I was bored and depressed. And I had a theory — it was because I wasn’t doing anything I was really proud of.
So I did something I wanted to do for years. I drove across America and did photography.
I was scared. I spent all my money. I didn’t know what I’d do after.
But it was worth it.
I think for many of us, you have to do things that are meaningful, to be happy. (Scroll down)
Note: I have two more months of pictures to upload. They will eventually come. Uploading became too much work on the trip, so I stopped.
19 years before these pictures, I was in the exact same place one of these pictures was taken from, when my family moved across the country. When I stand in this place, I remember it vividly.
I’ve dated girls who were not born when I was there the first time.
Drinking and driving
My sister will hate this — but I was nowhere, and it was hot, so I drink while I drive. It’s the most memorable beer of the trip.
Drinking and driving isn’t “blanket” wrong. It’s fine in the middle of nowhere, and just one or two.
I take a dirt road and I see a car.
There are hazards. I actually get scared. I hear howls from some animal, and I imagine a wolf, or a rabid hog-buffalo-rattlesnake. I put on boots.
I find one of the most beautiful sights of the whole trip.
I don’t let Butch come, because of the sounds of animals. I’m very happy to get back alive.
Chris and Lily (part 1)
I pass two bikers. I stop.
They’re biking from coast to coast for their honeymoon.
“We’ve seen 28 dead snakes, 5 deer, 2 turtles, and one dog — that was today.”
I give them water.
I take the top of this flower and put it in the pages of a book. I have it hanging in my apartment 14 months later.
I look up, and I think, “I will miss this when it’s all over.”
I see something in a tree. It’s small.
Someone was here in ’98.
Around 6pm, it finally gets below 100 degrees.
In a Starbucks looking for internet, I see a guy with a big gun.
He’s hard to trap. He wants to get away. He’s not a talker, but I get a few words out of him.
He says his name is Bruce, AKA General Dad, and I can find him on YouTube. I look, but I don’t find him.
A very hot day
It was over 100 degrees. I did as much as I could with the windows down. Welcome to the Heartland.
I love coming across something someone spent a lot of time on once, which is hidden and almost never seen by no one.
In the tent with a red light. Someone suggested “The Alchemist”. I had no idea it was the perfect book.
Another person told me red lights don’t kill your night vision.
An hour after I meet the that guy (below) I meet Shelly, and she makes up for him.
She was smiling at Butch.
“I was a professional country singer, ballroom dancer, and model. I worked all over the West. Then I got osteoarthritis — it’s a back problem. I couldn’t do any of those things anymore. I went from 5’6 to 5’3 …
“He reminds me of my dogs. They were named Ruby and Nevaeh.”
Nevaeh? Why did you name her that?
“It’s ‘heaven’ spelled backwards. I needed a miracle.”
I only met one jerk in America.
I talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people. But I only met one jerk. He was in Cowdrey, Colorado. Population 64.
I saw this funny little Town Hall, the size of a one-car garage. Beautiful.
“Hey! You!” Yes? “You takin’ pictures boy?” Yes? “Well don’t! You can’t take pictures here! People ’round here don’t like that! You’ll get your ass kicked!” Even if I tell you it’s beautiful? “I don’t give a damn! No one gives a damn! We don’t want no one taking pictures ’round here! You’ll get your ass kicked!”
He’s in his 60s and wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt. I look like I’m in my 20s and I’m wearing flip-flops. I decide to blend in more, wherever I go.
I’m doing a book about America, all the things I think are beautiful. I’ve been away ten years and I want to make a tribute to my country.
“I don’t give a shit! You get out of here!” I can give you my card. You can see the project. “You damn right better! I’m gonna report you to the cops!” Well good. I hope you do.
As I leave, on the radio there’s a report about a prisoner who was in solitary confinement for 33 years. I have a friend who was in solitary for three months. He wasn’t right for a long time after.
33 years. That’s you’re whole life or more, if you’re one of my friends. He gets one hour per day in the courtyard, but alone. He says, “Please god, give me the death penalty.”
We’re not meant to live out of contact with each other.
You’ve heard of South Park. It’s a real place in Colorado. This is North Park.
I’m halfway through my trip now.
I figured out one thing so far: I need to keep doing the things I’m doing — photography and storytelling — but I need to do it for different people. Not corporations and business people anymore; something more like charities or NGO’s.
I learned it near the end of my first week.
This is the thing I’m best at. This is the thing I’m better than others at. This is the thing I do for no money — and even spending money. But the corporate stuff just feels meaningless. Helping people is meaningful.
So that was a good realization. But I also find myself telling my sister, before I go out on the second half, that “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
I’m out there all alone, with no responsibilities, no ties, completely free, just going. It’s dizzying in a way, terrifying in a way, as I’m about to go, to think that tonight I’ll again be so free and alone. Far away from everything.
It’s not a logical thought; it’s an emotional feeling. It’s probably brought on by spending the last few days with friends and family — and now it’s time to go.
It felt good out there the first month. But as I’m about to go again, I question it all again. Is this selfish? Is it really what I should be doing? Should I be doing something else? Should I stay here with the people I love, who love me?
But I go. I don’t know if it’s the best decision … but I go.
American stores aren’t like European stores. I’m used to it now — but when I first moved to Europe, I couldn’t believe people shopped in such small stores. How?
Answer: first, they have fewer products (no “rapid mac cookers”). And second, they have fewer options (no “reuben” flavored chips).
Best Friend’s Wedding
Halfway through the trip, my best friend gets married.
He cried. I cried. I don’t know her well, but because he loves her, I feel a love for her too. She’s family now.
Our other best friend brings a fifth of whiskey. We do some shots before the stuff. They’re special shots.
Shortly into the ceremony I cry. I need the other best friend’s hankey. Shortly after that his wife cries. She needs it. My sister laughs. “Jeff took it!”
Later people puke and get hungover. It’s not Disney.
Seeing the people you love, be happy, is a special thing. It’s more special than seeing regular friends be happy. It’s almost uncontrollable, the happiness you feel.
A long time ago I met a European girl and loved her and moved to Europe.
I met her when she was driving around America and she said Colorado was the most beautiful place she saw.
Now I’ve seen the whole west – it’s all good – but Colorado is more. I see it this way for the first time.
This is one of the two places I’m from. Maine coming in a couple weeks.
Brandon and Andrew and loud craps and the best gas stop ever
I’m tired from the all-night drive and Walmart sleep. I sleep at a gas station.
When I wake I see a big ass in my face.
Turns out this was planned – the first of a few – but I don’t know it at the time.
A huge storm’s coming. To the left it’s clear and to the right it’s dark. It’s windy and starting to rain. I throw the ball with Butch to get some exercise while we can.
I go to the bathroom to whiz. A guy goes to the stall and sits and starts to grunt.
“Oh man. Oh god. Oh no. Ouch!”
This is Andrew.
I keep my laughter in.
Another guy goes to the other stall.
“Oh shit. God what did I eat?!”
“Can you hand me a tissue bro?”
At this they laugh:) I walk out laughing. The guy at the counter says “What did they do?” I say “Who are they?” He says “Just some dudes who hang out here.”
I tell him. He laughs.
I get a coffee. I try to pay.
“What’s up?” he says.
“Just the coffee” I say.
“What coffee?” he says.
“Just this coffee” I say.
“I don’t see any coffee” he says.
“Ah – right on” I say.
This is Brandon.
I go outside. They come out. We see a full double rainbow. We laugh at the jokes.
Brandon’s going into the Army in two weeks.
“My whole family’s a mess,” he says. “My brother’s in prison for raping a 12-year-old. My sister’s a drug dealer. But I’m straight. I just married the love of my life and I’m gonna serve my country because I love it.”
But I go back.
Why do you love this country?
“I’ve been through tons of shit man. I’ve seen the good side and the bad side – and it’s the good side, the good people, like you, who shake your hand – if I can defend their right to keep being like that it’s what I want to do.”
I pull over and he catches up – slowly. He’s on the bike, then off and walking it, then on again.
How you doing?
“It’s hawt!” he yells in a southern accent.
I like him instantly:)
He’s Mike and he’s originally from Louisiana. He’s been on a bike for a few years.
“I don’t like the word ‘homeless’. It sounds like an insult.”
Why are you on a bike?
“It’s better than walkin’!” We both laugh.
But why do you live on a bike?
“It’s nature man. We’re part of nature. Out here’s where I feel the most comfortable. This is where I get my peace.”
Where are you going?
“I don’t know man. This way.”
Why this way?
“Because that way’s harder!”
I told he he’s cool:)
Why do you have the American flag?
“I don’t know. I just seen it on the ground and I thought, ‘Americuh.'”
But tell me more. Why are you really on a bike?
“I guess it started because I was just pissed off at the world, you know? And this is the best damn medicashun.
“When I was a little kid we was all family. You ask if you could borrow a cup of sugar and you’d get the whole bag. But now if you ask they just say you’re fucked.”
So where do you sleep?
“I got a sleeping bag, I just sleep out here.”
On the side of the highway?
“Yeah man! You’d neve see me!”
No snakes or spiders or anything?
“Nah man. I mean they might be there … but you know.”
Tell me something you’ve learned.
“We base how we feel on how other people feel about us. I think it’s bullshit. When you can drop all that, you just say ‘I’m gonna live for me’. You don’t get your help from someone else. But I’m bad with words. As I say I love it out here.”
He tells me he has a kid, a boy.
“I don’t want to talk about that though man. If I talk about that I’m gonna cry.”
He likes what I’m doing. He says he’s always wanted to write a book.
“I seen a lot a stuff man. But as I say I’m bad with words. And the world doesn’t wanna hear any of the real stuff.”
He shows me an iPhone he found on the ground. He asks me to plug it in and see if it works. It does.
I ask how he gets money for food. He shows me the iPhone again.
“Stuff like this man. It’s a blessing. This is probably 20 or 40 bucks. I can live off this for a while.”
There’s something else he says which I can’t fit in this narrative, so I’ll just quote him.
“A lot of people, if they pull over and talk to me, they’d think I’m crazy …
“Hey man, I’m just American.”
What’s more American than a Corvette on an open highway?
Maybe an El Camino with a beehive hairdo:)
New Mexico, and its houses, and Kirkk who lives in one
From the highway I see miles and miles of these houses. I get off to see them up close.
Kirkk owns one of these houses. Did you choose the house for the architecture?
“I definitely did not. The rooves suck for snow. It’s just what the houses are like here.”
Why did you move here?
“I didn’t like California.”
He’s preparing his Model T for a show.
A different Vegas.
At first I think this sign is heartless. Turns out a prison is nearby.
How to camp at Walmart
… and because I drive all night, I find Walmart.
It’s pretty well-known that Walmart lets travellers sleep in the parking lot. I try it for the first time. It’s pretty good actually. You get a good lullaby, and you put stuff in your windows so people can’t see in. (You do this the first couple of times — then you don’t.)
In the morning I meet my first person I can’t convince to get in a picture. Tim. He’s an economic advisor to hi-tech companies. He says his clients are billionaires. He slept in the parking lot too.
“It’s easy when you’re driving late.”
He tells me America’s fucked because we’re losing our middle class because of stuff like automation and jobs moving overseas. He says all of China is operating under a strategy that deliberately undermines America. He says they’re pissed because they bailed us out and we didn’t
… pay them back or something like that.
“Something big and bad is going to happen. It’s only a matter of when.”
Drive all night
I have such a good time in El Paso, I stay late and drive all night.
26 and 27 Aug
When I pull in I’m disappointed. “Fuck,” I think. Texas is one of my three must-sees, and I only have time for this day, and the city looks boring.
But I get out and walk around, and find the country’s most photogenic city.
I loved this city. Kind of like being in Mexico, in America. Such beautiful colors and people. A TV show should be set here.
The People of El Paso follow these pictures …
All the mannequins are … shaped.
25 and 26 Aug
Lobo, tattoo artist, El Paso
I knew I wanted to get some ink on this trip, but I wanted to find the right place. This is a beautiful city, almost like being in Mexico, and I like that.
There are a couple commercial-looking places but I choose this place. It looks more local.
“I appreciate that bro.”
It’s Lobo’s place. He opened it a few months ago.
He and his cousins and nephews are having a cookout in the back. He’s tattooed all them, and they’re learning from him.
“My father called me Lobo. It just stuck.”
Chris, art savior, El Paso
“I was a firefighter for 15 years, but it’s just a big fraternity and I’m not a frat boy. I just hated the whole system. So I put my pension into creating Glasbox Studio, as a safe place for artists. We’ve had to change locations 7 times. This is our seventh place. We’re always having to raise money, but it seems like we can make it work. We’ve got about 100 artists who call this place home. We also run La Union, which is a permaculture experiment. Permaculture is the best form of peaceful rebellion. You’re off the grid and they can’t hold anything over you. Basically, the fewer people touch things before they get to you, the better.”
Jess, hula hoop artist, El Paso
Jess is a hula hoop artist.
She’s very good with the hula hoop.
She’s technically homeless, but she lives in the art factory Chris runs. She’s the only one he let’s live there.
In her room, something small crawls on the floor. It’s her pet turtle Gaia.
“He broke out of his cage, so now he just roams free.”
People of El Paso
Gabby. Practicing to be a tattoo artist. Practicing on herself so far.
“Will you do me?”
“I’ll ask my boyfriend.”
“Hola, como se llama?”
(Wave of hand.)
Vanessa and Rachel. Vanessa’s going to court for something she says she didn’t do. Doesn’t seem too worried.
“They’re shooting his dog!”
“It’s not a dog – it’s a monster!”
I walk by the “Sexy Jeans” shop and I see a guy doing push-ups on a display table.
“Women buy more clothes than men,” says Alex. He’s owned the shop for 12 years.
His father Gabino hangs out.
Alex and Regina. It’s Alex’s 22nd birthday.
What will you do?
“I don’t know, just cruise around.”
Gabriella and Sophia.
Tomorrow is Leonardo’s birthday. What do you want to eat on your birthday?
Jocelyn and her mother, Veronica.
“Are you getting married?”
“No, it’s her sweet sixteen.”
A friend tells me you see this all the time in El Paso.
“You can never tell if it’s a ‘quincinera’ or ‘sweet sixteen’ or a wedding.”
The local weather guy, Chuck DeBroder. “I gotta go on in half an hour.”
Brett is homeless. He does visual art when he can – the things you see painted in windows at McDonalds and on chalk boards outside cafes. He also does courtroom sketches.
“All that dumb shit,” he says. “It pays.”
Chris the blacksmith, working on a light fixture.
“I’d say when it’s finished, probably 100 hours of work.”
“She’s about this size. What size do you think it is?”
We’ll have to call her Jaqueline. As I approach a man comes an says no pictures.
“It’s okay, I’m a photographer.”
One thing I’ve learned from psychology, is a bad reason works just as well as a good one. It works on him but not her. I can barely get her to accept my card.
“No no no” she says.
I don’t like this man.
Arriving in Texas
Texas is the second of three “must see” places on my trip, again because I’ve never been there. And it holds a bit of mystique.
Getting to Texas
Walking Sticks. Maybe New Mexico’s state plant.
John, Korean War
John’s a Korean War vet.
“No one knows about that war.”
It was in the 50’s.
“I flew off aircraft carriers 60 years ago.”
He’s got an interesting rock collection. All the rocks are from the area, and they’re volcanic rocks – “bombs”, because they were shot in the air and splatted on the ground.
Some of them resemble body parts.
“What does this look like?”
He gives me my camp site for free.
“No one’s doing what you’re doing,” he says.
A crazy rain storm …
Bikers caught in the middle change to rain gear …
Hellen and Jane’s gas station here in Magdalena was struck by lightning last week.
“We just opened.”
And here I meet the bikers from the road, Doug and Robert. They say they didn’t get too wet. They must know what they’re doing.
“We do a week-long trip every year.”
New Mexico (different color)
“I thought I’d get the hell out of here, but then I married a rancher.”
“But I love him. I’m happy here.”
“But I tell my kids to go wild, run naked across Wrigley field.”
“I’ll just charge you $10.”
William and Mariella
Flagstaff to St Johns
The most astounding stars and moon ever
I’m talking to a friend and I miss my exit by 30 miles. I exit and turn back, and these 30 miles have the most astounding stars and moon I’ve ever seen.
The stars and moon are usually impossible to capture on camera. It’s an optical illusion – they appear bright and big to our eyes, but only because they’re surrounded by immense black. If you’ve ever taken a picture of them, you know the disappointment. (And any time you’ve seen a big moon in a picture with normal-size other stuff, it’s edited.)
But these are unedited. It looked like this – and even better, since now you know the camera doesn’t see what our eyes do.
And while this is happening I find my favorite obscure all-night radio program on the AM dial, which no one ever listens to anymore. The subject is aliens and government conspiracies. Roswell, it’s said, and the alien stories, are a cover-up for the fact that Nazi war machines breached our borders.
Some of my favorite places on earth. I love the coffee. This is where I meet Todd and Crystal.
Crystal and Todd
Nate and Jackie
Visiting Las Vegas from Detroit.
“We drove four hours to the Grand Canyon this morning, and we’re driving four hours back now. Vegas is different when you’re a couple.”
This should be everywhere
Another state that’s like another planet.
Leaving Las Vegas, I come out of the store, and Gabb – pensive and sweet and tiny and careful – quietly asks if she can pet Butch.
Her dog’s name is Butcho.
Ashley’s maybe the most successful food-truck operator in Vegas. He sells different kinds of hotdogs at various locations. He gives us a free Taco Dog.
I meet him outside a major strip club as I’m looking for my passport. He came here from Texas with his girlfriend five years ago. He met her at a strip club back then, where she served drinks. Then they both worked in offices for a while, but got sick of it – so moved here.
He’s now got two employees.
“I wanted something where production was easy and fast, so hotdogs. Some of the other guys are selling really complicated stuff, like soup that takes a day to make. Dude you wouldn’t believe it, I’ve seen so many people crash and burn.”
Food-truck is it’s own culture.
The passport wasn’t there, but I found it a couple days later in my suitcase.
I’ve been here before. All the hotels look the same – but what you wouldn’t know is they smell the same too. Some kind of perfume. I like it.
The bride is TJ, from Los Angeles. She’s marrying Doug from Vancouver.
She can’t tell me her name, and it’s illegal to take her picture. She’s a cigarette vendor.
Her name is Rose.
Mariah and Maria where born here.
Is the boyfriend helping the girlfriend?
She looks happy..
Not the girlfriend:) Lynette, bride-to-be.
Patrice and Jacque from France in the background. Patrice was the guy who helped her with her shoe.
Lynette now joined by Summer, maid of honor. From Orange County, another bachelorette party – well, the end of it.
“I love my boo.” Lynette says that all night.
I find Dani again.
After this I spend a lot of money.
Checking out. Makes me want to stay another day.
21 and 22 Aug. Mostly 22 Aug.
It takes me three hours to leave the city. It’s not even rush hour. I leave at 14.00. In some places there are seven lanes, but it never does more than crawl.
It’s been like this for decades I’m told. How can a city accept it?
At least the bikers get by. About 100 pass between the lanes.
I go to the place where you’re supposed to see it, but I like the view from here better.
In America we do these way more often than clubs.
Ray shows us the “pickle shot” – whiskey chased by pickle juice. He says it’s a Brooklyn thing. We’ll see when I get there.
It’s one of three places I need to see on my trip, one of three places I’ve never been.
I head to the Sunset Strip, where bands like my favorite band, the old Guns ‘n Roses, started.
Alex, from Israel, born in Lebanon, worked the Sunset Blvd strip club door for 20 years. He gives Butch some ice water.
A friend’s favoritve comedian is playing.
Tiffany. Not super-famous, but they pay her to sing in all the famous spots, and soon touring China.
“I think the day you stop getting nervous is the day you should stop doing it.”
She educates me – the age you see your favorite stars on Wikipedia is probably wrong.
Sara, the Playboy scout. She’s getting a tan for a date tonight, which she’s excited about, but it doesn’t go well.
Today, he has worked here for 26 years.
“It’s good, but it’s hard. The rich people treat you bad.”
19 screws and plates and in his left knee and 21 in his right.
“Some homeless people were pulling up the plants, I don’t know why. I tried to stop them, and they beat me up.”
Jerry and Jeanne Michelle. He’s waiting for his car, getting detailed, and she’s named after her mom, Billie Jean.
She can’t find her car.
Ashley’s listening to “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you.” She’s on her way to the gym, then a salad, then bed.
Friends bought an RV for 4,000, and fixed it for 4,000, and quit their jobs, and are driving. I’m inspired.
19 and 20 Aug
When I started I thought of Tom Petty as my soundtrack. I’m happy I keep hearing my favorite song of his again and again.
People non-stop say things that make you want to give up. But the songs and books and quotes they like say don’t give up. Why do they do both?
The relationship he describes is not one you get by giving up … I think:)
Monterey to LA (California)
I see migrant workers. More on this later.
Or then and now?
I hear on the radio something I can’t believe I never knew. I studied politics and I used to care – but I never knew our undocumented workers pay taxes! This is insane. 12 million (at least) pay into our system and never can get anything out of it.
They do it willingly because this is better than where they come from. But half the country wants to kick them out because … I really don’t know why. I think the real reason is, a few opinion-makers say we should, and psychology shows us we just follow opinion-makers. They cite economic and “terrorist” reasons..
I probably made similar arguments in my dumb college years, but I’ve been an illegal immigrant since then, and only for love.
Anyway, there are some forest fires that make everything invisible in a pink cloud.
I made videos but I hate videos because they take too much time to upload.
I meet Harri at a rest stop. He’s in a hurry to get to LA with his load.
We come into LA.
San Jose to Monterey (California)
Journalistic failure. Most of my notes I write down on business cards people give me, or in my phone. But the “Dream Team” of these two ladies – I wrote their info down on a map of Monterey I threw away a week later to keep the car empty.
They call themselves the “Dream Team” because they’re both born and raised in Monterey, so they know everything. They work in the visitors center. They told me how to find my campsite.
Google, Apple, Nasa, others – but it’s not how you’d imagine. It’s kind of small and empty and not flashy. But it still gets tourists.
Very normal-looking people – but maybe the best at what they do – just walk around. Or in Google’s case, skateboard or ride the free yellow bikes.
Is she the best at something?
From a ride around the city and a stay with my aunt and uncle.
Pulling in to San Jose
Butch – tourist attraction:)
Butch is one of San Fransisco’s top tourist attractions. Kerry and her friend take pictures with him, and I sneak one of them:)
Americans say hi and start conversations with strangers. They’re not scared to say “yes”. The lack of this fear is a huge thing I love about them. They’re the most like this of any people I’ve met around the world.
Amber passes me as I park and I take her picture.
She just moved here (San Fransisco). She’s a writer and television host. She got as successful as she could in Hawaii, so she moved to the mainland to keep going up.
She needs new pictures for her new marketing in this new place.
“Want to walk with me and I can do them now?”
Parking in San Fransisco
When you park it feels like the car is going to roll over.
Golden Gate Bridge
The bridge is famous for being red. It’s painted every day of the year.
Driving to the house it felt like the Hollywood Hills. Tiny winding steep roads, hidden houses in trees.
When I got to the house, my first thought was “Playboy Mansion”. Beautiful. Sprawling. Pool. Hidden. Gated.
In the morning the owner tells us it was first a phone sex house (1970s), then it was a sex film house, then a brothel. This was into the 90’s.
My friend Reina lives here. In high school she was the most super Mormon conservative you could imagine. Since then, like me – because I was religious too – she left all the judgy strictness behind, but kept the good stuff, like just being kind and loving.
We both think the story of the house is awesome:) Butch likes the pool water.
We’re just a rock falling through space:) From the roof of a “Playboy” house (next post …)
There’s a cool-looking (thing). I take some pictures of it.
A guy comes and says “Are you taking pictures of my (thing)?”
“What are you gonna do with them?”
I don’t know.
“You better not use them. It’s stolen. I’m serious. Don’t put them anywhere, I mean it.”
Absent minded (number 1)
I know I’m absent-minded. I don’t need to be told. It makes me feel bad when I’m told.
We are who we are. Love us.
I lost my first set of keys yesterday. Today I locked my second set in the trunk.
I flag down Ryan because he’s in a big truck. He helps me take apart my back seat. (I got as far as I could without tools.)
Unfortunately, when he’s with me, he remembers he forgot his dog a few miles back at his work site.
He calls the dog “my son”.
I find out some days later he found the dog. He got locked in Ryan’s cargo container as Ryan left a job. He went in there to sleep on the cool floor.
Ryan’s and independent contractor and heavy equipment operator.
The most beautiful state?
People say bad things about California. But it’s beautiful.
Redwoods (the Gods)
Bike on a bridge
Gary camps next to me, with his dog whose name begins with an S. I forgot the name.
He got cancer from Agent Orange in Vietnam. The government pays him because of this.
He cooks me the best meal I’ve had so far – a breakfast of egg with some steak and seasoned salt and grapes. I make another vegetarian exception.
He tells me he saw bodies in trees.
He’s doing the same thing I am, but with video instead of photos.
Going back to Cali
Betty tells me where the kitchen stuff is in Walmart.
Apparently a big rapper. All the kids know him.
It’s been the most emotional day, for reasons that don’t need to go here. Some already have.
But this is a nice end.
Weird. Pretty, but the worst drivers I’ve ever seen, and many God billboards, and tons of people walking on the highways. Homeless? I don’t know. But I asked, and there was not a music festival going on ..
Work – a little better than puking
Skipping ahead to today …
Listening to NPR while driving is a common American thing. Today I heard an episode of a popular game show. It mentioned a study by the London School of Economics that showed that work was the second worst thing in our lives. Being sick is the worst. (One article, and another article.)
I often hear people say they love their jobs. I don’t believe any of them. I think what they mean is, “Since I have to have a job, at least this one is sometimes not 100% shitty.”
That’s a pretty low standard we’re holding ourselves to:)
Rest Area Number 2
50 miles down the road I meet the Us In the Bus family. They were in one bus for a couple years, and have been in this bus for ten years.
They started in Florida. The housing market crashed and Father knew how to fix up busses – so that’s that.
The girls are extremely smart. I ask “do you like living on the bus?” and the young one says, “Well I can’t really answer that, because I’ve never known anything else, so I have nothing to compare it to.” But she also says yes, and she seems very happy. She loves Butch, and gives him exercise.
They all admit there may be social challenges later, for the girls, because they have such a unique upbringing. The girls even admit this. But they’re not worried or scared at all. Good.
The girls say they learn a lot about people – which they don’t teach in school – because they see how people react to them.
Everyone stops to take pictures of the bus, but no one gives. One guy asks some questions. I guess about 10% of the population is super cool.
I pull into the gas station and I see this.
I need cash anyway so I decide when I come out, I’ll give him 20, whoever it is.
I go in. I see this.
Free samples of ice cream. And 100 people going about their business in an air-conditioned oasis. Conversations between strangers. I get mad that the two things are happening right next to each other.
I go back and knock on the truck and I find Brandon.
I’m surprised he’s young, my age. I expected an old guy.
I’m cautious at first. I want to help, but I want to make sure I’m helping – not supporting a habit.
I hear his story. No habits, just shitty luck. A painter who spent everything supporting his brother and his brother’s kid, only to be ditched by the brother when Brandon lost his job. No more painting work around here.
I give him a bunch of extra stuff I brought with me, and I ask if there’s anything he’d like from inside, maybe a sandwich or something. He says water.
I go inside and get some water jugs. When I’m in there, “Under Pressure” is playing. I’m a bit overcome. I hate that this can happen in America.
As I stand there with him, five people stop and give. He says no one gave anything for two days. I believe it, because at first I saw many people read the sign and just pass by. I’m mad at this too.
He says the people who give are never rich people.
We stand there for an hour. I read somewhere once that simply taking to someone can help.
Eventually I have to go. He says things that say he’s happy I stayed a while. I almost forget to give him the 20.
I drive ten minutes down the road and stop and make a Facebook and Instagram post asking friends to donate any small amount, or at least share the post, so other might give. A few people give, which is nice, and a couple people share – but I expected more. Actually I expected tons more. I expected hundreds, if not thousands, collectively, and hundreds of likes and shares.
Meanwhile some chick posts a selfie saying “New ear rings!” and gets 200 likes.
Fuck that. It’s is exactly why I don’t like the system.
**UPDATE: Brandon get’s the money people donated tomorrow.
“Never getting married”
Anastasia works the gas station. She’s going to a friend’s wedding this weekend. She says she’s never getting married.
I ask “What if you found a guy you really loved?”
She says she’d marry him.
I think people who say they’re never getting married, really mean they don’t think they can fall in love again.
I felt that a couple times.
A funny law
It’s the second time it happens, a guy pumps my gas. Jon says it’s a new Oregon law – you can’t pump your own gas. It’s to bring jobs.
He likes the job. “Yeah it’s good. It’s minimum wage, but I get to be outside.”
The next 20 miles is the most fertile strip I’ve ever seen. Wheat, olives, grapes, sunflowers, Christmas trees, corn, apples, and stuff I don’t know what it is – but I smell onions and rosemary and thyme.
The pictures don’t do justice – but I wanted to move.
Near 219 and River Road.
The morning after
We got in late so we slept in the car.
13 Aug, around 7 in the morning
The best day (part 3)
Strippers have a bad reputation. It’s unfortunate – they’re some of the most interesting and empathetic people there are.
Also, in America, no matter what we hear – and as I’ll show later – life’s often hard for no good reason. It’s by no means unique to America – the system’s fucked everywhere.
Anyway, spurred by our near-miss a couple days ago, I Google “strip club north oregon” and find the world’s only **vegan** strip club in Portland. It’s further than I plan on going, but If I don’t go tonight, tomorrow I’ll be there in the morning – bad time.
I go fast through some beautiful country. On your way to Portland on I-84 you go 100 miles along the gorgeous Columbia River.
Finally we arrive at Casa Diablo. It doesn’t look like much from outside, but it’s the best strip club I’ve seen.
The people are nice, friendly, normal, happy, positive, laughing. They let Butch in – vegan and animal-friendly.
By request, no pictures or stories of employees or guests.
I get the hummus wrap but I’m not hungry, so we eat at our camp site an hour later. A good end to the best day so far.
The best day (part 2)
On my way out I meet Skipper, or Slim. He’s sitting on a bench and gets up to show me something.
Turns out he owns this amazing bar.
He shows me around.
He’s owned it for 40 years. He’s 82.
He’s got 100 trophies for pool. I tell him I suck at pool. “To play pool you just have to be in a bar.”
He’s got the lamp.
Downstairs is haunted, for the kids. “Kids don’t get scared anymore,” he says.
“You see that bull up there with the bullet in the head?”
“He got me in the side, so I bought him and shot him.”
He tells me this old madam still lives upstairs. Do I want to meet her? Obviously, yes.
You got me. (It’s a doll. He made it up, for fun, like the haunted basement.)
He gives me a bunch of souvenirs, like this hat. It’s so old, when I put it on, the plastic in the brim cracks like a cracker.
To be continued …
The best day (part 1)
The day becomes the best day.
I pass a sign for Lind, population 564. I’m out of gas.
But it’s two more miles.
I meet a pretty girl, Laura. She wants to be a photographer. She lives here but is from England.
I also meet Juan.
Laura’s mom runs the grocery store.
I break my vegetarian rule for an old memory.
To be continued …
In America we sometimes check out the license plates of the cars around us. Alaska’s a rare find. Spotted in western Washington.
At Coeur d’Alene.
12 Aug, around 10.00
Darryl and Terry and the extension cord
We get to the office at the same time. I ask for the best site, and Darryl tells her to give me the second-best site.
We end up neighbours. I’m too far from the electricity. They have a 50-foot extension cord.
They’re from British Columbia, and they went to Sturgis for the 75th anniversary.
Many nice foreigners in America.
12 Aug, 9 in the morning
I love the signs in America, and the food.
11 Aug, around 19.00
Rest Area Number 1
Behind the rest area the boys swim in a creek.
The dog too on a leash.
The grandparents watch.
She says happiness is doing what I’m doing, he says it’s the kids.
Sandy and Danny, from Shreveport, Louisiana, with their grand-boys from California for two weeks in their RV, going around Montana. And Belle the dog.
Orange motorcycle couple on I-90
The passing lane
I need to put miles away. I hit the highway.
10 and 11 Aug
Strip club, Nina, and Mac
About to camp at exit 274, middle of absolutely nowhere Montana, when I see this sign.
It seems there’s a strip club one exit further. But unlucky me, they’re closed on Mondays.
But lucky me, nearby is the best campground ever.
Nina’s suspicious of me when I walk in. Very. She has her husband Mac follow me as I look around.
Soon I win her over. She tells me I had “shiny European eyes” she doesn’t see often – that and the camera and the heart tattoo made me suspicious.
Her real name is Brunhild. She’s originally from Bavaria. Her and Mac – American – work and live at a different campgrounds across the country every summer in their RV. They’ve done it nine years.
She saves me a slice of pizza. And she tells me she has a beautiful granddaughter.
10 Aug, around 20.00.
Pickle in a bag
I always wondered about these. Taste pretty okay:)
10 Aug, around 18.00.
We stop in a park in Bozeman to rest. A family comes with a photographer. I find out it’s Jean’s 90th birthday.
10 Aug, around 17.00.
I flew to Denmark with my friend Ty. Now he lives in Red Lodge, Montana, with his wife Courtney.
Lost my notes. Forgot his name.
Best pizza on earth
The best pizza I ever had was in Meeteetse, Wyoming, population 300, at a bar where Butch Cassidy was shot and arrested. Cowboy Bar.
Butch, where Butch was shot and arrested.
9 Aug around 13.00.
The best stories I wrote for the newspaper exposed a bad energy company and ended up getting a 90-year-old guy heat in his trailer in the frozen winter. Now the trailer’s gone.
9 Aug, around noon.
Thermopolis’ – and my – first gay wedding. By chance, it happens when I’m there, and I see people I used to know who came just for this.
I always wondered what life was like in small towns. We drove through them a lot when I was a kid.
When I lived here, I found out it’s the same as everywhere else – just smaller.
As I’m leaving town, by coincidence I run into my old landlords, Alexa and Vince, fixing their camper. I say “Do you remember me?” And Alexis says “Jeffrey!”
It’s nice when you’re remembered.
8 and 9 Aug
How I got to Europe
I moved to this town for my first “real” job. I was a reporter and photographer for the weekly newspaper.
I met a Danish girl in this parking lot on July 10, 2007.
The parking lot used to have a windmill.
Dave and Cindy have run the store for 20 years. Smokey the cat has been there ten years.
The windmill is now a flagpole in their front yard.
“They were such nice girls,” Dave says.
Between the Tetons and Thermopolis. It’s like driving through a bunch of paintings.
Rest stop bar
After the Tetons, there’s a rest area with a bar. The girl who works there lives behind the place.
8 Aug, around 18.00
I’ve been asking everyone I meet what makes them happy. This was almost gonna turn into a “search for happiness” thing. But this morning I remembered, I already know what it is – at least for me. For me, it’s living the life I want 90% of the time. That’s the reason I’m doing this trip:)
I think the road to happiness is different for each person. Each person has to define it themselves. I just wish more people would think about it and try to make it happen:)
11 Aug, 09.05
Peggy and Erin from New Jersey, hiking around northern Wyoming for a week. They met while working together years ago.
7 Aug, around 17.30
I love bikers. I’m seeing hundreds of them. I think they’re all going to Sturgis. But then, plenty just tour the country all summer.
My favorites are the guys with beards and tattoos. But most just look normal, like this.
8 Aug, around 17.00
Everyone I’ve ever known with a horse seemed to have it all figured out.
7 Aug, around 16.00
I’m gonna skip ahead a few days to now. I’ve had to change my plans because the country’s bigger than I remembered. I’d planned to see an old friend in Seattle, but today realized if I did, I wouldn’t get to family down south. So I changed plans and it bummed me out – but that sad stuff is the stuff to avoid. Maybe it’s expectations – and getting rid of them.
I expected to see him and everyone. I expected this blog to get huge. Those expectations I can get rid of, and now just drive and have a bunch of random experiences and put them up here, or not. It’s about living how you want to live – and I just want the road and a bunch of pictures of places and people. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
And I’m not about getting rid of all expectations. I still want that good girl and a life that’s 90% great:)
11 August, 21.53
Jackson, Jenn, dogs
Jenn and I were friends ten years ago in college. We haven’t talked since then. A million things happened to each of us.
Experience is good. Gives you wisdom if you let it, and fearlessness.
Jackson’s beautiful. I see Butch in nature and it’s great.
6 and 7 Aug
Ronnie works on the rigs. People who work on rigs know, that sometimes you get laid off for a while. But the job usually comes back.
He told me this story during a break on his motorcycle trip. The picture’s in Dinosaur, Colorado.
As I got in my car, a guy walked up to him and said “You worked on the rigs?”
Hopefully our talk, which lead to that talk, lead to something good. He’s cool. Does photography too.
6 Aug, around 11 in the morning
Driving through Mars
First breakfast, and selfie
We went back to the cliff for breakfast. What a nice breakfast:) And I try a selfie stick.
First night fail
Found a cliff-top camping spot and setup, then a ranger came and said it wasn’t legal. We had to leave so we drove to a legal place.
But it was dark then, and I stepped in two deep holes. I thought they were snake holes or something – so I was too scared and we just slept in the car.
The stars were wild. But those holes freaked me out so I didn’t take pictures.
In the morning I saw little bunny rabbits going in the holes.
We leave, but we only do four hours to my sister’s house. It’s a drive I’ve done more than any other, hundreds of times. It’s a soft start.
It turns to night and I see probably 50 deer – the prettiest animal but dangerous. I don’t like driving at night.
I wanted old rock music and i got it:)
5 Aug, between 17.00 and 21.00.
This stove is from the 70s. My mother used it when she drove around the country then. It didn’t work anymore – but today we fixed it.
It’d be too easy to make guns a theme. But I’m not totally against a few pictures like this.
We have a tent
I’m camping on this trip. I got a tent that sets up in 30 seconds:) Butch likes it too.
Lately when asked, I joke “it’s a mid-life crisis kind of thing” – because it gets the point across with humor.
But this morning I ran into my neighbor Jackie, and when I made the joke she made a better one: she called it “preventative medicine”. She’s right. I’m doing it so when I’m 40 or 50, I don’t have a mid-life crisis:)
Beautiful Colorado morning
I love jet lag. It gets you up early:)
Everytime I arrive it’s the same thing – horrible border control people. But then after …
She breaks the security fence, and usually she has Danish flags, but she lost them. So the bag will do …
Then she cries …
Then he walks the dog.
About to land in Colorado, one of my two home states and known for its mountains.
Most people don’t know the east half of the state is flat.
Dog in airport
Kathrine says goodbye
What am I doing …
I leave in the morning. What the hell am I doing? I really hope it’s not a self-indulgent, selfish thing..
But it could be the system making me feel this way:)
30 July, 02.00
Figured it out?
Living with meaning. Maybe that’s what it’s about. Maybe some of us can’t be happy unless we’re living with meaning, or purpose. It makes sense – the “system” makes it hard to live with meaning. You’re just supposed to have a job.
(Extra: I work a lot with leadership. Maybe this is the key place most leaders fail. They fail to create a sense of meaning for their teams, companies, etc. Maybe this is why so many people seem bored and walk around with blank faces.)
27 July, 23.12
Is the system really so bad?
I leave in a few days. I’m imagining three months from now. Is it possible I discover, after, that this wasn’t worth it? Or that the system isn’t so bad?
I guess it’s possible. But everytime I’ve taken a huge risk, I’ve not regretted it:)
26 July, 23.56
I thought I had a great idea – I’d use Tinder to find places to stay, to save money. Because it’s location-based and more popular than Couchsurfing. And if I found fun, okay:)
But today I got it and tested it. I made a profile like I’d make in America, saying I’m looking for places to sleep, except I say I’m driving across Europe instead (where I live).
I swiped right all day. The results are hilarious:) Maybe not a great idea. Asking to stay over the first night – too much too soon? :)
From a warm-up trip to America earlier this year. This is Butch:)
“If I didn’t have a kid …”
Talking with a friend this morning he says this: “If I didn’t have a kid, I’d be totally off the grid.”
I don’t have a kid:)
18 July, 21.31
Biking home tonight, I wondered: what if the world was made for creatives instead of workers? What if there were no regular office hours, and coming early was penalized, and crazy ideas were loved, and you had to change jobs every week, and shareholders didn’t exist, and profits didn’t matter, and logic wasn’t valued, and hard work was frowned upon, and analysis was stupid?
I bet half the world wouldn’t know what to do. That’s what it feels like now, for us.
I don’t want that system, but I want a system that accommodates both.
17 July, 23.26
Friends and family keep asking if they can join for a week, or have me stay with them a week. I say yes, but only a day or two. I don’t think they’re aware of the other part of this – that it’s not a vacation, but a project. I have to make this more clear.
To repeat, I hate the system we live in. The school-to-job, and job-for-the-rest-of-your-life system, and the limits this puts on our thinking and behaviour. I feel trapped by it, bored with it, unhappy in it. I think others feel this. I think it’s why we drink.
To repeat again, I’ve been unhappy a while. And I’m pretty sure it’s because working to make companies profitable, or shareholders rich, or just to afford life and vacations, isn’t fulfilling. It’s not something I can be proud of. To be happy I have to be proud of what I do.
Taking a risk to do something I believe in makes me proud. And I believe the system’s bad. And I believe in escaping or changing the things you don’t like. And I believe the pictures and stories I’ll have after will be beautiful. And I believe in putting beauty in the world. And I believe in doing things with no guarantee of reward.
Two months is probably the minimum time to do the whole country, so I can’t stay anywhere too long. I can’t stay anywhere a week.
6 July, 20.02
Even after that last post, I wasn’t sure I’d do it. I hesitated to buy the ticket. It meant committing, spending everything, possibly losing everything.
But I came home last night and took it:) Now it’s official:)
26 June, 02.36
For me, the main problem with any creative idea, is it’s hard to maintain excitement for it, or belief in it, over time. I could write songs and short essays, but never got past the first chapter of a novel.
Creative ideas are genius. The best parts of us. Us, at our best. Our best moments, unlike everything else in the world and all the other moments.
But because they’re so rare, pretty soon after a creative idea, the overwhelming voice of the world comes and says “that’s not so clever.” And you start to believe it. Or I start to believe it.
It’s been five months since I wrote anything here. I thought about it every day and did many things relevant, but I didn’t write, because I didn’t know if I’d do it.
Because if I do it I’m risking everything. I’ll spend all my money – maybe 15,000 USD – because I’m too lazy to find funding, and I don’t want to be bound by any requirements or restrictions. I may lose my company, because I won’t make any money in this time, and if I don’t make money the government closes my company. And if the government closes my company I get kicked out of Denmark, where I’ve lived the past ten years.
So is it worth it? Yes.
Because the system we live in isn’t for me. And I’d rather make my own way than play by someone else’s rules.
What I’ve seen over the years, is that the system just encourages playing it safe. You have to get a job, and you have to keep that job, just to afford life. That would be okay, if jobs made us happy – but jobs don’t make me happy.
I’ve had jobs. No one seemed happy. I think it’s because we’re made to do better. Making money for a company isn’t fulfilling. No kid dreams of sitting in an office and emailing.
I did a good thing. I made a small company that works and lets me be free. That took time. But now I’m just coasting. Just making money. And that’s not fulfilling.
So if I believe this, I better act this.
I’ve decided this is more than just pictures of America. It’s also an expression of feeling out of place in this world, of being the creative or idealist in a world that just doesn’t get it. And hopefully it’s a victory story, over this “system”.
I hope you like it:)
5 June, 01.45
Bomb for sale
This is where it started:)
2010. I was sad from a break-up. I went home to see friends. Driving through a tiny town somewhere in Kansas, I saw this. A bomb for sale. And I thought about the million similar things that exist in my country, that I saw driving across it my whole life. And I thought how cool it’d be to put it all in a book.
“OBO'” means “or best offer”, for my European friends.
Got a car!
I got some good news last night: I can use one of my parents’ cars. I didn’t expect them to just say yes, but they did.
This is cool. A car is a major part of this.
So is this actually going to happen? I’m starting to feel scared …
08 January, 20.26
I have an idea – actually I’ve had it many years – that I’ll drive across America and take pictures. I think I’ll do it sometime this summer, sometime between June and September.
I’m just writing it down, in the middle of the night, so that it starts happening.
4 January, 04.05