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American Roadtrip Chronicles: Chapter I

Lets Go Get Lost


The idea for this grand roadtrip arose in my friend Jason and I’s discussions of filming a documentary and our mutual desire to move west. The more we mulled over possible subjects and locations for the project the more the idea of a roadtrip began to crystallize. The target of our documentary was of much debate. We considered filming it on the sad state of our higher education system, our aimless generation as a whole, the trip itself, the “Freestaters” in New Hampshire, the Minutemen on the Mexican border and many other possibilities. More and more, however, the idea of relocating via a roadtrip took precedence in these talks and one fateful night in February while taping index cards of documentary and story ideas to a wall I scribbled “March 1st, Get the **** out” and put it at the top. The date stuck and we began preparations.


Suddenly it was the morning of March 5th, 2009 and I had slept. This was surprising because it was the first time before any large trip that I’d been able to do so. Maybe that means I’m finally becoming used to these “first day” things. After a full week of mishaps, delays and frustrations the day had finally come. The “Great American Roadtrip” was about to begin.


As usual I woke up before my alarm. This always occurs when anything of note is happening the next day; my body just snaps into a certain mode and I wake up earlier and easier than usual. My bags were already packed from the previous night, so I had a small leisurely breakfast before checking my room over to make sure I didn’t leave anything vital behind. My mom and I loaded up her jeep for the ride down to a restaurant called the “Clock of Brevard” to meet my dad for lunch. Leading up to this trip my parents had seemed much more concerned about this one in particular. Even more so than my original round-the-world wanderings. I’m not sure why. I wouldn’t even be leaving the country this time and almost always within a phone call’s reach. Not only that but I would be with a friend the entire way and not completely alone as I was in Europe and South East Asia.


We pulled out of the driveway and started down the mountain on our gravel road. Near the bottom we ran across 3 men whose pickup truck and trailer had jack-knifed after sliding backwards down a patch of ice in a sharp, steep curve. They happened to be blocking the only road out. “Not today” I said to myself before jumping out to help them slide the truck around until they could unhook the trailer. After about 30 minutes of pushing, pulling, jostling and towing we were able to squeeze the jeep through and continue on. We rolled into the Clock parking lot a little late and met with my father. At the end of our lunch he presented me with the TomTom GPS unit he usually kept on his motorcycle. “Just press one button and wherever you are it will guide you home” he said tearfully. We exchanged hugs and goodbyes and parted ways as my mom drove me on to meet with Jason.


I’ve known Jason since I was a senior in high school. That would be about 8 years now, which is pretty shocking now that I write that number down. I think its fair to say that Jason is a lot like me, although smarter, a lot more cautious, and just a bit more cynical. He finished undergrad with a degree in journalism and wrote professionally for a few newspapers. He dove heavily into economics and philosophy before deciding to go to grad school where he quickly became disillusioned with the system and dropped out. He worked freelance for about a year in videogame journalism before this trip came about. It takes only one hand for me to count the number of people I trust as much as him.


My mom and I pulled into a familiar driveway and I saw Jason loading the car. He had filled exactly half of the trunk of his Honda Civic leaving room for all of my gear. Along with all of his clothes and such were the newly acquired video camera, shotgun microphone, mixer board and condenser mics, pop filters, a homemade steadycam and a laptop stuffed with media production software. We were a complete studio on wheels and along with all of that I piled in my trusty backpack with the tents, pots, propane stove, cooler and other useful items I had scrounged together the week before. We managed to fit all but one small bag in the trunk. The three of us chatted briefly before I exchanged hugs and goodbyes with my mom as I have so many times before. Its one of the few things that doesn’t get any easier despite how much practice you have at it. We promptly finished loading the the trunk and Jason’s step-dad snapped a picture of us in front of the car. We gave the house a quick once-over for anything we may have missed before piling in. We sat just long enough to take a deep breath and have a quick thought about what were were about to undertake. The car started and we pulled out on to the road. Our journey was underway.


Our first stop was Boone, North Carolina to stay with my brother for a couple of days and do some filming around the college to test out the idea of a higher education doc. The ride there was fairly uneventful save for the obligatory Dumb and Dumber jokes. “It feels like you’re running at an incredible rate!” I called my brother when we neared the city. He was out on a call so Jason and I parked in town near his old apartment and got coffee before walking the campus to pick good spots for filming. My brother called us back and we shot over to his work and picked up the keys to his house. I hadn’t picked the best time to visit as he was in the middle of a break up with his girlfriend who was still living at the house. Being the exceptionally good guy he is, he accommodated us without second thought anyway.


We drove up to his house in the mountains away from town and found his gravel driveway to be a muddy, snowy mess. The Civic slid around, but made it. It would become successively harder each time we left and returned. We grabbed some of our stuff and took it into the house minding his vicious guard dog ever threatening to lick us to our graves. We discussed a plan of action and since it was already a bit late in the day we decided to do some shopping for road food and take the camera out later that night. While on a roadtrip, keeping costs low is essential and food tends to take the brunt of those budgetary cuts. We drove back toward town to the Lowes Foods and went shopping for the most absurdly cheap food we could find. Sandwich supplies were at the top of our list and looking through the cheese yielded a particularly interesting find. At 99 cents the “Valu Cheese” was by far the cheapest option and hence our purchase. That isn’t a typo, by the way. There is no “E”; I like to think that’s how they increase the savings. From here on I will refer to it as “cheese” with quotations because the ingredients were highly suspect and didn’t necessarily indicate any actual cheesiness going on in that package. The sandwich supplies (no condiments) along with ramen and some assorted canned food wrapped up our first grocery visit. Upon returning to the house we made dry ham and cheese sandwiches. I used three slices of ham and when Jason attempted to use four I referenced our budget and jokingly tried to enact a 3 slice limit to which he replied “yeah okay. Comrade.


We took the camera out for some driving tests and then after dark we headed back to town to see what we could film. We walked all over campus and got a few shots of the town and the college. When we walked back onto the main street I was carrying the tripod over my shoulder with the camera mounted to it. As we walked past Boone Saloon there were a couple of guys outside smoking. One of them crept up and, in what I image was the “toughest” voice he could muster, asked us “Where you think you’re going with that camera?” obviously joking as if he was going to mug us. When he realized we weren’t going to stop for his shenanigans his tone slid into actually asking us what we were doing with the camera. He had long hair, a beard and was obviously a few years younger than us. We stopped and explained that we were shooting a documentary along our roadtrip. His name was Will and he was very excited to hear this, informing us that he “had stories.” He was obviously high on something so we did what any right minded person with a camera would do: We set it up post-haste and let him rip. He then talked non-stop for 20 minutes about LSD, mushrooms, drug culture and various hallucinogenic trips. He even dropped a Timothy Leary reference for good measure and let us in on his astute political insights. I really can’t begin to describe the nuance of his mannerisms save to say that they were utterly entertaining. On our very first night of the trip, we had struck gold.


Our next day in Boone, however, bore significantly less fruit. We had hoped to get interviews with more, preferably saner students, but it turns out that day (Friday) was the last day of class before spring break. The few students that hadn’t already left were on their way out. By the afternoon there wasn’t really anyone there to film. We went in search of one of Jason’s old professors, but he was already gone for the day as well. On Friday nights in Boone they have what they call the Art Crawl. This is where all of the galleries downtown keep their doors open late and crowds move in and out of them to view the art. This also turned out to be a bust for filming. By this time were both running off of a pack of ramen and that awful sandwich the day before. We were exhausted, starving and and somewhat discouraged. We decided to hit Cookout where we downed burgers, onion rings and milkshakes. They say hunger is the best spice and they don’t lie. I was so hungry it was one of the best meals of my life. We left Boone the next morning bound north through Virginia.


Next time on Roadtrip USA: Funny smells in Folly Mills, Tyler gets sassed by a campground manager, and the pair lives it up in Philadelphia with presidential beer, live music and car chases.

-Tyler


its time to leave this town

its time to steal away

lets go get lost anywhere in the USA

lets go get lost, lets go get lost.”


-Anthony Keidis (Red Hot Chili Peppers)


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