The people along the way


It was in 2014 I think. At the time, I had a few employees and a PR agency in Los Angeles. The company had gone from one client to eleven clients rapidly. It was only six months into our operations when monthly revenue exceeded forty grand; even my accountant was excited.

Then I didn’t renew the retainer on my biggest client and couldn’t afford payroll. I sat on my couch in the living room in Hollywood and made a few phone calls to my few employees and told them I could no longer afford to pay them.

“It’s not that I want to fire you, it’s just that I don’t have the money to pay you.”

The conversations went somewhere along those lines. I was in disarray so I bought a one-way ticket to Seattle; I’m not sure why. Probably because I had never been there. I thought maybe I should go to Alaska, so I bought a ticket to Anchorage. Then I found an article online announcing the Midnight Sun Festival in Fairbanks.

It was happening that night.

I couldn’t miss it. The ticket to Anchorage was non-refundable, so I just bought a new ticket to Fairbanks. I grabbed my shit from the Green Tortoise Hostel, where I was staying in downtown Seattle, and ran to the train with my backpack. When I got to my gate, it felt like we were boarding a plane to the moon. It was a tiny flight with a tiny amount of people.

The hostel owner told me he would pick me up from the airport. I found that nice, but odd. We landed at 11PM and the sun was still out. At 11:30 the hostel owner pulled up to the small airport. We may as well have been in a supermarket parking lot the way the airport was setup.

As he drove me to the hostel, and on our drive there, on the side of the highway were kids and adults in costumes.

“What the hell is that?”

“Oh, it’s the festival. Beginning of summer.”

“That’sĀ theĀ festival?”

“Yeah, kids dress up and go drinkin, ya know, from house to house.”

Well, that wasn’t what I expected. It looked like Halloween had a baby with prom night. Anyway we got the hostel, which was a trailer, and in my room was an older gent about seventy years of age. His name was Alex. Alex changed my life.

He was in his bed playing with his iPad. Next to his bunk was a table with a lot of clothing on hooks and all his toiletries. It looked like he had been there for years.

“How long you been here?” I asked him.

“Since November.”

It was June 21st.

A couple days later he hadn’t moved. He was showered, in different clothing, but still laying in his bed with his iPad.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Day trading,” he told me.

“I’m going for a walk, you wanna come?”

And so we went for a hike and traded stories. He told me he had been diagnosed with cancer and they weren’t sure if he would beat it. He had come to Alaska because he wanted to be treated at the hospital he was born at. His family was in Miami. He was trying to make enough money day trading to buy his wife and kids a home in Juneau, Alaska before he died.

I tried to not make a thing about it… why do that? He knows it’s a shitty situation. No need to reinforce that he’s right. So we talked about many other things. I told him about what happened to my company, about my love of travel, about this girl I had been seeing, about why I was there. Slowly my stories changed into more of: ‘I don’t know what to do with my life’ type of stories.

He told me what it was like growing up in DC in the sixties as a black man trying to make it in business. He had a degree in economics and had missed out on a deal when he was younger because of unfair situations.

We became very close, and for three weeks we went out on these long walks through dairy farms and forests. He told me I had to find a business partner; that I could not do everything on my own. That I was more of the ‘Steve Jobs of the business’ and less of the ‘Steve Wozniak of the business’ (no offense I guess?) He told me I was playing a child’s game of life and that it was time to settle down and grow up. He told me that at some point in my life the economy would crash, and at that moment, to put every dollar I had into the market.

I didn’t want to leave at the end of three weeks, but he assured me he was okay. On my last day he pulled me over to his bedside.

“C’mere Grayg.”

And he showed me a huge house listed at two million dollars.

“Gonna buy it?”

“Ah just did.”

I couldn’t believe all his iPad shenanigans paid off. For a few months after that, I sent him emails from LA and let him know what was going on in my life. His responses were never longer than a few words.

Then one email he told me would be his last; that he had not beaten the cancer. I cried and asked if I could come say goodbye, but he never replied. I think about him always and have a collection of photos we took together.

I guess that’s why I believe in travel so much. That’s why it’s so important. Without my curiosity of some shitty high school festival in Fairbanks, Alaska, I never would have met Alex, one of the most influential people in my life.

And I think it’s less about the people I meet, and more about the vulnerable state of mind I’m in when I meet them. At home, everyone was full of shit. When I’m stuck in some trailer without a car in the middle of Fairbanks, everything might be a sign.

I wrote this cause it was on my mind. It’s the morning and this is what I was thinking about. Maybe it’s also a bit of a tribute. I write about Alex whenever I can and tell stories about him whenever I can. I guess I want him to know how much he meant to me in the little time I knew him.

Maybe the moral of this story is learn how to day trade?

About the author


I'm a high school dropout who escaped reform school when I was sixteen and hitchhiked the country as a homeless teen till I finally made sense of the world. I now work as a travel writer, marketer, publicist, I published a book and broke the guinness world record for longest road trip. I've done some other crazy shit too. But I'm still alive and seven years sober. Enjoy my insanity...

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