Monday, May 20, 2013

Hitchhiking across America: embracing optionality and risk

Have you ever wanted to spend a month hitchhiking your way across country, or see the American landscape pass by from the inside of a freight train boxcar? 

In the Vice documentary series, How to Hitchhike Across America: Thumbs Up, artist David Choe and his friend/nephew Harry Kim show us how to do just that. 


Note: You can watch the full series by clicking through to the next episode link at the end of each clip.

I started watching this series on YouTube without any real expectations and was sucked in. The two start off hopping a freight train out of Los Angeles. As they make their way, slowly, to Las Vegas, we hear a bit of back story on David's life and their immediate plans for the trip. 

While I won't give away all the details of their trip, I will say this: only in America can you hop out of a freight train boxcar and walk right over to your comped room at the Venetian.

Now, what I didn't know until after I started watching is that David Choe is a rather well-known graffiti artist and painter. In fact, back in 2005 Choe was hired by Sean Parker to paint some "graphic" murals on the walls of Facebook's first Silicon Valley office. David took company stock in lieu of cash for his efforts. Those shares were worth $200 million at the time of Facebook's IPO (about 5 years after this series aired).

As you watch David and Harry make their way across country, you begin to notice a theme. Aside from their most immediate concerns - finding a place to sleep, hitching a ride to the next town - there is no preplanned structure to their days. If the guys see an opportunity to have some fun or meet someone new, they take it. 

Sure, there's a great deal of risk in this style of travel. When they're not avoiding cops or railway security guards, the guys discuss their fears of being mugged or raped, while also acknowledging the fear most drivers have of them. It's not easy hitching a ride from strangers in a time when, as one of their new pals offers, "the media has us scared of each others' shadows". 

David and Harry and their fellow travelers have embraced these risks and try to meet them as best they can, while opening their lives to a sense of freedom and optionality. They go where they want and they can take the odd detour on their way if they so choose. In this, they might find approval from Antifragile author, Nassim Taleb, who argues for an anti-fragile world of "many highway exits and options" (more on that here). 

While I watched their (well-edited) adventure unfold, I wondered about the benefits of such of a lifestyle. Although these two can probably choose to dip in and out of the hobo life at will, maybe they're gaining an insight into America, and life, that some of us may never have. Is it possible their serendipitous travels and approach to life might open up opportunities that may never have come if they were shackled to their work desk or stuck inside a corporate office? 

While we ponder that, I'll leave you with this quote (thanks Wikipedia!): 

"It has often been said that Choe's greatest artwork is his own life. As his friend Jason Jaworski explained, "For me, there is no artwork Dave or anyone can create that is capable of completely equaling the vast canvas of Dave's life, which he paints daily while simply living." 

Your life is your own unique canvas. Try to paint something you'd want to see.