The following is an excerpt from HuffPost Travel Blogger Leon Logothetis's new memoir Amazing Adventures of a Nobody, which documents his attempt to cross the US relying on the kindness of strangers rather than money.
I admit it. This whole thing started because of an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, a depressing London flat, a subtitled foreign flick and a personal existential crisis. Sounds like a combustible combination, I know. And it was. It was also the beginning of something beautiful. Here's the thing no one tells you about an existential crisis: When you're in the middle of one, happenings strange and slight can take on meanings they would never have possessed prior to the moment when you're sitting on your couch wondering why you're alive, why you were born, and if anyone would really care if you disappeared. But at that moment--with empty beer cans, crushed potato chips, and a dead cell phone scattered about your flat--the world becomes a collection of symbols: things tiny and normal come to represent ideas large and new.
So it was when, after finishing year number five in what seemed an interminable unfurling of a lifeless, meaningless career, I sat down in front of the television one evening. "I don't have a bad life," I told myself again and again, like one of those horrible daily affirmations. "I should be happy, right? I have a home, a job, more money than I need, a dad and mum and brothers who care about me, even if they don't readily share such feelings...."
But somehow none of it felt real; it felt, I suppose, like it wasn't even really my life. I hadn't built it, hadn't fought for it, hadn't erected a real, true life for myself from the elements of passion and longing. I was lonely, yes, but not just for friends or lovers. Honestly, I was lonely for me. Sounds silly, I suppose, but all these years I'd lived with me, and never felt like I was really there. And now, here I was, in front of the television on another dull and foggy London night, considering the fact that if I disappeared, the world would be the same, I'd have left no mark upon the planet, no lasting legacy in someone's life, and that I would not be missed, even by me. To chase the thought from my mind, I picked up the remote and clicked on the television.
And I had what every filmmaker hopes his audience will have when he shoots and edits his work: an epiphany.
I'm not an intellectual. I don't speak French, I don't know how to pronounce Sartre, I don't speak the language of -isms, and until the night I saw The Motorcycle Diaries I would have identified Che Guevara as the pleasant chap who stood next to his donkey on the tins of cheap coffee. And I'm not a crier. Or I didn't used to be. I rarely felt touched by films, I never got teary at weddings or birthdays, and I never, ever, ever wept while lying on a therapist's couch. I'm a Brit. We may suck at global domination, but we're good at stoicism. Really good. Check out the Queen: the blasé raised to the level of art. So boring it's captivating.
But that's the thing about an existential crisis. All of the sudden, things change. Big questions get asked. Grown men cry. And lives are altered. For just over two hours, I followed Che Guevara (played by Garcia Bernal) as he traveled across Latin America--from Buenos Aires to Caracas--with nothing but his trusty motorcycle and his close friend Granado. That journey changed Che, and for that matter, history. What happened to those two young men as they wandered the bleak terrain of mid-century Latin America transformed their understanding of the world--and their understanding of themselves. Che would never be the same. The poverty, the weariness, the kindness, the largeness of the world and its beauty and brokenness, put the fire in his eyes that we still see in his photographs--that distant longing and determination, that knowledge that he was born for something greater than his small past or his sleepy present.
I've never considered myself a revolutionary. And I'm pretty much a pacifist, I suppose (though I'm a little shaky about any label that ends in -ist). But Che got to me. The experiences he had along his journey quickened a part of my soul that had until that time remained dormant. I felt the powerful potential of human connection in all its glory, as these two free-spirited friends wound their way into the hearts and minds of so many eclectic strangers. As the credits rolled, I left my flat, my blood moving quickly as I bounded down the stairs on a wave of adrenalin. Something inside me had awakened and, in that moment, the fresh air of the London streets filled my soul with hope. I had no grand social vision, but I sensed the need for revolution, if only within myself.
It dawned on me that my world was defined by accumulation, by the gratification of acquiring things, of seeing numbers go up and go up again. Accustomed to and enamored of such trappings, I had completely neglected the internal voice that had been sweetly crying for my attention. On that windy November night, I started listening. I was alone. Having worked for half a decade in a business run by my family, having accumulated a respectable sum of money and respect from my peers, having found myself an impressive flat in an impressive neighborhood, I realized I had no motorcycle, and I had no Granado. No trusted companion and no vehicle to carry me into the larger world.
Though I'd felt the absence of both long before Che roamed the countryside on my television, I had never allowed myself to confront what the lack of deep human connection and adventurous exploration meant: my world and my heart were too small. As I walked the cold London streets, I felt lighter with each step. I began to formulate a plan. Mission: see the bigger world, find deeper connections, build a bigger heart, grab a Granado, and find the real Leon. How? On a metaphorical motorcycle.
Eventually I found my missions, crossing a continent one act of generosity at a time. Here are some of the folks who helped.
This is Bob from Galesburg the chap who let me stay with him and helped raise $100 for me to get to Denver by train. The whole town chipped in and bought me a ticket
I did some babysitting in Denver and baked cookies with Andi!
I met this lady on one of my train journeys. She was on her way to Utah to try and get custody back from her ex-husband who she said had put a gun to her head and threatened to kill her.
This is me on the train on the way to Denver!
Follow Leon Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LeonLogothetis