JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Emma Taylor just took a trip to find something so many say they want.
"It's connection and joy," Taylor said. "I don’t think I can sleep at night with all the terrible things in the world unless I’m chasing those two things as hard as I can.”
Connection and joy, Taylor’s made it her life’s work. She owns an ice cream shop, Milk Sugar Love, in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“I do feel like I’m in somewhat of a bubble," Taylor told me. “There seems to be a general agreement that we’re pretty much of the same mindset here. I really feel strongly that I want to meet other people and know what they’re thinking and find something other than division.”
In June, for the first time in her career, Taylor took a summer break of three weeks to jump on a motorcycle and ride across the country.
Publicly, she posted footage of food and the road. Privately, she sought conversation and connection that would obliterate her bubble.
“I am endlessly curious about who people are, how they're living, why they're making the decisions they're making," she said. "I want to know everything I possibly can.”
At a time when there are more ways than ever to connect, people often shelter themselves. A new survey of Americans’ social networks found the average Republican has six Republican friends for every one Democrat friend. For the average Democrat, it’s the reverse. And the latest Census found nearly six in ten Americans live in the state where they were born.
“My father was an itinerant minister," Taylor said, "and I was raised in the ultimate bubble. We were taught at home, we were homeschooled, and it was a very compact way of living. And as I got older, I took tiny, tiny baby steps and exploration. And the steps keep getting bigger.”
On this giant step, Taylor says she met a man who told her the COVID-19 pandemic was a hoax, but he still inspired her with his work as a minister at a prison. She met many who chastised her from traveling on her own as a woman. She traveled in a state with massive restrictions on abortion weeks before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“I am exceptionally angry," she said. "But there are other ways to channel that anger. There are proactive ways for me to start to make change, and picking a fight is not one of them.”
In nearly every conversation, Taylor says they found fields of common ground. She said she doubts she changed anyone’s mind, and no one changed hers. But that wasn’t the point.
“I definitely wasn’t on a mission to be understood personally," she said. "I was on a mission to hear other people’s experiences and stories and to find connection on that level.”
Not everybody has the time or the privilege to ride across the country, but for those who do, many won't find what Taylor did in a time of deep polarization.
“I know I can have those conversations," she said. "I know that I can sit with somebody where we may not agree on everything and still find common ground. And I want that for everybody.”