It was 2013. Early June. The Upper West Side. And I was in the driver’s seat, trying not to cry.
This was my first time driving on the island. Four minutes earlier, I’d successfully rented a car. And now I was sitting at a red light — in the middle of a crosswalk — eight blocks away from the dealership.
I respect the modern pedestrian, so I put the rental in reverse. And confidently backed into a car.
My first accident. My first time exchanging insurance. And one hell of a way to start my new 3 month work assignment: driving around the country and writing stories.
What followed was a trip. At the time, it was the most challenging stretch of my life, personally and professionally. Failure seemed pretty likely, because every decision about where to go and what to write about was mine. They’d fully taken me off the leash and given me the freedom and trust to tell stories that people would care about. Frankly, I had no idea how it would go.
On top of the pressure and expectations, no amount of “only childness” could counteract the loneliness, no amount of optimism and belief in humanity could mask the fear of fearlessly driving around these United States of America as a Black man.
I wanted to end the assignment early, approximately 12 times, out of sheer fatigue. There was also unexpected tragedy, both altering travel plans and changing the direction (and tone) of the summer.
The only consistent thing was me. And a different me than the one tasked in covering sports and pop culture. For those three months, in telling stories about this country, I was also telling my own story, clearly trying to figure out who I was, and what I stood for.
I wasn’t alone, though, in that search for answers. I knew if I did it right, people would reach out. And I knew if I didn’t make it a vanity project, and instead, let people into the organized chaos that is chronicling the unpredictable, the road trip might be a contribution.
Not the biggest thing in the world. And not something most people will ever even discover. But something that matters, to some people. A something that makes you laugh on Monday, feel seen on Tuesday, challenges you on Wednesday, makes you laugh again on Thursday, informs you through a lens you trust on Friday, and then leaves you the fuck alone on Saturday and Sunday.
The last line of my intro road trip piece:
And the last lines of my final piece, 3 months later:
I hope certain parts of this 158 day experiment made you feel something. Thank for giving me space to write, to grieve, to be extremely niche, to do an entire Luther Vandross bracket, and to slowly rediscover (again) who I am as a writer.
There are two pieces of data about these 158 days that I will forever cherish.
With a month left, we crossed 1000 people on the email list. Very cool.
2. And on the 158th day, we hit $15,800 (final exact tally ~ $15,884.41)
That’s both poetic and so amazing. Thank you all, so much. The fact that I’ve been able to give money to causes I care about and individuals who have had to financially struggle during COVID (either in the loss of work or needing to find new work that takes their health seriously) has been really important.
And there is still money to give. Still deciding between a few things, but my focus on is on my home state of Georgia. One final time — send any leads or opinions to the hotline, email@example.com.
People will always look back on 2020. And for a portion of this no-good terrible (with odd bright spots, all seemingly built out of desperation) year, I’m glad to have been a witness.
This project has gotten me closer to figuring out what’s next for me, as a writer. My Mount Rushmore of Self Doubt hasn’t gone anywhere: Did I peak early? Is working at Twitter the end of people thinking about me as a writer? Do I still have it? What, even, is it? But in 2020, I’ve finally come to terms with my greatest obstacle — thinking about my career only in convenient, highly romanticized eras.
I’ve long thought about my “Internet/Magazine 20s,” my “Screenwriting 30s and 40s” and then maybe books for the rest of the time. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that. But the more I said it, the more I was treating each progressive medium with varying levels of importance.
Understanding this, my gravitation toward projects with set end dates made sense. They allow me to be a specific thing again, for a specific period of time. And for 158 days, I got to feel like a journalist again.
Looking toward the future, what excites me is that I consider myself a journalist again. And a screenwriter. And a dumb boy blogger. And a reporter. And a critic. And an interviewer. And a person who talks on camera. And an Atlanta sports chronicler of depression-fueled emotions. And someone capable of working at a place and holding a job and contributing while still being himself.
I don’t know what it all is yet. And I’m still trying to connect the dots, while adding more dots. But after 158 days, I’m comforted in knowing I don’t have to think of myself as one thing.
Whether you’ve been around for 158 days, 2 years, 10 years, or 33 (hi mom), thank you for continuing to go on this journey with me. Thank you for your subscriptions as donations (all payments have been stopped, so no worries on that front, my name is not S***n K**g). And thank you for all the little things that kept me going.
I’m going to start working on another thing next week. When it’s ready — and when I’m ready — I’ll reach out.
Until then, stay safe.