Transcript for Richard Grant – American Nomads, Wanderlust, Van Life


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you on a journey we are there was just

two guys that looked at me like I was a

big pork chop that had just landed on

their plate and they said they said to

me in Spanish they said are you here

alone and unarmed there was about five

years of my life where I didn’t have an

address and was just get getting around

the American West and going down into

Mexico by various different means lived

in my car a lot prevailed on the

hospitality of strangers a lot I spent

quite a lot of my life in dangerous

situations wasn’t exactly a plan of mine

but I remember everything I got assigned

by a magazine cover Snoop Dogg’s murder

trial in LA this was what back there I

guess and at perform kind of a sales act

on my girlfriend I said listen I know

this sounds crazy but I think we need to

leave the throbbing heart of downtown

Manhattan and we have to Pluto

Mississippi population seven for the

forty minute driver in the nearest

grocery store in a state where you’ve

never been before

and if heard many bad things about and I

remember one time getting I basically

got forced into doing a bunch of cocaine

with three police officers in the inner

in a cantina and they were trying to

sell me drugs they thought whatever if a

cleaner is down here in the sierra madre

he must be here to buy a drug so these

but for me it was him it worked really

well i was very happy in my 20s and 30s

just as a restless rootless wandering

male without any obligations i never had

any money it was always flat broke but i

had a lot of personal freedom and that

was my goal in life and so i was

satisfied

what’s up folks Xavier katana here and

you are listening to the human

experience podcast our guest for today

is mr. Richard grant Richard is a

journalist and author whose interest in

exploration and wandering has taken him

on a number of riveting travel

adventures this was a phenomenal episode

to do Richard has traveled like I said

extensively all through the United

States and we covered some of the

stories that he had to share American

nomads is the book and you are going to

love this episode here is mr. Richard

grant

[Music]

the human experiences in session my

guest for today is mr. Richard grant

Richard it’s a pleasure to have you here

sir welcome to hxp

than to be here Richard I I’ve fallen in

love with your work I know you’ve

written a bunch of books but for the

people that don’t know who you are can

you just give us a short brief

introduction to what you do please well

I’m a journalist and an author and a

very occasional documentary film

presenter I made a documentary for the

BBC called American nomads which was

about all the different nomadic

subcultures in North America past and

present I’m done another another few TV

things but mainly I write books and

magazine stories yeah that’s that’s how

I found you is by watching your

documentary and then I got into your

book and it’s such an amazing writing

style I mean you you certainly have a

way with the pen I mean it is it is a

sword or something there for you well

it’s it’s been my sole source of

sustenance for the last 25 years so you

know a right to eat yeah I mean so we’re

talking about nomads today I mean how do

we define what a nomad is well for me

and nomad is someone who doesn’t feel

stable when they’re stationary they feel

a sense of stability and comfort when

they’re moving when they’re on a journey

and that could apply to you know some

guy in Africa herding goats on foot that

could apply to a hobo riding a freight

train across America right now that

could apply to somebody following her to

cattle on a horse nomads have a

different understanding of what a

destination is a destination is just a

pause in the journey in every arrive in

a place with the same mindset as

somebody who’s no

no man that don’t attach much importance

to the idea of home but the road is is

the home and I would also say that

nomads have a particular idea about what

freedom is you know we talk a lot about

freedom in in this country and we think

it has to do with you know liberal

democracy the right to vote the rule of

law or that kind of stuff but nomads

have a completely different idea of what

freedom is for nomads freedom is all to

do with mobility and open space and the

ability to travel unfettered and often

uncovered nomads do not tend to get on

well with government and I was while I

was researching for this conversation I

read an article about how 99% of our

history has been lived as nomads it’s

only in the last 1% of the time that

we’ve been here on this planet that

we’ve developed this idea of one place

the sedentary sort of lifestyle as you

say I mean how do you feel this has

changed over time why do you think this

has changed over time so much well you

really got to look at the the invention

of Agriculture I mean I forget the exact

numbers but you know for the as you say

for the great majority of human history

we were kind of wandering unto gatherers

you know we’d hold up in a cave here but

you know if the game moved on we’d

follow the game that we needed to

survive and then once once agriculture

was invented I think that was 9,000

years ago but I’m not certain about that

you know then there was a then there was

a good reason to stay put your food was

stationary it wasn’t wandering away on

the hoof and really sedentary society

grew out of agriculture then you also

what you had at this after we’d

domesticated crops we domesticated

animals and then you had what’s called

pastoral nomadism is in that term you

know there would be people who take the

sheep and the cattle and the goats out

to gray

and some of them as people would just

stop coming back to the to the village

they would just become full tat

full-time nomads with the livestock so

that was another form of nomadism

you know some people say that we’re

hardwired for it I don’t I don’t know

whether that’s true or not but it’s

certainly an argument that people may

hate that we’re wired to be nomads and

that sedentary living is a recent

experiment and it’s caused a lot of our

social problems I’m not sure whether I

go along with that I’m least willing to

listen to that argument hmm Richard let

me just I just want to check I’m getting

some dropped dropped samples let me just

make sure that the recording sounds good

just I’m gonna pause it right there okay

on one second and so you talked about

this it’s ingrained somewhere in our DNA

that we are meant to be you know nomadic

right I mean that’s that’s that’s an

argument that you know a lot of people

have made that since we did spend so

much of our evolutionary development on

the move that it’s kind of encoded in us

that desire to move and explore and see

what’s over the horizon that’s obviously

you know how the world got people out of

Africa was that desire to of people to

move on and experience new landscapes

and a lot of it just a lot of it

historically just came came down to

following animals that were trying to

get away from this yeah I mean you wrote

an essay for Eon where you talked about

the conflicts between nomads and this

sedentary and and how this this conflict

has played out on almost every continent

why do you think the quote civilized

have one where you know we’re in this

fixed position where we live

okay so let’s just think about this

y-you know this conflict between between

farmers and nomads between city dwellers

and nomads as crops up on like you say

every continent except Antarctica which

is more or less a uninhabited and it has

it has to do with conflicting

philosophies of land use

you know nomads want land to be theirs

there to be crossed you know grazing is

there to be reached whereas the farmers

and civilized people they like fences

they like roads they like taxes they

like boundaries they’re like rectangles

civilization comes over the land in a

kind of a grid work you know people our

buildings have corners nomads prefer

yurts and teepees around and that don’t

have any corners and prefer brown shapes

and they want land to be smooth and to

be able to be crossed easily that’s the

root of the conflict I think the reason

why nomads have lost this conflict is

that civilization has proved more

effective at generating technologies at

generating large populations and nomads

have to live in balance with the natural

environment if they start overloading it

the resource runs out that you know

there’s no more grass for the livestock

or you know you over hunt the meat if

you get too many people there’s nothing

to eat the nomads live living kind of a

lean balance with the natural

environment where a civilization found a

way to increase its numbers you know

through living in cities through

practicing agriculture and and the other

big thing is is literacy but most nomads

in human history have not been literate

and literacy as a way of storing

knowledge is a much more effective

system than oral history so that gave

you know so the civilize had greater

numbers they had more technologically

advanced armies and they had this system

of knowledge to draw on you know you

mentioned technology and I think this is

an important part of it I mean it it

seems that technology has helped us in

many

but in other ways it’s really hindered

our progress I mean we with the advent

of social media we’re so trapped on our

phones it feels like this auspicious

sort of way we are trapped in in this

idea of using our cellphones to connect

with others in this good-hearted way but

essentially we’re not doing that in real

life we’re not connecting with people by

looking at their face we’re connecting

with them through Facebook updates and

retweets and likes and you know so it’s

frustrating yeah I mean when when

digital technology arrived and anyone

that criticized it was called a Luddite

I don’t think if you if you criticize

social media and smart phones now you

get called a Luddite because I think

awareness is now grown that this is this

is a major it’s food it’s made us more

connected but those connections have

become less valuable and less satisfying

what is the biggest nomadic group in the

20th first century America numeric play

the largest group of nomads that you’re

looking at in America today would be

retirees living in motor homes I think

there’s a last last I checked there was

a quarter million of them and a lot of

them have sold their houses and put the

money in their motor home and they’ve

just live on the road here and maybe

stop in and visit the grandkids but I

found it really fascinating subculture

partly because I’m from Europe where

grandparents do not do that they do not

sell their houses and take to the road I

think it’s a sort of manifestation of

that wanderlust in the in the American

tradition and they tend to travel in in

in in clubs or groups or herds you could

say and I remember seeing them in the

Arizona desert in the winter as a big

congregation of him at a place called

quartzite Arizona and they were circling

their motorhomes like like like covered

wagons on the Prairie and in the 1860s

they’d have a Kemp four-hour in the

middle of the motorhomes and they would

get together and kind of drink cocktails

and

tell stories and very happy people on

the whole it seemed to seem to be a very

satisfying way of living to them why is

there why is there this idea of the Old

West why does that appear in their

lifestyle I mean I think it’s crossing

the same landscape I think the idea of

nomadic freedom is you know which is the

thing that they’re after is was it was a

big feature of the old wait I mean both

cowboys and Indians were both horse

nomads so I think I think they feel a

part of that that nomadic tradition that

was such a big part of things in the in

the Old West

hmm a new city you know and their

t-shirts that have sort of herds of

Buffalo or wild horses or symbols of

freedom and mobility you know I want to

know why there is this sort of

resurgence I’m not sure if you’ve heard

of this trend that’s what’s happening on

social media it’s called van life we

heard of this I mean I’ve heard of it

I’m no expert on it but tell me more

it’s I mean it’s this romanticized

version of living in this really small

van most of the pictures on Instagram

show you know this really hot girl with

this guy

it sees ABS I mean it’s it’s nothing

like what you would expect someone

living out of their van would be

whatsoever so I mean I mean is there an

element of fakery to it at least on the

Instagram purposes yeah I think yeah

there is I mean I hate to say it but

yeah it seems like a lot of it is

orchestrated for that picture yeah

they’re not showing the parts where you

have to pee in a bottle or in a poop in

the woods they’re not they’re not

displaying that part of it I mean

there’s a grimy aspect to living out of

your car but why do you think there is

this romantic notion this idea of

freedom aspect of being on the road I

mean I think there is a genuine aspect

to freedom there and I think there’s

also you know it’s it’s it’s culturally

imprinted on us as Americans you know

through Jack Kerouac and Jack London

Road movies and you know there’s this

there’s this alternative to the to the

rat race that exists in America that you

you know people people dream of living

on the road getting out into the wide

open spaces it’s it’s the kind of the

other American dream isn’t it there’s

there’s the American dream with the

white picket fence and the two kids and

sending them off to college and

bettering that bettering the family over

the generations but there’s also a kind

of subversive American dream which is

you know burn down the house and saddle

up the horse and get out on the road

yeah I mean it I mean now in today’s

culture it seems like you know you’re

working your nine-to-five by the time

that you you get home you’re so

exhausted all you can do is watch TV you

know maybe you throw something into the

microwave it’s a dreary lifestyle and I

think now with this this idea of living

in your van at least you’ve paid or

you’re paying off something that you own

it’s not being flushed away with rent

and I think more people are are starting

to identify that the system is flawed

the current system is flawed well it’s

just not very successful in producing

satisfaction happiness the

parents system so people look for

alternatives and we know even the idea

of living in your van sure it’s grimy

and you have to subpoena maudlin and in

it I know because I’ve done it but you

have a measure of freedom it’s not

complete freedom but it’s more freedom

than most people have and you have

independence and you’ve got a feeling of

adventure in your lives which if the

nine-to-five version does not provide a

venture right you know unless you let’s

see get into weird drugs how long did

you spend sort of traveling and driving

around wandering around there was about

five years of my life where I didn’t

have an address and was just get getting

around the American West and going down

into Mexico by various different means

lived in my car a lot prevailed on the

hospitality of strangers a lot and then

it finally became inconvenient as I was

starting to I started to write stories

for the magazines and I needed a bank to

catch the checks to get a bank account

I needed an address so I rented a little

$300 a month kind of cottage thing in

Tucson Arizona and I used that as a as a

base but I basically you know I wasn’t

there I think in for the next ten years

I never spent more than three

consecutive weeks at home why I was I

would go home I would write story and

then I would get back in my vehicle and

go off to there you know what’s always

for story sometimes it was for let’s

gonna have a look at Montana or I wonder

how so-and-so is doing in San Francisco

it was just very restless in that phase

in my life still and you know but I’m

trying to settle down now

is there a location that that drew you

to it that maybe you found yourself

going back to more than once I’m in lots

of

lots of different locations go back to

you I mean I’m living now in Mississippi

which is kind of an odd place for a guy

from London England to end up but I’ve

already think Mississippi is kind of one

of the best-kept secrets in America as

this reputation was just being backwards

and stuck in there you know stuck in the

past and nothing much going on but I’ve

always had a I’ve always had a really

good time in Mississippi that somewhere

I’ve always come back to in the

southwest I lived I sort of based myself

in the Southwest for a long time

Montana I’d go back to a lot I lived in

I lived in New York before I moved to

Mississippi and you know I Love New York

I’m just I just don’t have enough money

to live there yeah was there anywhere

that or any time in which you felt like

this is a dangerous situation that I’m

in right now

I spent quite a lot of my life in

dangerous situations wasn’t exactly a

plan of mine but I remember I was I got

assigned by a magazine to cover Snoop

Dogg’s murder trial in LA this was

brought back like in the nineties I

guess and so I went down into his into

his neighborhood in Long Beach you know

the sort of bottom of South Central Air

and I just started asking around you

know what did people think of snoop in

the trial then I found out that there

was all these young guys who were trying

to get out of their gangs and into the

rap business and I ended up writing a

story about those guys and spending

about four weeks riding around up South

Central LA with these gangsters who were

trying to become rappers so that was you

know there was obviously moments of

danger there but nothing happened you

know people kept telling me how

dangerous it was in South Central and

you know I saw some edgy moments but it

was it was okay and so then what happens

is you build up this probably full sense

of confidence you know that I went to I

did stories in Haiti people said oh

Haiti’s like really dangerous you know

went to Haiti nothing bad happen

I found it really fascinating I went to

cover the Zapatista uprising in southern

Mexico whereas at all you know don’t go

it’s too dangerous I went you know

nothing bad happened so you start so you

start to when people warned you about

going to dangerous places you start to

take their not take their warnings as

seriously as you might because you’ve

been in all these places that people

have said oh my god don’t go there right

but then I was living in southern

Arizona and I started hearing stories

about the Sierra Madre Mountains in

northern Mexico and what you’ve what

you’ve gotten Sierra Madre is just kind

of Wild West that sits on America’s back

doorstep you can drive down to the

border you can see this mountain range

filling up the southern skyline and the

mountains could go on for 900 miles

they’re about 70 miles wide there’s only

two paved roads there’s four canyons

deeper than the Grand Canyon there are

still Native American tribes living in

caves and hunting with bows and arrows

there are still people prospecting for

gold with mules you know I’m talking

about in the 21st century but the

economy of the Sierra Madre is growing

drugs and it’s a very violent lawless

place and everyone kept telling me well

you can’t go up there it’s too dangerous

but because I had built up this sense of

confidence I decided to go into the

Sierra Madre and try and travel the

length to these mountains and write a

book about it and it turned out to be

you know very dangerous indeed in what

sense was it dangerous

traveling was difficult because when

where there’s no law you know that when

there were some there were the

occasional police officers but they were

all working for the drug cartels and a

member one time getting I basically got

forced into doing a bunch of cocaine

with three police officers in it in it

in a cantina and they were trying to

sell me drugs they thought well if a

green noise down here in the sierra

madre he must be here to buy a drug so

these three cops kept chopping out lines

of cocaine and pretty much forcing me to

snort them then telling me that they

could get me great weed they could get

me good cocaine straight from Colombia

come in on a small plane I mean that’s

that’s kind of how that was the extent

of all so what happens were in lawless

places is that the people have to vouch

for you with their life essentially I

mean I got to know people at the

northern end of the mountains and they

basically vouched for me I said look

this guy I vouch for him with my life he

doesn’t work for the DEA he’s not gonna

cause any problems and they would kind

of they would kind of passed me down to

the to the next Valley to the next

village and I would have a name of

somebody to look up to I would be

physically brought into the next village

and they’d say okay here’s this guy I

take care of him he’s okay but a lot of

it was just the social instability

because these were these had been just

poor cattle ranchers farmers there was

no electricity in a lot of these

villages but they had money from drugs

and the thing that they chose to spend

their money on was cocaine alcohol an

ak-47 that made for very volatile social

mix that’s fascinating man I loved it I

mean in cocaine the cell of a truck I

know also that the you know that the

kind of Mexican machismo is particularly

strong in that part of Mexico up in

those mountains so you got you got much

she smile you’ve got like a river of

booze you got cocaine in and everybody’s

armed we

aka 47s so things can things can go

wrong in a hurry yeah for sure several

times I just had to sort of scranton out

and hide and then so yeah I was talking

about my system of travel here it’s all

personal introduction uh-huh and it was

working quite well for me I’ve got about

two-thirds of the way down through the

mountain range and just meaning my

notebooks were just filling up with what

I thought was really fascinating

material and then my kind of chain of

human connections were ran out and I

came out of the mountains into the city

of Durango and I saw an advert for this

new tourist resort that was up in the

mountains it said it said there were

cabins there were horses that were

swimming and I thought to myself well

I’ll go up to this place which is

obviously it’s safe to go as a tourist

and then I’ll make some friends there

and somebody will pass me down the

mountain range to their cousin or

introduce me to someone in the next

Valley but I went up there and there was

no tourist resort there was just two

guys that looked at me like I was a big

pork chop that had just landed on their

plate and they said they said to me in

Spanish they said are you here alone and

unarmed and Iona and I said yes like why

on earth do you be here alone and

unarmed and I said because you know I’m

no I’m no threat to anybody I said well

what is there to be afraid of and that

the guy says to me I kill to police the

trigger finger I was like oh no I’m in

it now then he shook out some cocaine

onto the palm of his hand and just

gulped it down and chased it down with a

beer anyway it was it was kind of a it

was a long story in a long night but

they ended up if you’d if you seen that

movie no country for old measure yeah

you remember the scene where the two big

trucks are chasing the guy for free yeah

that was me they’re chasing me in two

trucks through these mountains at night

I was just never been so terrified in my

life and I I learnt something about fear

that I never particularly wanted to know

in the first

place but my body was functioning at its

absolute peak I was just never felt so

alert and athletic and terrified at the

same time I kind of I was it made me

think of the way you know it like a like

a deer that no knows it’s been hunted

can execute these extraordinarily

graceful bounds and achieve great speeds

that was me I was there I was at hunted

deer with these two trucks after me but

so yeah very very frightening night and

I was in a pickup truck they built a

fire next to my truck and they stayed up

most of the night and then eventually

they passed out in their blankets and I

had to sneak in the next morning and

jump in my truck and turn on the

ignition and kind of peel out of there

and that was that was I’ve never been

back to those mountains since I got out

and have never been back since I did get

a book out of it called God’s middle

finger yeah yeah that’s great I mean

there’s something amazing about the

currency of a story and not having to

hold up your phone and press the button

to create a memory you know like

actually being able to relay this

experience that you have and and

remembering it well it was a very vivid

experience let me tell you and I also I

mean I’m in that you know I write for a

living so I’m in the habit of carrying

around a notebook with me and you know

anyone that anyone you know travels in

order to learn and experience the world

I mean I would I would recommend that

the little fashion notebook I’m and I

take some photographs as well but to

record you know conversations that you

had to record how you felt about things

at the time you were there a notebook is

actually a very very good tool for that

tool for that we are going to take a

small break for a message from our

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sleep calm slash ejects be one of the

people that you met that really touched

a soft spot in my heart was come free

and he was the Train traveler right yeah

count free rides the freight trains oh

I’m not sure he’s doing anymore no

there’s this whole new generation of

kind of sort of punky vagabond kids that

are riding around on the freight trains

and he was he was one of the US when he

was she just turned out eighteen had

kind of a tough home life like a lot of

them and he was out on the rails and

trying to protect himself trying to be

tough but just a sweet sweet smart kid

at the same time he was he was B

receives very touching I’m still still

in intermittent contact with him

yeah he’s uh he’s last I heard he was he

was cowboying in Montana and doing some

kind of environmental activism

protesting the Bison slaughter that

happens outside Yellowstone every year

do you think there’s a certain time in

your life where you you want to travel

and learn as much as you can and maybe

as you get older you’re like oh well you

know I’m gonna chill out now maybe have

some kids I mean that’s how I did it

I think there’s a lot of maybe more

pressure now on young people to get

started on their career and start paying

back their student loans and whatever

else but you know I emerge from college

without any student loans and without

any clear idea of what I will need to do

or you know who I wanted to be you know

I went to I grew up mainly in London

England I knew I didn’t want to live in

England and I knew I didn’t want to work

in an office and I knew I wanted to see

the world or do some traveling so you

know that the travel came first and then

I started writing stories about some of

the things I was encountering and then I

started selling some of their stories to

magazines and became this kind of roving

freelance journalist you know frankly

you know I’ve met lots of I’ve met lots

of women that do it too but it is easier

if you’re male you do have like less

less to worry about than if you’re

female but for me it was it worked

really well I was very happy in my

twenties and thirties just as the

Restless rootless wandering male without

any obligations I never had any money I

was always flat broke

but I had a lot of personal freedom and

that was my goal in life and so I was

satisfied and you know now I’m now I’m

uh I’m gonna be 55 next month and I have

a three-year-old daughter I know and a

wife and a mortgage and so I left it

late but it’s been hard the transition

when you’re used to when you’re used to

that much freedom in your life and

suddenly if you’ve got a wife and a kid

and a mortgage

and an uncertain income stream sure I

find it difficult to adjust I mean

that’ll change the narrative for you

right absolutely yeah

no I mean having a having a young child

change Mina changes everything

you know what did you do before you got

married what did you do if you fell in

love on the road did you stay there with

them or was it like a goodbye type

scenario um different strategies I had

you know had some girlfriends who were

who were very understanding and I would

be gone and I would come back to them

and I would spend some time with him

when I would go and come back go and

come back those were those were so

long-term relationships I had this weird

phase of my life where women hurry

engaged wanted to have one last fling

with me it happened like five or six

times women are about to get married and

settle down just woman one more you know

one more brief romance I’ve noticed that

what happen I don’t know I was I was I

was I was that guy for a while huh

I mean that’s fascinating every night I

find that really interesting that that

will occur I mean have you traveled

outside the states and I know you were

in Africa for a little while yeah I’ve

spent quite reveled quite extensively in

Africa I’ve been over there eight eight

or nine times in western South Africa

and a lot in East Africa and Kenya and

Tanzania and Burundi and Rwanda and

Congo and several other countries was it

different was the the environment

different or I mean did you did you feel

that being nomadic was different when

you were in Africa well the thing I’m

I’d say about Africa is that the first

few times that I went there it was it

was magazine stories and I was you know

I was met at the airport sort of taken

away and in a Land Rover – some lovely

Bush camp maybe just a tent but I was

always looked after and protected and a

lot of those were kind of Safari type

thing

you know I did I did a story about a guy

that was trying to Train captive Lions

to get back into the wild I did I did a

dugout canoe trip down the Zambezi River

that was my first trip and I was really

scared of things like crocodiles and

hippos and but it turned out to be you

know a fantastic trip that I that I

loved and that that was kind of what

kept me going back to Africa then if I

think that my fifth or sixth trip to

Africa I decided I wanted to make the

first descent of this river in Tanzania

called the Malagasy which means his

river of bad spirits because I love

floating down rivers and I found out

there was a river that no one had ever

gone down in a boat before and I thought

well I’ll be that guy and write a book

about it and have it have a have an

adventure you know and but to get to the

river you know I had to I had to kind of

get there under my own steam there was

no one to meet at the airport and I was

traveling on the bus and I was trying to

find my own my own accommodations and I

realized that on those previous trips

I’ve been inside the safari bubble but I

hadn’t really been in Africa a proper

I’d just been in this Safari bubble

where people were looking after me the

whole time and once he once you step out

of that Safari bubble into the rest of

Africa it seems it seems really

different I mean it’s a difficult place

to travel I mean a lot of it it’s just

the heat you know why is it called the

river of bad spirit you know what I

never found out that why it was called

that nobody nobody seemed to know hmm

okay we said we certainly had some bad

experiences in the river is it like a

cursed River or something I’m assuming

that that’s what it would it would it

meant that there was bad spirits on the

river huh interesting I mean you wrote

you’ve wrote a bunch I mean you wrote

dispatches from Pluto where it covers

your decision to move from New York City

to Mississippi the Mississippi Delta as

you were saying what were you feeling

when you moved from New York why’d you

leave New York

so the plan

with my my girlfriend Mariah who’s now

my wife we for the first time in my life

I finally had some money from that BBC

documentary you know a lot of money but

I said let’s take this money and just go

live in New York for a year because it’s

capital of the world and we both had

good friends there and you know I think

New York’s a great city and when we

arrived there I had a commission from

The New Yorker magazine I had another

documentary film in the works I had a

regular gig for a British magazine I had

another book project in the works within

two weeks of arriving in New York all

those plans had collapsed and my then

girlfriend she couldn’t find a job doing

anything and we were living in this tiny

little half underground apartment and

our dog was depressed and it’s just a

just new you’re basically just chewed us

up just chewed us up and spat us out you

know what I mean and then while we were

there I got invited to do a book

conference in Mississippi where I’d been

you know 10 or 11 times and I’ve always

enjoyed it and a friend of mine in

Mississippi took me out for a picnic at

a place called Pluto her family’s farm

out in the Delta and she showed me this

lovely old five bedroom farmhouse on

nine acres of land next to a river with

fruit trees and vegetable beds and views

out over cotton fields and she said we

could probably have this five bedroom

house on nine acres for about a hundred

and thirty thousand dollars that’s my

dad’s house and he’s selling it and you

know they barely let you park in New

York for that so you know then I then

went back to New York we were living in

Manhattan on 20th Street and 8th Avenue

you know when and had to perform kind of

a sales act on my girlfriend I said

listen I know this sounds crazy but I

think we need to leave the throbbing

heart of downtown Manhattan and moved to

Pluto Mississippi population seven a

40-minute driver in the nearest grocery

store in a state where you’ve never been

before and of her many

bad things about and and and to her

credit she said well um things aren’t

going well for us in New York I’ll at

least go and have a look at the place

and banach I had she fell in love with

this beautiful old farmhouse and the

location and we then was probably as

extreme a case of culture shock as I’ve

had in all my travels was arriving in

the Mississippi Delta not knowing

anything really about how that how the

culture worked how the landscape work

dealing with dealing with incredible

quantities of snakes and mosquitoes and

swamps and and a very complicated system

of race relations it really took us a

couple of years just to figure out how

race relations worked in that part of

Mississippi

hmm tell us more what you heard a lot

there was he head

racial prejudice coexisting with love

between the races and this was not an

equation that I was used to I’ll give

you an example on Pluto you know that

the basic although all the white people

belong to one family and there’d been a

black family that had lived on this land

for three generations and it worked

for the white family and they’d become

very very close and in previous

generations the black family had named

their children after whoever the

matriarch and patriarch of the white

family were but now this process had

gone into reverse and the white family

we’re now naming their children after

the heads of the black family like my

friend Martha named her son Joe after a

black man named Joseph who had basically

been a kind of surrogate father to her

own father so these two families were

very very interlinked and they went

together each other’s funerals but they

found it really hard to eat a meal

together at the same table because the

habit of segregation was so instilled

and you know even though there was this

deep love and respect from the white

people for these black individuals they

would also come out with racist

generalizations about black people in

general there were all these different

complexities and contradictions and

nuances in the race relations there that

took a lot of untangling have you seen

any changes in that since you’ve been

there

it seems to be about the same I mean I

would say that race relations in

Mississippi yeah probably about 90%

better than they than they were I would

say that nowhere else has really come so

far in it’s race relations as

Mississippi but on the other hand

nowhere else had so far to go and the

place is still completely obsessed with

race I would say I would it’s it’s hard

to make generalizations as well because

there’s four types of racism I mean

you’ve got your kind of n-word using

racial hatred but that tends to be more

associated with poor white people then

you’ve got this kind of paternalistic

racism which is more associated with the

kinda upper crust and they I would say

that the you know they they have a lot

of these close loving relationships with

black people but they’re not equal then

they’re not necessarily looking at the

black friend even as it isn’t equal they

don’t want their daughter to marry a

black man I mean somebody put it to me

to said there’s white people in

Mississippi they would lay down their

lives for you know the black person that

they’re close to that they would take a

bullet for that for the for their

closest friend but they would also take

a bullet to stop him marrying their

daughter it’s just it’s just a lot more

complicated than I was expecting because

it wasn’t the sort of racism I was used

to from other places

sure yeah it does sound very complicated

I mean Pluto sounds like a very isolated

pert place like in 40 40 minutes away

from just a grocery store how did you

deal with the isolation well I mean it

sounds isolated but I was in fact had a

very rich social life because we got

basically adopted by the family down the

down the road there was a neighbor three

miles the other way he would be his

house a lot there was a lot of parties

to go to and also you just you just

start to think nothing and driving for

40 minutes I mean I would drive Oh drive

90 miles to go and play golf with Morgan

free

he Morgan I got to know Morgan Freeman

he lives in the Mississippi Delta he

belonged to this crazy little Country

Club way out in the middle of nowhere

where you’re allowed to carry a chainsaw

in your golf bag to cut down trees that

gotten away and they’d turn the tennis

courts into a dove feel because they

preferred hunting doves to playing

tennis very eccentric little country

club that Morgan loves so yeah 90 miles

drive 90 miles go to a party drive 90

miles to go to a juke joint there’s

still a few of these little um you know

kind of blues clubs left where you I

mean they’re on the way out now but

there’s a few left and then they were

really fun that was another place where

it’s a it’s a black Club and he feel a

little bit awkward when you first step

in there but it was a kind of

environment that that showed that black

and white Mississippians actually know

how to get along really really well like

when sometimes you get these kind of

magical nights there whether all the

race stuff falls over the way and

everyone just has the best time together

and then but it doesn’t kind of stick

afterwards that they’re what you think

is a friendship then tends to kind of

slide it apart and the old habit of

living separately reasserts itself I

think I think I mean it’s just such a

complicated topic I met so I see race

relations here I mean it’s sometimes it

just seems like a model for the rest of

the country because black and white know

how to get along so well here but most

of the time they choose not to hmm it is

a complicated subject and I’m wandering

out of all of this traveling that you’ve

done was there any lesson that you

learned that sticked with you I mean I

think the lesson that I’ve learned from

my travels is that I find it very hard

to judge people you know I just

automatically now think well who would I

be if I’d grown up like them you know

let’s say I’m some white guy Mississippi

comes out out with you know some

racially demeaning remark you know I can

no longer just dismiss that person

there’s a evil wrong person that should

be shunned because I think well what

would I be like if I had if my father

you know belong to the white Citizens

Council and brought me up in a very

racist environment and I’ve lived here

my whole life Oh what did I think like

that person I guess the lesson is that

we’re all just we’re all just products

of our environment and once you accept

that about people it becomes very hard

to judge them sure I don’t consider

myself superior to other people because

of the beliefs that were instilled in me

by my education and cultural background

sure

we were we were adopted by this family

on Pluto who were you know fairly

right-wing Republicans who watch fox

news all the time and that was another

lesson is that you know in our age of

social media people tend to define

themselves as belonging to one and

political tribe or the other whereas if

you’re actually meeting people

face-to-face and your neighbors with

them you end up realizing that

somebody’s political views are just just

a small segment of who they really are

I mean first and foremost they’re you

know mothers and fathers and brothers

and sisters and sure they’ve got

professions and hobbies and opinions

about many other topics the more I

travel and the older I get that the less

keen I am to judge somebody and also

think that the moment you judge somebody

that that’s when you stop learning

anything else about them yeah yeah yes I

think that’s an important lesson I think

that you know there’s there’s so much

life out there to be experienced that

looking at your phone and to being

concerned with the opinions of others or

the way pede that people are judging you

becomes more and more trivial you’ve

been through enough problems to really

understand that you have no room judging

anyone else you know for how they handle

theirs yeah I’m the other thing I would

say was that you know as our world

becomes more digital more false in a way

that the the more e-value sensory

experience I feel like I feel like my

five senses it can let the last honest

things that I’ve got I kind of make a

point of trying to experience life

my senses as much as I can rather than

have my experience of life mediated

through through technology through

somebody else’s idea of what I should be

experiencing whether it’s through

entertainment I just encouraged myself

and others to look hard to listen

carefully to Joy your sense of smell

food to savor what crosses of your

palate the senses are kind of all we all

we got left that are honest in our own

no you just said it but you know whether

it’s whether it’s through economic

pressure or whether it’s because there’s

a sense of wanderlust and you’re you’re

for anyone listening to this if you’re

moving into this idea of being a nomad

you know Richard is there any sort of

tip that you would give someone that is

thinking about becoming a nomad I don’t

think it is you know I don’t think it’s

for everyone I mean what what what kept

me going was I’ve got a very active

sense of curiosity curiosity and a

thirst for experience that’s really

what’s kind of kept me moving over the

years and and that’s what that’s what

enabled me to put up with the you know I

mean there’s this hardship and poverty

associated with it to this it’s a

difficult question a lot depends how

much how much money they couldn’t bring

to the to the Nomad game and I mean

talking about living in a ratty old van

or are you talking about living in a two

hundred and fifty five thousand dollar

motorhome or I guess you can get a

million dollar motor home there I mean

is is there something regarding being

open to you mentioned curiosity and

that’s that’s what yeah going so maybe

it’s an openness of experience and

wanting to be you know on the road and

experiencing life through your senses

like you said yeah I mean I think that’s

how you’d get most out of it

but but you know there’s there’s nomads

out there that are not living that way

they they go around a little Club and

they see the same people

they live a very sort of regimented

lifestyle on the road and they’re not

actually having that that much new

experience think they’re traveling in

the same little group and kind of doing

the same things every day but I mean I

would for me you know this is just just

my personal outlook that you that you do

need to be open to experience and at the

point of travel is to learn and expand

your your knowledge to expand your

horizons to expand your tolerance to

expand your understanding of how other

people live that aren’t like you I mean

to me let’s that’s the whole point of

the exercise sure man Richard phenomenal

conversation my friend where can where

can people find your book more on your

work I’ve got a website that’s Richard

grant dot us because I’m an American

citizen there okay there’s there’s links

to my articles that you can find out

about my books there yeah and people can

catch the documentary it’s a really

really amazing documentary it’s called

American nomads thank you so much

Richard for being here guys we are gonna

get out of here my name is Xavier katana

you’ve been listening to the human

experience my guest Richard grant the

book is called American nomads you can

find it online and we will make the link

for that available below you will hear

from us next week thank you so much for

listening

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