The miles, smiles, faces, places, gas stations, laughs, interviews, interactions, insights & interstates blur together in a beautiful whirl of movement.
Movement! I wish we had more time to linger in each town – to mingle with locals for long, lazy hours & learn each intricate truth to the depth it deserves. Sadly, our ambitious itinerary simply doesn’t allow for such luxuries. It’s a double-edged sword, I suppose. On the sharp & shiny side, we get a snapshot of more than 35 states in two months. – a chance to see a huge chunk of this country & connect with as many people & places as we can. On the sword’s less glamorous edge, we’re forced to skim over so many captivating stories that it is, quite literally, painful.
Yesterday, for example, we met an amazing woman who lives & works at a vegan farm in the mountains outside of Albuquerque. They grow all of their own food and rescue animals who would otherwise be raised for human consumption. She invited us to come tour the farm & even offered to cook us up a nice vegan meal. Great stuff, right? With more time, we surely would have gone, but the detour wasn’t feasible with eleven hours between us & Austin. As it is, I’m typing this in the passenger seat at half-past-midnight as Peter captains our ship southeast towards the Texas capital.
Which brings up another point: the data! Holy crumplecakes. We’re constantly filming, photographing, audio-recording & writing. When we finish the day or night’s official scroll set-up, we return to wherever it is that we’re staying and load the material onto our computers. Then we back it all up, twice, on two separate portable hard drives. Then we go through the footage, select the best photos, edit a couple interviews & compile time-lapse movies. From there it’s on to Facebook to share the journey on the Manuscript Across America page. Then I do it all over again on the official website for the folks that don’t have Facebook. When that’s done, I pull out my journal or computer and try to wrap my head around what’s happened, let alone what’s happening. Then I look up from the screen just in time, just now, to glance an incredible mural that Peter spotted of an eagle with the American and Texas flags as wings, “In God We Trust” painted in the center. “Should we do it?” asks Peter. “We gotta,” I say. So we pull off the road in the sleepy town of Lampasas & set up the cameras for some shots. We put the camera timer on and ran up to the mural, leaping in the muggy Texas night for a series of pictures as we giggled at the absurdity of what we were doing. These are the moments I crave – the random detours to stop & appreciate beauty for longer than a 75-mile-per-hour frantic out-of-focus drive-by clip of the West Texas oil fields or wind turbines or migrant workers or general stores or Billy the Kid museums.
But there are nuggets. Plenty of them. We lucked out in Albuquerque and met Don Schrader, perhaps the most well-known man in the entire city. He lives simply – hasn’t paid taxes or ridden in a car in decades. He survives on less than $5,000 per year and lives incredibly well. Skin leathered with sunshine & eyes full of wisdom. He had a little hand-cart full of thirty or so Granny Smith apples from the flea market. What a guy. He was more than happy to sit down with me for an interview and we chatted for a good twenty minutes after that. These are the moments I crave.
I’ve taken on a lot. There’s no way to capture everything. Even when it is documented, it’s a challenge to frame the shot right, make sure the audio is set up correctly, hold the camera still & control the hundred other variables that end up making the difference between a quality documentary & an hour-long YouTube video. I have to shake my head & laugh when I think about the reality of this odyssey. Sure, I’ve got a pretty good grasp on photography, but making a movie is an entirely different can of worms – a can that I had scarcely put the opener to before promising folks a documentary & writing up an itinerary that even the most driven traveling musicians would likely dismiss as ridiculous.
Who’s idea was this anyway? Oh right. I’ve been overwhelmed more times than I can count, but I’ve been overjoyed enough for that not to matter. I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m plunging headfirst into the unknown with nothing more than a dream to guide me. I’m challenging myself to share as much truth & beauty as physically & mentally possible without losing my own precious mind.
Don’t worry about me, though. It’s 1:41 a.m. and there’s a country song on the radio called “Must Be Doing Something Right.” And I must be. We must be. Because otherwise why would I be wide awake, inspired & full of optimism as we enter the eleventh hour of Texas travel? That’s just it – the traveling. It stirs something within you. Even if the pace is frantic, even if a billion incredible stories go untold, even if every conceivable aspect of this journey goes incredibly wrong, it doesn’t matter. We’re doing something: write. We’re doing something, right? We’re doing something right.