Last week I had lunch with a 22-year-old boy named Ebram who is walking across America.
Yes, literally walking. Yes, literally America.
I didn't know that's what he was up to when my sister Sara connected us over e-mail. He was just a classmate of hers at Boston College (my own Alma mater) who wanted some advice on freelance writing. He did mention something about being in California on account of the beginning of a journey, but I assumed West Coast road trip, not full country foot trip.
When we set the plans, I asked if he had a car to get around, and he said he'd be getting around mostly by foot. "That's going to be tough in L.A." I told him, not knowing that L.A.'s got nothing on Colorado...in February.
Things started to become clearer when Ebram asked if the cafe I'd chosen had enough room for the push cart he uses to get from one place to another. I envisioned one of those tall, rectangular granny grocery shopping carts common to the New York city set. But Ebram's push cart is nothing something a granny would use, and it's not something that would fit in New York City. It's cart is the kind you use to, say, walk across America.
He explained his plan to me with a look that acknowledged how crazy it sounds. "But people do it all the time," he told me, "and there's a whole network of people out there to use as a resource."
I'll be honest. I thought he was crazy. I thought, you poor, sweet, idealistic Millennial biding your post-grad time with a, frankly, dangerous adventure. You're like that SNL sketch they ran two weeks ago - "You Can Do ANYTHING!" - that made fun of 20-something lost souls who believe that, so long as it fulfills them, they can absolutely make a life out of Irish step dancing while doing Chinese calligraphy.
Then my 22-year-old self slapped my 28-year-old self in the face, and I started to look at Ebram through a slightly less cynical lens.
So the kid wants to walk across America. So he's looking for a great, big adventure. So he doesn't know what to do with himself after college, but refuses to sit on his parents' living room couch.
Should we be so surprised given the way kids these days grow up? (yeah, I just said kids these days. It's come to that). Many are sheltered in non-diverse suburban communities. They collect friends on the Internet, not at the bus stop on Hollywood and Vine. They learn through text books and local field trips, not be actually going to nation's landmarks. And, and maybe rightly so, they're not allowed to ride their bikes past the end of the development.
I get why Ebram wants to walk across America. I'm still worried for him, and I'm still not sure he's going to magically know what he wants to do for a living once he gets to the other side (note: my words, not his), but he'll probably know a whole hell of a lot more about who he is, and what he's capable of handling. He'll probably also have a thousand stories from a thousand people who've lived longer than he's lived. And if he does end up following the passion that prompted our meeting - his passion for writing - then he'll no doubt have something way more specific to write about than the contents of this very blog.
"I think what you're trying to do is awesome," I told him as he prepped his push cart to take off on another leg of the great walk, and I meant it.
Why not walk across America instead of taking an entry-level job in finance? At the end of the day you'll learn way more from the walk than you'll ever learn at the bank.
And isn't that what being a 22-year-old should be all about?
You can follow Ebram's journey via his blog - Heybram.com - and Twitter - @ebrammegally. Or you can earn major karma points and host him on his trip. Go to heybram.com/ii to look at his journey map, see if he's passing through your area, and fill out the google form if you're interested in hosting. Somewhere Jack Kerouac just rolled over in his grave...