(15 years ago I conducted an email-based interview of Mike McIntyre using questions posed by members of the two kindness classes I facilitated back then that used his book as a focusing agent. As a wrap up to this class this year, I present this transcript from that interview. -Andy)
– What led you to structure some aspects of your trip so rigidly (i.e., no use of money, no phone calls home to Anne)?
1a. I did not take money for two reasons. One, the whole trip was a test for me, so not having funds kept it challenging. Two, I wanted to also put the country to a test. Not accepting money meant that if anyone wanted to help me, they pretty much had to invite me into their lives–giving me a ride, a bed to sleep in, a place at the family table, and so on. If they had simply given me money, I never would have heard their stories.
1b. I didn’t want to call Anne because I thought that if I heard her voice it might make me realize I was doing something semi-crazy and lead me to quit the trip. Also, believe it or not, being in that penniless state took a lot of concentration and energy (you never knew what was coming next), and I wanted to stay focussed on the moment.
– Why do you think that it was mostly poor and working class people who helped you on your journey?
2. A lot of poor and working class people helped me, I think, because they could easily relate to my situation (or the situation they perceived me to be in, since most never knew what I was up to, and just assumed I was down and out), many of them having been penniless themselves at some point in their lives. But I should point out that several relatively well-to-do people stuck their necks out for me, which really surprised me.
– Why did you not take a straighter line to your destination?
3. I didn’t take a straight line to Cape Fear because it wasn’t a race. I could have hitchhiked the interstates, got picked up by truckers and reach the East Coast in a week. But that wouldn’t have been very illuminating or challenging. I wanted to stick to the back roads because that’s where the stories are, plus it’s a lot safer. There was no itinerary. I just held my sign out and went where the kind strangers took me.
– Having reached “the place of no return” in finding that there is no Cape Fear, how have you lived your life differently?
4. This may come as a disappointment, but I don’t know if I live my life all that differently as a result of reaching Cape Fear. I’m not as scared as I was before the trip, that’s for sure. And I know I’m capable of doing something that frightens me. But there hasn’t been some dramatic transformation, and sometimes I wonder how much we can change.
– Have you reconnected with any of the people you met along the way? If so, with whom and why?
5. After the trip ended, I wrote to all the people who helped me and I thanked them. I heard back from about 75 percent of them. A couple years later when the book came out, I was on a TV show called Caryl and Marilyn: Real Friends, and they surprised me on stage during the interview by bringing in a few people from the book: Edie, from Idaho; and Carol and Baxter from Tennessee. It was a real treat to see these good people again. Edie was so overwhelmed by the whole experience. She had never been on a plane before, nor to California. She was so grateful she wrote me a letter and offered me 10 of her best acres on the land she owned in the Tetons, where her dream was to build a cabin and buy a horse for her handicapped grandson (granddaughter in book). Naturally, I declined as politely as I could.
– What would you do differently if you set off on such a voyage today?
6. The one regret I have about the trip is the hitchhiking. It’s really stupid. If I were to do the trip again, I’d walk.
– What stands out most vividly in your memory now that the trip is 5 years in the past?
7. Even though it was more than five years ago, I can remember every mile, every face of that trip. I’ve never been so focussed in my life. It was the greatest experience ever for me. And as relieved as I was that it was over, I was also sad. Life would get comfortable again, I knew instantly. There was something intensely exhilarating about being exposed and vulnerable. And those people who helped me, they were probably taking a greater risk than I was. Amazing. The people, the stories. That’s what I remember. I’m about to go on a year-long trip around the world and I already know it won’t be near as interesting or real as those six weeks in ’94, simply because I won’t be naked and in need. That’s a tough place to get to, but I’m grateful I got there once.
Thank you Andy for sharing your interview. I enjoyed reading it very much. I just finished a book called “Wild,” written by a woman who hiked on the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself following her mother’s death. Like the Kindness of Strangers, it covers many of the same issues for a person traveling alone. She also recieved unexpected kindnesses along the trail. I think you would find the book a good read.