On May 27, 2011, I stopped my silver Ford Focus on Nelson Street in Cambridge, Nebraska. The midday sun on this Friday felt fresh but dry, a lack of humidity that I had never quite felt living on the east coast my entire life.
I walked into Shirley K’s Coffee Shop, a corner beacon in this town of slightly over 1,000 people, and inside the town hummed. High schoolers donning football t-shirts ordered coffee drinks. The homemakers and local workers drifted in for sandwiches, staying in the shop for several minutes to chat about what was happening in town. People were making weekend plans, talking about renovation projects, preparing for big summers and big changes.
A week before I was preparing to attend a game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers at Citizens Bank Park, the ballpark of my favorite team in my native city. I joined a tailgate party and told people about my ambitious plans: after that night’s game I’d drive to Pittsburgh for a Pirates game. The next day I’d be in Cleveland. Detroit on Monday, Chicago on Tuesday and Milwaukee on Wednesday before driving across the country to Denver for a Saturday afternoon contest. I was driving out alone, and on the way back would hit Kansas City, St. Louis and Cincinnati before arriving back within two weeks. On my passenger seat was the oversize Rand McNally map, a bag of Swedish Fish, a bag of pistachios and my CD book. I brought my tape recorder, laptop and a borrowed DSLR to document the trip. I’d talk to fans, reporters and ballplayers, sometimes having clubhouse and field access. I planned to write a book about it – one guy driving across the country to find the soul of baseball. It felt poetic. I was 26.
At Shirley K’s I ordered a tall, cold coffee drink and tuna salad sandwich with a generous dill pickle. While waiting for my sandwich I started talking to someone who didn’t have the same Midwestern lilt I’d heard so much already. Her story was weirdly familiar to someone living and working 90 minutes north of New York City: She lived in the city herself, and after Sept. 11 decided to leave, somehow ending up in southwestern Nebraska where there is very, very little stress.
After lunch I walked the few streets of Cambridge, and everyone who passed me smiled and said hello. It took me a moment to register the kindness. Again, I’m from the east coast. This was my first taste of being alone in America. Again, it felt poetic. Again, I was 26.
The trip went off without a hitch, aside from a speeding ticket I accrued later that day before leaving Nebraska. I saw every scheduled game, had a blast talking with people and drinking in new cities and experiences, and felt armed to write a love letter to baseball that I thought would sell millions of copies.
I never finished that book. Surprise.
That’s been the story of my life – I’ve started plenty of passion projects (music websites, lousy social media accounts, novels, screenplays) only to lose interest halfway through and find some new shiny toy (which would also, inevitably, run out of steam). In 2015 I went freelance with the goal of finally becoming a published author. I’d finish that novel, those screenplays and every other passion project that wept my way. Sure I’ve made quite a bit of money, and I’ve hit every deadline for everyone else’s project, but I’ve failed myself. I’ve barely finished a thing of my own. I’ve spent too much time scrolling Twitter and dreaming up scenarios without actually trying new things.
I’ve been too afraid to email assigning editors. I’ve been too shy to join online communities. Most of this is because of a paralyzing fear I have of being mocked and scorned, probably because as a child I was always – always – mocked and scorned for expressing myself. Sometimes kids just laughed at me and hurled me sarcasm, and sometimes kids literally spat on me and kicked me on the floor. I’d find solace by befriending adults who seemed alone in their own lives, but I couldn’t express myself to the adults closest to me because I had heard so many times that I should just man up and stop crying. My entire adult life has been a struggle to man up while simultaneously acknowledging that it’s okay to cry. It’s confusing and, I suppose, it’s very human.
I saw a therapist for a year, which helped, and sometimes I’d find that courage to email that editor or apply for that job. I have succeeded – I have plenty of clips and, hell, I’m writing a 350-page travel guide on the Appalachian Trail. I’m going to be a published author. Receiving that news made for one of the most incredible days of my life.
But I still struggle not to sink. I still switch passion projects. I still lose all the confidence necessary to reach my goals.
Well, here’s my newest effort: MalcolmOut.
Those two weeks in 2011 were among the happiest times of my life. I was free from obligation, free to roam America while still focused on a singular mission. For those two weeks I ran hard, interviewing several fans, scoping out ballparks, taking in every possible moment. I stayed in crummy motels and ate bad gas station food. I listened to my favorite music, found solitude on darkened Iowa roads and felt accomplished that I got it done. While I didn’t write the book – yet – I did what I originally set out to do. Going out restricted me from my worries, allowed me to flourish, and in the end, I didn’t care what anyone thought. For the first time in my life I felt free to be myself. Yeah, it was poetic.
MalcolmOut is my way of capturing travel as a poetic experience. Some of the most wonderful times of my life were spent going out, whether across America, to Greece with my wife, or in the day trips I’ve already taken as part of my Appalachian Trail Road Trip book. That book will be part of this site – I’ll check in with dispatches from those trips, and when the book publishes, I’ll share excerpts and plenty more fun. Meantime, I’ll share life as I experience it – whether I revisit Nebraska or stay near my home in Tarrytown, New York, this site will attempt to show how going out can make for positive change.
It has for me. I hope you’ll join me in my journey.