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Hometown Invasion Tour, 5 years later

October 11th, 2011

Recently my my friend Charles (and a host from my trip) asked me a few questions looking back on my Hometown Invasion Tour. It’s been just over five years since I hit the road and a day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about it. Something as small as having my iTunes on shuffle where a song will come on that someone gave me during my trip, or one of the songs from my top 20 played list will come on. They all bring something to the front of my memory, a moment, a feeling, often of one of the several hundred people I met.

It’s very common for me to relive little moments.  I regularly find myself going through the archive of photos to see where I was five years ago to the given day, every day was a truly new adventure between September 8, 2006 and September 17, 2007.

For example, five years ago today I was in Minot, North Dakota.  It was perfect timing to be in Minot.  I attended the Norsk Hostfest, North America’s largest Scandinavian festival. I was 23 years old in a crowd with an average age much closer 70. It was the sixth state of the 50-state road trip and hardly a month into a 12 month adventure.

A Little Background

I wouldn’t meet Charles until my stop in Maryland (the 32nd state). Before knocking on the door of my hosts homes I rarely knew much more about them than perhaps how old they were, what they did for work, or how they heard about my trip. Charles, a fellow MSU alum, heard about the trip through one of the many MSU media outlets.  He was no different, I knew very little about him before knocking on the door to stay there for a few days.

I remember getting close to Potomac, MD to meet my new host.  I got off the highway and was driving down River Road where I was seeing the biggest houses I had ever seen. I started to get excited thinking, “Where on earth am I staying tonight?” I arrived at Charles’ house, and quite the house it was. But by comparison it was a dollhouse to some of the other houses in town. The owner of Six Flags was around the corner, Eunice Kennedy Shriver lived on the other side of town, Michael Jordan had a house there during his time with the Washington Wizards.

My stop at Charles’ is one I’ve told over and over again in the years since. I was completed fascinated. Out of all my hosts it was this one that maybe contrasted the most with my background growing up. None of that mattered, Charles became an incredible friend.  He inspired new thoughts, provided quality conversation, and has been a role model in addition to a friend.

I’ve seen Charles twice since the trip. I hope it was as meaningful to him as it was me.

The Highs and Lows

“What moments from the Hometown Invasion Tour stand out the most for you? I’m asking about the highs, but also the lows.”

There weren’t many highs as high as the day I left. On the morning September 8, 2006 I left my hometown in Baraga. My Jeep was the cleanest it would be for the entire trip. A news station came to cover the story and we had a small group of close friends over to wish me safe travels as I headed to Milwaukee for my first stop.  It was a cold, damp and drizzly morning, but it felt like one of the sunniest days of my life. There was this amazing sense of accomplishment, I couldn’t stop thinking, “I’m doing it! I’m actually starting this 50-state journey!”  I remember driving and shaking the steering wheel out of excitement, turning the music up high, rolling down the window and singing at the top of my lungs while driving. Looking back to this moment I’m always reminded of this quote…

“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.” — Red, in Shawshank Redemption

Exactly one year later, September 8, 2007, I returned to Michigan. For the first time I actually had people driving with me, my good friendsAmanda and Kevin. I don’t think they will ever know the emotions I was experiencing.  They probably thought I was pretty crazy. I had never been so excited in my life.  As we approached the Michigan boarder and back to East Lansing where the idea was born.

In between there were many other highs (a few of them listed below) and a few lows.

The lowest point of the trip came in Louisiana.  Louisiana was my 25th state, I was halfway through! On the night I arrived it was St. Patrick’s Day and Michigan State was playing in the NCAA Tournament.  I was excited to get to Baton Rouge and celebrate. Turns out my host ditched me.  All of a sudden she wasn’t returning phone calls, and wasn’t at her apartment when I arrived.  Her roommate shooed me away having no idea who I was and seemed to have no interest in my story or trip. It took me four hotels to find a room available.

This week in the middle of the trip I was completely exhausted. I hadn’t seen a familiar face or place in months. I had been on the road for months and just wanted to be home.  I never wanted to give up, it was never a thought.  I told my parents I wouldn’t return to Michigan until I saw all other 49 states.  And so was the case. Fortunately I was able to see my parents not long after this stop in Tennessee where I had a few days of R&R.

A Friend Everywhere I Go

“Which people that you met in the tour are still in your life today?”

No different from high school or college, it seems that as the years go by there are fewer and fewer people I’m regularly in touch with. As we all go through life there are so many changes, and I think it’s something that naturally happens. I wish I were able to see them all and talk to them regularly.  Each year there are a handful of hosts that still send me a Christmas card. Sometimes my phone will ring and it’s a former host and my face lights up in excitement.

There have been very few hosts I’ve seen since my trip. My friends from Boise, hosts in Plano, Charles and Jon in Potomac, Karen in Pittsburgh. A few others, but the list is quite small.

Quite frankly Facebook is a blessing. For the sole purpose of keeping in touch with hosts from my trip Facebook has been incredibly helpful. It allows me to keep up with their lives, see what they’re doing, and at least congratulate them as they go through new adventures in life as well. Of course I’m thrilled anytime I see a familiar name who ‘likes’ my status. It’s just enough to make me smile and bring a few more memories to the front of my mind.

There is one thing I feel is odd.  At times I’m doubtful my hosts have as much sentiment towards me as I do them. My entire year was something special. It’s a year of life fully lived with new experiences. Each host is meaningful to me in different ways. But for them, I’m not sure it’s the same? For some hosts they had to go to work in the morning while I was out exploring, they were still living their routines for the most part. For me each week was part of a life changing year, where a single week (usually closer to three days for each host) for them may not have been that much out of the ordinary. If they took me around town for example, they were already seeing places they had seen many times before.

My hosts made big impacts on my life. I remember being with Charles exploring a small tall in Virginia when we ran into one of his friends. Charles apologized later after his friend cynically asked, “What’s in it for these hosts?” In short all I wish is that I was able to make at least a small but positive impact in their life, they certainly made a large one in mine, and I’m grateful for it.

It’s a great feeling to believe that I have a friend in every state in the country. I’m hopeful that I could show up in any state and find an old host that is still willing to have me for a night or two.

Hindsight

“If you could plan and do it all over again, what would you do differently, if anything?”

Hindsight is 20/20. That’s true. Looking back it’s easy to see what I could have done better. I could have experienced more, documented more thoroughly, met more people, taken more photos.  But during the trip I think I did a pretty darn good job of making my dream come true and living each day to the fullest. I also learned that truly living each day to the fullest is difficult and exhausting.

I learned a lot about what I would do differently if I do it again. A lot of it has to do with balance. It was very difficult to balance planning and documenting the trip versus just living and enjoying the trip. Additionally, there were a few moments on the trip where I feel a little regret.  One example is in Hammond, Montana. On my last full day there we finished up work on the ranch a little early.  Lester and Reneta were heading to a square dance in town, but Carsten was feeling a little sick and decided to stay home.  Rather than going out I stayed back with Carsten and watched the MSU vs. Ohio State football game.  I still kick myself over it, feeling I should have gone to the square dance. It’s one more experience that would be completely new since I’ve never been to a square dance.

My ambitions were very quite large when I left.  I wanted to document substantially more than I did. Little did I know how much time and commitment that was going to take. But overall there is very little I would change.

Here’s something fun… One thing I wish I knew in advance was how popular Rice the Squirrel was going to be. He became a mascot of the trip and people loved him.  Photographing him in every state was something that came up last minute, it was just something small I was going to do on the side.  Turns out it became a big part of the trip. It was something I never expected, but if I ever do another trip I’m better suited to anticipate these things.

Oh, How the Web Has Changed

“Have there been any technological developments/advancements since 2006 that would have changed the way you did and shared the tour?”

It is mind boggling how much has changed on the web since 2006.  In hindsight it is easy to think of hundreds of things I could have done better with the website.  But I’m also much more knowledgeable about web development than I was five years ago.  I’m capable of things I never knew I would be. There were so many things I was doing wrong!  The site was built in tables! C’mon really Bugsy, tables? Shame.

When I left on my trip Twitter existed, but was known to very few people. Facebook was around but not the tool it is today. There were no Facebook pages, and promoting and sharing links wasn’t nearly as effective.  And there was no like button. Oh, and MySpace was still popular.

I remember getting a message from my friend John in December. He was telling me about this site called Twitter and how it was going to be big one day. I signed up for an account, checked it out, and basically was like, “I don’t have time for this”.  I’m still considered an early adopter of Twitter, and he may be the only person I know who signed up before me.

If I left on another trip today I would be much better equipped.  Imagine what I could do with Foursquare? Has there been anyone to check into a location in all 50 states yet on Foursquare? The integrations with geo tagging?  If I only had an iPhone, but that didn’t come out until January 2007.  And wireless was much more scarce five years.

Big Fish Stories

In the last five years there are a number of stories I’ve told countless times. Some of the most common stories include my close call with carbon monoxidean unexpected murdermy stop in Las Vegasa surprise in New York Citythe MSU Hockey National Championship, and meeting Jake Burton.

As each year passes and the more I’ve told them, the more each story seems to become a big fish tale. Turns out my favorite movie is Big Fish. In the movie the father tells all of these stories his son who never believed them but in the end the son finds out they were all true (just a little exaggerated, you know, big fish stories).

I never doubted that people believed my stories. But even I had become far removed from them. I had told them so many times without being able to relive them or reminisce about them with the people that were there. Sometimes I feel they aren’t valid.

I had a special moment this Spring.  Five of us from the Traction staff took a road trip to Minneapolis, not far from White Bear Lake where the carbon monoxide scare happend, one of the biggest fish stories. I told the story to the Traction crew on the drive up, no different than the many others I’ve told.  But on Saturday morning my host Mark was able to join Jon and I for breakfast. Without me mentioning it, Mark brought up the day he claims I saved his families life and told it to Jon nearly word for word as I told Jon a day before. It was validated! Jon was there to hear it, someone finally heard this story through someone else’s mouth other than mine.  I thought, “It’s true, this story is true!”

Difficult to Relate

Stories, stories, stories.  I actually feel a little guilt when I start talking about my trip, because I can’t shut up once I do and I hope my friends don’t get sick of me talking about it. When I talk about it something changes in my heart.

I lived the trip entirely on my own (ok, yes there was Rice too). At most I shared seven days out of a full year with a few select people. I can share those memories with them. But the trip as a whole was just me. It was only me driving for hours, only me who got ditched by hosts, surprised by my family in NYC, fell in love, or met my idols.

At times I feel I don’t talk about it as much as I could (or even should for my own good) because I find it difficult to express these feelings and emotions I lived when nobody else was there.

But believe me, if anyone ever wants to listen and hear some stories, I’ll talk for hours one state at a time.

In Summary

Charles asked me to write this a while ago and I should write more about these memories. I knew it would take a perfect moment and a good chunk of time to get it all out. It brings a flood of emotions and a ton of smiles thinking just how incredible it all was. Part of telling these stories over and over again and writing more down as I remember is because I fear ever losing these memories. They’re some of the best I have.

There is no doubt it changed and shaped my life forever. Reminiscing about the trip leaves a satisfying feeling. I set this really lofty goal for myself while having no idea what I was doing and there were plenty of doubters. It has opened a lot of doors, but the most important door is the one that helped me realize what I can achieve and what it takes to get there.

I’ve been playing some of my favorite songs from the trip to bring some of those emotions back to life while writing this. As I close this out I’m playing “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. Because in the end, I did it my way.

 

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