Moving is hard. Sometimes, it’s brutal.


Our last meal together was at Olive Garden. It could have been worse; it could’ve been Chik-Fil-A. In a couple hours, I was to board a bus headed for Philadelphia. My second of ten years was to take place there, but before that, I had to say goodbye to North Carolina. And Ashley.

We had only been dating for a month and a half – hadn’t even known each other for three – and from the beginning it had been established that I would leave, for reasons not entirely clear even to me. That didn’t keep us from soaking up every second together, never apart for more than a few hours. Our instant rapport was built on youthful zeal and fragility, a translucent love that began fading the moment we touched it.

For my last two days in Charlotte, Ashley and I were inseparable. She helped me pack up my apartment, drive my boxes to the post office, and unload the few pieces of secondhand furniture that I owned. With friends wanting to hang out and say their goodbyes, we savored our last, precious moments alone together. Our final night was spent in my spacious but now bare apartment. I laid my one blanket out on the carpet and Ashley slept in my arms.

She volunteered to drive me to the Greyhound bus station, and it was on the way that we stopped for committee-tested Italian cuisine.

A Greyhound bus station can be many things – cold, sticky, desolate, haunted – but one thing it can never be is romantic. No movie builds to the climax of a man swooping into the bus terminal just as his lover is about to give her ticket to the wheezing, septuagenarian driver. Greyhound stations are where stories end, not begin.

We stood in line together, me with a bulging suitcase, a green backpack, and a blue laundry bag stuffed with a cornucopia of my possessions, the draw string wrapped around the wrist of my right hand while my other held Ashley’s. We had arrived early because of her inherent punctuality and now we had a half hour to wait. She couldn’t wait.

My decision to move to Philadelphia, the decision to bind my fate to my10 Cities/10 Years project, had been made before I met Ashley. I suspect if she had come into my life just a couple months earlier, my life would have been very different. I couldn’t know it then, but the year ahead of me – indeed, the decade – would be tumultuous and exhilarating, crushing and beautiful; most of all, lonely.

Ashley was crying at my side, her stoic resolve dissolving with the clock’s merciless ticking. Up to the end, she refused to ask me to stay. Fearing she would, I had briefly turned bitter towards her in our last week together, but she held her tongue. She was young, but wise enough to know better. It didn’t mean she didn’t want me to stay; it didn’t mean I didn’t want to. I am a stubborn man, though. With her tears turning into sobs, I couldn’t give her the one thing that would have comforted her.

She left me then. It was too much to ask of her that she wait to watch me step up onto the bus. She fled back to her car and suddenly it was just me, facing my uncertain future alone.

That’s not entirely true, actually. Standing in the line before me was a young boy, not quite 20 (granted, I was only 23). When Ashley left, he looked at me with a quizzical, unreadable expression, suggesting neither empathy nor embarrassment. His confused, blank eyes looked like he was seeing everything for the first time.

“She okay?” He asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, doubtful.

“She loves you, huh?”

“I…” I was taken aback by his forwardness and also not entirely sure how to answer that question. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Okay.” I hoped that would end the conversation but he soldiered on. “Where are you headed?”

Since we’d soon be boarding the same bus, I saw no reason to not tell him: “Philadelphia.”

“Yeah? I’m going to Pennsylvania, too. My family lives in…” some city I don’t remember, a place that might as well have been Moscow for all I knew of Pennsylvania at that point. I flashed one of my patented half-smile/half-grimaces of acknowledgment, hoping that would suitably express my incuriosity. Typically, I might have engaged in innocuous chatter with a stranger – why not, I had nothing better to do for the next day – but Ashley’s absence was pulsing inside me, reinforcing how drastically uncertain I was of my choices.

“I’ve been in an asylum,” my glass-eyed companion offered without prompting.

Of course he had.

Feeling it prudent to give this boy the opportunity to talk about himself, I offered a simple, “Oh, yeah?”

He talked more, much more, but what he shared about himself I no longer remember. There was only one person on my mind. Was she still sitting outside, crying in her car? Or had she left immediately? Should I call her, attempt to say something comforting? Or would that just make things worse?

Eventually, the boy sensed my disinterest and went silent. Or, perhaps more likely, he had found it hard to maintain conversation with a pillar of salt.

When our bus was ready for departure, I gladly let him board first. The boy picked a seat near the front of the bus and I, avoiding eye contact (even as I felt his gaze on me), headed to the rear of the bus.

I’ve ridden Greyhound buses all over the country. From Kansas to Boston, from DC to Detroit, and countless stops in between. They aren’t pleasurable trips, but can be generally tolerable as long as you procure a few things: a seat to yourself, preferably not near a baby; a sizeable music library; and something to read that won’t give you a headache (magazines or paperback novels are good; Russian literature tends to strain the mind too much). If you’re so inclined, a few mini bottles of liquor can be of benefit, too.

Already drained of energy before we even pulled out of the station, it would turn out to be one of the most grueling bus trips of my life.

Our fully booked bus departed Charlotte midafternoon, due to arrive in Philadelphia in the morning, the following day. That trip is roughly 16 hours, a long haul, but hardly a marathon. The early going was nothing unusual. We made various stops as we progressed up the coast, out of North Carolina and up through Virginia.

When we made bathroom or food breaks, I found myself shadowed by the young, Pennsylvania-bound man. He attempted small talk, but after a few hours on the bus and still raw with emotions, I was in no mood for it. Though he eventually picked up on my unresponsiveness, he still hovered about me, always standing a few feet from me like he was afraid I and the bus would leave without him.

We were scheduled to arrive at the Richmond, Virginia bus station before midnight where I and most of my fellow bus riders were to catch a transfer at 12:30. Instead, inexplicably, traffic outside the city stopped to a standstill. By the time we got through and arrived at the station, it was coming on one in the morning and the bus to Philly was long gone.

The station was bustling with passengers. Apparently a number of delays had riders stuck in Richmond, and for those of us continuing north, we had to wait for a bus that was scheduled to depart at seven. We spread out in the terminal, hoping to find even a few feet of unclaimed floor space to sleep on (it was too much to hope for a free seat).

Even when I did manage to find the bare minimum of unoccupied space, I couldn’t sleep. I had my three bags with me, essentially every possession of any value stuffed into them, and didn’t feel safe falling asleep with so many restless, gray-eyed strangers around. For nearly six hours, I held loosely onto consciousness, but even when exhaustion began to win the battle, my growling stomach remained vigilant. I hadn’t eaten since Olive Garden, and my only options at that time of night were whatever the depleted vending machines had to offer.

Finally, sunlight peaked through the grimy windows and, with it, the promise of my Philly-bound bus. Unfortunately, when you’re sleep-deprived, hungry, and sore, the length of time between sunrise and genuine morning is interminable. As I waited for the departure announcement over the loudspeaker, I couldn’t sit still: I paced, I sat, I stood again; I carried all of my bags into the bathroom and then right back out.

To my great relief, my bus did arrive and in time, I was on the road again.

We pulled into downtown Philadelphia in early afternoon, a quarter of a day later than I was scheduled to have arrived. I still had to figure out how to get from Market Street to my apartment in West Philly. I was in a city I’d never been to before, weighed down with heavy bags (growing heavier with each passing minute), and completely unfamiliar with the public transportation system.

By the time I made it to my new home, I was too exhausted to process that my new apartment – nay, my new room – was barely large enough for a full-sized bed or that the bars on my window warned of a rougher neighborhood than I was accustomed to. I pulled out my one blanket, the one I had shared with Ashley, and laid it out on my hardwood floor. Then I passed out.

That wasn’t the last I saw of Ashley. In fact, she visited just over a month later, and we reconnected a few times over the years of my project. But what I left behind in Charlotte, what I abandoned with her, would never be recaptured again. Of course, it couldn’t: when we separated that first time, we were still in the midst of our initial infatuation. Looking back on those brief few weeks is like peering at an insect frozen in amber: It will remain forever pure.

I will always regret and not regret my decision to leave. I know if I had stayed, the relationship would have fizzled out in time – not because of Ashley, but because of me, because I was still so young and so far from who I would become with the years of travel and experiences. Knowing that to be true doesn’t make the sting of that first move any softer. It was something I had to go through. Loss is a fundamental part of traveling; people rarely tell you that.

Now, when I’m asked how I can move so much, when questioned how I stand to leave behind places after such brief stays, I can only think, “It will never be that hard again.”

Keep reading: Chapter II – Philadelphia

Here in New Orleans

I arrived 5 days ago into a city largely lacking electricity and sweltering under an unremitting sun.  I currently do not have internet on my computer so I am unable to update in the way I’d prefer.  Rest assured, when I am connected again, I will be back to my old yammering self.

Until then, just know I’m here, I’m queer… wait, no, that’s not it.

I’m here, I’m a little sweaty, and I’m ready to explore.

More to follow soon.

Where Next?

I guess it’s time to stop pussyfooting around the question with coy non-answers.

I’ve already been letting people know for a couple weeks, so I might as well make it official here.

The eighth city out of ten will be:

New Orleans

I’ve been eying the city with great interest for quite some time now, and had even considered it an option at the very beginning of the project before Hurricane Katrina wrecked havoc and took the city off the table.

Despite still being in the midst of recovery, New Orleans is resurgent and represents the truest form of an American city.

For those of you doing the math at home, that only leaves two more cities to go, and one of those has been set in stone since I began this project, New York City as the tenth and final city.

No reason to pretend otherwise, I also know where I want to live in my ninth year:


Normally I don’t announce my next city until about 3 months out from the move, so announcing my next city 6 months out (let alone a year and 6 months) is quite unprecedented.  There have been many reasons for waiting in the past, not least of which is because it usually takes 9 months before I feel secure enough financially to plan my next move.  I’m no more secure this year (actually, quite a bit less so).

I’ve also never wanted to distract from the city I’m living in.  It would defeat the purpose of the project to give short shrift to my current city by focusing on the next.

So why decide this early?

Well, first off, just because I’m penciling in the next 3 cities, that doesn’t mean something might not change.  A month before I moved to Nashville, I almost changed my mind and moved to Austin.  Ultimately, I went with my first choice, but there was a week where I seriously thought I might end up in Texas.  Things happen, life occurs, so any of a million events could change the course of the project.

But the reason I’m announcing now is because New Orleans is such a quintessential American city, 10 Cities / 10 Years would have a glaring hole in it if I were to omit it.  (Similarly, I have always felt Boston needed to be represented).  I can’t imagine any other city feeling more relevant to this project.

The second reason I’m making my intentions clear now is that I’m hoping there may be a helpful stranger out there in the internet ether who can be of assistance.  After the store closing that put me out of work, finding a permanent replacement job has been tough.  This is going to be the tightest year I’ve ever had, and I’m hoping there might be an arrangement made for a convenient living situation in New Orleans.  House sitting, a cheap sublease, something that would help mitigate my depleted funds this year.  I’m not looking for charity, just a mutually beneficial arrangement that will allow me to hit the ground running when I arrive on September 1st.  I’ll be in the city for exactly a year, so a twelve month situation would be ideal, but I could work with any time frame.

I’m putting this out there: Whether you’re a regular reader or just coming across the page for the first time, could you spread the word to some New Orleans’ residents who might be interested (I need to live in the city proper, I don’t own a car) and send them my way?  I don’t think I have ever used this site for such a request, but here it is.  Again, I’m not looking for money, I’m looking for opportunities.

Until September 1st, though, I’m here in Seattle, and I have plenty more to explore and experience before I’m ready to move again.


The Challenge… and The Move

I haven’t posted much in the last few weeks.

As you might imagine, making these moves once a year can be a wearying ordeal.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve doubted the project, wanted to quit, wanted to stay put, considered moving to Austin instead of Nashville, and generally felt overwhelmed by the daunting task of relocating, yet again.

Moving is an exhausting activity.  Even if it’s just from one apartment to another in the same city (and I’ve done that plenty), it is inevitably hard.  Moving from city to city multiples that exhaustion tenfold, physically, mentally, financially and, perhaps most of all, emotionally.

I haven’t felt like writing, or taking pictures, or even reading.  I find myself zoning out while listening to music, not really appreciating the songs that, at my worst, normally keep me sane.

So why do it?  Why 10 Cities in 10 Years?

It’s the most common question I’m asked, followed by, “How do you pick your cities?”  The how is random.  The why…

The Challenge

There isn’t, really, just one reason, though I think they all tie together.  Something pulls me, something pushes me.  It’s not spiritual.  It’s personal.  I need the challenge in my life or I fear I might just fade away.

School was fairly easy for me.  Even once in college, I found I could not pay attention at all and still ease through with mostly A’s.  I hit a few speedbumps (*cough* Chemistry *couch*), but even those were mostly the product of my complete disinterest.  Hell, I spent my final semester writing a novel throughout all of my classes (never taking notes) and I still went out with a 4.0 for that semester.

I enjoy intellectual games and problems, and I certainly don’t claim to be any great intellect (I have known far smarter people than myself), but the greatest challenges in my life have always been social.

Taking a shy, introverted misanthrope and turning him into a well-rounded, personable life-of-the-party sounds like the ultimate challenge.

(It also sounds like a Reality TV show:  “The Social Butterfly, coming this fall from Fox!”)

Has that transformation happened?  Well, let’s call it a process.  I’m certainly more approachable than I was in high school, but I can still walk through a crowded room and go unnoticed when I’m not feeling particularly social.  Someone who met me now would likely describe me as quiet, withdrawn, a bit of a loner (that is, until we had drinks).  But someone who knew me when I was 15 would almost certainly recognize a huge evolution.  It’s all about perspective.

Forcing myself out into the world, out among strangers and into public situations where I have to assert myself or be lost is the great challenge of my life.  Spending 10 years on the road seems like sufficient testing grounds.

So, is that my why?  Not exactly.  It’s part of the whole, but I didn’t dream up this idea just to turn myself into a Big Man on Campus.  I have loftier goals, you might say, all of them tied into my writing and the larger audience I hope to one day find.  But as much as I want to have an influence on my world, I want the world to have its influence on me (Be in the world and of it).

The Move

I almost gave up.  5 years into this project, and for the first time since I started it, I seriously considered throwing in the towel.  I know a few people in my life who might like that idea, but I think even they would understand how much of a failure that would have been in my own mind.  I’ve come this far, I’m not stopping now.

I pretty well have an apartment locked up in Nashville, and based on the price and location, it’s probably a shithole.  Back to living like I did in Philly.

This move is proving to be one of the hardest in all 4 ways: Physical, Mental, Financial and Emotional.

Simply put, it’s a challenge.  And that’s the point.