck stop.

I wound up standing near the entrance on the trucker side of the building. I put a sign on my pack that said “West, Please,” and just said hello to anyone who came by. I quickly realized that I was offering drivers a better chance to scope me out than I would have offered from the roadside, and, perhaps more importantly, more time to think about me. In the morning, many of the drivers I saw had slept in their trucks and were sitting down to breakfast inside. Many spent half an hour or more inside and then they’d see me again on the way out. In contrast, your classic hitchhiker is in view for a few seconds as drivers whiz past. I bet that a lot of drivers deliberate for a moment and… then it’s too late. “I hope someone picks that guy up.”

That first time, if anyone seemed friendly, I’d ask if they were headed my way. I thought it sounded nice: a classic hitchhiker thing to say. The fellow who picked me up pointed out that it put people in an awkward position: either pick me up, tell me to my face that they’re not interested in helping me, or lie. He suggested that I ask if they know anyone headed my way. Then they have a chance to offer… or maybe even connect me with a friend. And honestly, I’m not upset by anyone who doesn’t want to pick me up. Someone, eventually, will be happy to. And whoever I do ride with, I want them to be kind, friendly, and offering me a seat because they want to, not because they feel guilty or coerced.

Anyhow, I used that bit of psychology this time. I thought it was hilarious because I was on a service plaza on a toll road. It only served the East bound traffic. Every person I chose to ask whether “you know anyone headed East?” was, in fact, headed East (at least for a few miles to the next exit). I asked with a wink and a chuckle, and I was amused by the reactions. Some people would obviously search their minds for a second to see if they knew anyone headed East. Others would just say no (“Well, if you meet anyone, could you send them my way?”). Some people said that they were actually headed East but their car was jam packed. Some of these seemed to regret that they couldn’t offer me a ride and some seemed relieved that they didn’t have to actually make a decision about me.

And of course, sooner or later, someone headed my way was kind, friendly, and willing to offer me a seat. I’ll tell you all about them in my next note.

In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you. Who should I visit? Have you ever discovered a new way of doing something? Have you ever known anyone who hitchhiked my way?

 

Looking forward to hearing from you,

 

Joby

Dear friends, old and new,

I stopped to sew and soak in some sun at the PA Turnpike Authority HQ

I hope this letter finds you well! I’m alive and mostly well (I picked up a head cold from my brother in Indiana) in Philadelphia. I’ve traveled around 700 miles in the last few days, mostly by hitchhiking, and made a few interesting friends along the way.

“Wait. You hitchhiked?” I hear some of you thinking (have you forgotten that I’m an amateur mindreader?). “I thought you were going for a long walk?”
Don’t worry. I’ve had a vision to walk for a long time and I’m not about to let go of it now. I will walk for at least two agenda free weeks by the end of this month.

I’m in a wedding soon and I thought it was important to get here and to prepare for it. I’d like to repair my cello (there’s a fun story for another day) and find or make clothes to fit the wedding theme.

Not many people hitchhike in this country these days, so why did I chose to travel this way? There are many wonderful reasons, and I chose to hitchhike for all of them. Here are a few of the top of my head:
I get to meet new people.

  • I want to learn to trust that my needs will be met, even if I don’t try to force the how and when (cf. the times that Jesus sent his followers out with no money or extra gear – that will be a post all its own).
  • I think it’s fun!
  • I like to redeem waste. I’m this case, an empty seat that’s headed my way.
  • I’m likely to get some nice solitude for thinking.
  • It costs less than a bus ticket or gas (if I even had a car).
  • I can do some people watching. I enjoy imaging what each person or family is up to as I watch them pass.
  • I can practice skills related to showmanship. How do I catch the attention of people who didn’t expect to be engaged by a stranger… and maybe even entertain them?

And anyhow, I was prepared to be flexible and switch to public transportation if it made more sense to me. In fact, I did take a bus for the last leg of the trip, but I’ll save that for another day. I’ll tell you more later about my strategy for hitchhiking and the people I met on this stretch.

Well, I’m going to run, but I love keeping up with friends. I’d love to hear back from you. How’s life in your neck of the world? What have you learned today?

Safe travels,

Joby

Well, folks, it’s finally happening.

I’ve dreamed of traveling wherever my feet take me for a very long time, and I’ve finally taken my first steps.

There are so many people that I want to keep in touch with! I’ll be writing and calling a few people, I promise, and I’ll also be documenting my journey through open letters on this blog.

I had a wonderful couple of weeks back home in Chicago. I’m so grateful to all my of friends, old and new, for the encouragement, support, and advice you gave me.

Check in soon for more about where I am and why I’m doing it. In the meanwhile, I’m going to visit with my sister, and you can enjoy this picture I took Tuesday of the LaSalle Street bridge in South Bend, IN.

It’s the end of the blogathon. I’m so glad that I participated! I’ve learned more about how I write and I’ve written things I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been part of this. If you’re reading this in the next two hours after I post it, come on over to http://www.ustream.tv/channel/concert-on-the-porch-at-the-magic-mansion to listen to me play live music for you.

olive on fire

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