Home of the Free
Since we might not make it to the actual geographic center of the United States, Amarillo, Texas will have to suffice as our virtual mid-way point. We haven’t quite made it to the arbitrary dividing line my mom invented, the Mississippi, where people to the East called her “Barb” and those to the west called her “Barbara.” But it’s close enough, and besides, you can’t ignore the pride of Texas, even though we only get to see the tippy top of it on this route.
And you can’t ignore the one thing that makes Texans proud: a big badge of the America’s most prized ideal, Freedom.
What is ironic about Freedom is that it is not living free the way you would think. The American sort of Freedom doesn’t really support freedom of religion or freedom of speech. You can’t have green hair, praise Allah, and speak out against the government with this sort of Freedom without getting a sort of nudge or tease from some hoo-ha sitting on a porch. Freedom actually means living a certain way, dressing a certain way, and living a certain life. My mom used to say these people were part of what she called “the establishment” which in my mind immediately attached a negative connotation. But Freedom isn’t really a way of life, it’s more of a goal: get a steady job, get married preferably to someone of the opposite sex, buy a big house, have a couple of kids. Basically, do normal stuff and keep a gun nearby to protect it.
Our friends Alex and Julia live in a converted dentist office in our virtual middle of the USA. They live a life that is anything but conventional. Their home sits on a busy street in Amarillo and is what some might call a shambles, but really it’s a home in transition, in flux. They are looking to move to the country soon so they aren’t spending much time fixing up the place. I hate to use the word humble to describe the homes we saw in Amarillo, it sounds degrading. Honest seems a more appropriate descriptor and holds a bit more Southern hospitality to it.
Each room contains a banquet of treasures including bicycles, stacks of skateboards, retired dentist equipment, and clothing that they have picked up from various estate sales to sell on eBay which is how Julia makes some of her living. Alex makes money by hosting bike races, helping his dad with repairs to carnival equipment, and selling bike parts on eBay. They have a total of 7 chickens, 4 mature and 3 chicks. I believe they are allowed only 4 chickens and so there are likely plans for a chicken swap as soon as the chicks grow up depending on whether or not they get a rooster.
Alex’s parents live right around the corner from them, and they are what you would think with a bible propped open to the side of the couch. Their home was the perfect portal to Southern hospitality, draped with blankets that softened the edges of their lifelong furniture. They were not phased by our choice to sell our lives and hit the road; instead they jumped right in and made all sorts of suggestions of where to go next. As their son shared tidbits about the fabrication of carbon fiber bike parts, they smiled equal smiles of parental pride while gazing in his direction.
What Alex and Julia like most about their life is they do what they want. They are not beholden to the ideals of oligarchical Freedom beating them down. Working just a few days per week, they have more free time than most Americans. Compared to Seattle where I am from, their home is extremely affordable. To save money, they try to pick up their groceries from a salvage store, where you can get almost spoiled food for pennies. They don’t worry about everything being perfect, and because of this, theirs is an unique type of Freedom that is quite respectable.
As we left Amarillo on a cloudy day, we looked out over the landscape which extends like an ocean and blurs it’s horizon against the white sky. There is nothing to see for miles around. In the quietness of the drive we reflected on the fact that we have no idea where we are going and when we will find the other side of the road, and that, for now really is Freedom.