Written by Shazeen (UK), Interviewing Lance Williams (USA)
Being alone is being in the middle of a long-winded road or an ocean, and there’s nobody in either direction. It is just you and your thoughts, and between it is the vehicle that drives you on an unpredictable journey that exposes you to your vulnerabilities. But it is not without the discovery of our prized attributes that our vulnerabilities and fears are appreciated.
In the way that your shadow accompanies you, how could you not sharpen your pencil of bravery that re-writes your fears into a narrative of possibilities? How could you not have a longing for human touch without the strangeness that you leave behind in familiar faces, and those you cross paths with on the open road? How could you not wonder about the stability you want to return in, where open arms of belonging and clarity embraces your being, without aimlessly dancing on Earth?
Being alone is also about creatively losing yourself into your strengths and your weaknesses, and marrying them in a union that was divorced by what others insisted you become.
It was Steve Toltz who said, in “A Fraction of the Whole”…
“You experience life alone, you can be as intimate with another as much as you like, but there has to be always a part of you and your existence that is non communicable; you die alone, the experience is yours alone, you might have a dozen spectators who love you, but your isolation, from birth to death, is never fully penetrated.”
I wonder how my friend, Lance, was doing on his journey on the open road. I happened to get a hold of him regardless that he didn’t always have accessibility to the phone or internet, and only able to offer chunks of his time across a month. I was intrigued by his road trip experiences because he was mostly alone.
Why in your opinion do people enjoy road-trips so much? Is there a quintessential quality attached to it?
There’s a quote that explains my thoughts on this question perfectly.
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
― Christopher McCandless
How do you arrange your sleeping times, eating times, and places to stay along the way? Do you make plans or do you spontaneously make these decisions?
Currently I am an over the road truck driver. We can legally operate the vehicle for 11 hours. One doesn’t necessarily have to drive that many hours everyday because it depends on how far the pickup or delivery is and what is the appointment date and time. I live in the truck. It has bunk beds, a table and refrigerator, and storage spaces. It’s very accommodating and efficient. However, I do park the truck at rest areas and truck stops. My recent truck stop was in Las Vegas. It had a dentist office, restaurant, fitness room, lounge area, bar and casino, chiropractic care, laundry room and personal showers. They are very accommodating for professional truck drivers. Most drivers have reward cards, so every time you fuel up the truck you get so many points. It’s enough to have one free meal a day. You also acquire shower credits. Right now I have unlimited showers otherwise they cost $13. As far as planning my stops, I don’t really plan. If I see a sign on the road that says something is coming up in so many miles that I want to see, and if I have time to stop and check it out, I will. As for food, I usually get it at the same time that I’m fueling the truck.
Have you come across obstacles along the way and if so, which was the worst and how did you deal with it?
I am working so the only obstacles I face are if a tire blows out. If something happens with the truck then I just pull over and call for road side assistance. I had two tire blow outs so far and some other issues. Nothing too serious happened.
What experiences affected your perceptions?
Out here you get to see a lot. When you think of California you think about beaches and sun and all that. But there are deserts and sand duns there as well. In Texas you would think about a hot desert and open land, which it is, but when you get to the southern most point it’s tropical. There are palm trees, and lush green landscapes. I also think about trade while I’m out here. Trade within the country for example, it is extremely easy to find produce in California to take to the east coast but very difficult to find something on the east coast to bring back west. That goes for food mostly. The west, especially California, has all the food to supply to the rest of the country.
What did it mean to you to have this spontaneous journey on the open road?
It felt like freedom and independence, and it’s not that I didn’t have freedom at my parent’s house. I always respect my parents, and my life in their home was trouble-free in the sense that I have always played by my own rules, and was accepted as I am. But there was a feeling inside me that made me know that hitting the road was the right thing to do. My fear drove me out of the house and married me to adventures that I had both expected and not expected myself to get into.
I was afraid about how my plan was going to pan out, and is this all I’m going to do for the rest of my life? I had little to no problems with my home life, but they often mistaken comfortable lives of people as free from internal struggles. It’s not always like this. I have my own struggles and my biggest struggle at this stage is what I want to do. That’s how I felt. I wanted to know who I was and where will I be, and I was afraid.
How has embarking on this road trip responded to your fears?
It was pretty much the fear of not becoming anything and wasting my life. It wasn’t like I was homeless while I was embarking on my road trip. I don’t ever think that will be my issue in life, or I hope not anyway, but it’s more to do with the fear of not being anything. When you get to a certain age, you want to be established in life, and you feel you should be at a certain point in your life based on your culture and your country. I feel like I wasn’t at that stage I should be. I had a fear of never getting there. So if I did this road trip, I can work out what I was going to eventually do.
When I’m taking this trip, It feels like I’m doing something. This is a job but it’s technically not a job. It’s a lifestyle. There are no days off, no holidays whatsoever. My job is a truck driver, so everyday you have to be on your feet and keep checking your truck. It’s a lifestyle while being on the open road. It’s not like any other job where you remain in the same place. You are forced to move along and see new and different places, and sometimes you’ll see familiar places. I’m constantly preparing for the next day, so I always have something to do. When I was at home, I would have days off sometimes and it felt like I wasn’t moving. Doing a job while on a road trip is a trick that works because you’re doing something while moving and thinking about what your future plans will be.
What distinguishes the road trip you are on from road trips that are planned and adventured by families or friends?
On a typical road trip you don’t really plan to the last detail. You just go out there and enjoy yourself and you want to stop in random locations for a dinner break or a hotel stay. And it’s quite funny because people think I’m having a purely spontaneous, chore-free and joyful life out here. But I’m still doing a job. My road trip is quite planned. I’m given assignments that I have to be at a particular place on a particular time, and when I’m given the signal to be somewhere else altogether, then I have to move along. So you have to plan ahead. I’m going to be in this area at this time, so I have to check out pretty fast, and squeeze in a couple of hours of touring and experiencing new people and places before I have to leave. You definitely get to see things. For example, right now I’m done with my work for the day and right across the street there are shopping malls and other activities that I can go and take a look. I also have fun talking to new people as I tend to be on the road alone most of the time. We all need human connection, even if it’s only strangers. I think that’s one of the marks of my journey. Human connection is vital.
Do you feel you don’t get enough time to explore places in case you grew fond of anything?
Not really. I stop for as long as I need to and although I end up really liking some experiences, I’m ready to let go and move onto my next assignment and my next adventure. I won’t really stop somewhere very interesting if I don’t have enough time. I get a little picky in this regard. You have to be able to spend more than a few hours in a really interesting place, and when I know I can’t do that, I don’t stick around. In the back of my mind I tell myself that maybe I’ll return and hang out in these very interesting places.
It’s a never-ending bucket list. This goes against the point of being on an open road experience. But sometimes, normality catches up with you here too.
It’s not a routine. I’m seeing different things every single day. I’m seeing different sub-cultures of America every single day. It’s the way they talk, the way they use certain words that you only hear in this part of the region, and even the way they dress. Yesterday I was at a warehouse to get my truck loaded, and an employee was referring to the jam-packed vehicles as “this is a big clusterfuck over here”. I laughed because I haven’t heard this word in, maybe, 20 years? It makes me realize how commonly it’s used but just not where I’m from. It goes to show my life’s sheltered from the rest of the world, but also the rest of the world is sheltered from me. I feel this obligation as I keep driving on the road to remain here and connect both ends of the road like my life was perceptually meeting half way with itself.
Yesterday I saw a guy who had worn cow-boy boots, and a gun in his waist. I never see this in New Jersey, because there are certain things you can do there whereas here people are more free and transparent about particular things. When you go to the west coast you see people in shorts, and surfers. It’s these kind of variations you see from one region to another.
How has being on the road so far helped you to understand where you want to be in terms of your career, ambitions and personal life?
I’m not looking at this lifestyle as a career, even though it’s my job right now. It’s giving me a chance to reflect on a personal level about everything. I’m not making decisions out here. I’m merely moving and exploring an open air feeling so I can think aloud about where I’m going with my life. Sometimes, you need a bird’s eye view to gain perspective about your own life. If you are reserved in the same space or environment for long periods of time, you can’t really liberate the perspective within you that is trying to give you answers. I’m seeing different people and places and realizing for myself how it feels to live up to certain perspectives that would have been foreign to me. Instead of someone else telling me about it based on their understanding of an experience, I’m right here in these situations to feel it for myself.
I feel more secure on the road than at home. At home I didn’t feel stable or secure because I wasn’t necessarily doing all I could do. People love stability and feeling secure, so people will be baffled why this uncertain journey makes me feel at home because I’m more like myself here. Even when I returned home for a short while, about a month ago, I didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore. I’ve become adjusted to the open road. The first two days of leaving New Jersey was an instant reaction that there’s nothing there for me. I packed my bags, accepted the job offer and decided to hit the road. In those 2 or 3 days, I started to become unsure and contemplated returning home. But you have to cross that bridge, metaphorically speaking, although you can imagine me crossing the literal bridge until I notice I’m too far gone to turn back around, and then I became acquainted to a new life.
It didn’t feel right to me to just sit around when I had a seemingly infinite number of ideas that I wished to realize in my own style, in my own way.
Can you tell me how you have felt a sense of stability while moving around?
I feel stable internally more than I do externally. As long as I carry stability within me, it doesn’t matter where I go from this point onward. I know I’m not going to settle down any time soon in the life I should at some point be living. And I know that by staying in one place I will never know either. It makes sense to me to carry home in my heart and keep moving with my experiences. Sometimes you want to make sense of the things you want without restrictions.
I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life because I do want to have a family, and a home life. Within the truck industry, most companies typically have you follow a certain rota and then you are absorbed in their lifestyle, which is almost nomadic in the sense that you have a couple of drinks here and there before you check at your newest location and drive to your destination. I want to eventually buy my own truck and do this job independently, so in this way I’ll have my own company. It will give me freedom to be flexible, and work as and when I want to. There are plenty of development prospects in it too, so I won’t necessarily be the one who is going to be on road trips. I will one day settle down and rejoice in my own family while I can still be connected to this adventurous lifestyle, but just not as intensely as I am right now.
Do you ever miss your home life?
Not necessarily, because right now apart from my parents I don’t have anything to come home to. My parents are happy with seeing me once in a while when I decide to drop by, but it’s not like I have a family of my own that I have to return to everyday. The other day I was at a retail store and felt awkward because I saw many things I’d like to wear but I thought what’s the point of buying them when I’ll be working and driving all day long, and my clothes are likely going to get messy and creased anyway. So I stick with a few set of clothes and buy new clothes only when I really need it. This is the point I became vividly perceptive of my environment in a way I usually wouldn’t be, because I was seeing people aimlessly consuming items. For the first time, I felt we were living in different worlds. This is the difference between living on the open road and living to return to your home everyday.
Can you tell me more about living the minimal life in comparison to the consumption you see around you as a society?
I just remember myself being like that because that’s the lifestyle I used to be in, and you become accustomed to it. But now I have been on both sides — the life of someone who will keep consuming what’s around him and the life of a nomad who will socially and physically go in and out of situations with the bear minimum necessities to carry around. It’s not effective to carry around too many items. You end up misplacing or losing them.
I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and I look at it from a different angle. People work all week and spend their weekend shopping. They live from pay check to pay check and work 40 hours a week. I look at it with a slight bafflement that people can have so little saving in their account yet are working long hours and days. I understand that how much you are paid determines how much you are left with after covering necessary expenses, but it’s also baffling to think that in a social culture that encourages consumption, there is less emphasis on how much we have saved in our accounts because we work and spend, work and spend, and then work more and spend again.
Sometimes it feels like we can have a whole bunch of things for nothing. However, I think people simply have different lifestyles. Some days I’m in the truck for an entire day so if I take a shower in the morning you won’t hear from me afterwards because I’ll be on the road all day, driving my truck, and I can get away with wearing the same pair of shorts for a couple of days.
But when you are living a normal life you aren’t going to wear the same thing for a couple of days. If you go to the gym you’ll wear your gym clothes. When you are going out you will change your clothes to something suitable. When you are relaxing at home you will wear something easy-going and cozy. When guests arrive at your place, you will change your clothes to make an impression. And the list goes on. But when you are living with the bear minimum, and are constantly on the move, you can get away with making exceptions.
The further away you are from the “normal” life, does it teach you something about it?
It doesn’t really teach me anything about the normal life. It only teaches me about the issues you can get caught up in when you have to deal with uncertainty, and how the stable life makes it so much more easy. If you get wrapped up in a problem, or are in a difficult situation, you start appreciating the simplicity of a normal life. At the same time, the longer you are away from the “normal life”, you become adapted to the new and uncertain life, so without it something feels empty and not quite stable. That’s the irony.
I think the great thing about adapting to this new way of life is being comfortable with uncertainty. I like to be at peace with the unknown instead of having answers quickly and easily.
Sometimes, a person can’t see themselves until something takes them away from their normal life and puts them on the other side. You see yourself in a different light, and though you want to return to your normal life, you also take value from the places you have been.
Have you experienced anything unexpected along the way?
When I first started, I just packed a suitcase and I flew to California. I had my truck driver licence in 2007 but I never did anything with it because I went to college. When I arrived to California I was expected to drive a big truck — the kind I didn’t drive since 2007, and that was only for a little bit. So I was unsure about handling it. Will I be able to be trusted with this truck, will the company trust me to do it, and will I remember to start it up and drive it around myself?
In the first 3 days I was with my Indian friend who was accompanying me in the truck. We were driving around together and I felt reassured. But he soon flew out to India for a holiday and I was left to my own devices. I had to drive this truck around myself. I was frankly, nervous.
The company’s owner didn’t trust me yet and wanted to find a client that he and I can go to at the same time. If he could organize this then it means he can be with me and we can go to the same places, so if I needed help he will be there to cater to it.
I was sitting in a hotel room for 3 days. Everyday when you wake up there is a check out time and I was getting close to the check out time. I wasn’t given an assignment, and he didn’t call me yet. So I was thinking should I get the room again? Within the next hour I have to check out of my hotel room and if I did, I’d be left out on the streets without an assignment to go on.
So it hit me how I was almost becoming homeless. I was this close to being left in the middle of nowhere.
When you had to check out, what happened?
I called him and asked him what I should do. Because I have to check out of my room within an hour. He responded, “just check back into the room for the day”.
That was a sense of relief because I know where I’m sleeping tonight as oppose to standing out on the street with my suitcase and not knowing where I’m going to sleep. He covered the expenses. It’s not like I didn’t have the money, but even though you have money, you want to know you have places to go while you are out there. You want to know where you’ll be going on different times throughout the day, and you want to make sure you can return to a hotel room or somewhere else to stay. As you keep doing this, you are spending money. So my fear of being left in the middle of nowhere and feeling homeless was my money running out. My job assignments keeps the cash flow coming in. This is yet another feature of having an open road experience. I know it’s a great adventure to contemplate going on and being wild and free, but you also have to think about maintaining yourself. It can take work and anxiety.
Has the scare about being homeless changed your view about homelessness?
I do think about it. It must be very difficult for homeless people. If you are homeless for a while you pretty much have an idea where you will sleep. At the beginning of the transition of having a home to becoming homeless, it’s probably hard for them to accept the uncertainty of where they are going to sleep at night, and are they safe? Where will they get their food from? I felt like they are constantly worrying everyday, and it’s a form of survival. The state of anticipating threat even though it hasn’t yet happened is the life of someone who is homeless or surviving.
What are your tips for saving money on the road?
My tips are to become a company truck driver and your only traveling expense will be food [laughs]. You barely have to pay for even your food because of the award points you get for fueling the truck. Think about it people — if you want to have an extensive road experience, don’t be afraid to work a little.
Have you ever returned home to visit your family?
Yes, I have. As I said, everything is stable and good with my family. But there’s a dark side that I want to share. Recently I went home for the second time to take a break from my road trip. A friend of the family is living in my old bedroom. So I’m having to sleep in the living room. My spot is taken. I went to my sister’s house and she was going to the mall, so she said, “oh I forgot that there’s no room in car. There are 3 car seats”. I had to either take my own ride to the mall or not go at all. So life has moved on without me. That’s how I felt.
I am the youngest child so I’m used to being spoiled. Beyond this is the realization that things have moved on, and you have to make your own way in the world.
I went through a feeling of abandonment. But I know the reality is that my family loves me and accepts me as I am. But when things change with or without you, then it is what it is. That’s life, right?
How has The People’s Playground accompanied you in your road trip journey?
When I have time to check the internet, I go to The People’s Playground and feel happy when I’m reading other people’s stories. I know Natalie talked about her move, I know Paul recently moved to Seattle and everyone else are talking about their experiences and plans. I like seeing other people making moves in their lives as they talk about it and obviously the similarities and interests we share among each other because we are a whole bunch of creatives or ambitious people. In this way, The People’s Playground has helped me keep a sense of connection with other people and the world while I’m on the road.
In fact, I have to share with you about my meeting with Julie along my journey on the road. We met in Virginia.
It’s great to connect with people from the People’s Playground crew online. She is a kind soul and went out of her way to bring me some Chinese food. We sat and talked for an hour. It was refreshing as I only see strangers everyday, but Julie is someone I see or read on on the regular in The People’s Playground.
Although I enjoy mystery, being unknown to strangers and spending time with them, I still feel connected to these strangers because we are all doing the same job and have a respect for each other.
My experiences are continuous at this point. There is a new adventure everyday. Hopefully, I get a chance to share a part two of my journey. I hope to meet more Playgrounders as I’ve spoken to a few of them who I might end up crossing paths with.
Lastly, but not least, I ran out of fuel at some point near New Mexico. There was an exhibit about cars, some kind of retro style cars, so I stopped to take a look.