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Gunpowder, Soulsville, and Starting Lines

I remember the crack of gunfire and the smell of powder in the air. I remember the day this all began.

The sawdust left a trail to the bullet holes behind my desk. That was over 1,400 days ago. That was the day I knew I had to make a change.

There’s an icey spring on top of Mount Shasta, the southernmost volcano in the Cascade range. Shasta towers over northern California, a lone peak surrounded by farmland for a hundred miles. The spring is barely noticeable from Panther Meadow Campground, but if you take the small dirt path heading south, you’ll find it. It’s just a trickle of water barely burbling through a shallow field, but eventually it becomes a mighty river.

In the boiling South Memphis summer of 2012, a different spring began.

It began when my daily routine was shaken to its core by a would-be robber who was stopped cold at the screen printing company I worked for. Back then, I wasn’t doing much writing. The dream was gone. I had a steady job as a graphic artist. It was 9–5 every day, and that was enough—until it wasn’t.

 

Memphis police surround the screen printing shop I worked at after a June 2012 shooting.

 

Something happened when those .38 rounds flew through the wall. Everyone ducked. The shop got deafly quiet. And in the silence, a switch flipped in my brain.

Leaving wasn’t an easy decision. It meant turning away from a small army of people that had become family over the years. It meant saying goodbye to the owners who had given me a chance to learn the ropes, and given me a real job with a steady paycheck. But in the end, leaving was the only decision to make.

Four years later, I am out here. I am out here in a friendly house in Denver. I am out here on the plains of the Dakotas, on the coast of California and the peaks of Colorado. I am out here, and I am thinking about the time that I almost wasn’t.

This trip didn’t begin on July 31, 2016. It began in the summer of 2012, and getting to the starting line wasn’t easy. The route to the beginning took me through cell phone sales, a senior home care company and local news reporting back home. It took me through so many 16 hour work days that I can’t count them all, through an early morning talk radio show and the back of a diner washing dishes.

The route was rough. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m honored by every single one of you who writes in wishing they could do what I’m doing. I hear it once or twice a day, but I have some bad news for all of you. No excuses: you can do it.

 

I am not a magician. I am a kid from the same streets as you, from the same gyms and classrooms and cotton fields and barbeque joints that you learned from and eat at.

But I am stubborn. It took a shock to wake me up. You don’t have to be like me.

Before this life, in another world—you knew me then—I spent everyday behind the same desk, under the same lights, looking out of the same windows. I remember scrolling through my phone, seeing pictures of California, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Montana. I remember thinking that those places weren’t real. (How could they be? When crack addicts and gang members wrapped in six-foot snakes were standing outside?)

I remember knowing that I would never go to the places on my phone.

I was looking at those pictures just minutes before the shots rang out. That’s when I woke up and started fighting to make daydreams into reality. A few weeks later, I was slinging phones. A few months after that, I was writing again—a blog for the homecare company in Florida. That lead me back to Tennessee, to local news and a local diner and somehow…miraculously… onto Memphis, the NBA and an unlikely new career outdoors.

So here I stand, four years removed from the holes in the wall, and a product of unlikely circumstances. Yes, I can work from the road. Yes, that makes traveling easier. But things didn’t start that way. Remember that the next time you think you can’t do something.

Remember that, for dreams to come true, it’s never too late to make a change.

Written by

When an urban developer bought my apartment building in 2016, it pushed me out of the soulful streets of Memphis, and outside, into a life on the road. I soon found out that travel was both a cure and an addiction. And I plan to keep going, with readers alongside, for as far as this road can stretch.

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