“At 34, I gave up everything to join the Navy”

Brandon Clifton spent two weeks driving up the east coast staying with Couchsurfing hosts. His goal: Interview, photograph and get to know them in order to tell their stories.

My next host was a character to say the least. If you get the chance to stay with Ricky, you will not be disappointed. At age 34, Ricky was married, had a life and a decent job. Through an “act of God” as he described it, he ended up joining the navy and would later be deployed to various parts of the world serving in the military and meeting new people. He sacrificed a great deal to pursue a career in the navy.

“At 34 I gave up everything to join the Navy. Everybody including myself made bets that I would not last past bootcamp. Before this, my extent of exercise was trying to find the remote when it was lost. So they were like, ‘bro he’s not going to make it. He’s not going to make it.’ The first big obstacle that I faced was the swim test. And you know me being black, black people don’t do water very well. They had you step off a 20 foot high diving board. I swear my entire life at that point flashed before my eyes when I jumped. They tell you to go to the edge, take a step and just drop. And I was like, ‘bro I can’t do that,’ and I saw a lot of people attempting to do it and they wouldn’t go. They go to the edge and get scared. And when you go to the edge and get scared they push you off. So when they push you off, you could do a belly flop or something and you’re gonna hit the water in a way you don’t want to hit the water, so I was like, fuck, might as well take a leap of faith and I jumped. So I did that part, survived it, and went to remedial swimming the entire time in bootcamp. In order to pass bootcamp they have a thing called battle stations which was a combination of everything pertaining to the navy. When we did that and

survived it they would play that fucking song, I still hate it… “Proud to be an American,” and you know I just cried like a little bitch. You just cry because you did all that stuff and proved to yourself you could do it. And then you switch your cap. They have a cap called a recruit cap and then they give you a cap that says ‘Navy.’ So now you’re a fucking sailor.”

I thought his time in the Navy was interesting, but as we progressed further in our conversation, I realized that he’s an exceptional human being because he will go above and beyond to help a person in need.

“I met this dude at a train station. He was just talking and thought he was a thug and at some point I thought, ‘any minute now this dude is going to rob me.’ That was the thought in my head. I started speaking to him and while speaking to him he didn’t sound like a thug. He sounded like a wannabe thug, like somebody who wanted to be hard, but he’s not hard. But he has had a hard life, so I told him if he ever needed anything, here’s my number, just call me. So he called me and said straight up, ‘I dont have anyone to talk to and I’m hungry.’ He said ‘I’m in DC and I have no money,’ so I said, ‘bro no problem, here’s an uber, you can come to my house, I’ll order food and by the time you get here we’ll have some food and we can talk.’ And so he came, started talking and said how life was hard. The clothes he had on he had on for like three days and so while he was on his way, I filled a bath and was like, ‘hey you know, just go take a bath, relax your problems and get clean.’ I gave him some clothes and he said, ‘I don’t have anywhere to sleep tonight, do you mind if I spend the night?’ I said, ‘I know what’s going to

happen here. Even if you spend the night you don’t have anywhere else to go, so you don’t need to spend the night. You need to spend many nights. You need to have a plan on what you’re going to do.’ So I’m like, ‘here, you can spend the rest of the week and you can just chill and figure out what to do.’ He stayed here for three days, then went to stay with his girlfriend (who was bad news) and was there for like 6 months before calling me again last night. He said, ‘I’m back in the DC area and I’ve got a job. Can you cash app me twenty dollars so I can get home?’ Then he texted me today and said, ‘I remember when you took me in; do you think I could stay at your house?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t have a lot of money, I could give you like $450 a month and as I get more I could give you more.’ I told him, ‘you can stay here as long as you need to get your shit together.’ So he’s going to move in in two weeks. I feel like when you can help, you never know what this person is going through at this time and what they’re going to go through afterwards. You could have saved a life…You never know.”

On the last night of my stay with Ricky, we were in the car going to pick up some pizza for dinner. As we pulled in the parking lot, I asked him if he had any advice to give me based on his life experiences.

“I have a very easy, carefree attitude about things. If it’s for you it will be for you. You can work hard to accomplish goals, but If you’re on the right path, things are going to happen. And again the goal of like, ‘I need a million dollars, I need a Mercedes-Benz to drive,’’ those are materialistic goals. And you could achieve them, anybody could, but is that what you really want? And I think for a lot of people, they don’t know what they want and they think that’s what

they want and they’re not happy. I’ve seen a lot of people in marriages, myself was one of them, who thought that was the way to do things and then you realize it’s not. If you go home and you’re frustrated because you don’t talk to your spouse, you’re having issues with your kids or other things, then you’re not happy, so why be with it? I learned all of this from Spain. When I got to Spain, that’s when my life opened. That’s when I started living, when I got to Spain.”

I never realized my life would be changed by meeting these individuals, but Kirsten, Bill, Krupa, Gage, and Ricky all taught me there’s more to life than meets the eye. With all the differences that make up humanity, race, gender, life preferences, etc, I realized that we share more similarities than we do differences. For example, food is a huge part of the Couchsurfing community. Everyone loves to share recipes and sit down to indulge in flavorful dishes that often open up the floor for sharing personal stories and one’s ambitions. Everyone seems to be accepting of others’ differences and everyone had their own struggles that they were facing. When you choose to get out and meet new people and travel to different cities, you begin to realize that there’s actually space for us to come together with peace and acceptance rather than hate and indifference. ​I interrupted the hosts’ daily lives and was welcomed with open hearts and open minds. Whatever the reason couchsurfing hosts take in strangers, one thing’s clear, the couchsurfing community is a resilient group of open-minded, good people.

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