I don’t know anyone who’s never used Craigslist. Even if it’s just for apartment hunting or scouring for furniture, it’s a pretty standard site to use (especially as a broke 20-something). Besides my current living situation, roommates, couch, and bed frame, I’ve found friends, a burlesque troupe, furniture, concert tickets, rideshares, and jobs because of it. Sometimes I even sift through the Missed Connections section for funsies–lots of it is just awful, but some of it is poetry.
When I read the synopsis for Craigslist Joe, I was instantly intrigued. For 31 days, Joseph Garner would rely solely on the goodwill and kindness of Craigslist users. He would embark with no money or credit cards, no additional clothing other than what he would wear, no set plans, and he would not utilize any preexisting connections. I’m fond of minimalist travel and traveling sans tinerary and this sounded like an exciting challenge! Joe found a cameraman–on Craigslist, of course–and together, they went off to see where the the site could take them.
The viewers go on quite an adventure with him. Joe travels from sunny Los Angeles, California, up the coast, through the midwest, and then all the way down the east coast from New York to Florida, all the while relying on free rideshares. Then he makes it back to LA, but not without two pits stops: the first in Mexico for kicks, and the second in San Francisco, where he actually meets Craig, the CL founder.
I’ve only ever done two formal road trips in my life. The first was solo from the Berkshires in Massachusetts to South Carolina, and the second was with two burlesquer friends (that I met on Craigslist, no less) from SF to Seattle. Seeing the United States by car is truly the best way to see it because you get to see it all. You could stop in any major metropolitan city and you’ll be able to notice certain differences and similarities between those US cities. It’s when you start exploring the backwoods of Montana and the rural areas of the south (represent!) that you really understand how much of the United States you really don’t understand. There’s so much of this country to see that just limiting yourself to the major airport hubs leaves you at a disadvantage.
While watching Craigslist Joe, I was inevitably inspired to take a similar sort of trip. But deep down a part of me wanted to convince myself that it couldn’t be possible. The fact is, Joe is a straight white male who has privileges that I do not, and that people of other races, sexual orientations, and backgrounds do not have, either. I definitely can’t completely ignore that, and if I were to travel in this fashion I would have to take certain precautions to keep myself safe. However, I do believe it’s possible. Yes, I know it sounds a little naïve, but there have to be people out there who aren’t necessarily looking for something in return for good deeds, but instead just want to help other human beings.
The film restores a little bit of your faith in humanity in that regard. With all of the terrible things you read about in the world, hear about from friends and family, and even experience in your day-to-day life, it’s nice to know that yes, there are still wonderful people in the world. Of course, make sure to put your safety first and use your best judgment, but people are inherently good. There are folks who will offer you packets of instant oatmeal, extra gloves they have laying around the house, or a blanket and a space to sleep on their couch one night, and all they want in return is some friendly conversation.
Traveling is scary because it’s about taking risks we normally don’t take day-to-day. You have to be willing to open your mind and remain receptive to new experiences, which is a really vulnerable state to be in. I was surprised to see Joe responding to the wide variety of ads that he did–breakdance classes, a tv-viewing case study, hair models, gardening and housecleaning help, a Hanukkah celebration, and open mic nights. Instead of sticking to what was familiar, he tried out all sorts of new things and met amazing people because of it.
My favorite part about traveling is meeting new people and hearing their stories. I related to Joe well because he was clearly invested in actually getting to know the people who had posted these ads. He wasn’t just responding to posts to find a free meal and a place to sleep. While that sometimes happened, he was more interested in meeting cool people and making connections. He sat down and listened intently to an Iraqi family describing their difficulties in the US post-September 11th, a dominatrix describing why she likes her job, and the fears of a woman battling cancer.
Joe had two goals when he set out. He wanted to travel and see as much of the US as he could, which he certainly did–Portland, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Tallahassee, New Orleans, San Francisco, and some of the small spots in between. His main goal, though, was to see if he could really, truly survive on the generosity of Craigslist users. Setting out, he didn’t even know if it would be possible to find a place to stay and a meal to eat. In the end, he ended up receiving far more from people than he probably ever imagined, and that is pretty amazing.
Do you think you could travel the way Joe does in the film? Have you ever relied on the kindness and generosity of strangers when traveling?
You can view Craigslist Joe on Netflix, or you can purchase it here.