I note the obvious differences in the human family.
Some of us are serious, some thrive on comedy.
I’ve sailed upon the seven seas and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world not yet one common man.
I know ten thousand women called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts while lying side by side.
I note the obvious differences between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
-Maya Angelou (Poem: The Human Family)
“I’ve been on a cheeseburger kick lately.”
“Yeah that sounds pretty good right about now.” James says. He’s been sitting a few rows behind me on the train.
If I had to guess I’d say he’s in his early thirties. He seems a bit disheveled and he’s always reading the same Field & Stream magazine each time I walk past him on my way to the bathroom.
“I think I overheard the conductor say that there’s a McDonalds open until midnight a few blocks away.” I say.
“Mind if I join you?” he says. “I didn’t each lunch or dinner.”
Even though I prefer to do nearly everything alone, even eat, I decide that it would be nice to walk with someone for a change, “Not at all.”
“Well, we better hurry then because we sure don’t want to get stranded out here.”
“Yeah, I missed my train in Siberia once, what a mistake that was. I read the ticket wrong and missed it by a full day.”
Its funny how I can laugh about that now. I guess it’s true what they say, time does heal all wounds.
James and I cut through an empty Kalgoorlie train station and towards the Golden Arches. They’re yellow light shimmers over the tiny town like a halo. This is the first of two stops the Indian Pacific makes on the way to Adelaide and we have about 45 minutes to get off and stretch our legs or walk to the only place that’s open at this hour, which is of course a McDonalds. You can find a McDonalds in 118 countries around the world and as embarrassing as this is to admit, I often find myself at one while traveling because of situations just like this.
It’s a cool crisp moonless night and there aren’t any signs of life out here. Kalgoorlie is 370 miles east of Perth and it took us just about 11 hours to get here. The town was founded in 1893 during the Kalgoorlie gold rush. The population once exceeded 200,000, but since the mines out here have dried up, today only about 30,000 people live here.
“You said you went to Siberia once?”
I go into my spiel about how I’m trying to make it around the world without airplanes and James says, “This is actually the first time I’ve been away from Adelaide.”
I’m confused so I ask, “You mean like your first time to Perth?”
“No, I mean I have never left my hometown, I’ve never traveled more than 20 miles away from Adelaide.”
“You’re joking!” The thought of never leaving my hometown blows my mind, “Oh my god, we’re complete opposites!”
I can’t even comprehend what my life would look like had I never left my hometown of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. Even before I started my around-the-world journey, I loved to travel. As I was finishing up my graduate degree in Pennsylvania, I started applying for jobs in Hawaii. You don’t really have much say about where you get to live when you’re a kid, but the second the ink dried on my diploma I was gone.
I filled my car up with my things and drove across the country. Once I ran out of country, I put my car on a cargo ship and followed it to the tiny chain of islands in the Pacific. After island fever hit on the fourth year, I decided to try Seattle and after two years and too many Birkenstocks, I was off to Miami.
My entire adult life has covered the four corners of the country, but I’m equally fascinated by James’ story to stay in one place. I’m dying to know how someone could be so different than me in that regard. Doesn’t everyone want to see the world?
I want to find out what makes him tick so I ask him why he’s chosen to live in just one place his whole life and why he’s never felt the need to travel outside of it.
“I’m afraid of flying, but I also just never felt the need to go anywhere.”
“You mean you’ve never wanted to see anything else? What about Sydney or Melbourne or Moscow?”
“Nope not really, I’m pretty content where I live. Adelaide has everything I need, you’ll see once we get there.”
I can’t imagine staying in one place for more than a few weeks at this point. The last time I “settled down” was way back in London and that was for a whopping total of 9 weeks. There’s been a famous quote about travel that keeps popping up over the past few years by Robert Louis Stevenson. He said, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
I must admit, I never understood the essence of what he meant, until right now. While looking over at James I realize that, while yes, I love to see new cultures, try new foods and to hear foreign sounds buzz up against my ears. But what I’ve really grown to love about travel is it’s movement.
To wander, to wake up at sunrise in one place and to see it set in another.
“So then, what made you want to go to Perth?”
James jumps at the chance to tell me, “Well, it was for a woman.”
We both smile and then laugh as I howl, “Of course! I should have known!”
I’ve found there is no greater bond between men from Sudan to Siberia, Allentown to Adelaide than when they discuss women (soccer is a close second). The second a woman is introduced into the conversation it always creates this instant camaraderie between us. We immediately know exactly what the other man is going through and the conversation usually starts with a sigh and ends with a laugh or starts with a laugh and ends with a sigh.
James opens the door to McDonalds and I follow him through. The smell from an overworked deep fryer is a combination of gross and intoxicating. It’s nearly midnight and the place is completely empty. The sole employee is at the register and he looks more than ready to shut up shop and go home. He’s not exactly thrilled to see us so I tell him, “The food on the train was overpriced and awful.”
Our only other stop over the next 30 hours is Cook, which is a ghost town in the Outback so this is our only chance to fill up on anything other than stale train food.
After James and I get our orders we make our way over to a pair of plastic purple seats. As he unwraps his burger he tells me that he hasn’t worked in two years. It’s really hard for him to find a job in Adelaide. He’s tells me that he used his unemployment check to pay for his ticket to Perth and that he only has a few dollars left until the end of the month.
“So this girl must be pretty special then, how did you meet, was she visiting Adelaide?”
“Actually we met online and this was the first time I ever met her in person. I took the train out to Perth two weeks ago.”
“Wow that’s one hell of a first date. Where did you stay?”
“I stayed with her and her kids. She lives with her parents.”
This blows my mind. To me, this sounds awkward and excruciating. “So for a first date, not only did you leave your hometown for the first time, but you spent nearly two weeks living with her, her kids and her parents?”
I cringe as I ask, “How was it?”
James beams, “It was great, I can’t wait to go back.”
As I shake my head in disbelief, I think, this is why I travel – to move, then to sit.
To sit and share a cheeseburger at midnight with someone that’s completely different than myself.
The conversation is similar to others that I’ve had with people out here on the road. I find myself and the people I’m talking with to be more open than normal. We’re often sharing bigger secrets or deeper fears with each other than we do our closest friends. Perhaps it’s because we both know that we won’t run into each other again. I won’t be at their local supermarket next Tuesday and they won’t be at my favorite coffee shop a week from Wednesday. But for the moment, our journey through life becomes a shared one, the cheeseburger soul food and the friendship instantaneous.
As James and I both quietly chew on our cheeseburgers he pipes up and says, “I hate onions.”
I laugh to myself and say, “Me too my friend, maybe we’re not so different after all.”
Footnote: To read an earlier chapter about my strong dislike of onions: Click here.