Kromer's lack of hopefulness describes basic human needs
Tom Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing was a stark contrast to the travel literature we have been reading so far. While there has certainly been struggle (Grapes of Wrath) there has always been a sense of hopefulness, of light at the end of the tunnel, or at least some kind of eventual goal. Kromer’s novel/autobiography (because, which is it really?) has no end point, in fact, the story barely even follows a linear narrative, unconstrained by time, or any other typical story telling technique. This idea of hopelessness without any brightness at all taps into our human emotions but breaks the norms that storytellers – like Hollywood – use to keep us coming back for more. Kromer’s book is not something you want to read over and over again.
What was particularly interesting to me was the description of CH 4 in the Afterword and what it meant, socially, for them to remove the chapter due to its sexual tones. The almost shamelessness with which Kromer describes his actions to the reader could be shocking to the audiences of this book and therefore, they emitted it, because it undermined the rest of the story. This chapter, however I think is the most telling. As we explore ideas of travel and the entire uprooting of a person, their identity comes into question.
To me, Kromer’s book boiled down to what a human truly is. When all categories of identity are sloshed away (homosexual, heterosexual, rich poor, etc) there is jut basic humanity left, and the way that aligns you with others. He has to deal with fight or flight in the chapter about the fight in the box car, and the very first chapter when he almost hurts a man, and the chapter when he almost robs a bank – he never fought unless he had to, otherwise he ran. As the Afterword mentions as well, Kromer embodies Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This principle outlines that all of the physiological needs (breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, etc) need to be fulfilled before the other needs can be met, and as we climb the pyramid, we become more fulfilled human beings. Kromer fluctuates throughout his tale, particularly with the Yvonne, the young prostitute. It is the most hopeful moment that readers see, because it is his connection to another human being, at least, for now, until his physiological needs are no longer met.
In terms of travel, this idea of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is so crucial because it brings in to question, what can humans truly survive on? Do the travelers and hobos of the 1930s live at the base of the pyramid? Can they find happiness there? How does this compare to Boxcar Bertha who felt her self-actualization (or claimed to) by her lack of responsibility and tired down-ness?
I think this question persists in travel today as well, as our generation strives to leave college and go backpacking for a year, what satisfaction are we looking for? Is it the mentality of the 1930s that we strive for, where we only need the very base level of the pyramid, or is it a façade where we are actually searching for the hardest level to achieve – self actualization?