September 25th, 2016. Morgantown, WV. 8:15 AM EST.
I’m nervous and I’m alone. I’ve been alone for a for a little while now. This is life and I’m not sure what’s next.
Today’s adventure has me on a rinky dink shuttle to Pittsburgh, PA. It’s the first time I’ve ever traveled to a destination without meeting or traveling with anyone. I’m not adventurous; today, is more like an experiment than an adventure. On the shuttle, no one talks to anyone. The driver drives and the riders ride. I fight to stay awake because, even though I’m nervous, I never get enough sleep. And a boring hour and a half ride on the country side is the perfect sleep agent.
We finally arrive, dropped off at a Greyhound station in the heart of downtown Pitt. Now, I have about four hours to kill until I board my next bus. So, I decide to mildly explore the terrain.
I wind up in a local diner, eating a pretty decent french toast breakfast. Typically, when I’m out in public, I’ll have my headphones on blaring something. When I’m eating, the waiter checks on me and tries to make small talk. Especially when I’m wearing headphones, this is extremely annoying. My headphones are so big that my ears look like they’re wearing mini helmets, so why bother me when I don’t want to be bothered? But, on this morning, I’d done something I typically didn’t do: I let my guard down, took my headphones off and decided to not block things out. And, by “things,” I mean people and experiences.
With the headphones off, I decided to read Tiny Buddha, a book that was gifted to me by my best friend’s then-girlfriend. It borderlines on self-help; she gave it to me when she saw that I was having a difficult time after a recent breakup. In between eating and reading, the waiter came back and asked me a little about the book. I’m not too good at small talk with strangers but the conversation was harmless and not too bad. When I left the diner, I decided not to wear the headphones until I left the city. The protective cape was gone and I still had hours to go before my next stop.
With a belly full of french toast and a backpack stuffed with a change of clothes, I explored a small portion of the city. I walked a few blocks, strolling in and out of a few book stores, used record stores and comic book shops. For $17.07, I brought a graphic novel based on the life of Malcolm X, which I had no idea a thing like that could exist. Along a street leading back to the Greyhound Station was an art instillation of about three dozen people’s profile picture matched to the Pantone of their skin tone. The sidewalks were a mix of patchwork brick sideways, art creations and pizza shops. In all the times I’ve visited, it was the only time I’ve ever enjoyed Pittsburgh as a city; I was a part of the heartbeat and I felt human.
September 25, 2016. Columbus, OH. 4:45 PM EST.
I never want to ride Greyhound again. By luck, I was able to catch the Washington professional football team’s game against the New York Giants on bad cellular reception like I was listening to a transistor radio. Washington won in dramatic fashion. This was a highlight in a season where the team finished a painfully mediocre 8-7-1. But, they weren’t mediocre today. Today, they were winners.
The Uber ride from the Columbus Greyhound to the cheap motel were I was staying was a real adventure. My driver was an older man, because calling him “gentleman” would be disrespectful to the word gentle, and he was one of my favorite versions of black older men: loud, funny and vulgar. He played football at Ohio State University and told stories about coming up rough during those days. I don’t think I said more than six words in the 15 minute car rude and he didn’t mind or notice; I was too busy laughing and he was too busy talking.
After the roller coaster car ride, I finally made it to the motel. My belly is no longer full of french toast; I need sustenance. There’s a Sonic nearby occupied by unruly teenager, but I pass. I spot a Mexican restaurant and decide take the chance. I haven’t had good Mexican food since Carmona’s closed, so I was lost on what I should get. A young woman who worked there could see I was struggling and she helped me. I think it’s the only time I’ve ever asked for help from a waiter and they smiled back at me. She was pretty and the exchange was warm and pleasant. Nothing happened beyond the friendly chat, but I’d experienced a level of confidence I hadn’t felt in a while. Maybe it was my beautiful beard, maybe it was the smile, maybe she was working for a tip. None of that mattered, in truth. I got a pretty woman to smile; what’s more valuable than that?
El Vaquero was the best Mexican food I’d eaten in years.
After the food, I do a quick change of clothes and catch another Uber, this one far more tame than the previous, to Ohio State University’s campus. Lines are long, full of young people trying to make there way into basketball arena. But, tonight, there’s no game. Tonight, there only one reason to be in the state of Ohio. It’s to see Kanye West during the ill-fated Saint Pablo tour.
September 25, 2016. Schottenstein Center. 9:20 PM EST
Three fucking hours… I’ve been waiting in this basketball arena for three hours. I people-watch as the DJ plays decent records. As folks pile in, a sense of anxiety starts to slowly build. I was in a foreign place without knowing a single soul in a city. Next to me was an empty seat and it wasn’t by happenstance. Months before the concert, I’d bought tickets with the plan of going with my then-girlfriend. In August, things fell apart. I, then, made soft plans to go with my best friend, but he backed out last week. That’s how I ended up alone and nervous in Ohio.
But, when the lights dropped and the bassline ripped through the arena like a thunder shot, those feelings evaporated. On a levitating stage that hovered roughly 30 ft above the ground, which looked like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Kanye put on a stellar performance. While he performed most of The Life of Pablo, he sprinkled in a few of his classic hits along the way. I belted every lyric and every ad-lib at the top of my lungs without a care in the world. And when that feeling of loneliness began to creep in because I missed my friends, I reminded myself to live in the moment and to let go. To understand I cannot be sad over what I cannot control, to accept that my happiness is what mattered and, without guilt, not their company, and to experience what true solitude feels like.
I felt it that night in Columbus.
When the concert was over and I walked to my Motel 6 room alone on a dark Olentangy River Rd, I felt, for the first time in years, peace. I knew I wasn’t over my broken heart or out of any depression, but I remember that girl’s smile at El Vaquero and held on to the hope that I would be good one day. It was the first time since childhood that being alone didn’t feel like solitary confinement. I felt and was alive. It was and is a beautiful feeling.