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Memoirs from the Virginian wilds


He said that he’d been the best Latin reciter in his Ghanaian village before he took to the streets in Maryland.

“I used to be a high school English teacher!” he said, pounding his chest proudly. “I liked poetry very much, and foreign languages. I could read Shake-uh-speare with a loud and strong voice, clear as the autumn sky.”


He had come to Maryland 10 years ago to teach English with his brother, then had been laid off during the financial crisis. Since then, he’d taken to sleeping in Chinatown alleyways, picking up Mandarin Chinese along the way. The day we met, I was on a metro from one end of Maryland to the other, trying to reach Virginia on a spur-of-the-moment trip.

When he first plopped down next to me, he said I looked pensive. Then he casually kicked up his legs and claimed that he rode the same train every day and saw many different people, even if they never saw anything more than a homeless man when they looked at him. But people are fascinating, he said. It’s incredible how much they miss by trying to just get from one place to another and not stopping to just revel in the feeling of existing.

He then proceeded to pat me on the shoulder and quote Shelley before hopping off the train as suddenly as he’d gotten on.

“After all, m’dear, if winter comes, can spring be far behind? Just take it one step at a time.” It was only then I realized I hadn’t even asked his name. Cliche movie moment, check.

Before we move on, let me rewind. I’m an international student who has no close relatives in the United States and who, come fall break, realized the prospects of staying on campus seemed, quite honestly, miserable. I had been researching places to see autumn foliage for weeks and finally decided to board the first train to Virginia to solo-hike through Great Falls Park. It had started off as a trip to get away from the Orange Bubble and to see the glories of the Potomac; it ended up being a remarkable trip in every way more than just the destination.

I boarded the 6 a.m. to Maryland, then took a metro from one end of the state to the other. Much to my dismay, I realized there were no cabs to take me to Great Falls Park from my stop in Virginia. After sitting hopelessly on the ground for 10 minutes, despising AT&T for its subpar service, a hay-truck driver stopped and asked if I needed a ride. Of course, as all rational people who care about their safety behave, I agreed. I distinctly remember the driver telling me while I was putting on my seatbelt, “I’m no creep, honey, but I guess that’s what all creeps would say.”


This time, I got the name of my fellow traveler. His name was Doug, and he had never left Virginia in his entire life. He left at 7 a.m. every day to move hay from his farm to a business partner whom he met at the metro station, and he went home on the same route at the same time, every single day.

People think they always need change, he said, that they always have to get out of the country and see something new. But what do they ever see more than some of those “new compyootun things”? He looked at me through the rearview mirror as he said this. “There isn’t much to the world, honey, there really isn’t.”

Doug then proceeded to talk about his farm. I'm guilty of zoning out during most of his speech (there’s only so much excitement to how hay swirls), but it was still fascinating to hear how different Doug’s point of view was from Metro Man’s and how antithetical their lives were. One was always moving and traveling on paths unknown, and the other was always following the same route. However, both were equally happy with their lives and understood the world just as profoundly as the other.

The Potomac itself was, of course, one of the most breathtaking views I’d seen. However, at the end of the day, I realized that travel isn’t so much about the place you intend to go or the place you leave behind, but returning home to see what you left behind in a completely new light. I learned more on this trip than books could ever teach me because I let my questionable judgment lead me to an experience beyond imagination. As Metro Man said, there are some pretty strange things that happen in the world; some things will thrill you and some will just freak you out (“like one of those Potato Head dolls”), but all you need to do is keep hopping off at stops that make you happy and jump right back on when you need to move on. Then, hopefully, there will be a cab awaiting you at the other end. Possibly.

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Ye Eun Charlotte Chun is a sophomore from Seoul, South Korea. She can be reached at