In the movie Little Miss Sunshine the father, played by Greg Kinnear, is afraid of being a loser. You think, he thinks he wants to be a winner, but it’s not true. He is more fearful of being a loser than he is excited about being a winner.
You think, he thinks he wants Olive to be a winner; but, the way he goes about it is through the principle of resistance. “Just say no! Olive, to the ice cream! Resist! Look at it, but don’t touch it!” Any recovering Mormon can tell you how well that bit of wisdom works out.
Resistance is wanting. It is wanting NOT to be and not to be without. I wanted not to be without the swimming of the English Channel. Failure was not okay. I was hard driving myself and not having a good time. I was showing up to swim practice… exhausted. I was angry and surly and I just wanted this shit to be over.
I was not joyful, I was not present; I didn’t give a shit. Even if I had swum the English Chanel, even if I had stood atop the stone on Cap Gris Nez, would I have been happy? No. I would have been devastated – my worst nightmare would have come true – I would have gotten what I wanted. I would have opened a new door into the next thing I couldn’t stand to be without.
I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense to some people, but think about it: Ever hear the expression, “Be careful what you wish for; it just might come true?” How true! Had I finished the Channel, I would have gotten on the return boat to Dover; I would have felt like shit. “What’s this all for?” I would have asked myself. “Why?” “What does this mean? That I’m somehow a better person?” “What for? Why?”
There was no joy in what I was doing preparing for the Channel. It took me a long time to realize that; but, luckily I made this decision before I made it to England. At least I heeded my feelings before the big wedding day. There was no passion in the pursuit of this goal, and I didn’t realize I wasn’t going to throw in the towel until I was halfway down the Mississippi River. I knew I wanted to do the Mississippi. There was joy, there was passion. It was extremely hard, but I loved it. There was no hard-driving football coach telling me I had to succeed. I did it for me. I did it for the love. The Channel was not happening out of love; it was happening out of hate – the hate of not having, the hate of being a loser.
But can’t you swim the channel to become a winner?
No. You can’t. You can’t swim your way to success. You can’t overcome all your past failures through the swimming of a channel. I interviewed many who had swum the channel; they told me they swam it for similar reasons to my own: they were dealing with a divorce, dealing with getting older, dealing with failure of some kind. Though they were proud of their accomplishment, I could tell something was missing – they still felt like losers deep down. (Mind you! That wasn’t everyone; but you could tell on some… you could feel it.) Something still was missing. The Channel had changed a lot of things, but it didn’t change everything. And that was a problem.
“This was supposed to be my magic wand!”
“This was s’posed to be my ‘it!'”
“This was… it! The Channel was going to be my BIG accomplishment.”
Some reading this blog are Channel swimmers and they should comment appropriately. I think all of them will agree with me, however, that trying to accomplish something to prove that you don’t suck is not a very joyful way to go about life.
There will always more. What will you do next? Swim farther and farther until you can successfully fend off the loser feeling? You’ll never fend it off. You will “achieve” and achieve and achieve, and then what? Another thing will show up. Unless you are doing something for the love, your engergy can never be inexhastable. Love is the only inexhaustable energy. Something done out of love is done for its own sake.
But wasn’t the Channel a personal goal?
Greg Judge, who you will meet in The River is Life, said that paddling the Mississippi was reward enough. It was its own reward, and I couldn’t help but agree with him. Some force, some spiritual force was egging me on during the Mississippi – I had to do this even through the mosquitoes and fights and anger and pain and heat rash and sore muscles. I went on and on and on and I didn’t care because I was lovin’ it.
I wasn’t lovin’ the Channel. The more I trained the more it became apparent that it was not the right goal for me.
Shame. It would have made an awesome goal… it just wans’t my goal. And if it was, I wasn’t doing it for the love.
So what now?
On the Mississippi, Phil and I discussed the seedlings of what would grow into the Hell movie. It was exciting; it had a message I wanted to say, a story I wanted to tell. I was jazzed. I knew the road would be long and hard, but I didn’t care. It was okay. Love egged me on.
No love in the Channel. That took a while to admit. Part of me wanted to hang on, wanted to finish the goal because I said I would, but it would have cost me my sanity. I would have won the approval of some but not my own approval. Inside I still would have felt like crap, and no one would have understood. This goal, at least for now, is for someone else. Someone else out there has the dream to to swim the Channel, and they feel the same way about it as I did about the Mississippi.
Is it okay to bail on a goal?
Hell yes. Absolutely. Some will disagree but that’s okay – they have the perrogative and the right. I was listening to a radio show by Michael Neill, a success coach, who was talking about his most financially successful client. This client seemed to always have loads of money… always! Michael asked his client how he set goals. The term goal seemed foreign to the client. “Goals?” he asked. “I don’t really set them at all.”
“What?” Michael asked. “How!”
“Well, I guess I kinda do. I get together with my wife twice a year; we buy a bottle of wine and rent a really fancy hotel room and then we just daydream.”
“Yeah, I get together with my wife, and we daydream. We daydream about what we’d like our life to look like. And those dreams I guess could be called our goals. Oh, and if I realize after a while that that goal isn’t exciting for me anymore, I drop it.”
Michael was flabbergasted. “So, you change your goals?” This was completely antithetical to what he had been taught – Never! change your goals. Commit!
“Yeah,” the rich client continued, “your life is about falling deeper and deeper in love with who you are and what you’re doing. Why change that? Why persue something you don’t feel passionate about anymore?”
Amen, I thought. And amen, I affirmed to myself when I doubted whether I was doing the right thing making the decision to postpone? the Channel. Just so you know, I might do some smaller swims. The goal will be to fall in love with swimming, to swim for the right reasons. It has to be a swim where, gosh darnit, you love being out there in that water! No one to prove… anything to.
Choosing new and more passionate goals is the way, the truth and the light.
So next time you choose a goal, make sure it floats… or that it swims… to your heart.
Ready for some more travel writing? Let’s go retro and rummage around the Eleven Visions Archives for a story from The Hitchhiking Movie. Enjoy.
“You move back! You’re right in my eyesight!”
He said it dry like he was pissed off. He had a snake-like look to him. In fact, this man could have been a snake in human form which is, I must add, possible. Haven’t you ever read conspiracy theorist David Icke? (Come to think of it, I think we’ll interview Icke. He apparently will interview with anybody, and if “out there” was left field, this guy clears the left field wall by 500 yards – like Waveland Avenue at Wrigley Field.)
Snake people, and Rowdy Roddy Piper’s They Live aside, Fred did not represent the conspiratorial, controlling, power-crazed Illuminatus that Icke and other conspiracy theorists imagine; he was extremely kind even if his initial behavior belied that fact.
How we met Fred
Most who have been on this site already know about The Hitchhiking Movie, in which you can see several scenes from our encounter with Fred; but, what I’d like to do now is go behind the scenes and deeper into the psyche of one of the most lovable characters in our documentary. While the movie is excellent in its gritty capture of a real life hitchhiking adventure, it does not (nor can it completely) capture the internal struggles of the characters involved.
Fred was a reptile… okay, seriously. Fred was a Native American standing at about 6’2″ (about 185 cm for all you on the outdated metric system). I walked up to him outside a truck stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I had seen him descend from his 26-ton, Diesel 18-wheeler that had big, metallic letters on the grill: M A C K. Mack truck. Holy shit, I thought. I did not want to ask this guy for a ride. Somehow, I did anyway.
Once asked, he looked at me like I had just spit on him. He seemed irked and responded irked: “I’m goin’ to Kentucky.” He popped his head back, started blinking and then looked sharply down. “I’m goin’ to have to think about this,” he then said and left me flat as he went inside to pay for gas. A skinny man, he walked like a hulking mass, like he could kick your ass if he wanted to and probably could. I turned to Phillip. “I have no idea what just happened here.”
When he came out, he walked right past me towards his Diesel. Well, can’t win ’em all, I thought. “You comin’?” he asked already 10 yards ahead of me. I looked at Phillip: “Now I really have no idea what’s happening here.”
In the Cab
Fred rearranged his junk in the front seat: toilet paper, magazines, a general conglomeration of dirtiness. Not many passengers had been in the cab. I crawled in and sat in the passenger seat. Phillip remained on the ground holding the camera. “Where are you going to sit?” I turned around. “Oh there’s a bed back here.” I moved into the dark back of the cab and prayed not to be greeted by a man with an ax. Ever see that scene in Silence of the Lambs where the killer pushes the girl into the van with a couch? Yeah, that’s what was going through my mind.
started and was loud. It was hard to film. Shaky, a cursed vibration that killed all intelligibility of sound, and dark, dark, dark. Fred seemed completely unalarmed. I know we were concerned for our safety, but Fred looked more annoyed than worried we were going to rob him. We could have been carrying guns. We could have maced him, tied him up and stole his rig. Without going into that much detail, I asked him about that very fact:
“I let the Man upstairs guide me on everything I do. When you asked me for a ride, he just let me know, ‘It’s okay.'” His face was placid. He really could care less if we were dangerous or not.
The line “Move back. You’re right in my eyesight!” which was followed by, “I can’t see but through my mirrors!” was actually directed toward Phillip. In the movie it looks like it’s toward me, so we just left it that way for simplicity’s sake. Somewhere in the first awkward hour, Fred revealed that he was Native American. WTF, I thought, this guy’s white as cotton. Studying his face further you could see the stoic undertones of an Indian complexion. His cheekbones were sharp and could have very well been the cheekbones of a buffalo-hunting, high-plains arrow slinger. “I’m Cherokee Seminole by my dad, and my mother will tell you she’s a white woman, but she’s got Chickasaw blood in her.” Ah, he was half white. I imagined his mother, wanting to get away from the Indian label, happy to appear white enough to distinguish herself from the dark-skinned Indians on the reservation. In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, one of her characters is an older half white/half black woman in an African American community. Much as many a human has done, she uses this characteristic to distinguish herself, to make herself feel better by believing she is better than everyone else. Unfortunately in the human game, it’s not enough just to say you’re better. You need reasons, fabricated or otherwise.
Well, I guess, “My skin produces less pigment than yours,” is as good a reason as any. Not enough? How about: “The fact that my skin produces less pigment means that I’m smarter and closer to God (check out Mormon doctrine on that one; to be fair they recently changed it, but this idea lingers in many protestant religions across the United States) than you.” Ohhhh, you need science to back it up? Okay, how about, “Whites are intellectually superior; I found it in my carefully-constructed testing.” Nevermind that these “tests” didn’t even take into account their subjects’ socioeconomic background. (If I’m black and I grow up in a well-to-do neighborhood with easy access to intellectual and social resources, I’m going to be “smarter.” For the life of me, I can’t see how James Watson – a brilliant scientist – could conveniently forget these factors. Intellectual rigor, unfortunately, is not necessarily a cure for racism.)
Sorry to bang on about this, but if you’re Bobby Fischer and I put you in an environment where you have to worry about getting shot every day, where you live in a rundown apartment in Chicago with no heat, where you’re friends and some of your family ridicule you if you express intelligence, and where the mass media conveys to you overtly or covertly that the best you’ll be is an entertainer or maybe a shoe-shiner; then, odds are, Bobby Fischer, you’ll be a broke-ass, dumb white kid and won’t do so well on your “scientifically sound” intelligence test. Would you even feel like taking such a test in that environment? Go live in a ghetto for six months before you form your opinion.
I could detect in Fred’s voice that his mother used her whiteness to feel better about herself; correction, to convince herself that it was her right; divine, scientific, or otherwise; to feel better about herself. “I’m better, better than these half-breeds and I don’t have no Chickasaw blood in me. Chickasaw, plah!” When will we humans stop playing these games? It was very faint, but I could detect the pain in Fred’s voice. No matter. He was very squarely proud to be Indian and made no bones telling me about it.
I confess that I am an accent slut. I will whore my accent out to whoever I am talking to. I have lived in Chicago, Nashville, Memphis, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Minneapolis, Mexico City (yes my Spanish is chilango), and Lyon, France (Can’t say my French is southern, but I do roll out a puteng! out once in a while when I want to make French people laugh; it’s the equivalent of hearing a foreigner say in a Texas accent “weeeelll, shiiiiiiiiiiit.”) With Fred, I was going southern. My drawl was extended. I seemed more folksy. I wanted to connect. He started talking about Billy Graham. A Christian Indian? Well he did say “Man upstairs;” this guy’s intriguing. A cross between a good-ol-boy southerner and an Indian; if I had a dollar for every time I ran across one of those I could solve the financial crisis. Phillip and I spent two whole days with Fred. We packed two weeks of experiences with a person into those two days. He talked incessantly. I don’t know if he thought about it this way consciously, but I feel that when we had the camera on him he wanted to share. He thought this was an opportunity, however small, to share his life with the world. I want to think that anyway. If you click here and scan down to Fred, you’ll see a small snippet of what he was like.
Nighttime, West Virginia
“What are you thinking about?” Fred asks me. Phillip is asleep on the bed in the back… knocked out. Come to think of it, during this trip, at least one of us was knocked out 90% of the time. I have no idea how we found time to film. Fred is eyeballing me, keeping one eye on the road. This man had an uncanny ability to spot all things natural. “See that hawk!” he’d say. “There’s some deer.” “Eagle, 12 o’clock, high.” Amazing. Likewise, he was spotting my animals, those of a demonic nature. “You’re not going to solve that problem by thinking,” he says. “You think you are but you’re not. I don’t worry about anything. Nothing. I wasn’t worried when you guys got in my cab; I wasn’t worried when you pulled out the camera. You – your wheels are turning – always – I can tell.”
“I do think all the time,” I replied.
“Let ‘er go. You think you have control but you don’t. You have no control. God controls.” He smiled, one of the few times he did.
Fred was a contradiction. At times spiritual, at times pedantic, at times crass, he was a total human being. After lecturing me on the dangers of letting your out-of-control mind run your life, he confessed that was on anxiety medication for some horrors of his past.
Fred was a military man. “Keeping our freedoms free in peace time,” was all he would give me when I asked him what he did for the military. He said he was in special ops. Black ops. “They told me if I died over there, all my mother would receive was a paper saying I was killed in a training accident.” Nobody was allowed to know what I was doing.” “What did you do?” I asked fishing. I had the camera pointed on him just under my right arm. I thought it looked more inconspicuous that way and the subject would open up more. Fred knew exactly where it was. Though he never took his eyes off the road, he saw everything. A smirk again. “Keeping our freedoms free,” he said again. He knew I was trying to get him. The wily cat wasn’t going to be trapped.
The climax of our encounter occurred in a small diner in West Virginia. The entire waitstaff was comprised of 4 overweight women under the age of 23. Fred was tired, visibly. I had no planned material for this encounter, so I asked Phil to turn the camera on and said, “How did you know I was thinking all the time?” “Give me a question that’s hard,” he said. He was smiling. He thought that was hilarious. “I have an ability. I’ve never been able to understand it. Some people call it clairvoyant. I don’t call it that. I just think the greater relationship you have with the Creator, the more you know.” Jesus was his peace. “I’m nobody special; I’m just a big, ugly sucker that does what the Man tells me to do. I’ve stopped at truck stops several times for no reason because He told me to, and I find out later why?”
“Did God tell you to stop at that rest stop so you could pick us up?”
“No. I stopped because my stomach said ‘I’m hungry; you better stop.'” He thought that too was infinitely hilarious.
The end was bittersweet. We had shared something, the three of us. We were all men, however, and didn’t really want to talk about it. Fred had looked at a map and decided that the best place to let us off was in Lexington, KY. He wanted us to smoke his prayer pipe first before we left. (The movie explains the pipe a hundred times better than I can describe it; watch it here.) He took a side road and meandered through Kentucky’s capitol. The roads however, not built for an 18-wheeler, produced an eerie scraping sound. “Fuck!” Fred said loudly. He’d gone under a bridge. The top didn’t scrape. It was high enough, but it wasn’t wide enough. “I just blew 2 tires.” He knew instantly how many. He knew by feel. We meandered the streets for a while. There was nowhere really to drop us off. I told him to just take us to wherever he was going. “No, no,” it’s gotta be a natural spot. He looked at the map. “There’s a spot on the way to Louisville. I’m not goin’ that way, but hell, let’s just do it.” Fred drove a crippled semi 5 miles out of his way so that we could get a correct experience of his prayer pipe, so that he could accommodate his new friends, so that he could say “thank you”… just for us being there. His drive from Pennsylvania to Kentucky could have been boring. He could have done it with less hassle, without two men who wanted to film him. But he had people in his car, he had someone to share his life with, and I think he was grateful. I really think he was.
Out of the Cab
I didn’t really know how to leave. I didn’t want to leave. Part of that was selfish. We’d slept in his cab, we’d had a steady form of transportation (slow and plodding, but safe and reliable). To look upon the other cars whizzing by you in your 26-ton behemoth is amazing. You feel like God, you feel invincible. Now it was time to leave. Safety, gone. Security, Fred, love, life, everything good… gone. Time to leave the womb. Onto the cold, hard concrete. Before we left, at the truck stop where he had settled on dropping us off, Fred tried to radio a ride. “How ’bout it?” he said. “I got two young men trying to get out to LA.” Nothing. “If you were female,” he said, “you’d have fuckin’ everybody goin’ ‘blblblblbbblbl!”
“Thank you Fred,” I said. He had spectacles on. He was looking at something, planning his trip in a notebook maybe, something; but, I got the impression he wasn’t really doing anything. He was fake planning. This was hard. We were saying goodbye, and his way to handle it was to put his attention on something else. Plans. Math. Miles. “I can tell you’re thinking; don’t think.” He didn’t think. “We’ll see y’all,” he said. Phillip had descended, and I was supposed to descend now. I was supposed to say goodbye. I tried to think of something else. Nothing. Fred continued staring at his notebook the same way he had stared at the road: seeing everything but looking at nothing. I wanted him to look at me, just once; but, with nothing to say I left. It was sad. I still asked Phillip to film me. “We need to get a shot.” Though emotional I still wanted to get something on film. What an emotion whore: The bane of the reality TV industry.
We had a ride in five minutes. God wanted us to move on. It was over, no looking back. Adios, Fred. I will miss you. Part of me did not want to contact him again. He’d given us good material. God, I hate thinking of people in terms of material; but, as a documentary filmmaker, that’s exactly how you think of them sometimes. People become tools, just as real emotions and memories become tools to the actor. Then the emotions lose their flavor; the people lose their flavor. I didn’t want that to happen so I tried not to think of Fred at all. “I’ve still got his number,” Phillip told me the other day. “We can interview him for the hell movie.”
“That’s an excellent idea. He’d have some shit to say!” I was thinking about him again. It was good to revisit. Floods of emotion came over me. Floods of… I don’t know what.
“Part of me doesn’t want to contact him.”
“I don’t know.”
“He’d be perfect.”
“Yeah, he would be… he really would. I just hope the same flavor is there.”
“Ryan,” Phil said, “you can’t control that. This is a new movie, a new time.”
He’s right. A rebirth must happen. Fred is different now. I am different. And if we do interview him for the new movie, I will be glad to tell him that I’m not always thinking.
Route 66 News (5/11/2009) – “the right balance of affability, earnestness and wit”
I already know about The Hitchhiking Movie, Ryan; just give me my tickets! (Scroll down below, enter your name and email and hit ‘Subscribe’ to get your tickets!)
That was for people who are in the know. If you ain’t in the know, keep reading:
The Hitchhiking Moviefollows the journey of Phillip Hullquist and Ryan Jeanes in their attempt to hitchhike across the entire continental U.S. (New York City to Los Angeles)… in under a week! Twenty-three strangers give the pair the only shot they’ve got of making it from coast to coast before the deadline.
A fun movie, a heart-warming movie, this is an adventure you won’t forget… and we’re giving you, fans new and old, a chance to watch it one time only for free!
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That’s Not All!
We are also offering free online chatting with the moviemakers, that is, US! (Phillip Hullquist and Ryan Jeanes) during the screening. You will be able to submit questions to both Phillip and me in real time while you chat with other moviegoers. How cool is that! A real life movie experience done over the internet! Like I said, grab your popcorn, but don’t get butter on the keyboard. 🙂
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This is Phil’s and my first experience with hell, or rather the prelude to hell because it took these jokers an hour and a half before they told us they had no idea when we’d be able to go in “because I’ve got a few groups ahead of you,” she said and, “I don’t know when y’all’ll be able to go eeun, um, lemme check, are y’all walk eeuns?”
“Yes. We’re walk-ins.”
“Oh well, groups take precedent…”
“I know, I’ve seen several people go in ahead of us (I must have been really anxious to see hell!) and we’ve been waiting for an hour.”
“Well,” scrunchy face continues, “there’s nothing I can really do.” I wanna see hell, godammit!
I go back and sit next to Phil slouched in his seat. More groups are trucking in and filing out almost as fast. There’s a pew full of Hmong or Cambodian immigrants over there – they go in, there’s a group of trendy white kids over there – they go in, the women with bobbed hair go in and the Southern accents and the non-Southern accents go in. Why do they get to go to hell and not me! Phillip and I stay put. A young black kid virtually lays on the seat. “Bored?” I ask. “Uh huh,” he nods and I laugh. “What’d the woman say?” Phil asks.
“She said she didn’t know when we’d get to go in.” A mixed bag of Hispanics possibly filipinos (neighboring churches) gets led out of the santuary, and I’ve had it. “Doesn’t look like we’re going to hell tonight.”
“Well that sucks. The nerve of these people!”
“I know, these church groups have already come to Jesus; we’re the customers they need to take care of.”
“I know, right? I’ve never had such crappy service. I’m never going there again.”
“Who do they think they are? They totally lost my business. I’ll get Jesus somewhere else!”
First of all, try #2 was successful (you can see it in the video above). We got to see a hell house, or rather an “illustrated sermon” (preacher + live theater + pyrotechnics apparently = illustrated sermon) with a, um, very strong hell theme. Rev. Maury Davis, whose organization Cornerstone Church did a MUCH better job of filing us into their marketing opportunity and getting our contact information (Phillip filled out a card, and maybe they’ll call us in a day or two. Much better service!), scared the shit out of us AND offered a way to take the pain away – you got it – Jesus de Veracruz.
Coming to Jesus
It took me a while but I figured it out – Jesus takes the pain away. While listening to this sermon I experimented a little bit with their ideas – take Jesus into your heart, give your life over to Christ – and I must say that the results were mostly positive. A lot of you aren’t going to expect me to say this but when I “let Jesus into my heart” as instructed, I did feel better. I felt like there was a glowing coming from the center of my solar plexus. It felt extremely positive!
Then the bad parts…
Okayyyyyyyyyy, now the bad parts. This will scare the shit out of you. Yes, this happened in church. Um, I don’t know how I feel about all this yet. “Give your life over to Jesus,” may be true, but this, this… I don’t know. Make sure you’ve watched the video above before you keep reading.
Do you need to scare people into religion? Why can’t you just focus on the good parts of Jesus? “Because the people need the WHOLE truth!” Really? This is the truth? I don’t know. The same Jesus that infiltrated my heart that day would not set his children on fire and rip their flesh out. What would be the point? “Toooo proooove that the non-believers are wrong!” Does God really need to do that? Is God so insecure that he needs to torture his own children? “God doesn’t do it; the Devil does!” I don’t care who does it; it’s fucked up, and now I have more questions than answers.
Think about your own children. If you don’t have children, think about your future children. Imagine that they do something horrible, something really really bad. Do you forgive them? Most of you parents/future parents are saying, “No matter what my child does, I will forgive them; nothing they can do or not do will make me withhold my love for them!” OK, forget them doing something bad. Imagine that your child comes to you and says, “Mom, Dad, I want to be Buddhist, I want to be Muslim, I want to be atheist…” Even if you didn’t agree with your son our daughter, even if you KNEW that they were wrong, would YOU set them on fire?
Would you take a knife and stick it into your baby son or daughter’s stomach? No, no, don’t run away. Think about it! FEEEEL that knife in your hand turning in your child’s stomach. Feel it!
Would you rip out their intestines? Feel it! Feel yourself twisting that knife!
Pour gasoline all over them? Burn them! Cut off their heads! Take a rake and rake off their flesh! Laugh at them!
“God’s not doing it; the Devil is!” Okay, would you pay someone to do this to your child???
Would you, as a parent, even allow this to happen?
Even if you were in heaven, would you not give anything, do ANYTHING! to get to them? Help them? Save them? Would you look upon a God who had sent your son or daughter to this torment with loving eyes? Would you not look upon Him and say, “What are you doing! Please! Please, stop! Please don’t do this to my son! Please send me instead!”
And you would love a God such as this forever?
I would never send my own child to hell for ANYTHING! he could ever do. Would you? Would you send your child to eternal torment? Think about that for a moment: Are you more compassionate, more loving than an ALL-LOVING BEING?
YOU, AS A PARENT! WHAT WOULD YOU DO????
Really imagine pouring the gasoline on your child’s body! lighting the match! Could you do it???? – for not believing something?
Sorry to hit you over the head with this, but these are some questions I need answered. “But Ryan, we cannot understand God’s way.” Maybe not, but I know how imperfect I am, and I would not strike that match. Would you?
Some religions interpret the clause mentioning “eternal damnation” as eternal death – that, yes, God casts you into the lake of fire, but that’s it. You are dead. God gets rid of your sinnin’ ass and adios. No eternal torment. Damnation = death. You’re gone. You’re otta here, sayonara. I can believe in a God that does that. I can believe in a dog who’s gone rabid and is a danger to himself and others, whose owner decides the best thing for all would be to put the poor animal to death. But think of what we would do in our society to the owner who tortures his or her animal with the excuse, “He was just too bad. I needed to teach that dog the error of his ways. I needed to poke him with sticks and shock him with a taser, then I cut off his limbs and soldered them so I could keep goin’,” Getting sick? You should be. If you’re an advocate for hell and eternal damnation, that’s exactly what you believe in.
11 Visions, What Happened to the Happy, Fun Times?
I know we’re bastions for fun and happiness and adventure; but, this, ladies and gentlemen, is an adventure too. It is an actual walk into hell. Perhaps the realest exploration of hell that anyone has ever embarked upon. There’s a scene in The Da Vinci Code where Sophie asks Langdon why these people are trying to kill them. Langon explains that it doesn’t matter if this stuff is real or not – they’ve entered a world of people who BELIEVE it’s real.
Whether or not hell is real matters not. Many people believe it is; and that, therefore, is a world we must explore.
We’re not backing down. We will explore. This may be 11 Visions’ weirdest journey yet.
That picture is disturbing, I know. Rest assured, however, that a religious group is responsible for it, not us. This post highlights an important discussion we need to have, so please read it. This post is short and to the point, and I’m especially anxious to hear what our religious fans feel about the issue of scaring people into religion.
Remember Phillip and I were going to go the down-home, bring-your-kids-and-grandparents, family Bible Book Burning?
It’s not happening.
No fault of our own. Unfortunately Pastor Psycho McPsychopants (a.k.a. Marc Grizzard) closed the event to the public. Don’t ask me why. If you’re going to burn Bibles you, um, just MAY BEEEEE a few cubits short of a full ark; but, the North Carolina Fire Marshall pointed out that book burning was illegal in the state of NC. (Go NC!!) So my contention is that Pastor Marc Have-you-ever-eaten-a-turkey’s Grizzard does not want to be arrested.
We’re not. We are going to a Nashville Hell House!!!
C’mon now, what the hell is a Hell House???
That’s what I asked Phillip when he proposed we go to a hell house instead of an equally wholesome and inspiring Bible burning. Richard Dawkins (oh the howls I’m going to get from our believer fans for putting Dawkins on the site; howl one more time, good job, you sound just like a coyote!) interviews a pastor who puts on a yearly hell house on Halloween. Both voice their concerns in the video (so no howls!), and it’s worth a look.
What I find funny is that a. the guy playing the devil really does look like the devil and b. the guy playing the devil REALLY enjoys playing the devil… lol. “Pastor, will I be asked back for next year? I really like delving into this character!” LOL.
Frankly, y’all, I’m disturbed by the idea of a hell house. Scaring people into religion is bullshit. (Please comment if you disagree!) I learned a lot from my stay with the Adventists in La Crosse. Even they, who believe in heaven and hell, told me that negative coercion is not God’s way.
Sin destroys and Jesus saves… maybe. There is some truth to the positive energy represented by the intentions and actions of the man known as Jesus Christ being a “saving” force. And there is equal truth to the hell-like energy of “sin” being a destructive force.
But let me ask you a question: Is it a sin to put young kids through this? Would you let your kids see this kind of stuff? I sure as heaven wouldn’t. Hell House
Look at those kids’ faces. That, my friends, is a sin in my book. I don’t think you have to scare people into religion. If you think you do, please comment below: I’d love to hear your POV. And we’ll let you know how the hell house goes, and yes! there will be a travel piece about it and yes! there will be much discussion to be had. And, of course, the invitation to my own hell house is always open: You know, the one where you are locked in a round, padded room with Barry Mantilow’s “Mandy” on continuous play.
No, not like that, you sick bastard! 🙂 The business, Eleven Visions, is growing. That poses some new challenges.
Let’s see if you can identify with this feeling: You are in a jungle. Don’t worry; you’ve got a .22 rifle. You’re a good shot and can hold your own. You’ve got enough water for 4 days, a filtration system that can filter jungle water. “Do I have my iodine drops?” Yup, you got ’em. You have enough food in your pack as well – MRE’s, canned meat, vegetables, and a few sweets to keep your spirits up. Time to trek in further… you ready? Too late; you’re in it. Four days in it to be exact. Food’s still holding up. You’ve got (hold on, lemme check) enough, I suppose, water. Sweets are gone, but you’ve got the essentials. How do you feel?
Yeah, that’s about how I feel wading into the jungle of the online movie business. Do we have supplies? Yes. Have we done reasonably well for not knowing what the heck we’re doing? Sure. But supplies are getting low, and I have no idea where the hell they’re going to come from.
Now, mind you, I’m only using a metaphor here. Just like the hunter loves to shoot tigers (some of you gun enthusiasts are saying that a .22 won’t stop a tiger; grow up! it’s only a metaphor! :)) I love to shoot movies. I love to market them. I love to find ways to poach… crap, that’s a horrible word, um, market my movies to as many people as possible (cuz I believe in this product), but the question for an independent movie maker is: How the hell do you do it?
That’s where I feel I am. The jungle of the internet, the jungle of my own mind (yeah, you guys already knew I was in that one), the jungle of marketing, business-running, staying motivated, staying inspired, writing content people like, keeping an audience (don’t go anywhere!), living, learning, and paying the freaking rent.
You Ain’t the Only One, Brotha
I know that. I know I’m describing the dilemma all go through. If you’re a business owner, you’re in this jungle every day. If you have a family you’re in the “how do I pay for Johnny’s sneakers?” dilemma. I know that. I’m just… voicing out loud. I want you to come along on this journey now. It’s not the journey of hitchhiking across America or paddling down the Mighty Muddy. It’s the journey of us, the journey of Eleven Visions and how they become a viable force in the entertainment world. How’s it all going to go down? I don’t know. But we’re used to the unknown, aren’t we? We were used to it when we had never hitchhiked before, we were used to it when we had zero paddling experience and Minnesotan commenters predicted our demise, we were used to it when… well, dammit, we’re used to it.
No Less Difficult
The journey ahead will be no less difficult. The final goal isn’t Los Angeles or the Gulf of Mexico, but it is success (is there a difference between the three?). The journey now that I’m inviting you on is – How do we become viable filmmakers? Filmmakers who make money? Filmmakers who inspire, entertain and inform? How do we do that?
And how would you like to come along for the ride?
This post was no accident. It was not a shot at therapy (though it is therapeutic). It was an invitation. I promised you a few posts back that you, the fans, would get a sneak peek into everything we did, and I meant it. This is our journey now – editing, marketing, living and loving. This is a goal and a destination and a process just like the adventures we finished.
Could it be that marketing and becoming “big” can be, perhaps, BIGGER adventures than paddling down the Mississippi?
Maybe; I hope so.
Either Way, I’m Glad You’re Comin’ Along
So, shoot, let’s give it a try. Let’s let you in on a little secret: The secret of what’s been happening since we started editing our upcoming film The River is Life. You ready… for more stories?
Ryan’s First Attempt at Travel Writing from His Living Room
I am laughing to myself because I have no idea if this is going to work. I know, kinda, how to travel write when I’m on the Mississippi, but have absolutely no clue if applying the same story-telling techniques to everyday life will be interesting and readable or boring and Christ-let-me-click-on-something-else-able. No idea. One way to find out…
Travel Writing… without Going Anywhere
Whew! Here goes: Phillip connects the camera to the television. It is the first 20 hours of what will one day, with the help of Jesus, be The River is Life. A commenter on our Facebook page asked if we were “reliving the dream or the nightmare?” Funny thing about video, you only tend to turn it on when you’re happy. I remember Phil and I anxiously awaiting the coming of the Stump Lake footage… it never came. We never filmed it. “I thought we filmed something on that,” I said. “Nope,” he said. “We musta been too cold and hungry.”
“Not really. We don’t want to show too many crappy parts. People want a fun, happy movie.”
The footage rolls on. I remember making Phillip suffer through my endless bridge shots: “Hold the camera steady, dude, I want to make a bridge montage later.”
“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”
“Shut up. Just hold the camera. You’re not having to paddle, are you?”
“Stupid.” We both fumed in our insistence that the other was wrong. Phillip points out that only one of those bridge shots is usable.
“So the other bridge shots were a waste of time?”
“Really? And when we were filming those shots, how did we know which ones would be good and which ones crap?”
“Exactly. You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.” Phillip stays quiet at that one… we move on.
Beautiful! I mean absolutely exquisite nature shots! I was impressed, I really was. “We’re not going to be able to use all those eagle shots,” Phillip points out. I don’t care. I love the eagle shots; we may not make a dime off of them, but I have them for posterity and no amount of how-is-this-going-to-make-us-money? is going to take that away from me. I remind myself that Phillip is the more practical-minded, and that is just the way it is. It is not good, it is not bad. It just is. It took me nearly the entire Mississippi trip to make peace with that fact. “You’re right,” I tell Phillip, “but isn’t it beautiful?” Deep down inside that endless maze of a cerebral cortex, what scientists will one day call his ‘beauty appreciation center’ stirred. OH YES IT DID, PHILLIP! DON’T DENY IT! “No it didn’t, humph.”
The tape rolls on as the Mississippi rolls on. I am amazed at how narrow it was at the outset. I remember my cursing and swearing when the Sea Eagles got beached during the rocky portions in Lake Itasca State Park. I remember the deer flies – “Ha! There’s a deer fly buzzing around my head in that shot! Awesome!” Awesome sitting in my living room… at the time it was, “G– DAMN MOTHER SON OF BUTT——– ASS DAMMIT, GET AWAY FROM ME!!!!” To answer the Facebook commenter, I was reliving the nightmare, but it was much funnier.
Phillip says he’s tired; he can’t watch anymore. I agree. The Daily Show and Colbert Report are coming on. “Yeah,” I say, “let’s take a break.”
Before it was paddling, paddling, paddling for 4 hours before we said “needa break.” A short respite on a sandbar did well then. A stretch of the legs at an opportunely placed boat ramp, a listen to a Taylor Swift song on the solar radio (before it visited the ocean floor of Lake Pepin :))… used to be our “break.” Now life is different. No more muscular energy being spent, only mental. And mental energy spent needs a mental break. John Stewart is our food now, our mental food. Stephen Colbert is our beans and rice, our recharge.
Stephen Colbert makes his last crack. It’s a good one and makes Phil and I chuckle. He turns to me (no, not Stephen, dummy! ;)), “Hey you, um, wanna keep watching the footage?” That same tone he uses. The same one when we, at the beginning of the river, would nap for twenty minutes in the boats: “Wanna start paddling?” “Yes,” I say, but instead of grabbing an oar I grab the remote. PLAY. Another bridge. “LOOOLLLL!” “Actually that is a pretty good bridge shot,” Phil offers. I smile. Greg Judge, a Bemidj resident who had paddled the river himself in the eighties, told us that the goal of the river was not just to finish but to finish and still remain friends. Good on you, Greg, and thank you. I agree. It is amazing that after all this time, all this time in a BOAT! for crying out loud, Phil and I are still friends. Yes, we argue and disagree, but no one has been shot and we’ve never come to blows. That is something in this world. We, just like the Repubs and Dems, also want the same things but have different opinions about how to go about getting them… but… we’re still friends, and that is a very good thing.
After another hour of watching, Phil turns off the tape. We’re almost to the redneck 4th of July scene where an entire extended family participates in an ATV jousting competition. Cool-ass. “I can’t watch anymore.” It is time to camp for the night. I lay on the couch (yup, where I”m sleeping :)), and Phil retires to his bed. The lights are out, and I can’t hear crickets or cicadas but I can hear a wall clock and the drone of Phil’s laptop.
This is going to be a good movie, I think before falling asleep. The River is life, but this is life too. What’s next? Will people find this journey – the journey of actually making the movie now – as enjoyable as our previous ones? I don’t know. I don’t care; I’m tired of paddling, um, editing. It’s time to see what’s to come around the bend… even if that bend is 49 more hours of footage.
Glad you’re still with us. Ready for more?
CALL TO ACTION! Yes that was just a blog post, but I’m serious. I want to know if writing about our daily lives and the editing process is just as exciting as our paddle down the Mississippi. That was just a taste. Please offer your comments in the comment section below. The question is – Is travel writing (the style I employ) just for, well, traveling – Mississippi adventures, hitchhiking adventures, going to talk with the bible burner in North Carolina – or is it also for what we’re going through now – editing, getting the Hell movie made, going and buying groceries? YOU! yes, YOU, comment below please.
What is that thing you do that no one else can do?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I don’t know the answer…exactly.
What is “That Thing?”
Check out this email from a fan:
…I believe that your blog is successful because of your writing style/skills and that you have a knack for finding “that thing” about a situation or person that holds a readers’ interest. You are also able to write with humor about things that might not seem humorous on the surface.
You are on to something big by living life’s adventures and sharing them with those of us who (for the moment) might not be able to take that adventure. Sure, lot’s [sic] of people paddle the Mississippi, but you found “that thing” that made it unique; that made it sharable with and connected to your audience.
Thank YOU! Troy!
I don’t know how “successful” we are, but we did build up a sizable following during the Mississippi trip. I was proud of it. Troy’s words, “that thing,” stuck with me for a long time. What is “that thing?”
A Story from the Past
I was a comic writer. I never got paid for it but I wrote sketch comedy fairly regularly for my Second City class and for my sketch troop. People liked them; they were fun and irreverent and bizarre; sound familiar? I started thinking that it wasn’t enough for me to be “good” at writing without having gotten some training. I thought that I better take some comedy writing classes at Second City (the school in Chicago where Gilda Radnor, John Belushi, Bill Murray and pretty much everyone from the original cast of SNL cut their teeth). I wanted to be legit.
I remember the first sketch I wrote for Intro to Comic Writing. It was about Star Trek. Spock had gone rogue. Instead of “logical” and “fascinating” and “I do not have emotions, Captain,” he was “what’s up, bitches!” and “hey Uhuru, gimme some lovin'” and “big up y’self, Kirky, lemme take the Enterprise for some honnies and fo’ties.”
It had cussing and crassness, and everyone in the class laughed… except the teacher: “Good, good, um, very interesting. I noticed you didn’t really have a three-act structure. There’s no kicker at the end, and, um, the cussing… Um, really it’s unnecessary?. “Well,” I replied, “Spock doesn’t cuss.”
“I know, you don’t want to use cussing as a crutch.”
Crutch? What am I a polio victim?
“Just, try to give it more structure, cut out the cussing, and let’s make Spock a little more believable.”
This is f—ing sketch comedy for crying out loud!!! Believable??? “Okay, teach, I’ll try it again.”
I really thought the sketch was good as it was. The class was in stitches, but teachers (experts) know better, right? (“If he’s such a good comedy writer, why’s he teaching?” Wish I woulda asked myself that, really wish I woulda.)
I sanitized the sketch. Spock didn’t cuss. I threw the “crutch” out. I made it the way teach wanted it and reread next week. Silence. The sketch was nice and sanitary and up-to-spec for the all-knowing teacher… but no one laughed. It sucked. I was so angry.
Other sketches by other aspiring writers: hilarious! One was about C3P0, Chewbacca and R2D2 doing a DVD commentary on the first Star Wars. Another had the Tooth Fairy as a nasty, smelly 45-year-old from the Bronx. He was moving to adult teeth to meet quota, offering to knock them out with a baseball bat for cash. Funny. It was fresh and exciting and irreverent and WEIRD! It was special… until teach asked them to dumb the sketches down, make them fit “the format” (whatever TF that means).
Is There a Format?
No. There’s not. There’s only laughter, there’s only what works. If people are having a good time, then that’s “that thing.”
The reason the Spock sketch worked is because it came from my heart, and that was “that thing.”
The reason the belligerent Tooth Fairy worked was because it was unique.
Non-human characters conducting a DVD commentary… funny, from their heart, cannot be planned… does not fit a format.
I think “that thing” is nothing more than an inspired idea.
Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire, wrote a book called The War of Art. In it he talks about his 20-year failing as a writer. He had gotten a steady job as a screenwriter in Hollywood when he suddenly told his bosses that he was leaving to write a novel. They told him the logic: Novels don’t make money. Why would you leave a steady job? Good luck coming back.
Steven went for it. Something inside, “that thing,” told him to. He said he didn’t know why exactly; but, after 20 years of failings, his first book was a critical and mild commercial success. He thinks it was due to him following an inspired idea. Some “thing” told him to. He was inspired and he went for it.
So What is That Thing?
I still don’t know. My minister says that ideas are angels, higher aspects of consciousness infiltrating the earth plane. When you follow them it’s like God going, “Hey, dude, go this way! I know you’re scared but go for it!” I heard a quote once that said, “The joy of soaring is always accompanied by the fear of falling.” If ideas are indeed angels, you are certainly apt to fall you follow them. High-flying ideas like paddling the Mississippi, hitchhiking America, making a movie about religion… you can always fall, but what else is life about?
Troy, I think you’re right. I think we are on to something sharing life’s adventures, but I cannot take credit for the ideas that come. I cannot take credit for the Spock sketch, or The Hitchhiking Movie, the blog posts, the words I’m writing now. I’m not writing them. I don’t even know how it’s happening. All I know is that something about what we’re doing is striking a chord with people. Hopefully my writing is striking a chord with people. What is that chord? What is “that thing?” It’s got to be something from God, something higher, something more lofty.
It cannot be a by-the-book rendition. It cannot be something from the earthly plane. The world is too much with us…
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This poem came from God. Ideas come from God. It has to be something more. “That thing” is the inexplicable. It is… what we’re here for. To follow, to rise higher. “Go for it!” God says. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” our hosts say. Why? Because the desire is there, the desire to go, be, do and see.
I still don’t know what “that thing” is, and I don’t think I need to know. All I know is that the ideas are sent, and I can say yes or no. I hope, I pray to have the strength to follow… even when I’m scared.
Achtung! Phillip and I are sick and tired of the false versions of the Holy Bible being read by church-goers everywhere. We are likewise tired of reading the works of such heretics as the Pope, Billy Graham and Mother Teresa. Satanic-message-spewing servants of Beelzebub like the the Mother of Calcutta, who said she wished to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved,” (I know, right? Give me a break!) need to have their collective works burned in a fiery bonfire and fast!
Off my rocker, you say? Take this cup bearer for the feast of Satan Billy Graham. I mean this guy has written, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.” Ha! Trying to get me more courageous, are you? Well, how’s this for courage: I’m heading to North Carolina to burn your and all you other heretics’ bibles, religious works, spiritual works, passionate bids for Love in the world and entreaties for Peace in a good, old-fashioned Halloween Book Burning where there will be barbeque, fried chicken, and I heard Sister Margaret is bringing her potato salad! My, she’s been looking well after the divorce. Maybe her and Billy Bob are better off separated. Too bad she’s going to hell for breaking the covenant of marriage, but damned if that potato salad won’t be good!
I’ve had it with the perversions of God’s word! And so has this guy: Pastor Marc Grizzard of the Amazing Grace Baptist Church is up to here with false versions of the Bible like the New International Version, Contemporary English Version, The Evidence, The Message, The Green. And goddammit I’m tired of it too!
The King James Version is the only TRUE! Bible. Everyone knows that God’s infallible word was translated from Hebrew to Greek to German to English in the 16th century (and if you’ve ever read Shakespeare you know certain subtleties are lost on modern English, but that’s not the point!). God ran those crazy Hebrew characters (vowels, people? Hello!!!!!) through the linguistic wringer over thousands of years for a reason! So His, um, Her? word would be loud and clear for you and me.
Thank God Pastor Grizzard is burning these heretic bibles on Halloween. And thank God Phillip and I are going there to cover it just so we can entertain you (um, save your souls) with the story. I’m hoping personally to get my hands on the original Dead Sea Scrolls (a perversion of the King James translation) so we can light those babies up like a Christmas tree.
Ryan, you can stop now. We get it.
Sorry, I was channeling Johnathan Swift there for a moment. Don’t worry: I won’t suggest we eat infants for protein, but if we could get those death panels up and running that’d be sweet… thaaaanks.
I’ve been trying to rack my brain trying to figure out why Mr. Grizzard wants these crazy bibles burned. (His website amazinggracebaptistchurchkjv.com is temporarily down – tons of traffic – but you can find the invitation he sent out here. Read the comments section too where one commenter points out that Pastor Grizzard is surely a heretic himself because everyone knows that TRUE BARBEQUE! comes only from pulled pork shoulder… lol.) I told my friend who’s semi-religious about this guy and she shuddered, “I, um, yeah, I read just my Student Bible, but that’s… oh my god… buring a Bi-ble?” While he’s not burning a pile of defenseless puppies, there is a certain sickening feeling one gets contemplating the notion, even if they were written by Satan. Shouldn’t Satan get a word processor? Who’s his publisher? Frikkin’ Simon and Schuster probably. They’re the ones who published my 4th grade Geography book. If there ever was a book written by Satan…
Honestly, I don’t know why he’s burning the Bibles. Yes, I understand his logic. Read his letter and it basically says any translation not based on the Textus Receptus is of the DEEEVIL! Why the hell didn’t the Devil just release The Holy Bible, New International Satanic Version! I think that would clear up a lot of confusion.
But, I mean, c’mon, seriously. This guy is a little wacko, AAAAAAND he’s perfect for our new film: Go to Hell? Go to Hell? explores the concepts of heaven and hell in the world today. It is a hands-on adventure just like our other adventures. We will go and physically talk to all these heretics, holy ones, crazy ones, and ones ones in order to answer the question: Will I go to hell? That’s the basic premise: Is hell real and will I go there? And we’ll need some information fast, because I’m looking around and noticing that the physical body doesn’t seem to last too long on this earthly plane. Did I just feel an earthquake?
We believe Marc Grizzard might have some answers for us. If not, we’ll at least get some of the participants of this down-home family book burning to talk about heaven and hell and what I will need to do to get to/avoid either place. I think a smoky bonfire fueled by those pesky faux translations will make great B-roll footage even if Phil and I just make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in front of it.
To answer your question: YES! We will be bringing sticks and marshmallows. Oh, and the Amazing Grace Baptist True One-and-Only Holy Baptist (sigh) Church, is going to be burning country music too!! Mary Chapin Carpenter CD, you’re on my list!
Let’s get some comments going guys! Question:
Will I go to hell?
Will you go to hell?
What do we need to do to avoid it?
Is it real?
Is it a state of mind / physical place?
Comment, comment, please discuss!
For an excellent debate held on ABC’s Nightline titled Does Satan Exist? click here. I’ve got the first video in the series below. I like how the Prostitute Preacher still looks kinda like a prostitute… you go, hunny! Also you’ll be treated to an uncharacteristically angry Depak Chopra – fun! And finally, I must say that of that whole panel, I have the most respect for Bishop Carlton Pearson. He literally stood up to his entire congregation to say that hell does not exist and that their poor family members who had sinned here and there were not burning in the fiery flames. I mean, for a man to take a stand like that… That, my friends; that, Billy Graham, is courage. I looked around, MSNBC did the best coverage of the story: click here.
Thanks, and anyone who knows how I can get an interview with Bishop Pearson, let me know. And also if you’ve got any good preachers/priests/imams/rabbis/Jedis/ministers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster we can talk to, let me know.
Thank you and for real, GOD BLESS YOU and EVERYONE ELSE!
The Hitchhiking Movie, the Mississippi Paddle Adventure, and 11 Visions itself are all a joint venture between Ryan Jeanes and Phillip Hullquist. Therefore, I give to you 11 Visions’ first ever JOINT POST! No we’re not smoking joints while writing – we’re collaborating on a single post. This is a tad experimental so if it blows up in your face just send us the cleaning bill.
It was about 3pm when Ryan and I arrived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for the Secret City Film Festival. So much to do today: find the theater location, get posters made, update the website, meet festival organizers, find a secluded campsite–what? Yes, we’re still camping! In order to save money on unnecessary conveniences motels provide like running water and electricity, we paddled across the river and setup a tent instead. I think it’s actually better as it’s reducing the withdrawal I might otherwise be experiencing from leaving The River. This is my first film festival, my first “big-screen” premiere, and my first chance to get a real life audience reaction to the film. It’s all very exciting, but I also have no idea what to expect. –Phillip
“Arrived” in Oak Ridge, TN, he says. More like rolled in on one wheel and a prayer. Phil and I had just orchestrated an 11th hour comeback to get from New Orleans to Nashville in the first place. Making the film festival AT ALL was a Mail Mary pass.
2 days before film festival – New Orleans, LA:
Phil: “OK, I’ve got it. Since AMTRAK doesn’t go to Nashville, we buy tickets to Memphis and hope someone can give us a ride to the Music City.”
Me: “Ummmmm, so like do you have anyone who’ll come get us?”
Me: “Great plan; I love it.” That’s not sarcasm; this does sound like a Phil/Ryan plan. “What about Wes?” Wes, you will recall from this post, is the guy whom it took four hours to coordinate a ride from Gold Dust, TN to his parents’ home in Memphis. This is an abbreviated version, but that phone conversation on the riverbank between Phillip and his former roommate (who splits his time between the Music City and the Blues City) went something like this:
5:12pm – Gold Dust, TN – It’s dark; to my understanding Wes said he would have a truck waiting for us at the boat launch. Unless I’m blind, there is no truck.
Phil: “Wes, hey, we’re here, um, didn’t you say you could arrange a ride for us?”
Wes: “Oh, dude, like I totally forgot. Um, like, let me call my mom and see if I can get y’all a ride.” Hangs up.
Phil: “Guess what?”
Me: “Wes forgot.”
5:38 – Riiiiiiiiiing. P: “Hello?”
W: Hey dude like I just talked to my mom.
W: So like yeah she says that she’s making tuna casserole for dinner tonight.
P: What the hell does that have to do with us being picked up?
W: Nothing, oh yeah, so like I forgot to ask about the ride.
W: No dude. (Hangs up.) I’ll get on it.
6:15 – Riiiiiiiiiing.
W: Dude, I just watched this youtube video… Oh yeah, I forgot.
7:13 – Ring.
W: My brother says he might be able to do it. Do y’all need a truck or will my compact work?
W: Where are y’all again?
8:45 -I consider eating my brain.
Wes: “Yeah so like my brother might be able to do it…”
Phil: That’s what you said an hour ago!
W: Dude, don’t get testy, um, yeah, let me, dude you got to see the new clue book from Warhammer!
12:45am (this is not an exaggeration) – Wes’s brother arrives with a truck (thank god) and a frustrated tale of how it took his brother 4 hours just to communicate to him that he needed to come pick us up.
“Why didn’t Wes just give us your number?” I asked Reilly, his brother.
“That’s a really good question; this woulda gone a lot faster.”
Phil and I Reach Memphis (By Train This Time, Not Boat and Not Wes)
Amtrak is speedy and effective. A nice lady saw me downing Mini Moos and eating sugar packets, and bought me lunch. People on the train were friendly and cordial and nice and, um, friendly. I tried to cross cars without shoes and not only the conductor but the passengers implored me to “go put some shoes on, you’s gonna get yo’ feet stuck ‘tween them caws!” Nice people concerned for my safety. An old black man was jovial sipping his Budweiser tallboy. “I likes to talk to sum youn’ people,” he says. “Main, my daddy always tol’ me, you gotta talk to youn’ people, hang out withem. Dat way you stay young!” He smiled ear to ear and had four teeth. It was one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve ever had. My lunch was bought by a coupla old-timers seeing America via train, playing Gim Rummy and eating peanuts. The energy on the train was through the roof. Glorious, wondrous, I loved it.
Greyhound is NOT Amtrak
Nashville, TN is one of the few major American cities without passenger rail service. Why? Global warming; I don’t exactly know why. I know the Carter Administration forced some Amtrak cuts in the late 70s (f—ing Carter), but presumably for lack of potential ridership (yeah, I know, no one would be interested in commuting quickly and easily between the Capitol and the state’s largest city) the track between Memphis and Nashville was never to be. This means that if you don’t have a car, and you’ve got a crapload of stuff, and you don’t want to fly, and you don’t want to call Wes Herndon to pick you up because you might as well jump of a bridge and hope the wind currents blow you and your seven 50-lb luggage items to Nashville, because you have a better shot at that than Phillip’s well-meaning (but mentally vacant) roommate finding the power of focus necessary to come to his hometown (Memphis) and take us back to his worktown (Nashville) in exchange for money or stories or sex (your job, Phillip) or effusive thank-yous. Wes, I love you to death… Wes! Pay attention! Right here! Yeah, right here (makes eye-to-eye hand gesture with fingers). Wes, I love you to death but making a PB and J sandwich for you is an all-night operation. (For those of you thinking I’m being too hard on Wes, just know that I love him and want to have his babies :). Eat your heart out, Jessica.)
Greyhound is not Amtrak, but that is what Phil and I have settled on. The festival is in in less than 24 hours and none of Phil’s leads are coming through. Phil turns to me exhausted: “It’s gonna cost an arm n’ a leg, man.” Greyhound wants 35 bucks per extra bag. F that! Some of you who’ve been reading this blog know I’m into some New Age stuff, the Secret and all that. In my experience it works great sometimes and it works for shite other times. One thing I have noticed: When I need it to work and I’m really intentional about it working, it does. First I form in my imagination the outcome I want. OK, brain, here we go. I’m imagining the manager talking to me and I’m saying to him that I want him to charge me no more than 10 bucks an extra bag, and we get our tickets and everything for less than a hundred bucks. Mind you, I’m doing this right after Phil came to me and said he was just shot down by the clerk for asking the same thing to which she replied, “Um, no, sirrrr, duh policy is very clear. Whatchu wan’ me to do? Change duh policy? It don’t work like that. Y’all gonna hav’ tuh pay $185. Look at all dem extruh ba-ugs! I shude be chargin’ y’all mo’!” Calm, brain, calm. We can do this. I go up directly to the evil clerk (buahahahahahahaha!). “Howdy, ma’am!” I say Texan. (I always do this when I want to be more jovial and cordial, because Texans – especially Charles Whitman 🙁 and the guys who ran Enron – are cordial and nice. “Would you be able to check all these bags on this cart and give us our tickets for a hundred bucks?” I’m smiling at her. I’m staying present. I’m asking as if I expect a direct and honest and positive yes. I know she can say know; perhaps I know she will say no, but that’s okay. I ask. I expect my response. I’m using the Secret; I hope to God this works. “Um,” she ponders (better than the response Phil got), “I just, uh, you need to talk to duh managah about dat!” I go up to the manager. Stay present, stay real, this can happen, this will happen, by god I hope this happens. Shhh. “Hi [insert manager’s name on name tag], I would like to travel to Nashville with all those bags for 100 dollars.” He looked almost flabbergasted. I don’t know if anyone had so boldly asked him that before. He starts rummaging through my bags and talking speedily. I almost don’t know what’s happening. Phillip is asking me what’s happening, and I say, “I dunno, but let’s not spoil it; I think this guy’s going to do something; I just don’t know what. Let’s just go with it.” He gets half our bags on via the baggage handlers and then says the other half I’ll have to put on myself. I don’t know why we’re going through this weird process, but…. F it! It’s working! I go back to nasty clerk: “Soooo, how much I owe ya?”
Thank you, Secret. -Ryan
Oak Ridge, TN
They call it the Secret City. Ryan asks me why it is named such seeing reference to this nickname nearly everywhere. He thinks I know more about the city than I actually do because I told him that Knoxville people make nuclear jokes about the town. Only a day later we would learn much of the city’s unique history while watching Keith McDaniel’s (the Secret City Film Festival creator) excellent documentary about his hometown.
For the showing of The Hitchhiking Movie on Friday afternoon, I sat near the front inside the expansive Playhouse Theater. Ryan chose a seat near the back…apparently to spend time observing the audience response instead of being immersed within it. Everything is larger on the big screen; the opening titles almost look over-sized to me, each shake and small movement of the camera translates into a larger movement when projected 16 feet tall. But it’s great–glorious even. Our audience is laughing throughout, feeling the pain of the journey, and applauding the successes along with us. A film critic from Knoxville described the movie as a “crowd-pleaser.” Many people have traveled from all over to visit this festival, but we PADDLED every day for a month to make it there in the nick of time. The reactions were perfect.
Then this story: on Saturday morning a woman named Meghan working at the festival found the need to describe a dream she experienced as a result of seeing The Hitchhiking Movie. As I recall from her account, she also got picked up by “Sammy” and later on met her husband-to-be. So now we’re not just inspiring people, we’re giving people nightmares! If anyone else can confirm that our movie induces strange dreams, please report in the comments below. If you haven’t seen The Hitchhiking Movie yet, you can order a copy at IndieFlix. –Phillip
Yes, Meghan, um, that was a little weird; and, as you know, we’re a coupla straight-laced guys so quit freaking us out like that. 🙂 Thank you, Meghan, also for buying a copy of the movie; hope you enjoyed it.
Keith McDaniel has really jazzed up the festival this year (so I’m told): He’s got corporate sponsors, he’s got big-name talent (Elaine Hendrix – Knoxville native and star of Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion – “I invented Post-its!” – is there as well as Mitch Rouse – director of Employee of the Month, probably one of the most kick-ass movies I’ve seen in a while).
My Date with Elaine
This is a rather bizarre experience. Betsy Pickle, the Knoxville movie critic Phillip mentions above and author of ze photo abuv yor head, calls me over to speak with someone after the screening of Mitch’s Employee of the Month. Holy crap, I think, that’s a goddamn movie star standing there! I wouldn’t say I became tongue-tied but I did become awful shy when Betsy introduced me to Elaine Hendrix.
“Hi,” I said.
“Um, so like I dug Romy and Michelle.”
“Oh, good.” She’s probably done like a thousand things since then, but that’s the only thing I can think of right now. So, Elaine, if I came off like a douche, sorry, but I really did like your role in that movie. Oh, an’ kudos on your short mocumentary The Cloggers(don’t really know how y’all can see this one yet – wait till it’s out of the festivals – but just imagine Spinal Tap pared down to 7 minutes and about cloggers instead of rockers. Good job, Elaine; very funny.
I really didn’t know what to say to this girl. She certainly isn’t model hot, but she is hot with steely black eyebrows under beautiful, bleached blonde bangs, a beautiful smile… I was smitten. Betsy, bless her heart, saves me and starts pitching The Hitchhiking Movie to her. “Oh really?” she replies. A goddamn movie star is interested in me! Don’t F this up, you slimy bastard.
“Uh, yeah,” I say and totally drop the ball. She looks at her watch, and I want to jump out a window. “Pull up, goddammit, puuulll up!!!!” All right, brain, we’re gonna pull this one out of the gutter and land it safely on the runway. I push my shoulders back and puff out my chest. Ahem, I can do this, movie star or no!: “Hey, Elaine,” I say suddenly confident-ized, “you’re mockumentary was very good, I gave it a 5/5; I know you said during the Q and A you liked documentaries, so I have one for you. I know people have been pushing their stuff on you all night so I wont push anything on you. This [Phillip shows up with a DVD] is for you to enjoy.” She says thank you, and it is genuine. Betsy tries to explain to her that she wants her in a short she’s going to direct in Knoxville to which Elaine demurs. She’s been ghermed all night (ha! thanks, Jim, for the term; told ya I’d use it all the time!) and wants to go home. By fate or god or failing to pay the electricity bill the lights go dim, and Elaine makes a break for the door. Good cue. “Phil,” I said later, “do you think she’ll watch it?”
“I dunno, probably.”
“Probably will.” And if not, F it. Just as the Doors said, “We did the Ed Sullivan Show, man!” I can say, “I talked to the co-star of The Parent Trap, man, I frikkin’ talked to the co-star of The Parent Trap!”
I met Mitch Rouse outside the theater and asked him to tell me a little bit about being on the Second City Stage in Chicago with Stephen Colbert and Nia Vardalos, which he did. Very unasuming, kick-ass fellow. Thank you, Mitch. Like I said, Employee of the Month was a good movie. OOOOOOO I want to spoil the ending for you so bad… so I won’t.
Conclusion (That’s Spanish for Conclusion)
We had a great time. People were coming up to us, as Phil stated, asking us if we “really” were sleeping in a tent. Hotels cost 50 bucks! What would be the point. You ain’t talkin’ to a rich man! Many people loved the Hitchhiking Movie. Though we cringed through the intro which took too long and the music issues and the sound issues and the issues issues, it was great. The premise itself was compelling enough. My on-camera-ness seemed to be compelling enough. We did a good enough job of editing for it to be enough.
The people told us so.
And I believe them.
Thank you to Keith, Dana, and Natalie of the SC Film Festival.
It was great.
Thank you to all who’ve chosen to follow us after the Mississippi Journey. Told ya there’d be more cool stuff happenin’!
And thank you to Elaine and Mitch. I think you taught me that I stand on two feet just like you do, and if I work (even though I’m 6’4″) I might one day get to be as tall as you.
Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. This was special. This was a dialogue. This was us entertaining you, and I think that’s special. I think there might not be a more holy union than two people, whether it be Phil writing to you or me writing to you, sharing in a common experience. The experience you just shared in was called The Mississippi River Adventure. The movie will be called The River is Life, and the whole experience was great. On the river, there were gay couples, there were barges and spirit canoes, fights between me and Phil, media coverage, F-words, Z-words (you know, words that start with Z), there were nice people in Natchez, mean people in Greenville – there was this entire river full of people and life. We hope we brought the River to life for you.
Second… The Please
Please, if you enjoyed this blog, if you enjoyed this journey, I’m asking you to give. Reflect on the value you have gotten from this journey: Did you have a good time? Did you see what you wouldn’t have seen, hear what you wouldn’t have heard, go where you couldn’t have gone any other way but though reading this blog? Did we entertain you! Where did we take you? Where were you able to go because two crazy guys grabbed a couple of paddles and went down the greatest river in America bringing it to life in a fun and entertaining way? What feelings did you feel? The spirit canoe – were you touched? The Adventist adventure – did it make you think? The shotgun in my face in Prairie du Chien – were you scared? I was! Did you go on… an adventure? I hope so; in my heart, I know so. Now I’m asking you to make a contribution, whatever your heart dictates, for the value you have received.
Phil and I are going to keep doing this – entertaining you through the power of adventure. As I’ve stated in the two previous posts, we’re not done: The Go to Hell? movie is coming up, the Mexico City Street Children movie is coming up (we’ll be actually living in the Mexico City sewers with the orphaned children). This blog and the movies we produce will continue to provide a plethora of entertainment, education, and chance for reflection. So I’m asking you to give. I’m asking you to give as we have given to you. Whatever this journey has been worth to you, please donate here.
We’re Going to Sweeten the Pot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We want to give to you some more!!! As a special thank you to those who donate $50 or more, Phil and I will give you a signed copy of The Hitchhiking Movie, our first feature film. If you know nothing about this film, this is what some have said about it:
Route 66 News (5/11/2009) – “the right balance of affability, earnestness and wit”
And we’re going to give it to you FREE! (a $17.95 value) with your donation of $50 or more. But, Ryyyyannnnn, I don’t have fifty bucks!!!! Das okay, baby! I understand. Please give what you can. Ask yourself if you were entertained, and then give what you can. For everyone who donates any amount, I will send a personal thank-you email. In fact, thank you now! Isn’t this is fun!
That’s Not All!
We’re not done! If you contribute $75 or more to help keep the great entertainment on this site going, we want to give you something else! Phil and I will give you an autographed and personally dedicated picture of our finish at the Gulf of Mexico! That’s us right there! Those are the actual Louisiana marshlands behind us! This picture is a symbol of adventure; it encapsulates the excitement of not just a paddle down the Mississippi but the joy of adventuring everywhere. Just send us instructions for your dedication with your Pay Pal order, and own a part of the adventure today!
Donate anything at all – You get a personal thanks from us to you via email.
Donate $50 or more – You get an autographed copy of our DVD The Hitchhiking Movie, which includes bonus scenes, special directors’ commentary, and the beloved DRUNK COMMENTARY! (Parents, make sure the kiddies are out of the room for that one :).
Donate $75 or more – You get the DVD and the photo commemorating the realization of a dream – to paddle down the entire length of the Mississippi River. We hope to give you part of this adventure and make it as much yours as it was ours.
Own the adventure: Please donate today!
Third… The Promise
We promise to continue entertaining you to the best of our ability. We promise to continue capturing the spirit of adventure in everything we do. We promise to brighten your day by sharing ourselves, our heart, our travel with you. Many people wrote me and said, “Thank you for taking me along with you.” That’s our job; that’s what we strive to do – to take people where they’d love to go if they had the time; that’s what 11 Visions is all about. The fun does not stop. I have more to tell you about our adventures at our first film festival in Oak Ridge, TN. You will get sneak peeks of the dailies from the river. You’ll receive new blog posts from our train-hopping adventure coming soon. More, and more, and even more. We want to give you more. That’s our job.
Ryan, How Can You Make Good on That Promise Right Now?
Good question. By entertaining you right now, of course! Ready for the Final Chapter in our Mississippi River Adventure????
Me too. Let’s get to the Gulf.
When we left off, a scabby, nasty old hag pinned her homemade PADDLERS BEWARE! sign to the window. Jeff Johnson told me later that that same lockmaster had given him trouble as well. Jeff works as a fishing guide and had 6 boats worth of clients trying to lock through into the bay. Our lady in question denied them access citing that it was nepotism to let larger party groups through and that they would have to wait 2 hours for a series of single dinghies to go first. Jeff was incensed. He makes his living off showing clients a good time. “Did you confront the old hag?” I asked him. “Naw,” he said, “what’d be the point?” Too true. When someone’s Middle Eastern name is MUSTAVA STIKUPUR AZ, there isn’t much you can do.
Old Crabapples opened the gate and, though she was nasty, she wasn’t lying. The conditions were absolutely awful. Easily 3-foot whitecaps. Phil and I gleefully paddled out into the middle of the channel. It was fun… for a while. Like being on whitewater. After twenty minutes he turned to me: “I’m tired.”
“Um, buddy, we got 39 miles to go.”
“Yeah, we’re not gonna make it like this; these waves and wind are killing me.”
“Shore paddle? That’s such a beginner thing to do.”
“Any other ideas?”
The Mississippi was forcing us to go back to our roots – paddle along the shore just like we did when we were infant paddlers scared of the center channel. The shoreline did offer relief from the waves but not the wind. That was as strong as ever. Sometimes God did bless us with a jutting point that would shield us (partially) from the gales. But for the most part, it was a fight to the finish. Mano y manos – the Miss’sippi versus us.
“I’ve just about had it with this rudder!” I screamed. The night before, we consolidated all we would need into one boat. It was ceremonial. We dusted off the 11Visions Boat (the boat that had our logo on it) and washed it down. Phil took out the inflatable floor and scrubbed it with care as he would an infant. I tried to repair the torn decal that bore our website. We were betting it all on black, taking one boat instead of two (the other would stay at Jeff’s cabin). We were betting that with less weight and less drag we could paddle the 40 miles to the gulf in one day. The River and the Wind laughed at us: “You may make it; but it ain’t gonna be easy.”
“What’s wrong with the rudder?” Phil responded.
“You don’t feel it cuz you’re not steering the boat, but this f—ing thing is pulling hard right CONSTANTLY.”
“I don’t feel it.”
“That’s what I just frikkin’ said!” I was mad. I had forgotten to secure the rudder with an extra pair of washers the night before. Dammit! I thought. Little things can make or break a journey; I know this, I should know this by now; why’d I forget! There was no why; I just had. “Let’s pull into this little cove,” I said to Phil.
The Cove and the Dump
We pulled into a bay-like indentation 4 miles south of the crabby lady’s lock. There a middle-aged man with a sinewy build exited his car. “Oh my god, well,” he said dropping a stack of papers into the wind. “Well,” he said, “I, uh, um, yeah, what’re y’all… what’s this now?” He’d forgotten his papers; they were blowing everywhere. I ignored the papers and said, “Paddling…”
“…the Rivuh, no shit.”
LOL. What the hell?
“Look,” he continued, “um, I um, yeah, I know this guy at the pay-puh [not a Cajun accent per se, but definitely Florida-Parish] I know um an’ y’all need to talk to um. I’m gonna snap some photos foist.” He got out a digital camera and started snapping pictures and asking questions. “Now, uh, now, I also know, well now she’s my girlfriend, this uh psychiatrist, an’ y’all should talk to uh given that y’all’s crazy enough to be out in dis weathuh!” Phil and I laughed at the jibe. “Right now,” I said, “all I need is an outhouse or a protected space without sawgrass or burrs.” “Ooooo raght,” he said, “If you need tuh take a dump, jus’ go raght ovuh they-uh.” Ha ha ha! Who says ‘take a dump’ to a stranger? Ha!
When I finished, ahem, Phil was talking to both Take-a-Dump (that’s a good a name as any) and a new guy. The new guy was older, wiser and more present; not the scatterbrain Take-a was. “Name’s Yonke,” he said to me and offered his hand. “Better not shake,” I said. “Oooooh,” he said and laughed. Yonke (his nickname) regarded our paddling in these types of conditions as more or less normal and wished us well. Take-a was still all over the place: “Um, yeah, um, y’all need tuh be in the pay-puh heah an’ also in the Times-Picayune [the big, scary paper of New Orleans].”
“I tried the Picayune, but they didn’t respond; guess this story’s not to their liking.”
“No, uh, no, y’all needa person on duh inside.”
Who? You? I mean I wish you could have been there, but this guy was absolutely laughable. I really didn’t believe that A. he knew the people he said he knew and B. he would do what he said he would do if he did. I wrote it off and said thank you.
Ryan, You Ain’t Always Right
After Phil and I finished the River, the Times Picayune called! Holy crap! I’m wrong! Thank god I am. Though neither Phil nor I have been able to locate the story online, I was there as Phillip interviewed with the reporter over the phone. NOLA residents, if you saw the story in print, let us know! Take-a, you came through. Thank you.
Phil and I left watching Take-a drop more stuff and Yonke stand stoicly on the bank. “Y’all be careful,” Yonke said grandfatherly but smiling.
“We will!” As I think back on this, I can still see his face. He looks like a chiseled sculpture. The wind blew that old face, but he was happy. I hoped he was happy to see two young men taking on real challenge. I hoped he was happy with me. I don’t know if you’ll see this, Yonke, but your sternness gave me strength. Take-a dropped his I-pod.
During our escapade with the two gentlemen at the bay, I had forgotten all about the rudder!! Dammit! “Phil, I know you hate stopping, but we’ve got to; my right arm is on fire; my left arm nothing.” Phil sighed but acquiesced. We stopped in front of the old Fort. Phil went to take pictures while I did my best to use two pop tops from 1980s Bud Light cans dredged up by the river (Did Katrina do it?) as washers. It was useless. I nearly dropped the bolt needed to fasten the rudder on. I turned to Phil: “I’m taking that as a sign from God.”
“What does the sign say?”
“It says ‘tough shit, you’re gonna have to paddle only on your right side today.'”
“I coulda told you that.”
Phil was right. The rudder repair would be a bust.
Right side! Right side! Paddle, paddle! I’m still angry over the broken rudder, but there’s nothing I can do. I convince myself that the river is paddling on the left side for me: Yeah, that’s it! I’m not having to fight to stay straight; I’m just doing half the work! Though I know it’s bullshit, it does keep me from going insane. I check the Navigation Charts. “We need to make a decision here, Phil. Which pass do we take to the gulf?”
The night before, Phil and I pondered over exactly how we were going to get to the Gulf of Mexico. There are several options. Our hero, Buck Nelson, took the longest pass possible. He should change his name from Buck to Badass. We, however, had a film festival to get to. We were going to take the shortest pass. “Let me see those charts again,” I told Phil.
Our best bet, in order to make things easier on our host Jeff, was going to be taking the Red Pass. “It’s a fisherman’s pass,” Jeff told us. “But y’all’d make things a helluva lot easier on me if yuh went that way.” Phil and I got to Venice and discussed it. “It’s gonna have to be the Red Pass,” I said. “Yeah, I’d like to take Buck’s route past the Head of Passes into the long channel, but that’s not what we came here to do. Most guys stop their Mississippi River journey at New Orleans, if they even make it that far. We’re doing something greater, we’re going into the sea. At this point, we got a guy who’s giving us a ride back. I don’t know how the hell else we’ll coordinate getting someone else to pick us up. So… let’s just do it. Let’s call Jeff and tell him we’re taking Red Pass.”
Phil pondered it. “Yeah,” he said. “Let’s do it. The point all along was the gulf. So it’s eight miles shorter – I don’t care. I think it’s fate we ran into Jeff. I think we’re supposed to meet up with him at sunset.”
“Screw the Head of Passes. Let’s just get to the sea. That was the point…”
“…the whole time.”
Phil and I recognized what we were about to accomplish. With cell reception, albeit extremely crappy, in Venice, we called Jeff to tell him we’d meet him at the end of Red Pass. “Oh, thank y’all,” he said. This was good, this was fate.
It is certainly a maze of passes if you do not know where you’re going. Phil and I made a few wrong turns and actually ended up paddling three more miles out of our way. “Told ya I wasn’t going to make this easy,” the Mississippi said. I know, I replied, but you know you won’t beat us today… you know that now, don’t you?“Yes,” the Mighty Muddy chuckled, “I know now you’re determined. You were determined when your brother suggested you quit at Davenport. You were determined when I threw rain at you, wind at you; I blew that little inflatable around like a leaf. I knew you were crazy, but I also knew I wouldn’t beat you.”
So why’d you make it so damn tough?
“Ha ha ha.” I got nothing from the River after that. No communication, nothing. Only silence. As Phil and I paddled into the last four miles on Red Pass, I couldn’t hear the River’s voice anymore. I would, at times, think I heard Him laughing or smiling or saying any number of things. I heard Him laugh when my boat flipped on Lake Pepin. I heard Him smile when the hot sun drove away the fog in Guttenberg, IA. I heard him howl when Southern Illinois rain pelted us like mad, and screech when a nighttime barge almost hit us. I’ve heard Him alot. But now that the Gulf of Mexico was in sight, I could hear Him no more. I could only see sea. It was as if a new voice was beckoning, and it was large and ominous and… engulfing.
“There it is! Oh my god! That’s the gulf!”
Phil and I paddled as if in a dream. We were happy, but where was Jeff?
One mile more. Happy, but where’s Jeff?
One more, happy, Jeff?
With no more than a mile to go I heard the rumble of a motor, and Jeff was in sight. It was perfect, almost meant to be. Had we taken the shipping lane after the Head of Passes, the footage would have been sotted with ships and industry, channel markers and fights for your life to stay clear. It would not have been the poetry that Phil and I experienced when Jeff held the camera, steered his boat, egged us on to the final, shot the reeds swaying in the wind, shot the sunset, egged us on some more, and finally… shot us paddling, fatigued and elated, into the Gulf of Mexico.
I can’t describe to you (well) what I felt. It was like a wave of joy flowed over my heart. I couldn’t believe it was really over. I implored Phillip to stand up in the boat. “What do you want to do that for?” he laughed. He was overjoyed too. “I want to get a picture of us standing,” I said. Six-foot swells were rolling off the gulf. “We can’t…” he started but acquiesced. I tried to stabilize Phil as we stood but to no avail. As soon as a roller went under us he went in the water. “Ha ha haaaaa!” I howled. Jeff was laughing his ass off. As soon as Phil got back in the boat I said, “This one’s for you!” and jumped into the water, where the dolphins were hunting freshwater fish off the coast. Phillip answered by paddling the boat away. “You bastard!” We were overjoyed!
“Congratulations, guys,” Jeff said. “Now come get your celebratory beer!” Jeff had Miller Light for us (I’m a Bud man but who gives a scheisse). Phil and I toasted and watched the setting sun beat its colors into the clouds. Content – that’s how I felt – so very, very content. It was done. We had done it.
I thought for a long time, long in my mind. I reflected and wondered if “just making it” was enough. I have credit card payments, I thought. I’m not famous. I don’t know if anyone cares. I looked across the sky into industrial Venice as Jeff drove us back in his high-powered cigarette boat. An oil refinery was burning gas in a torch of light. “Hey, Phil, Olympics come to Venice.” “Ha ha,” he responded but was mostly silent. I was mostly silent. There wasn’t much to say. We’d done it. It was done. Back at Jeff’s cabin, we had fried fish and sweet potato casserole. I chatted with some of Jeff’s clients. One told me I needed to read the book Blue Highways, which strangely I was already reading. Another told Phillip that his vegetarianism reminded him of his wife, a Seventh-day Adventist. “I am Adventist,” Phil said. All was quiet then.
The silence. I had said in Part II that I was afraid of it. Or, at least, I was aware that the silence would need to be filled. And what if I didn’t know what to fill it with? But what to fill it with was not here yet. I sat. This is what I was afraid of, I thought. This… is nothing to be afraid of. Cicadas chirped outside, and Jeff’s over-sized fan drowned out the excess noise. I could only hear muffled rumblings of voices, Jeff’s clients, talking about this fish and that fish and this market and that market and when they’d be back in Texas. I was alone. I was silent. I was in it. It was okay.
I would say I drank it in, but there was nothing to to drink. The silence was simply present; there was nothing to do. It was almost like being underwater but even more peaceful. All I could do was sit, sit and watch and wait. When would the silence fade? It didn’t matter. I was done with the Mississippi; and, I know now, the silence was my reward.
Jeff’s wife, Gabriela, offered us more food, but I was in another world. I was one of the few who had completed the Mighty Mississippi. I looked at Phil and only nodded. I think he knew what it meant. It meant that the silence was good. That we were good; and, for a brief moment, we were creators of our own destiny.