It is with great pleasure that I am introducing this week’s guest blogger, Cherie McKay, who will be writing regularly for the site in the coming months.
In November 2015, Cherie began the solo road trip of a lifetime. Her 40-day, 7500 mile campervan trip through the US was designed to meet her online friends and celebrate the bonds of womanhood. Her journey took her through cities including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Chicago and New York and became a wonderful opportunity for her to test the waters as a travel photographer and writer. In her guest blog series, Cherie will be sharing some of her favourite moment and images from the trip for which she coined #CherieDoesAmerica.
Cherie was also the guest of episode 23 of The Traveling Image Makers podcast.
What is it about solo travel that brings out the ‘no-shame bucket list’ in some of us? The no-shame bucket list? You know, it’s like the normal bucket list but even crazier, it’s the level 11 of bucket list adventures. It’s more than the typical skydive bucket list goal because of the anonymity that solo travel brings.
It’s that same anonymity that had me performing a karaoke number somewhere in Austin, Texas. Only I wasn’t in a bar, I was in Whataburger, a fast food chain that Texans strangely enjoy. Earlier in the day I received a phone call from home; my dear cat had passed away. I didn’t have time to process the news; I was in a cab on the way to meet with a group of photographers for a Drink and Click event.
There’s nothing quite like an introduction that goes “Hi, I’m Cherie, from Melbourne and I just found out my cat died”. The circle of photographers around me were honestly lost for words. My news didn’t ruin the photo-walk, and for the next few hours I had a guided tour of downtown Austin. The Drink and Click event was a great way to not only connect with other photographers, but to also explore the city with locals who know it as well as the back of their hand, or should I say camera?
Anyway, the following morning, the news of my cat’s death hit me, but it was more than that. I had been traveling solo for almost four weeks; I think the solitude was getting to me. I sat in an iHop Restaurant editing images, drinking coffee, and desperately trying to muster the energy to continue my road trip. The breakfast crowd slowly left and soon people eating lunch surrounded me, whilst the wait staff interrupted me several times. Looking back now, they were probably thinking I was just going to sit there all day and not pay for my coffee.
Eventually I packed up and hit the road determined to push on. Fierce and brave I was, for about the next 10 minutes. The more I drove, the more I thought and the more I thought, the more I cried. Being the contact lens wearer I am, my vision was rapidly deteriorating into a cloudy mess, actually it was my whole being that was the cloudy mess.
I had to pull over into a shopping centre, desperate to find a pharmacy so that I could purchase some contact lens solution. Crying eyes always need glasses to see. I found a pharmacy but I was faced with more drama, their system EFTPOS was down. My only option was to sit and wait. My eyes were so swollen and cloudy from crying that driving any further was out of the question. I had a nap in the camper van, parked right there, in a pharmacy parking lot.
I slept for hours. Hours and hours.
It was 9:30pm when I eventually woke. Cold and dark outside, I was lucky to finally purchase my contact lens solution just before the pharmacy closed. As I left the pharmacy, the customer behind me seemed to chase me to my van. He asked ‘Are you okay?”
I must have looked like hell, almost as bad as the time a ‘truckie’ somewhere in Indiana asked if I was also a truck driver. Gee thanks mate!
I told the stranger I was fine and wished him well. He looked unconvinced but didn’t say anything so naturally I kept talking.
I told him about my cat, my children, my exhaustion, the photo-walk. I told him how I was alone. I told him I needed a friend.
Just like that I unraveled, completely.
He looked at me and laughed. “Girl, you need a burger”, his long arm pointing across the almost empty parking lot to Whataburger.
“Follow me” he said.
I just like that, I did.
Marcus and I ate our (terrible) burgers and talked for hours. We talked about life, loss, love, friends, our children and the cultural differences between Australia and the USA. We laughed, a lot. He had this high pitched giggle that just didn’t suit his frame leaving me to laugh more at his laugh than the joke, so much so that it became infectious. The more I laughed, the more he laughed, forming some kind of hilarious cycle.
Eventually the conversation turned to music as we took turns sharing song after song on YouTube. As the evening progressed, so did our interactions with the Whataburger staff, it seems our YouTube share-a-thon was creating quite an interest, and some how, at 3:30 am at a Whataburger in Austin, I performed a karaoke number in front of a cheering crowd.
And by crowd I mean, three Whataburger staff members and one random guy called Marcus.
#CheriedoesAmerica Bucket List Item: Karaoke – DONE.
By about 5 am it was time to say goodbye and put an end to what would become one marathon Whataburger sitting. I drove for an hour or so and saw the most glorious sunrise over the Texan landscape before finally sleeping the rest of the morning away.
I had reached the midway point of my cross America road trip, mingled with some amazing photographers and realized just how far away I was from home. For seven hours my only friend in the world was a guy called Marcus, a guy who I don’t even know his last time, and who I’ll never see again. He was like a temporary tattoo, meaningful but still temporary. He was the best friend that I didn’t have with me at that moment when I needed one.
But the most beautiful thing about Marcus was the lesson he taught me. I told him I had no-one to rely on and he told me I was wrong. He asked me to read the three most recent text messages on my phone out aloud to him. It felt awkward but I did. Again he gave me the same look he did when we met in the parking lot and he said “Oh you have people, you just don’t know how to tell them when you need them”.
He was right, and I’m working on it.
About the Author
After spending over ten years in the corporate sector, Cherie McKay ventured into photography, quickly realising that the world didn’t need another backyard photographer – instead the world needed beautiful camera bags specifically designed for women. Cherie designed her own range of camera bags and founded the company SHUTTER|bag. Cherie sold SHUTTER|bag in 2013 and has been a freelance photographer/writer since.
Currently contracting to Good Talent Media as a PR & Social Media Consultant, Cherie uses her writing and communication skills to interview her clients with the goal of extracting the right angle to write a press release for her clients. Recently her press releases have been published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Community Leader newspapers, as well as landing stories with major television and radio networks. She is a confident public speaker who has also appeared on several business and international photography podcasts with her writing being published on places like Mamamia and The Motherish and her travel/street photography gaining international recognition and awards, Cherie is very versatile in her skill set.