N 29° 53.958 W 081° 18.876
from Local Treasures
The cache owners warned that it’d be hard—not so much to find the cache as to do so without being observed. In fact, they described this cache as specifically “for the enjoyment of the truly adventurous or just stupid,” added that folks should “come prepared with a good excuse.” Across the street was a Ripley’s Believe it or not! museum, so most of the excuses that my friend Janet and I invented began “uhh, believe it or not…” In the end, we didn’t need them. None of the hundreds of people who walked by asked why we were spending so long pushing aside bushes and peering at mulch on a median between a trolley stop and a busy street. No one offered to help us search for whatever we so obviously and ardently sought.
A few weeks earlier, Rob and I had been in the desert in California, walking along what’s left of U.S. Highway 80, the other end of the Old Spanish Trail. It truly is the antithesis to bustling St. Augustine, Florida, with its cement orb in the middle of downtown marking the start of the trail. Rob and I didn’t need to worry about being observed out west. The only folks we saw during our hike were two border patrolmen. And though they conspicuously noted our car (and likely our touristy demeanors), they didn’t speak to us either, not even to see if we or our car needed care.
Please don’t misunderstand: I was glad not to be interrogated. Still, such privacy (borne of indifference) seems strangely fraught, at once appropriate and callous, respectful and troubling. In the early 1900s, when the Old Spanish Trail first connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, American communities were so much less dense. People didn’t need—and didn’t need to give each other—quite such wide berth. And though the population was large enough to make for plenty of potential strangers, far more Americans then spent their entire lives in a single town, insulated from the unfamiliar. Now, the land’s thickly settled, the roads well-made and oft-trod, people from away visiting even remote deserts. With no more space between us, we crave the legroom we so industriously eliminated. And we simulate it daily with this willful blindness we’ve convinced ourselves to see as kindness.