By the afternoon, all that is left of yesterday’s storm is a drizzle, and the pavement is almost dry. Near Tuscaloosa, I stop at a gas station to fuel up and stretch. It’s a huge station but completely deserted. Inside, an attendant sits behind a counter. He is a young man, dark, slender, and short, with blazing brown eyes. When he hears that I rode all the way from New York, he stands up and asks to take a look at the motorcycle. We go outside and I take a picture of him sitting on it. We stand and chat, enjoying the unexpected break from the solitary quiet of the rainy day. There are no customers and there is no rush, and after speaking for some time, we go back inside and have lunch together. This stranger I just met, working two gas-station jobs in southern Alabama, is a man in pursuit of his dreams.
His name is Omar. When he was three years old, his family moved to the US from Saudi Arabia and settled in an Arab-American neighborhood close by. Even though he grew up in the country, Omar says that he always felt like an outsider, and he hopes that his young son’s experience will be different than his own. His dream is to write a book that will help young American Arabs bring together their ethnic and national identities and open a door for them into American society. His current job, working shifts in gas stations, earns him enough to save for college, so that sometime in the future, he can get the education he needs to start writing his book. Sitting behind the counter today, Omar is, in fact, in the midst of chasing his dream. One can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. He is on fire.