Friday, May 30, 2008

Good strangers go to heaven

TYRINGHAM, MASS. – MAY 30 -- ‘You guys gettin’ in or what?’ Danny shouted out his car window. Ten minutes prior, we had given him directions using our map of Massachusetts, only to watch him take off in the opposite direction than the one we advised. Now, realizing we were right from the start, he passed by to give us a lift despite being late for a meeting with Bank of America. Even though the ride lasted only a couple miles, it was a great way to start the day after waking up in the woods at Walden Pond.

A half-day’s worth of walking had taken a toll on Brian’s left knee and right ankle. As we rested outside a small town convenience store, a man leisurely asked us if we’d like a lift as he strolled out of the store. Since a lawn mower, a hose, and some branches crowded the truck bed, we rode up front with Scott – a quiet, friendly local in his late 40s. He told us of a camping spot 10 miles down the road. We agreed that would be a good destination. ‘Here it is,’ Scott said. As he hung the right turn, his eyes widened. The campground had turned into a new subdivision since Scott’s last visit. As a consolation, he drove Brian and I to his hometown of Clinton, which was just fine with us since it was quite a ways west. We walked another eight miles and set up our tent near the banks of a reservoir. We had no idea the next day would bring us to the west side of Massachusetts.


The blister on the bottom of my left foot was intolerable after Brian and I began walking the next day. Although I’ve been opposed to blister-popping from the start, I went into CVS with the intention of picking up a few needles while Brian waited outside. I came out with a handful of safety pins and a new friend, Monica. The ride Monica ended up taking us on was the furthest by anyone thus far on the journey - around 50 miles. Monica donated granola bars and water to us as we parted ways. As Brian and I walked away, I had a smile on my face while I remembered the discussions in the car, ranging from the truth behind The Salem Witch Trials to her youngest daughter’s ‘Stranger Awareness’ lesson in school. Apparently her daughter came home one day extra fearful of anyone she didn’t know. Monica had to explain to her that there were good strangers and bad strangers. ‘Mom, do good strangers go to heaven?’ the daughter had asked.

Our spirits were high as we walked eight miles toward Amherst, the home of U-Mass. Staying only a couple hours, we were pleased to be moving on to North Hampton by the way of a free bus ride thanks to A.J. the driver. Being a small community, I stuck out with the big blue backpack strapped on my shoulders.

Meaghan, who had hitchhiked through Alaska a year ago, inquired about the pack and our matching t-shirts. After getting to know each other, Meaghan reached out to us by picking us up at our campsite, cooking us breakfast, and giving us a lift all the way to the Appalachian Trail - a destination we had planned to reach in the distant future.

The two days since waking at Walden Pond are a blur as people’s good will has rushed us through the state. We have yet to ask for anything out of anyone along the way with one exception – inquiring about the possibility of sleeping in a jail cell at a small-town police station. The answer was ‘No’ – unless we did something very illegal. We walked out, still stuck at Point A, in-need of place to lay our heads for the night. We took our time, stopping to chat with a man playing guitar on an outdoor staircase. We explained our project to him as he continued to ask questions. ‘Tell America hello for me,’ he said as we parted ways.


Emily said...

You guys made me nervous walking so close to that roadwith the cars coming from behind you! Next time cross the street so I'm not such a mom while watching your videos, OK?! :)

Anonymous said...

When are you going to stick with what I thought was the main intention of this project, doing random acts of kindness for other people?? Sounds more like people are nicer than you give them credit for! And do you honestly expect people to not help you out when you tell them what you're doing? Keep up the publicity.

Anonymous said...

Random acts of kindness, sounds like you guys are hitchhiking across America. I'd REALLY like to see some random acts of kindness sometime in the immediate future. Thus far, the only thing you've done for someone else was to mow their grass and even that wasn't thankless, that women rewarded you with food and a place to stay for a few days. You keep asking people "what do you think about our trip?" Thus far, your trip is nothing more than a little camping and a lot of freeloading off of others. Stop by a homeless shelter, raise some money for cancer or give someone a "piggy-back" ride to their next destination. Let's see some kindness fellas!

Alicia Holmes said...

Ignore the negative commentary, I find it kind of rediculous that Someone can sit at home behind a computer keyboard, under an anonymous comment and tell you guys what you should be doing, when this isnt even something that they are associated with.

Grow some. Use your real name.

I on the other hand, want to say, Good luck, and safe journeys. It was interesting talking to you two guys, and you brightened my Co-workers day by just telling us about your project. You dont have to DO things to do good. Just being kind is sometimes enough :)

So, Thanks!! and GOOD LUCK!! From the Girls at the Mobil in Sheffield MA. Hope your sammiches were good!

Nanci in Rye, NH said...

Hey Anonymous - Someone is missing the boat here, and it isn't Brian & Denny. Naysayers - go back to the Home Page and read the right-hand column. They don't say they're going to walk coast to coast, they say they're going to "travel" it. Take tomorrow to just walk all day. Then come back and tell us how far you think they would get in 3 months without taking rides. I think their blisters are proof that they're walking more than they should. Now go back to that right hand column. Read "Why We Are Doing It". Among other things, you'll see, "inspiring others with our stories","counter the negative news", "kindness is contagious", "live in No Stranger Land". When was the last time you heard a story where a couple of unknown 20-something men were invited to the family dinner tables, into the cars and, yes, even into the homes - OVERNIGHT - of strangers? Unsolicited??!! They are bringing out goodness, kindness and trust in total strangers. Oh yes, they are creating their own NO STRANGER LAND. Maybe B&D aren't doing the standard and expected "random acts of kindness". But if you don't believe that their travels, their stories and their hearts are slowly and quickly creating No Stranger Land, you just aren't reading the same blog I am. And these aren't boys who are easily forgotten. People recognize and remember the effect B&D had on them. If you don't believe it, start watching the number hits they are getting on their blog. These guys are impacting people. I am very proud to be own and wear my NO STRANGER LAND shirt. Because I have met two young men who are 'going the distance' (about 3000 miles, in fact) to do what they can to make the world a better place. And every word and video on this blog proves to me that they are succeeding. So Brian and Denny - stay strong, stay safe, keep going. You're doing an amazing job.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a little anonymity on their part would make this project a little more exciting and true to its original intent. And why is it so surprising that people are helping them??

"Oh, two boys walking through our small town that never witnesses such a display, I think I'll ask them what they're doing. Oh, well now that I know, that sounds cool, I want to help."

Give me a break, ya, they got balls to try what they're doing, but good will is evident, we don't have to walk across to America to find the people that naturally help others then glorify these two for finding these people (even tho the kindness is what these two are supposed to be randomly doing).

America is not Stranger Land, why do we have to prove otherwise? I'll tell you why, because two college grads couldn't figure out what they wanted to do with life so they decided to do something random while they were still young. They decided to just travel, carefree. And hell, they're doing a pretty good job of making it look like there is a purpose behind it.

I agree with the other "anonymous" above. Start "doing" something.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nanci in Rye,
I don't think it's so much the "naysaying" as it is the actuality of what really is going on. On the surface, B and D's idea sounds awesome, who doesn't want the world to be a better, happier place? However, most people would find it hard to believe that two kids (one of which is two years out of college) have the tenacity to ask for donations to spread kindness. Couldn't they have gotten a job, saved some money and then took off on their adventure? Wouldn't that be the most admirable thing to do? Did you happen to ask B or D how much of their own money they put toward this trip? Most would agree that the money donated towards their adventure might have been better spent by The United Way or Salvation Army. Sure, it's probably only a few thousands dollars. No big deal, right? That would only feed and provide for a few hundred people for a couple of months.

Don't get me wrong, what they are doing makes for a GREAT story. And that's what they're banking on, literally. They probably hope to finish this trip with a publishing deal in the works. My question to you, Nanci, is the following: Does helping others, sharing kindness, spreading love, peace and hope really require money and trekking across the country? Are B&D the only ones doing these things? I sincerely hope not. And I sincerely hope their randoms acts of kindness and spreading of love have a HUGE impact, they will need to. Otherwise, it might be difficult to explain why they needed all of those donations, money that might have been better spent at a soup kitchen instead of glorifying a couple of 20 something egos and personal agendas.

Here's a few links you can check out:

jay said...

Hey D - its jay from high school. Somehow stumbled upon your project tonight on facebook...amazing stuff!! Really impressed. Keep up the good work - sounds like you're out there making a big difference.

Anonymous said...

Just curious, wouldn't these 3 months be better spent on something else? Like raising money to donate somewhere? Or volunteering all these hours for community service? Or spending all this time and effort on creating your own non-profit organization? That is how you would really make a difference. How is this journey going to change anything except how popular you made yourselves from making people believe you are doing something amazing? Oh wait, the former options are probably too boring and wouldn't get you any legit publicity.

There are many people who make a significant contribution to their communities and nation on a daily basis, but do they get the kind of recognition and reward they deserve? No! And are they looking for it? No! They contribute to the better of humanity because that is what they feel is right, and thanklessly do. Take a lesson from these selfless heroes.

Nanci in Rye, NH said...

What? So we condemn them for making this an adventure? For creating an audience? Heaven forbid...for having fun?? There's a lot of charity money raised in this country through celebrities, dinners and 'balls'. Rewarding donors through corporate exposure. And a large percentage of those donations go toward advertising and that's how we even KNOW about these foundations. How is that so different? Of course, kudos to people who serve food in shelters silently. But that isn't inspiring people on a grander scale - making them look at life and strangers differently. In B & D's words, this is a study of how Americans interact with one another in today's society. They spent a day in a high school. Don't you wonder after watching that video how that day might affect some of those kids? These guys have only been on the road for a week and a half - give them a chance!! I'm sure they'll find lots more ways to help and affect people they've never met. And their message will probably grow and even change along the way. But don't fault them for spending hours on their blog to let US know that, at least in New England, maybe people are not as fearful or cynical of strangers as they thought. Maybe they are going to learn more than we are along the way. Maybe that is exactly what it will take to impart to younger generations that America is not only what they see on the news. But isn't that the point? After all, when was the last time you heard the sentiment expressed in "Tell America hello for me"?

Mandy in Scotland said...

Wow. I cannot believe the amount of negativity out there. First of all, this trip was never meant to be two guys on a charity mission. There is a huge difference between kindness and charity. For one, kindness is much easier for someone to repay. Yes, we all know that there are many people out there doing an amazing amount of charity and anonymous acts of kindness, which is fantastic. But why should you be negative about someone just trying to make a little difference by making connections with people they never would have met otherwise. It's supposed to be inspirational in a small way. Maybe mowing someone's lawn isn't going to change the world, but the stories might make someone like me look at their life, and motivate them to get off the couch and do that bit of charity that they've always been meaning to do or help the elderly lady next door that finds it more difficult to get out of the house each day. Maybe those being overly critical are absolutely perfect people who shun all conveniences, welcome all strangers, and devote their entire lives to helping others. If so, then well done. You have every right to criticize away. If not, then maybe be a little open minded about two guys just putting themselves out there and seeing what happens. Who knows where it might lead? For them and for those they meet. To Brian and Denny; try not to stress too much, which is obviously easy for me to say sitting at home, well-fed and blister-free. You've got a long way to go (sorry!) and there was always going to be some places with more opportunities to do good than others. More moments will arise as you continue, I am sure. Walk on, boys.

Anonymous said...

LIke the anonymous comment said before, "What they are doing makes for a GREAT story." That being said, I still don't understand the need to ask for donations from other people. If these two kids were doing all of this on their own tab, I think it would be almost impossible to be unsupportive. But they aren't, and I think that's the part that makes it difficult for most people. As previously stated, it makes for a great story, but how is a great story going to put a roof over someone's head and food in their tummy? I, like most others, find it hard to believe that the checks written in support of the no strangerland project might have been better received by a professional charity. I don't see why one would need to walk across America to spread kindness, that's something we all should be doing everyday, wherever we are, regardless. I believe people should do whatever to make themselves happy, but it is difficult to support those doing it entirely on someone else's tab. Two college grads probably could have gotten part-time jobs for a couple of months to save enough money for this adventure. But then that probably would have cut into the spotlight when it came to setting up interviews and calling TV stations.

As said by the other anonymous, this makes for a great story. But I think that's about it, and at the end of the day, who really benefits, or who benefits the most? I think it would be awesome if they took the entire no stranger land bank account and donated it to a worthy cause and then wrote a story about that. Heck, I'm sure they could even find a charity or soup kitchen in whatever city they are currently in. Now that, that would make for an INCREDIBLE story. Granted, it wouldn't have the glamour of a $3 million beach house, but one would be naive to think that it wouldn't forever change the lives of the people it was donated to. Now don't get me wrong, I think what B&D are doing is cool and I would love to walk/camp/ride across this amazing country. However, let's not get what they are doing confused with philanthropy. Rather, let's stop feeding their egos and accept this trip for what it is, A Trip, by whatever means available, Across America.

flipmode923 said...

Hey Anonymous - I do Cancer Research; Have a Little Brother in the Big Brother Big Sisters Program; Give Plenty of Money to Both Environmental; Public Health, Medical Research; and I'm impressed. Its easy being a cynic, easy. Asking and trying to answer big questions - Now that's guts. What is the big deal about a job - get over your antiquated ideas work. If these kids reveal a little bit of humanity in an increasingly negative world - Let's let them try - Stay Human.

mae said...

I think meeting and talking to people and being pleasant while doing so is a pretty random act of kindness. Perhaps their random act of kindness is bringing out the kindness of others. And I find it hard to judge someone when barely knowing them - a blog can only tell so much! Maybe these college kids had jobs, maybe these college kids did save up money for this trip, maybe these college kids are living the dreams that I am sure other college kids wish they had or could do, maybe we should give Brian, Denny, and all other college graduates a little more credit. And who said all these donations were contributing to their trip, that they were even going to touch any of it? They said that they each have a $5 daily allowance. I can hardly fault them for spending a little more if there are unexpected medical expenses. Perhaps, at the end of their journey, they will put all the donations to a charitable cause. We all need to stop assuming the worst and keep an open mind as Brian and Denny are keeping theirs open to the people they meet and the places they go.