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On the road in "Sharemerica": An odyssey begins

Editor’s note: Local photographer Bryan McCormick recently left Las Vegas on an open-ended journey into the nation’s “sharing culture,” which he plans to document in words, pictures and a variety of other media. Each week or so we’ll post a dispatch from wherever he happens to be.

 

THE CALL

“We are thinking of selling the house.”

I hadn’t heard from my distant absentee landlords in quite a while, and I had expected to have a conversation about renewing my lease. I did, as it turns out get a reprieve of many months, but it was clear then my days in the house where I am writing these words now were coming to an end.

I have to thank the owners of the house because I am not sure if anything else would have lit such a fire under my ass. Vegas is a strange place in that it is both at once home and not home. Maybe like a mediocre restaurant you’ve come to eat at every day. It’s not bad enough to never go back, but not great enough to recommend, either. You can become uncomfortably comfortable here, and that, exactly, is where I was.

Many of my friends had left in the prior year and many more would leave after that phone call in December 2014. More than 35. Those who had left had become ghosts. I didn’t like that idea at all. I didn’t want to become one myself, but I wondered if it was we who remained that had become the spirits, while the rest of the world moved on. I liked that idea even less.

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The mass exit had certainly darkened my mood. Some blamed “Uncle Tony” Hsieh and the implosion of the Downtown Scene, such as it was. But I’d lived here for nearly six years and knew this exodus was part of a much larger turning of the wheel that never stops. If it hadn’t been this particular implosion, it would have been another.

Regardless, I had a decision to make. Do I stay, or go? And what then? Where then? And why?

Roll back the tape a few ticks before that phone call, because this is critical. 

By sheer coincidence, a friend had recently gone rogue, heading off on a world tour on a boat. I didn’t want to do that, exactly. But he seemed so damned happy just being out there. It was after a day of drinking six large rice beers with him on a quick visit he made to town that I got to thinking. That was when the first seed was planted.

I also knew of a considerable number of people who for all intents and purposes had become working vagabonds. Their places were just a box for all the things they’d collected, in which they hardly spent any time. One had reduced his stuff pile to six boxes’ worth so that he could be free to wander where he liked and take projects that paid less, if anything at all. “I have over 75 offices in New York City,” he said, showing a slide of his many WiFi-connected cafe haunts. Hmmm.

I knew one other thing, too, snapping back to that moment of the landlord's phone call. 

There was no way in hell I wanted to move for a third time in six years to a new place in this town. For one, the amount of stuff I had, even after two mass-purge attempts, was just stupid. I realized there was a room in my house that had all my books and papers, and I never went in there anymore. “Boy, is that dumb.” I looked into the closets; I had 10 shirts I never wore for every one I did. Same with shoes. I have never wanted “stuff” less in my life than at that moment. I realized I could get rid of 99.999 percent of this and never miss it. Most of my life had become screen-based, anyway, or at least screen-enabled. I live on a 13-inch screen. I spent that Christmas on the couch with a fire going, drinking wine. Something I never do alone. Something was happening. More seeds.

While I had connections to many people here, I was pretty sure the town itself I did not particularly love. In fact, I’d begun to hate it, mostly because things I like get painted over and knocked down all the time.

As I have become fond of saying to people of late, “I no longer need to worry about playing the long game.” (Quickly followed by, “I’m not dying, but I’m not getting any younger.”) I thought maybe it was time to be slightly more adventurous with the remaining higher-quality time I had left on Earth. For those wondering, I listed my age at “105” on Facebook. The truth? Not quite that old, but some days it feels like it. Aches. Pains. Eyesight that could be better but won’t ever be again. Yes, I take pictures so that scares the hell out of me.

So, to summarize: Too much stuff. Not a lot of love for the town. Not getting younger. About to become “homeless.” Not having “maximum fun.” In a good place of inner personal balance — which is rare.

Okay. I knew that I was going to leave town and dispose of all the possessions I possibly could, using the proceeds, as so many have, to fund my escape from the great island in the Mojave. That was the “easy” part. But try doing it. It’s not as easy as it looks. Also, I wasn’t exactly sure where I’d go or why. I can do my job from anywhere with a solid Internet connection. I’ve lived in quite a few places in the U.S. but have flown over everything else. How could I see more before I decided to plunk down? It would cost a fortune I didn’t have, wouldn’t it? Dumb!

 

A DANGEROUS NOTION PUT TO THE TEST

Nearly contemporaneous with this tug of war inside was a fascination with the so-called “sharing culture.” So many of my friends had posted about taking vacations using Airbnb or Homeaway or similar services. And people were always giving me coupon codes for ride shares or other sharing things I couldn’t use because it wasn’t legal here yet or didn’t make sense. But it was pretty much everywhere else a happening thing.

This seemed really great and almost too good to be true. I’d spent years in my prior life traveling, and it was a drag. I remember waking up in a hotel one day after nearly a year of travel and having no idea what city I was in. Panicked opening of drapes. Gaaaah! No! Not at all cool. Not the experience I’d want now. I wanted to get to really know places, embed myself, travel slow and really see.

This dangerous notion then is this mission. Can a person give themselves nearly entirely over to the “sharing” culture? And what does that even mean? What are we sharing besides dirty bed sheets and unknown regional allergens? Who are the people on the ground making this happen? Why do they do it? What will go right? What will go horribly wrong? And what happens to the idiot who puts himself in that ludicrous situation? And then documents it! For people! 

Since I want to see everything and not own much, I will have no car. I will ride-share, use a bus, local transit or a train! I look at a lot of maps. I use spreadsheets. After a lot of models and scenarios and maps and reading and research that took months, by gum, it seems doable! Almost foolish not to try! Genius! A name for the thing: “Sharemerica”! Pulitzer!

And now.

From a house full of stuff, I have now shrunk my belongings down to a duffle bag and a camera equipment case. And a guy who has never liked traveling much at all will be doing a great deal of that over the next year and possibly more. You’ll get to read my stories and see bits of what I have seen. And we will find out together what this is really all about. Heck, maybe it’s the next revolution in America, selling it all and wandering. Or will I end up back in Vegas buying back all my crap from my “friends” at a steep markup before they leave town?

And now, with that long preamble, by the time you read this my amble will have begun.

 

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