Conversations

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photography // KIAH MCBRIDE

location // BOSTON

 

I travel because I thirst for experiences. A certified nomad I don’t know how to sit still, I just know how to get up and go--no fear, nothing holding me back. In fact, I’m the most free when I’m not being confined to one city. I like going places I don’t normally go. No bucket list, I want to see it all. I don’t believe in limitations, you never know what you’ll get from traveling to the unexpected and exploring the unknown. A life mantra.

I touched down in Boston on an early afternoon. After a three-hour plane ride to the melody of a screaming baby I was more than ready to hit the ground running. I didn’t exactly grow up watching baseball, so the Red Sox was of minor interest to me. And the Celtics weren’t my chosen team, but thanks to grandpa I knew the names of Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Kevin Garnett.

Boston wasn’t on my top destinations list either, but one thing I’ve learned about life is that every place has something to show you—either about its history, its culture, or simply yourself. It’s rare that I ever leave a city less knowledgeable than I arrived, and conversations with locals rarely fail to be interesting.

Especially ones with rideshare drivers. As an UberEats driver myself (don’t judge me), I know that the average driver isn’t simply there just for shits and giggles. They’re either seeking something, running towards something, or running away from something--and the entrepreneur-esque lifestyle is the perfect vehicle to get wherever they’re going.

 
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My first driver, Sami, shared his story of transition from LA to colder territories. He hated the lack of diversity of the city (“too white,” he said while pushing a pale hand through dark hair), and felt guilty about not wanting to get out of bed at 6AM to hit the running trails that is characteristic of Bostonians.

“I hate waking up early.” Me too.

I pointed out that at least he’s near the water. Something that I truly miss about my time in LA. Despite my couple of years of being a 30-minute drive away I didn’t hit the beach for Instagram-worthy thirst trap shots as much as I said I would, or visit the coastal cities that sprinkled the western coast—a reminder that we often take the smallest things for granted. Instead I traded in salt water for hot and sticky summers where sweat trickled down my spine before 9AM. Being in the south has its perks, but relaxing summers isn’t one of them.

A short ride later we pulled up to the Boston Park Plaza.

“Oh you’re in a good area. You’ll love it,” Sami said, plopping my suitcase on the sidewalk.

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The hotel has this grandeur about it. An elegance that appeals to my inner bourgeois. And though the lobby is more spectacular than the room I had, there was a softness about it. Besides, just a few months ago I was unemployed and unable to afford my own room, nor was I actually paying for this trip (perks of my job). I was Issa, not Molly.  I wasn’t in a position to be picky.

Plus my brick wall and across-the-street-office-building view made stripteasing and twerking to trap music in front of open blinds more enticing. I have a thing for natural light. Hopefully, a Kim Kardashian photo of my naturally light-skinned breasts won’t end up somewhere on the Internet. (But if you see them, pass them my way. They way my bank account is set up I need to collect a royalty check, please and thank you.)

I wanted to nap, but my grumbling stomach said otherwise. Legal Sea Foods seemed to be the best option a short walking distance away. Ironically I would end up at the same restaurant, three times in three different locations throughout my trip. It’s funny how we’re creatures of habit, comfortable in our cycles, even when we don’t intend to be.

 
It’s funny how we’re creatures of habit, comfortable in our cycles.
 

The daytime hours of my three-night stay were primarily spent attending a conference. At night I joined my newly-made acquaintances of ranging brown hues. Even in a strange land we formed a community (waddup #BlackAtInbound!)--clinking sangria, margarita and glasses of Hennessey as if we were old friends, discussing our shock over Janet Jackson and Bobby (the two-part BET Bobby Brown series came on during our stay) and diving deeper into other cultural discussions over warm bread and, you guessed it, food.

I did duck off for a few hours at one point. I didn’t come to New England just to travel back and forth to a convention center. I craved exploration. And while I didn’t get a chance to take a river cruise or find me a sugar daddy in Martha’s Vineyard, I did get yelled at by an older white man as I attempted to snap photos in the famed cobblestone Acorn Street (so much for the sugar daddy). I skimmed past brick brownstones typically characteristic of New York boroughs as I quickly navigated my way out of the obviously-expensive neighborhood. A black girl with locs and a DSLR camera slung over her shoulder didn’t belong there.

But I did belong in the library, which is where I was eagerly headed when a voice begging for money called out, grinding me to a halt. Okay so I did speed-walk past said voice the first time, pretending not to hear his cries for food. I, too, was hungry--and not exactly in a financial position to give. But then again, when you have more than the next you’re always the person of abundance. And if I got it, I’ll give it. So I backtracked to the grungy character, who at six-feet towered above me with straggly gray strands, pale skin and tattered clothes.

“You got any money? I’d like to eat and nobody will stop.”

“How about Panera Bread? I can get you some food. I don’t think I have any cash.” I was ready to whip out my debit card. I prefer to feed someone knowing that the money is going to a good place as opposed to feeding a bad habit.

He shifted on the balls of his feet. “I can’t really eat real meals, only snacks. Whenever I eat a meal it makes my stomach hurt.”

“Maybe you just need something healthier,” I said, starting down my usual path of preaching nourishing cuisine, then stopped myself. This man didn’t need a lecture; he needed someone who cared.

I stopped glancing around for a place to get snacks and pulled out my purse, not quite sure of what I had, if anything since money seems to leave my wallet quicker than Sallie Mae comes after her loans. But I did have something. A handful of dollar bills that I had pulled out earlier that week, thinking that I would be able to wash my car before leaving town. Luxury.

I started to pull out a couple of singles, but glanced at the man again and pulled out the whole stack ($6), folding it into his hands.

“Don’t do nothing bad with it, okay?” I said, looking him adamantly in the eye.

“Oh no, I won’t, I promise,” he said with a toothy smile. He thanked me, and as I started to walk away shouted, “I love your hair. You girls do so much cool stuff with your hair nowadays. I wish I could do that.”

I smiled and waved goodbye, silently happy that I was able to help, even if only a little bit.

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Air-conditioner blasting, the library was cool and a nice break from the heat, its centuries-old books smelling like rich history and must--a welcoming scent. I quietly captured the iconic Bates Hall with its seemingly endless row of green lamps, and slipped into the Abbey Room before stepping out into the warm afternoon air. I walked back to my hotel to change (in front of open window) before catching a ride to meet up with my newfound conference crew.

This time I climbed in the car with Sabir--a young Brazilian immigrant who came to the country eight months prior after finding out his fiancé cheated on him with his best friend. Shit. America was his escape from a drug addiction that he picked up in the midst of his emotional downward spiral. And now he was picking people for a living as a part of his recovery process.

“I didn’t speak any English when I first came here,” he said in a thick accent. “I went to Las Vegas first and couldn’t get any work, then came here and started driving Lyft. I still didn’t know much English. I would have my riders teach me little words here and there like door and mirror, and learned along the way.”

“I didn’t even know who the Patriots were. I had a scarf that someone had given me laying across here,” he gestured his hand across the dashboard. “I just liked the colors, but people kept asking me about the Patriots, and so finally I said who are these Patriots?!” We both laughed, me more so because I hardly knew myself.

“Anyway, English is a beautiful language, but I still struggle with it. I’m going to school to learn so I can talk better with my customers.”

I told him he spoke wonderfully and that I wished I could learn his language instead. And I meant it. I always feel a bit ashamed of not being multilingual (I do speak some Spanish), as if I think I’m too good to humble myself and learn a language beyond my own, especially when in another country, or shoot when in America, another neighborhood.

We pulled up to my destination, and as I got out I wished him luck with finding the right woman. He smiled hopefully. We all need someone who genuinely loves us.

 
We all share this desire for love, for acceptance, and for community.
 

That’s one thing I love about traveling. With every conversation--no matter the destination or differences in racial ethnicities or environmental backgrounds--I’m reminded that we all desire the same basic human necessities--not just physically, but emotionally. We all share this desire for love, for acceptance, and for community. We’re all wanting to be seen or heard, to know that we matter. And despite language and cultural barriers, we’re all divinely connected. And that’s something not to be taken for granted.