10.) The Hitchhiking Years: A Desert Tribe from a Kingdom Far, Far Away
The best example of America that I ever saw was in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. I never got to see the pioneers of the Wild West, but I did know a group of men, who - when they were in their 20s - went into one of the most incredible deserts on the planet, and found a fortune. It was oil, a strike so big that it would influence the entire world, and shape geopolitics from then on. I knew these people and they were adventurers of the first order.
In those early days, Arabia was living in another century, so being there was equivalent to time traveling. The year I was born in the oil town called Dhahran back in 1954, there were still tribal clashes in the deep desert, featuring camel charges. It was quite a place to set up shop.
These American pioneers from states like North Dakota, Texas, and California, would eventually establish little camps, and bring their wives. Everything had to be brought from somewhere else. They literally constructed three towns from scratch - complete with their own little airliner. Oh, the logistics problems! I saw Yankee ingenuity at it's finest. There was a constant stream of challenges, like nothing I've seen here, and watching these adults solve them was truly stunning. The place they created would go on to be a bizarre mix of modern American life including cheeseburgers and Little League, and the ancient culture that was already there. From this strange blend, a new tribe began to emerge: American kids born in Saudi Arabia. That was me - these were my people.
I have seen many examples of citizens taking care of each other in the States. Volunteers went to New Orleans. Citizens give to the Red Cross. However, when you are Americans living in another country, basically out in the desert, there is a closeness that springs up that was a beautiful thing to behold. If a person from those towns was in trouble or just in another country traveling, and they needed hospitality or help, the doors were thrown open like nothing I have ever seen here. We had to look out for each other, and we did.
I would see 10 or 12 kids at my parents' farm in Massachusetts. We had kids from those oil towns visiting my parents in the States when my siblings and I weren't even there. We were all in it together, and everyone looked out for everyone else. I would run into someone's Mom or Dad in Lebanon and they would make sure I was okay, just as if they were my own Mom and Dad. It was a tremendous experience - and I bet it was like that in the first settlements here in this country as well.
This meant that there was a long list of people in America that I could stay with on my hitchhiking trip. It wasn't an imposition, it really wasn't. It was tribal. Besides, everyone was so homesick that we would be delighted to get to talk with someone about the desert kingdom that we missed.
So, when I made it to Spokane, Washington, I called a girl from my older sister's class. I probably hadn't talked with her longer than a few minutes at a time in all the years we were growing up together in Dhahran, but we were from the same community. Most of us had known each other since kindergarten, so by the time we went away to school, we were close. I always thought that was cool.
She was probably 20, and I remember talking with her in Spokane and going out to a restaurant with her. Nothing romantic or sexual happened - it wasn't like that at all. We were just from the same tribe so I stayed with her at her place, and thanked her for her hospitality in the morning and left.
I saw her back in Arabia and we were once more in our different social circles. I thanked her again but she acted like it was no big deal. It was just the way we lived back then. Still, that particular show of kindness always meant a lot to me, which is why I put it on my map. Recently, I was looking at the website these American kids from Arabia still have - the tribe gathers for reunions, and it's a huge ongoing situation. I was sad to see her name on the list of people who've died. I'm so glad I had that one great conversation with her in Spokane.
To review, I had come through the wilds of Montana, and experienced a low-point with the 3 threatening scoundrels on the way down 89. I had patched my attitude back together with a trip into Yellowstone, but I was still not thriving. For one thing, I was starting to miss my family. I had gone away to boarding school when I was 15, and the homesickness had been intense. This time, I think being on the road made it seem longer than it had been. Summer vacation was slowly approaching but I was already beginning to feel the need to go home. Sure, by the time I was 18, I thought I was a man of the world, but looking back, I was little more than a kid out there. I mean I was pretending to be strong but it was partly an act.
I don't want to sound wimpy here - I really loved seeing northern Idaho, for example - but I was a little bit lonely. So to roll into a town like Spokane, where I would later live for a couple of years by the way, and suddenly be in the company of a nice woman from the tribe, was just great. I remember talking with her at the restaurant, and we both missed our parents, and friends, and our hometown. So, that was a warm break from the harshness of the road.
And yes, this was the place where I hitchhiked out around 7 miles and got stuck, so I had to hitch back to downtown Spokane and start again. But my mood was calm and I was happy because I had seen one of the tribe. It was time to hitch across the state of Washington to Seattle.