$300 and a One Way Ticket

By David Ray

I went to boarding high school. The campus was on top of a mountain in Carpenteria, just south of Santa Barbara. We were children of the elite. I don't think it's a stretch to say we were being cultivated to rule. Amongst these privileged children, I got in a lot of trouble. After getting caught drunk in my sophomore year, I was almost expelled. Instead of being kicked out, I was shunned, treated, and looked at as a pariah. 

Needless to say, after my senior year, I felt elated to get off the mountain. I practically leaped from the mountain back down into the world. That summer, with less than three hundred dollars and a one-way plane ticket, I flew to New York City. In the Big Apple, I didn't know where I was going to sleep. Within hours of roaming busy dirty sidewalks, 2 people offered me to "crash" at their apartments. The first night I stayed in a grungy cigarette and beer can-filled apartment. I felt too dirty the next day and gave the other offer a try. Prudence Ferrari, a young lady let me stay on her couch for nearly a week. She even entrusted me with a key. She coached me on how to stay uplifted and free in the craziness of the big city. 25 years later, I still remember her telling me to smile from my cheeks and nobody can bring you down.

I explored Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and the Met. I went to my first nightclub, the infamous Limelight, and got very familiar with using the subway. And then I thanked Prudence, loaded up my big backpack, and jumped on a train to Savanah. I didn't know anything about Savannah. I just liked the name. Again, within hours of arriving a couple of kids around my age invited me to stay at their family's summer house on Tybee Island. In Jacksonville, Florida, within hours, a car full of people invited me to go to the beach with them. And then in Austin, I was welcomed in a frat house practically the moment I arrived. 

All the way across the country, going on to Colorado and Oregon and all through northern California, I was welcomed everywhere as a friend. I got rides, meals, adventures, and trust as if I'd been expected.

A month later the three hundred dollars was almost gone but not only had I never gone hungry, I felt transformed by the rich flavors of my cross-country post-high school trip. I wish I had pictures to remind some of my memories but I can't forget watching a shooting star storm from Esalen hot springs, the lightning storm shouting across the sky above the beautiful Louisiana landscape near where tabasco sauce is made, Colorado's town of Steamboat Springs in the summertime surrounded by close friends I just met, gorgeous Klamath Lake in Oregon, visiting Pearl Street mall and Naropa in Boulder, sprinting into the warm ocean waves of Jacksonville with new sweet friends, watching the bats flood from under a bridge in Austin, the intoxicatingly rich blues music in New Orleans (and staying at the runaway shelter there with a group that took me in as a brother), and so much more. You always have to be cautious but I threw myself out there and was met with so much grace and hospitality. Even so, many years later, I would say that summer is what made me. After a traumatic high school experience surrounded by people who thought they were far better than they really were, this journey cultivated the underlying foundation of my hope in the goodness and honesty of people. 

There have been many journeys since then, each with their own rewards, but the precise blend of beautiful solitary moments and unexpected companionship on this trip made me feel that my life is mythical in its own way, that there is something of the holy in having few plans and relying on others to help you with your needs. I went from New York City to Southern California by bus, train, and getting rides and arrived at a new person in the end.