Hi, I'm Bugsy

One Year* Alcohol-Free (unabridged)

January 4th, 2015

It’s the beginning of a new year, a time full of new goals and resolutions. Though New Year’s has always been one of my favorite holidays, resolutions have rarely been a part of it. In fact, I recall making an honest attempt at exactly two New Year’s resolutions. There was also a time when I gave up soda for an entire year in my teens, but I don’t recall it being associated with the new year.

A few days before New Year’s Day 2014 I decided I would not have a single drink of alcohol during the calendar year. One year later, I can mark my resolution as complete. It has been an inspiring year, this is the story of how it came to be.

My story with alcohol, however, starts much earlier.

My Childhood and Teen Years

As many of my friends became teenagers they began to sneak around trying their parent’s liquor or beer. Some parents provided that first beer to them. In my house however, a drop of alcohol could never be found. Family gatherings were no different. I don’t have a single recollection of seeing alcohol at my parent’s house, grandparent’s house, or most of my aunts’ and uncles’ homes.

I have exactly two memories of my family consuming alcohol. The more recent of the two was at my brother’s wedding where my parents each had a glass of champagne. Then again, I’m not entirely sure if they had the champagne or the alcohol-free bubbly. There is also a memory from our childhood during an extended family reunion. My grandmother brought a glass of apple juice to my brother, or at least she thought it was apple juice. Turned out it was a light beer. I mostly recall from the stories I’ve heard, but apparently my brother didn’t like it too much.

Throughout high school there were plenty of opportunities to drink, though I didn’t feel a lot of peer pressure. During my rebellious teen days of wearing JNCO jeans I typically spent my Friday nights in my bedroom with headphones on working on little art projects, writing in journals, or composing letters to my high school crushes. People always assumed teenagers would drink to rebel against parents, society, school, etc. And somewhere along the way I began to think, “If everyone seems to be drinking, and it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do, the true rebel is the one who decides not to drink.” That thought stuck with me for a long time. With hockey, skateboarding, snowboarding and photography, I had plenty to focus on and all the adrenalin I needed.

High school graduation came and went, and suddenly I was a freshman at Michigan State University. I loathe the following assumption, as MSU is such a remarkable institution, but since it’s relevant to this discussion it is the one time I will refer to this quote from Playboy magazine: “Michigan State University will no longer be considered for our annual list of party schools because we feel it is unfair to include professionals on a list of amateurs.” So, yeah, it was a party school. Opportunities to drink were everywhere. Even more so at the MSU Snowboard Club parties which I frequented.

The peer pressure to drink, which was relatively absent in high school, was now much more present in college. But I held on to my thoughts on rebellion and never felt any need or desire to drink.

The semesters ticked by. Suddenly I was Junior in college and on my 21st birthday I found myself sick and vomiting. Except it was just the flu. I was finally of legal drinking age and still alcohol-free.

The greatest part of this is that I felt a sense of willpower that was unbreakable. By this time, if I wanted to drink I could without my conscience weighing in, but I was definitely not going to succumb to peer pressure. My heightened sense of willpower affected other areas of my life, where I felt conviction in my choices.

On July 1st, 2004, I was celebrating Canada Day with my study abroad classmates in London. My friend Debbie and I stood at the bar of a pub. She bought me my first drink, a Strongbow. In that moment reservations about drinking were gone. I had long proven to myself the strength of my willpower and no longer felt the need to prove something to society. On top of that, I was in London! If there was ever a perfect time for a first drink, it was then. It was a memorial trip abroad, and I enjoyed plenty more than that one drink.

My senior year came around, and coincidentally, in my capstone advertising class our group project was to come up with a campaign for the health center, focusing on the social norms of drinking on campus. Though my experience with drinking wasn’t the norm, I learned that it actually wasn’t that unusual. Over eight years later the campaign is still in use.

Adult Life

Having some statistical context here is important. The number of American adults who abstain from drinking is not rare. Based on a 2012 study, nearly 25% of 30-year-olds haven’t had a single drink in the last year.

When I had that first drink in 2004, I was 21 years old plus a few months. I’ll be turning 32 soon and there has been plenty of alcohol in those ten years. In fact, I love trying a new craft brew, and many friends can attest to my affinity for a spicy Bloody Mary and especially a White Russian. There were nights of binge drinking, hangovers, a handful of embarrassing vomiting moments. Mom and Dad, you are now hearing about this for the very first time.

With my parents in mind, I want to make one thing very clear, there was never a drinking problem. Throughout this year, as I told people I wasn’t drinking, many reacted with looks of concern, as though I possibly had a drinking problem. Rest assured, this was never the case.

We often associate drinking with partying and having no inhibitions. We use alcohol as a means to that end. During the Hometown Invasion Tour there were some wild days. Some sober, some not. But I have to mention four brothers. These four brothers were the life of the party, and they partied! They were crazy in all the good ways, not an ounce of inhibition, and more energy to keep going than anyone. All while completely sober. How could I be more like that?

Then the day came when I began a career. After a days work it was common to grab a beer with coworkers and friends. There were some late Friday and Saturday nights with many, many drinks. And I loved trying a new beer while eating dinner out. Certainly there were some shameful moments and embarrassing stories (you’ll have to find me in person to hear about those). However, it was very rare to ever find alcohol in my own fridge. Typically the only alcohol there was given to me as a gift. Curiously, I had some of the most sought after Michigan beers in my fridge most of this year. More on that below.

Whether it be a professional networking event, a birthday party, or a BBQ, there have been many situations where I observed people say in shock, “What do you mean there’s no alcohol?” or “Well, I’m not staying long if I can’t drink.” For many there is this social dependency, and I wanted to make sure I could have fun no matter what beverages were offered at the party.

Drinking had very much become the status quo. And status quos and I have never gotten along very well. After ten years of consuming alcoholic beverages, it was time to mix things up for a fresh perspective.

A Resolution with Social Implications

“I love drinking, hate people who don’t drink. Never met an interesting person in my life who didn’t drink. If you don’t drink you’re a boring cunt and all your stories suck.” – Jim Jefferies

Am I a “boring cunt”? Do all of my stories suck? Well, damn.

Giving up alcohol for a period of time was something I had been considering for a while. I was inspired by my friend Eric who had the same resolution a few years ago. I’ve had colleagues and friends who choose not to drink, some who have never had a drink. And then there is my best friend, who based on his religious beliefs does not drink. He has provided the most inspiration. As the sober person around a group of drunk people, he was still the life of the party. He would usually have more fun than the rest of us.

I began to ask myself a few questions. Do I still have the willpower I had as a teenager? Will I be able to have just as much fun without drinking? How can I relieve my social anxiety without using alcohol to loosen my inhibitions?

As I began to tell friends of my resolution the responses were across the board. Many people challenged it, asking “Why not give it up for only a month?” or “Why not give up something else?” I could give up chocolate, meat, swearing, but alcohol has social implications much more ingrained in society.

The responses varied greatly.

  • Some were faces of bewilderment, confusion, and a simple, “Why?”
  • Many people expressed admiration, “That’s awesome!” Only to be followed with, “but I would never do it” or “I’d go a month, but a year is ridiculous.”
  • There were a few examples where people blatantly stated, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
  • But nothing compares to having a person dealing with substance abuse come up to me and say, “I think it’s inspiring you’re doing this.”
  • And more recently, “I’d love to buy you a beer, but only when you’re ready,” while putting an emphasis on whenever I choose.

And perhaps most common was people saying something along the lines of, “I don’t plan to give up anything I like, I like drinking!” I agree, I enjoy drinking too. A dark stout sounds fantastic. On top of that a drink in certain settings helps relieve my social anxiety and lose some inhibitions.

But certainly there are things we can gain through giving up something we love. I never felt that a month would be long enough. A year, now that could have some impact. By practicing restraint and no longer taking things for granted there is much to be learned. I am certain that when I do have another dark stout, it’ll taste better than any I’ve had before it.  A year, after all, is not that long, or so I hope. And being sober isn’t for me, well I have the rest of my life to drink as much as I want.

At times, the peer pressure from adults was worse than it ever was from college students or teenagers. Among some groups of people, the idea of not drinking was entirely inconceivable. Yet, last New Year’s Eve went by, my birthday, a moving away party, and a welcoming party as I moved back to Marquette. All without a drink.

Moving back to the Upper Peninsula has been amazing, being surrounded by good people and also in part to moments like this, which has made 2015 an amazing start. One of the longest standing stereotypes of Yoopers has been our love for beer. And let’s face it, along with most stereotypes, it’s a stereotype for a reason.

Being the Official Unofficial Ambassador of the Upper Peninsula is a wonderful mission, but there are Upper Peninsula stereotypes I’ve always wanted to challenge. Many people know me for my marketing and advertising background, but my first field of study at MSU was sociology. I will forever be an amateur sociologist at heart.  Many people have offered to buy me a beer this year, and I happily meet them at the brewery where I respectfully decline the beer and have a glass of water. This often led to confusion on their part.

Two people come to mind with whom I had in-depth conversations with about drinking culture. One from California and one from Colorado. They were both under the impression that in the Midwest there is a much greater culture of drinking. The locals will often acknowledge this while pointing to long winters and short days. Though I made my way through all 50 states, it was never long enough to truly observe the difference in drinking cultures from state to state. Both of these people mentioned how in the Midwest drinking comes first. But out west, drinking comes second, because you want to go biking and skiing the next day, and you don’t want to interrupt those plans by over drinking. They argued that in the Midwest you drink, then if you’re not too hungover you decide if you’re going to go biking or skiing that day. I thought this provided wonderful context to this year without a drink.

At some point during the year I became to feel very liberated. This was the point where I truly feel I achieved my goal, which wasn’t just to go 365 days without a drink, but to challenge my willpower and see if I still had it.

I recall going to prom dinner in high school. Everyone ordered a soda, but I ordered a chocolate milk. As some snickered I became self-conscious. But to me chocolate milk is way more tasty and way more soothing. It was a similar feeling earlier in the year each time I ordered a ginger ale at the bar when everyone else was getting a beer. The pressure to have a drink began to fade, I became more confident in defying that status quo.

*An Asterisk

Ok, so there’s an asterisk. Did you really think I would go a year without one? Let me explain.

I opened by mentioning two New Year’s resolutions. This is the second one.

On January 1, 2010 I launched Beer With Branson, a social media campaign to achieve my New Year’s resolution of having a beer with Richard Branson. The year, and the resolution, began with lots of buzz. But it would silently fade, and it didn’t happen. The goal lingered in my mind, and it slowly became a bucket list item rather than a resolution.

After great patience, some persistence, and a lot of luck, I poured Richard Branson a beer, or as my friends call it, “Foam With Branson.” But give me a break, that was the most nerve-wracking beer I’ve poured in my life.

I came home from that trip to Grand Rapids with a few cases of the best beer in Michigan. It included a Kentucky Breakfast Stout from Founder’s, a rare beer that has won awards for being the best beer in America. Beer connoisseurs would be furious to know I’ve had one sitting in my fridge, unnoticed for seven months. The kind folks at Founders, nor anyone helping to make Beer With Branson come true, had no idea I was five months into a commitment not to drink.

So yes, I did have a drink in 2014. If you want to challenge me and say I didn’t achieve my resolution of not drinking, that’s fine. However, my conscience is very clear and I am quite alright that I paused one resolution for a day, to achieve a previous resolution from four years prior.

In part, I felt it was fate. That this epic moment was meant to be part of this year without drinking. And I debated with myself, maybe I would show up with chocolate milk for each of us instead of a beer. As I drank my Widowmaker from Keweenaw Brewing Company, it was most certainly the best tasting beer I ever had.

Drinking in 2015

There were relatively few people who know of my resolution not to drink, but my parents were never one of them. And suddenly in Wisconsin this December there was a milestone moment where they bought me a beer for the first time. We were admiring all the beer labels at a small shop when we noticed the Fat Squirrel label (it’s worth noting that I have a squirrel thing, partially by choice, partially because of the success from the Hometown Invasion Tour). Having no idea of my resolution, it was an awkward exchange, and the bottle still sits in my fridge.

The questions I’m asking myself have changed. I find myself asking if I want to have another drink? Does not drinking actually make me a better person or more productive person? Does it help bring out the quintessential Bugsy? Those are still things I’ll still try and answer.

There are some very tangible benefits from this year. Not drinking has saved me hundreds of dollars, thousands of calories, some headaches, and probably a few poor decisions. But nothing compares to the perspective it has helped me gain. This year was incredibly fresh and clear. It has been a spectacular year with a lot of changes in my personal life, but much of it can be credited to giving something up for the sake of creating new perspectives.

I have yet to have that first drink of alcohol, but I achieved what I set out to, and that next perfect moment for a drink will come along soon enough. But I am certainly in no hurry.

People are beginning to ask what my resolution is for 2015. It’s already a few days into January and I’ve got ideas, but no concrete answers. But what I’ve learned is the importance to continually challenge yourself. I love the idea that there is always something we can quietly work towards. Challenging the status quo, working on your willpower, or gaining some perspective are just a few of the potential benefits. But if it comes to giving something up or taking something on for an entire year, the fact is that in the grand scheme of things, one year is a pretty small part of our lives.

And I guess this is where that famous quote from Socrates would go.

More Than A Pair Of Shoes

May 24th, 2012

Five years ago this week, I arrived in South Carolina. It was the 33rd state and eighth month of my year-long 50-state tour. By this time, the trip had reached a certain level of comfort and normalcy. Staying at the house of a stranger was just another day.

My hosts in Charleston were Mark and Lindsay, a young couple who were dating. While taking a break from exploring places like Folly Beach and Angel Oak one afternoon, Mark’s friend Justin came by the house. Naturally, we were amused by having the same name. However, I didn’t have my name tattooed across my abs in gothic letters like I remember Justin having. He was a character. In all the ways I’m an introvert, Justin was an extrovert. Full of enthusiasm, stories and energy.

We visited for no longer than an hour that day, but just before he left, I made a comment in passing, “I’ve always wanted a pair of shoes like that.” I knew nothing about them other than they were a pair of New Balance with a simple retro feel.

Justin was quick to respond, “What size are you?”  He offered to bring me a pair the next day. We were delighted to not only have the same name, but share the same shoe size.  True to his word, Justin brought me a brand new pair of New Balance 574 shoes the following day, navy blue with white accents.

Here was this guy I met in passing, no longer than an hour each of those two days, and he was generous enough to give a pair of shoes to this complete stranger.

Less than a month later, I was in NYC. I knew that I would be doing lots of walking around the city so I figured it was a perfect time to break out some new shoes.

They served me well, very well. From that point on, I wore them nearly every day through the end of my trip in September.  But it didn’t stop there.  I kept wearing them.  They became so comfortable that all I wanted was one pair of shoes.  They were my daily shoes, my clubbing shoes, my running shoes. Even my shoes during an Upper Peninsula winter. As far as I was concerned I didn’t need another pair.

Fast forward three years, and I was still wearing them daily. The seams were falling apart.  The sole was worn completely flat.  The heels were worn so dramatically uneven that they could probably caused some sort of permanent back damage. They had taken on a story of their own. Countless times while wearing those shoes I told the story of Justin giving them to me.

On February 24th, 2011, my best friend Khalid surprised me and our friend Ian with a late birthday present.  He got all three of us a pair of New Balance 574s.  He had heard plenty of me talking about how much I loved these shoes and how much he needed to get a pair.

And life became a little more fun as we went crazy with our new shoe obsession. It became our exclusive club.  We bought the domain name 574s.com, we got the Twitter handle @574s.  There was just one unwritten rule.  And that is 574s must be given to you, just as it started when Justin gave me my first pair.

With a new pair to wear, I finally retired those original 574s.

Another year passed and on February 19, 2012, it all happened again.  A group of friends met for breakfast at the Fleetwood Diner and Khalid dropped another surprise on us.  Are you kidding me?  Now we all have another new pair of 574s and my third pair personally.

A tradition was born, and a few friends are now closer than they were before. All because a guy I met briefly in South Carolina offered to give me a pair of his shoes.  I never had a direct way of contacting Justin. But that week, I knew I had to get back in touch with Mark and let Justin know how much has happened as a result of that first pair.

That week I got ahold of Mark and let him know the 574s story and asked how Justin was doing. I learned that Justin had committed suicide on New Year’s Eve, 2007, a half-year after meeting him.

For four and a half years, I had told the story countless times of how I got these shoes.  During that time I had no idea of Justin’s death. It was a disorienting feeling to know for years I’d been telling a story about someone unaware that the entire time he had already passed away. Justin was 26 years old.

It was a reminder that, so many years after my travels all of these stories are still evolving. I thought about all the people who made a large impact on my life, and in most cases I’ll never know how much of an impact I made on their lives.

I remembered that when I met Justin, his girlfriend was pregnant. At the time of Justin’s death, his daughter was just two weeks old. It was this that especially compelled me.

Justin’s daughter is now four and half years old.  Justin did one selfless act for me that grew into something more, and something I never forgot. In fact I was reminded of it every day when lacing up my shoes. I couldn’t let go of the idea that his daughter should know about his generosity and one kind act of giving that grew into many more. I reached out to Mark with an idea as I thought to myself, “The least I could do is pay this forward and buy a pair of shoes for Justin’s daughter.”

Recently, Mark put me in touch with Justin’s sister, Amy.  I sent her a message with the idea of buying Justin’s daughter some shoes, not knowing what kind of response I would get.  Within minutes she asked me to call right away.  I was nervous, but Amy couldn’t have been any sweeter, I think the Southern drawl helped.  She told me about Justin and how close they were.  She told me about his daughter and I learned her name is Avery. I was in tears. The emotion I felt that night was as raw and authentic as I’ve ever known.

I try to delight in the small things of life.  I was delighted that Justin and I shared the same name and same taste in shoes. Turns out that Avery and I share the same favorite color, purple.

Today I got a message from Amy, “She got the sneakers and she loves them!”

For the last several years I never had to buy a pair of shoes. They were all given to me, a chain reaction that Justin unknowingly started. There will be times of adversity for Avery growing up without a father, I hope one small thing I can do is make sure she never has to worry about having a good pair of shoes, because for the last several years I’ve been fortunate to have just that, all because of her father. And, just maybe, we can be pen pals, along with my new friend, Amy.

Every so often I find out something new from a host on my trip. I get to hear about how their lives are changing. Sometimes there is great news like marriage and children being born. Sometimes there is sad news like illnesses and death. And then there are the simple things, like a pair of shoes or a couple that still sends tangerines to my parents every year at Christmas.

There are so many people we meet only once in life. Too often, we give little importance to these moments. But sometimes we only have one chance to make a good impression, to do something generous, or to just be kind. No matter how short a time you may meet a person, or as trivial as a small gift can seem, you may go through your entire life never knowing its true impact. It is often these passing moments where the greatest impacts are made.

 

NOTES

* Fifteen minutes after publishing this post I went for a run in pair #2 of my 574s.  Within 45 minutes of posting it, I ran into my friend Kevin (almost literally) who was visiting Khalid for a night.  Not only had Kevin already read this, but Khalid was giving Kevin a pair of New Balance 574s while I was writing it.

* It is now two weeks since I first wrote this story. While at work today, a box arrived on my desk from USPS.  It was from Amy.  When we first talked she had mentioned Justin may still have a new pair of 574s lying around.  She mentioned she would send them to me.  She’s as true to her word as Justin and I now have my fifth pair of 574s.  These ones are extra special. She included a kind card, noting that Khalid can take a break.  But also, just how big of an impact a small gesture can make.

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.

 

I have a love affair with Detroit

February 7th, 2011

This affair I have with Detroit, it’s almost like some of the girls I have fallen in love with at first sight; girls that were edgier than me, girls that made me nervous or intimidated, especially after having just a kiss with them, wondering what it’d be like to have more. You’ve never met anyone else like this girl, girls like this.

I’m always left wondering what it’d be like to have more of Detroit. I want it.

Growing up in the Upper Peninsula, Detroit was a long ways away. From Baraga to Campus Martius Park is 531 miles. The Upper Peninsula is disconnected from Detroit in a lot of ways, culture, industry, weather, accents, diversity, you name it. I knew little about the city other than their sports teams. When I attended Michigan State I never found my way to Metro Detroit more than a handful of times. My experience of downtown Detroit was one Red Wings game and going to the Auto Show twice.

And then after school I went on a 50-state tour across the country and saw most of the 20 most populous cities in the country, yet I still hadn’t spent much time in Detroit.

Eventually I met this guy named Charlie who would become a good friend. Because of him I had my first kiss with Detroit. It was a tease, I wanted more. This place was different, different than places I had seen before. Different than all of those cities I visited.

As I moved to Lansing I was further teased with the aroma of Detroit. I met more and more people from Detroit and somehow became connected in this city I knew so little of.  I started seeing their passion, their tenacity, and all the things they believed in.  Their attitudes were similar to mine.  They saw potential.

Ever since having that first kiss of Detroit I’ve wanted more.  The more I learn about Detroit the more it has somehow become a part of me, even from afar. I’ll leave it to people like D Blair who can explain it far better than I can.  Or perhaps Johnny Knoxville’s trip to detroit. And Lemonade Detroit.

I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life, and it took far too long for me to get to know this backbone of Michigan.

This was supposed to be a blog post about my favorite Super Bowl commercial.  But I guess it explains why it’s my favorite Super Bowl commercial.

I’m a sentimental guy and my friend Amanda reminds me how serious I can be.  So maybe it all goes without saying that the Chrysler “Imported From Detroit” was my favorite commercial.

The funny commercials were great, but they were just entertainment.  During the Super Bowl comedy is a dime a dozen.  It takes a lot more tenacity to run a commercial (not to mention a rare 2 minute spot) that’s serious, moving, and isn’t there to simply entertain.  Turns out Detroit is a city that knows a lot about Tenacity.

But I’m biased, I have a love affair with Detroit.  So I’ll let the ad speak for itself…

Imported From Detroit

My advice to college students

September 15th, 2010

I’m not sure if hindsight is always 20-20 like some people say, but it sure is most of the time.  There’s a lot of things I wish I knew earlier in college.  Some of the biggest lessons I faced came during my last year at Michigan State University and were things I could have taken advantage of in my first year.

And you know what?  People were telling me to do those very things.  Sure I listened, but I didn’t act. The difference didn’t occur until I started acting.

Through things like Lansing Breakfast Club, Ignite Lansing,  and social media I’ve been able to connect with a lot of college students and it has been a blast.  I’ve met a countless number who impress me.  My jaw drops at some of the things they’re up to and the new opportunities they have.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them whether it’s a student asking me how I got sponsorship from Jeep, someone who needs to learn WordPress, or interns at the office.

During and after the Hometown Invasion Tour I’ve had a number of speaking engagements to college classes.  These were some of the things I found myself repeating, and the more I thought about it some of the things I wish I had done earlier or more of while in school.

Here are some snippets of my advice…

Ask (a lot) more questions
For starters, my grade point average probably woud have been higher if I asked more questions (I’m lookin’ at you economics and accounting).  In addition, I’ve since learned that asking the right questions is an invaluable lesson.  Asking the right question can often lead to a lot more than giving the right answer.  As a subset of this, be curious! When I started asking more questions my senior year I got more involved, more engaged, it lead to better relationships with my classmates and professors and as some small pointers it makes class more enjoyable and even helps class go by faster!
I was one of the quietest kids in class… until my senior year.  Quite frankly I didn’t find my confidence in the classroom until my senior year.

Be yourself
The confidence I gained in the classroom took a long time.  When I finally found it it was because I was being just myself.  I remember having to give a presentation in my Advertising Law & Ethics class the very next class after our professor cussed out the entire class for people putting full blocks of text and reading them word for word in their PowerPoint presentations (big no no!).  As I joke I told my friends I was going to open up my presentation with that, since I was on deck after this epic cussing out of the class. The plan was to start with a massive block of text and say, “Let me start by reading this…” and then change to the next slide after a few seconds that said “J/K”.  They dared me to do it. So I did.  It was either going to go terribly wrong or terribly well.

My friend Suzy was sitting in front as I started her eyes widened and she started shaking her head gently, gesturing to me that I don’t do it.  The room fell silent in one of those “Oh s**t, this guy is stupid” type moods.  As I moved to the “J/K” slide there was a small moment of silence as if everyone was waiting on the professor to react to see if it was ok to laugh.  As soon as he bursted out laughing the entire room erupted in laughter (except for the guy in the back who said under his breath that I was a pansy for wearing a pink shirt).  It was a turning point.  You’ll never find the confidence if you don’t just be yourself.

Get to know your professors
This is one of the best examples (and one of the easiest ones not taken advantage of) as it’s preached from the first day of student orientation. Introduce yourself to each one of them the first week of class.  This will go a long, long ways.  You won’t get to know them all, some won’t care about who you are, some will come off as pissy, some you won’t be able to understand.  But over the course of your schooling you’ll find a number of them willing to bend over backwards for you.  You won’t know who they are unless you get to know them.  I didn’t start to really get to know my professors until I was a senior.  I wish I had done it earlier.  It was all because of my professors that I landed sponsorship from Jeep.  All I had to do was talk to them about it.  Not to mention made some of the most generous donations towards my 50-state tour.

Befriend people of other backgrounds
I’ll never forget my freshman year when I went skateboarding with a guy from Japan and a guy from NYC who grew up in Grenada.  There I was a Yooper having never known anyone from either of those places. Whether it’s race, religion, education background, socioeconomic background, hobbies, or someone who grew up on the opposite side of the country, college is by far one of the best opportunities in the world to meet an incredible array of diverse people.  The guy from Grenada, his name is Devon, we’ve been friends since my freshman year, 9 years ago now.  He has continually provided me a different perspective that I would have otherwise never had.  Not to mention he’s the coolest guy ever, and I wish I could have half the style he has.

Do something far out of your comfort zone
I hated public speaking.  I was shy.  I couldn’t work up the guts to ask a question in class most of the time.  Yet, for some reason, I signed up to be a speaker at the regional AAF competition.  I had a long script that needed to be memorized and had never done anything remotely close to it in my life.  And you know what?  I actually screwed up royally, completely skipping over a chunk of my script and throwing the rest of our presenters off.  Was it the reason we didn’t win or get an honorable mention?  Probably not, but it sure felt like it.  The entire experience propelled my confidence forward, despite my blunder.  Did the blunder matter?  Well it was sure worth it all.  It’s college, it’s a learning experience and you’re going to make mistakes, there are going to be failures.  Feed on it, don’t shy away from it.  Which leads me to…

Practice public speaking
I’m not a professional public speaker, but I’m comfortable with it, I enjoy it and I’ve learned to thrive on it.  This wasn’t always the case as I mentioned above.  And if opportunities interest you, public speaking is an excellent way to find them.  Maybe you think you don’t have a career where you’ll ever have to speak in front of a large group of people.  That doesn’t matter.  It’s a skill that will transform your career.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a lecture hall full of 1,000 people or a small conference room with six people.  The same principles apply.

Be your own PR agency
You are the only person that has complete control over your public image.  Make good of it.  Unless you’re looking to be a shock jock DJ like Howard Stern delete the scandalous photos on your Facebook profile.  As much as I hope to see “personal brand” on the next banished words list, it’s a term that matters.  If you want to represent politics, comedy, or the latest fashion trends you have the opportunity to let that be part of your image.  You don’t have to be uber professional about everything (I actually find it tacky).  There is plenty of room to show your quirky side, it’ll help your personality shine through if you do.  Like I said, be yourself, and take control of your image and how the rest of us see you.

Use Twitter
I feel that Twitter is one of the most underutilized tools available to them.  However there are people doing it right.  When I see recent grads who are graduating with a couple thousand followers on Twitter they are a heck of a lot farther ahead than I was.  Yes, you can have fun with it, I post ridiculous stuff all the time.  But it’s one of the biggest resources available.  It was with a simple tweet to NPR that landed me an interview with NPR about my Upper Peninsula blog.  I wasn’t just following celebrities and businesses, but was staying current with my hobbies and subjects that matter to me.  It has also lead to an incredible network of people who support my projects, are early adopters, and who are influencers.  These are people that have been willing to support my projects or have a coffee and introduce me to a new person.

Start a project of your own
There are people who go through the motions and do a great job at it.  Students who get 4.0 because that’s what they were told to do, and who joined a dozen student orgs because it looks good on paper.  Whoop-dee-doo, t
here is plenty of room for sheep in the world.  Start something of your own.  The earlier, the better.  Be a doer.  Start a blog, start a small business, create a new club, start a non-profit, anything.  Take any of your hobbies and make something out of it.  If you like writing and quilting, I’m sure there is an excellent opportunity for a quilting blog.  If you’re name is Lance, I’m sure you could easily find other Lances to start a movement to petition the cities of Lansing and East Lansing to change their names to Lancing and East Lancing.  The projects I have started for myself have done more for me than I can possibly say.  Once you create one project, the next ones get easier and easier.

Go after the job you want or create it
Guess what, I don’t have a resume.  And I hate formal job interviews so I don’t do them. I don’t believe in them.  It all started in that same Advertising class mentioned above.  Our professor Bill said it long before Gary Vaynerchuk said it.  Our professor encouraged us to research our dream job and employer get on the phone and call the director of marketing, VP of sales, or even the president of the company.  Why?  Just as Gary Vaynerchuk says people are becoming incredibly more accessible.  Also, they’re going to take note of your initiative.
Oh, and the intangibles are invaluable.

Take advantage of your youth
When I was fresh out of college and asking Jeep for a free vehicle to use for the year, it was the initiative I took that most impressed them.  I remember one of them saying, “You put all this together by yourself?  Press release, sponsorship proposal, graphics, web site, blog entries?” I did.  I was 23 and fresh out of college.  Now I’m 27, not that much older.  But I assure you the earlier you take the initiative the better.  The appeal of a 23-year old fresh out of college taking a solo 50-state tour across the country is a lot more appealing than a 27-year old doing it.  Imagine if an 18 year old was planning to.  The more you can do at a young age, the more you’ll continue to succeed throughout your life.

Ignore all of the above
At the end of the day this has worked for me.  College is a time to forge your own path.  There are a million ways to get from NYC to LA, find the one that suits you.