Published Date Written by Jim Lewis
Freelance journalist William Freedman embarked on a cross-country, story-telling trip across America using mass transit – public buses, subways, county van pools, casino shuttles and the like – by boarding a local bus at a stop just a block from his Long Island, N.Y. home on Monday, Oct. 19, an adventure that brought him as far as Elizabethtown.
To travel the seven miles to Middletown, a trip served by no public transportation, he had to improvise – a ride from a new-found Elizabethtown friend with whom he stayed the night, someone he met on Couchsurfing.com who had business in Harrisburg.
So Freedman, 52, was dropped off in downtown Middletown on Thursday, Oct. 22, an enormous backpack on his back, awaiting a Capital Area Transit bus at Karns Foods that would take him to Harrisburg and beyond, to Enola, where a high school classmate now living in central Pennsylvania would drive him to Lewistown.
“A bit of a cheat,’’ he admits, but the fact is that in central Pennsylvania, you can’t get there from here depending solely on mass transit, let alone from one coast to the other. “There are going to be a couple of cheats involved,’’ Freedman said, if he is going to stick to his vow to stay away from Amtrak and Greyhound. At times, he may have to walk.
That’s OK. His backpack is stuffed with a tent, a sleeping bag, a mess kit, a cook stove, bug spray and warm socks – he’s a father of three who also volunteers as a Cub Scout leader, and is an experienced hiker. He’s carrying sunscreen in his pack, and he hopes he won’t need it to complete a 90-mile stretch through the desert between New Mexico and Arizona, where a lack of public transportation could force him to walk if he can’t arrange a ride online.
He hopes to arrive in San Francisco around Christmas Day, his notebooks filled with enough stories about local characters and legends for a book. “I don’t find landscapes all that fascinating. I find people fascinating,’’ he said. “I want to talk to people."
To finish the 4,100-mile journey, Freedman, an expert in computer technology management who also has published articles on finance, is relying on one more necessity he’s stuffed in his backpack: his laptop. On a spreadsheet, he’s mapped out almost his entire expedition, from couch-crashing sleepovers to arranged rides to phone numbers for county share-a-ride vans typically offered to the elderly, disabled and military veterans. Though such government-subsidized transportation programs offer their service to senior citizens and others in need, they can be used by the rest of us if they’re not already reserved, Freedman said.
“I want to do what the commuter does, and have that experience,’’ he said. His trip will be financed by a GoFundMe.com campaign, corporation donations and the sale of freelance articles and speaking gigs along the way, he said. You can follow his journey on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Periscope.
So far, the most moving story that Freedman, an Allentown native, encountered on the first couple days through southeastern and central Pennsylvania is the discovery that they’ve built a casino at Valley Forge and in Bethlehem, once home to the headquarters of mighty Bethlehem Steel Corp., once a major supplier of steel for the U.S.
“How messed up is that?" he asked. “It’s a sucker’s game. It ceased to be about counting our wealth and funding capital. Now it’s about dollar slots. That is the stuff I find unsettling."
But he’s found joy in setting up the trip, which seems to be a novel idea never before attempted, he said. While he had not galvanized traveling arrangements yet, he was working on it online, and solving the puzzle as he did in Pennsylvania is fun. “Serendipity has to be a part of this,’’ he said.
“I hope I’m not having all my good karma in Pennsylvania,’’ he said before leaving Middletown.