American Bear Visits Bear Number Three: Bear Arizona

Bear, Arizona - a sort of mystery land. We could never figure out if we were close to civilization or far from it. I had perfect cell phone reception, but the night was completely quiet and the starts brighter than any of my favorite small towns.
The sunset was completely southwestern. Like an oil painting, the strong dark horizontal lines of bright colors with a single bright star and a crescent moon. That's been the way the sky has looked all over Arizona though; painted land, painted sky.

The Bears have become so personal. We document them, but it's really our only time to be alone, to talk with each other rather than many strangers.
This Bear was amazing. At this point I think we've decided that it's been our favorite so far. It was familiar to me - maybe a little drier than the dry colorado mountains where my dad has been for many years building a tire house. But it was also unfamiliar. We saw three giant eagles, sat in an empty river basin for over an hour, followed two sets of train tracks in opposite directions, slept on the softest, chalkiest, dryest earth, and almost stepped on a dead scorpion.
In Montana I wanted to be a cowboy, here I wanted to disappear into the drought, or howl at the moon.

This Bear was interesting because it was a lot about us. In the last 30 days we've spent a lot of time talking about our film, about other people, about future films, but we hardly ever reflect about our relationship. Here - we did.

I stepped on a cactus.

I hunted for arrowheads.

I was incredibly excited about the cool night. After our sweaty night in Vegas, the cool that arrived at around 4AM was so soothing.

We discovered energy here. Or we started to understand what makes people comfortable with us - a single similarity - their intution, our presence.

I can't believe this is Bear number three. And yet I can. We've already learned so much.

"American Bear" has reached the halfway point of our 60 day journey!

We are wrapping up Day 30, currently typing at a Taco Bell in Tuba City, Arizona, while our footage from the morning downloads.

We've met hundreds of people in the last 30 days -- 544 people, in fact -- and had incredible experiences. Maybe you've been following our blog (BearDocumentary.blogspot.com) or our Facebook page (facebook.com/BearDocumentary), please keep reading, we've got new adventures every day!

Every day, we arrive in a new town, often a new state. Usually we have the camera out and approach people to do an interview with us. We've also tried some alternative approaches, including without the camera, and a quick approach where we just describe our project and ask "Do you know anyone who could help us out?" We've heard amazing stories and fascinating ideas about community, America, fear, trust, and what's going on between Americans.

Of the 544 people we've spoken to, 47% decline to even interview. Of those who say yes to an interview, 89% say no to hosting us. Fortunately we have that other 11%. We've stayed with hosts (or, in two cases, in hotel rooms courtesy of a kind stranger), for 24 of our 29 nights.

54% of the people we run into are female, while 46% are male. We have tried to be pretty random, some days picking "qualifiers" - we will only talk to people wearing red, for example. Of the people who have said yes, 49% are male and 51% are female.

We've traveled through 15 states from New Jersey to Washington, and south to Arizona. We've driven almost 6000 miles.

We've talked to 3 newspapers so far, 2 TV stations and 2 radio stations about our adventures, and we hope to talk to many more.

We've slept in private guest rooms, on beds, futons, floors, in a camper, in an empty cabin, in a rock showroom at a shrine made of rocks and gemstones, in our tent, and in our car. We've met people of all races, ages, and economic circumstances. We've stayed with families of up to 10 children, couples, college students, grandparents, and even people living alone. We've heard stories of tragic loss and great joy, and been taken on adventures by our hosts to jump in a river, see a baseball game, enjoy 4th of July fireworks, and go to local concerts -- often we stay up late, the conversation between us and our hosts never quite ready to end. We've experienced, almost every day, our kind strangers opening their lives to us, becoming a friend.

There is a beautiful exchange that happens, an exchange of kindness and experiences, an exchange of friendship. With many of our hosts, we already can't wait to go back to visit. We've learned that most people are friendly and kind, but maybe only when confronted by friendly and kind people (like us). But most of the friendly people we speak with seem to think that Americans are generally rude and that their town is friendlier than the rest of the country -- an odd stereotype that we are disproving almost every day.

We've done some mini-experiments to test variables in our appearance, but over and over our hosts tell us that their trust in us came from a gut feeling, intuition, good vibes, the energy between us. There is something intangible that manifests trust and kindness, and although appearance (and our friendly attitudes) definitely have an impact on those good vibes, it seems like this energy almost defies words -- maybe it will be captured in the magic of cinema.

We've talked to scholars in sociology, psychology, philosophy and gender studies who have informed the way we look at all of our experiences.

We've also visited three of the five Bears in the country -- in Washington, Idaho, and Arizona -- and used each remote and beautiful location to reflect on our experiences and have a personal day -- not quite a break, but a chance to speak to each other instead of dozens of strangers. Whether we're in a Bear or meeting new people, we shoot nearly two hours of footage a day.

To those of you who we met in the last 30 days -- it was wonderful to meet you, and thanks so much for sharing a story, a home, or just some time with us. And to those of you who've been following us and supporting us for months, we are putting together an incredible film because of you. Thank you.

American Bear, Day 28: Las Vegas, NV

The road to Vegas:

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We hit the big city at about 1pm. I had never been to Las Vegas, and I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it much – drinking and gambling aren’t really my thing, and I was pretty sure there wasn’t much else to do there. We weaved our way off the highway and onto Las Vegas Boulevard, the Strip, and for once we enjoyed the traffic: slowly passing the hotels and casinos, amazed but already wondering how it transformed at night.

Found free self parking at the Excalibur; walked through the Excalibur and New York, New York; met locals on the Strip. A bartender with a huge smile who recently moved back to Vegas after eight months without a job; a drifter currently hawking club passes; a chef with an Australian accent. An employee at Hard Rock Café got so excited about our project that she led us into the Hard Rock, guiding us and insisting we meet with the manager who might put us up in the hotel, or have another employee help us out – but it turned out we were too short notice for either option. We spoke with people between 20 and 50, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and there were some similarities: most believed that people are generally rude, that Las Vegas is mostly made up of transplants, and that the native Vegas folks are the rudest of all. But everyone we got to speak to was incredibly friendly – and I guess we can’t be sure about the dozens of people who declined to speak with us.

We toiled along the Strip for 4 ½ hours, talking to 36 people before deciding we needed a dinner break and a change of scenery. California Pizza Kitchen was probably our most welcome meal, after the heat, sweat, and stress of our afternoon – even if it was much more expensive than our usual meal. Afterwards, we used the tried-and-true pick-a-hand method to decide which direction to head for a neighborhood of Las Vegas locals. Sarah’s right hand was east.

In a grocery store parking lot we met a very elderly man who got a kick out of telling us about his crazy kitten. Then Bobby called us to his car, a former singer who used the phrase “oldies but goodies” about four times in our short conversation, who was yet another extremely friendly person. He told us to keep heading east, which we did.

In another grocery store parking lot, a couple more miles east, we had our first offer of cash throughout our trip: a woman who, upon hearing our story, offered us a dollar, which we refused. We saw more ethnic and economic diversity, including a very hip-looking white man on a bicycle who it turned out was homeless, having recently lost his job and his unemployment benefits. He was the most disappointing case in a community where everyone we spoke to brought up jobs: either they were lucky enough to recently find one, or they came to Vegas to find one, or they lost one.

We also met one of our most interesting interviews of the whole trip, an 18-year-old employee waiting for his grandpa to pick him up. Julio, with shaggy black hair, a huge grin, and a tendency to scratch his head and laugh at the end of sentences, spoke about people’s unwillingness to change, and that society changing towards kindness is the only way progress can happen. He said the world is unhealthy, and it needs to embrace change and diversity and its children in order to grow and make people happier – no one is happy, especially when money is perceived as the key to happiness. Julio and another young guy agreed that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas – but you stay too!” Once the money runs out, tourists become transplants.

We spoke with over 50 people in Las Vegas – several dozen declined to interview, but everyone we did speak to was very friendly, even though they believe that most people aren’t. We didn’t find a home, but we had our first day that went pretty much as we expected: before we ever started this trip, we anticipated distrust, and little generosity. We expected people to talk about society negatively. We planned on multiple nights sleeping in the car. So far, we’ve only had two.

In some ways, our experience in Las Vegas fulfilled the expectations of so many other people we meet. Advocates for small towns always say that folks in the big city are too fast, too rude, too selfish. People did brush us off, and people were busy. As for selfish, I don’t think it’s the right word: most people we met were interested in our project, but kept it external. Even when we described our project, no one seemed to catch our indirect question. In every other community, we tend to have people respond quickly with “Oh, well I can’t because…” but the people in Las Vegas never took it upon themselves to respond directly. It’s not selfish, it’s just individualistic, maybe self-centered – maybe living amongst panhandlers and homeless people creates that wall, where the idea of directly helping someone is phased out. As for the small town advocates, I bet a lot of their impression of rude city people comes from their few friends in the city; if all the friendly people in the city talk about how rude people are, they’ll never overturn that generalization.

Talking to mom in the grocery store parking lot before heading back for some fun.

So at 9:30pm, we drove back to the Strip to become tourists for a little while. We walked through several of the casinos, fairly overwhelmed by the lights, the people, the broad diversity. As I said, I wouldn’t really drink or gamble in Vegas, but I could have a great vacation of watching people and admiring the spectacle. Or playing in the eight pools at Caesar’s Palace – they were closed, but we went out anyway and got a wonderful introduction to Caesar’s and the many amenities the pool offers (personal cocktail waitresses, massages), courtesy of a security guard. As we headed back in, he said “See you tomorrow!” I wish I could have had just one night in that man’s reality, in which Sarah and I were just casual tourists staying in the Palace.

Instead, we got to the Wal-Mart parking lot at about 12:45am and settled in for a very sweaty four hours of sleep.

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Sweet dreams.

American Bear Explores Rural Nevada

Wells Nevada - our first town in the state, probaby not the best choice. The first thing that Greg said when we got out of the car was, "what a sad town." The historical down town was crumbling - salvaged brick in piles outside the storefronts, broken glass, brightly painted splinters of wood. Elma and Jack had told us that Wells had an earthquake and never received the funding required to fix the town, but I don't think we imagined it quite like this.


Signs for bustling old west themed shops suggested it was once a fun - if touristy - place.

The first place we stopped was the volunteer fire house. No firemen were there but a couple of EMTs chatted with us for all of five minutes. It took almost all five of those five minutes for either of them to warm up to us and try and help us find people to talk to - they also refused to be on camera and didn't really wanna talk about the town. They suggested a grocery store and the city manager's home. We've never knocked on doors before, but we decided this could be fun and the city manager must be friendly.

No one was home.

We went to the tiny privately owned grocery store where the manager said no shooting allowed.

We talked to people in the parking lot. Almost everyone turned down an interview. And not politely or apologetically. Their words may have been normal, but their tone was harsh. "No, ma'am" "Nope." "Sorry, can't" Everyone was afraid of the camera or unwilling to spare a few seconds.

I had started the day in sort of a weird mood - as always, we were exhausted, but also, waking up in a stranger's home with said stranger watching you sleep can be a little jarring. Even if that stranger is now closer to a friend, and a sweet old man going through his daily routine.

So my mood and attitude were sinking. Fast.

We headed to the hardware store and had our first interview of the day - we had already been in town for almost two hours.

The guys there were pretty friendly, if a little nervous about the camera. But they were all going to the boss's daughter's wedding and didn't think it was a good night for company. The surprising thing that they told us was that the businesses on mainstreet had been deserted for years. Mike told us that as a kid they used to play in the deserted buildings and jump from window to window and roof to roof without ever hitting the ground. He said in some ways the earthquake was a blessing, it got the town thinking about what to do with those buildings.

We talked to a newly married, newly pregnant couple who was newly moved to the area - they said sorry, not enough space. They were very friendly though and like the men at the hardware store had a lot to say about the community - mostly positive.

On our way out we ran into Devon - he couldn't chat here but invited us home to his yard sale. Everyone at his house was super friendly, the friendliest we'd met so far. They were talkative and happy and though unable to host us themselves, they had lots of suggestions, including the golf course and a small concert at the brewery in Clover Valley at 7.

The golf course was in the midst of a large tournament. So they asked us to be quick. Everyone we talked to refused to be on camera, some people ignoring us outright. Then a man pointed across the room - "she's the city manager, she'll tell you about Wells!" This excited both Greg and I a lot, because it seemed like we were supposed to talk to her.

So I turned to her, asking if she would be up for in interview, and in that same rude tone she said "No thank you," and walked out the door hastily. I was in awe. What a town. Even the city manager was inhospitable.

****

From there we went to the brothels. Two of them. We thought it would be great to interview one of "the girls", or the manager, or the owner of one of the two very famous brothels in Wells. The Casino and the brothels were a big part of the community in Wells - a sort of complete opposite to the broken old shops on main street. Greg asked which one first and we played the pick a hand game - our usual way of making a decision when neither of us really cares. We ended up at Bella's - its electric sign flashing "The hottest girls in Wells" and "Cum before you go" along with a couple other cum references and a few other messages. The manager was busy cooking dinner and asked that we come back in thirty.

So we headed to Donna's - the oldest legal brothel in Nevada. The woman behind the bar was very friendly, she had the saddest eyes I think I've ever seen for reasons unexplained. She said she used to work at the casino and now she was a bartender here. The shift manager called the manager for us who couldn't call the owner because he was on vacation, so we weren't allowed to film. But we went on a tour of the facilities anyways. I had a glass of water as we walked the halls. A beautiful black woman in a tiny white outfit and huge heels was checking her email in the common room, looking like a teenager home from school. In a back room we caught a glimpse of a brunette in red who was doing her makeup casually. The VIP room was really impressive, a giant heart shaped bed and a jacuzzi tub - red wall paper and sultry lighting - $500 a night. But other than this room, every other space we saw was casual and blue - not really what I imagined. The space felt calm, quiet.

We went back to Bellas and arrived just as two skinny young truck drivers pulled up separately. Again, not really what I imagined. These clientele were not your average truck driver - The first, an Indian 25 year old in adidas sweats and sandals, strong arms and a clean shaven face, looked like someone I might see walking the halls at one of the NYU dorms. The second, a redheaded cowboy in tight wranglers with a large golden rodeo belt and a hat, looked like someone from home that I might see at the grocery store on a quick stop after picking something up from Big R.

***

On the recommendation of the bartender, we went to the casino and ended up talking with her son. He was my favorite interview of the day (I don't think I am really allowed to say that) - because he was incredibly frank. He was very enthusiastic about the project and took our card.

Next Stop: Brewery.

At this point we were both exhausted. From the heat and from our moods. We were arguing. We drove to Clover Valley - about 12 miles away. One of the owners of the brewery, Maggie, greeted us. I was awkward and uncomfortable. I couldn't phrase what I was asking, but she offered to let us pitch a tent on the property anyways. So we bought our admission and joined the crowd for a show.

After hours of working with no success, we stumbled upon on amazing evening.

On the table there were three kinds of hummus. I hadn't seen hummus in weeks. It was a big pot luck so we contributed a loaf of bread (seems to be our usual contribution to meals) and ate an amazing meal while listening to music and stories told by Mike Beck.

Everyone there was so nice!

By the end of the evening we had not set up our tent. So Maggie and Steve generously let us sleep in the house on a SUPER comfy bed. We woke up for coffee with brown sugar (the way Maggie takes it) and cookies and good conversation and tried to help Maggie's son Ryan and his wife Alissa with their application to be on a fireman cookoff show for Regis and Kelly. Greg's computer didn't work for some reason - but his friend Adam's did. It was a lovely morning. Steve even gave me a 6 pack of amber ale to take home to my dad who had asked for some when I sent him my nightly text.

Today was a day for breaking stereotypes and learning about things that I am sometimes afraid to ask about. I learned so much about a culture that I previously knew nothing about.

And again we had the experience of earning someone's trust and making our way into their house. Starting outside and eventually earning an invitation inside.

We learned that even on the crappiest of days, while in the crappiest of moods, with the crappiest of energy, people are still willing to extend a helping hand.

We learned that sometimes you dont even need the lengthy interviews and conversations to form a friendship.







Pioche Nevada - smaller than wells and also much friendlier.

Pioche is an old mining town, and it won't forget it. There are signs all over town, references in all the shop names, old mining buckets as planters, carts as flower baskets, railraod ties for parking stoppers. It's tiny and quiet and seems deserted on a Sunday at a first glance - save a few drunkards stumbling out of bars and falling in the street.

We actually started in a bar. Where we met Dixie, the manager of what used to be the Alamo (now the Bank Club) Bar - started in 1900, we got to see the old Bank vault and then the remnants of the old bar. Dixie lives in what use to be the brothel.

After a tour from Dixie, we asked her if she knew anyone to help us and she called her bartender, Robin (now off work, but hanging around) over to meet us. Robin said, "come on over" with only a little hesitation and a confirmation from her husband, Brad.

Brad was drunk and Robin was a little tipsy, but mostly she was friendly and excited to show us her animals.

We did a few more interviews around town - meeting our first pessimist that agreed to talk to us. She told us about everything she hates about people and politics and it was great to hear, because we know so many people who feel that way. Everyone we talked to expressed concern about Vegas.

And now we are on the road driving to Vegas - only 51 miles away - and I am, for the first time, scared. I just hope we meet someone amazing.

Before taking us home Robin introduced us to the cutest border collie I've seen, Gunner. She was small and mostly black (except for her little lite paws). Gunner seemed to like us, so Robin took us home and fed her four horses and her calf (with a bottle!).

Robin made me a very special mixed drink (she made me promise not to share the recipe) - I asked for an almost virgin drink - so that's what I had, but it was yummy. And Greg did shots. Of water. Robin says it's because she's a smart ass, but let me tell you, it was hilarious. And according to the shot glass and Robin, Greg earned his status as a redneck by taking 5 shots in a row. Greg asked if that's what she would call herself, she said yes.

Brad, after a long day of drinking hit the hay early and left the three of us to fend for ourselves.

We mostly just talked and looked through photos - Robin shared so much with us in so little time. We played with the dog and I tried to teach Robin how to use facebook - we found a picture for her profile.

Robin spoke extensively about the intuition of animals. "Thats why I wanted you to meet Gunner before I took you home," she said. "If my animals didnt like you, I'da had to find you a different place to be. Even that calf. Even she knows." Robin alluded to a lot of hardship -- difficult relationships, death threats at a bar she used to work at -- and her tendency to be too trusting. It was fascinating to hear her explain it, because her trust is certainly a virtue, but she's also seen the dark side of trust and giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Somehow, we were up until almost midnight (after going over at 6). It really was a night of great conversation, with a true cowgirl nonetheless.

The sun setting over the horses at Robin's house.

American Bear, Day 25: Twin Falls, Idaho

New approach: quick, with camera. Approaching people and saying, "Would you be up for a quick interview? 30 seconds?" If we get a yes, or an "Okay..." we proceed: "We're traveling around the country for 60 days and making a documentary in which we're relying on the kindness of strangers for a home each night." Pause. "So the question is, do you know anyone who could help us?"

We drove through Twin Falls, a much smaller town than we anticipated after seeing signs for it from hundreds of miles away -- but much bigger than Council and Bear from yesterday. We decided to return to the Target parking lot we had passed. Target, and most grocery/department stores, attract all demographics, and they're almost guaranteed to be local. This is one of the ways we're getting away from our most common method of meeting people, in which we explore a cute downtown by foot, maybe a park, and meet families and small business owners.

We were trying one more variation today: wearing a cross necklace. More than half of our hosts have had Christian decorations at home and cited religion in their decision to take us in: "It's just the Christian thing to do." We wanted to see if including Christianity in our appearance would make a difference in finding a home -- maybe it would be quicker. We both had mixed feelings about wearing a cross -- for both of us, it's a lie. I was most nervous that we would meet a wonderful host, who would eventually point out our necklaces, begin a religious conversation, and then feel terribly betrayed when we confessed that we weren't observing Christians. But I also figured it would be a pretty fascinating part of the film.

So in the Target parking lot we approached about 12 people and half declined to interview. Of those who did speak with us, no one offered us a home, but several took our card, hoping they would think of someone and give us a call -- we were actually impressed by how friendly a couple people were given our abrupt approach and the spontaneity of conversation with strangers. Of course, we had that experience to the extreme when we went straight to Larry and Judy's door in Bear, Idaho. After asking about a dozen people, we were kicked out of the Target parking lot for "soliciting."

We moved about two hundred feet and met more people in the WinCo grocery store parking lot. We had about the same rate of half-yes/half-no to interview, until we met our last interview of the day: Elma, 60s, putting bird seed in her trunk to bring home for the birds and squirrels in her backyard. She later told us that Sarah's smile and my eyes made her comfortable right away, and that she had even been smiling after witnessing a failed approach with four men just before we met her. We told her our quick story, and she didn't bite right away -- she read the release form carefully, and asked "What does a host have to do?" Sarah described that we're pretty low-maintenance, we have sleeping bags, we'd love to do an interview with our host... and Elma looked up and said "You can sleep on my patio."

We followed her home and over the course of the night met her daughter Beth, son-in-law Chuck, and Elma's husband Jack. Elma never stopped offering us things: dinner, water bottles, books -- and by the end of the night we were sleeping in the living room instead of the patio. Elma shared many stories with us, getting comfortable and personal almost immediately: discussing her family, her history with Jack, and her daughter who passed away three weeks ago. We formed one of our strongest connections with Elma; or maybe it was formed from the beginning, something about intuition and timing and Sarah's friendly smile. We sat on the patio with Elma and Jack for a couple hours, until it got dark and we moved inside. This morning, I woke up in my sleeping bag with Jack sitting a foot away in his armchair, sipping his coffee -- just because two new friends were sleeping on the floor didn't mean Saturday morning routine had to change.

Elma was our first direct success with our quick approach: knowing next-to-nothing about us, she felt instantly comfortable having us at her house. But in talking with her for hours, we also learned that she generally doesn't trust people -- she'd much rather spend time with animals, because people can hurt you. Above all, she trusts her instincts, and knows that if someone rubs her the wrong way there's a good reason. We talked about religion, and although Elma and Jack are both Christians, they "don't need to put on fancy clothes and go to church to prove it." Elma said she never even noticed the crosses around our necks -- and Sarah and I were relieved to take them off after feeling guilty all day. For the first day of this test, it seems that appearing Christian made no difference. Over and over again, we learn that our attitude is the most important way we find friendly and hospitable people. For Elma, it was Sarah's smile; when we looked gross in Couer D'Alene, it was our enthusiasm that matched with Cortney and Amber. Friendly people attract friendly people. The connections we make haven't been because of our appearance, they've been due to something intangible, trust and comfort and curiosity that comes to life between two strangers' smiles. Every day, I'm reminded of a pithy quote that I fall in love with more each day: "Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet."

Of course, there are dozens of people who say no to us, who don't smile, who don't speak to us at all. The documentation of our experiences mostly focuses on the positive, the one person or family a day with whom we have a wonderful time -- and the positive experiences are what we remember most as well. But maybe we need to explore the negative a little more too, find a way to acknowledge the 19 out of 20 people a day who say no to us, recognize the countless factors that lead to a cold shoulder, or just an "I'm sorry." Sarah wrote about the pressure of hospitality a couple days ago, and we've surely experienced that many times. But what about the people who decline to interview and never even find out what we're doing?

American Bear, Day 24: Bear, Idaho

Bear, ID used to have a schoolhouse, a post office, a store – it was a mining community dating back to the early 1900s. The schoolhouse still stands as a community hall, with a little merry-go-round, swings, and His and Hers outhouses – supplemented by modern Porter Potties now. The other public places have disappeared, but a couple ranching families still live there year-round, as well as a few dozen summer residents. There are even signs for “Bear” and mile markers on the way, making it much more high-profile than Bear, Washington, if still the smallest community passing for a town that we’ve seen.

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Outside the schoolhouse.

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In the Hers outhouse.

As we headed towards Bear, we had a lot of fun noting the similarities between the two Bears we’ve visited so far: wildflowers, rolling hills, farmland, cows. We got out a couple times and Sarah collected some flowers to hang in the car. After exploring the schoolhouse property, which now features a bulletin board reading “It’s A Short Walk From Bear To Heaven,” we continued up the main dirt road until we reached Bear Ranch. We decided to turn up the driveway.

The road led us to two cabins, with about six dogs on short chains, barking like mad; we knocked on the cabin doors, then backed up to an offshoot of the driveway, with a sign saying “Ommen.” It led us to another cabin, and a man sitting on his porch. I was nervous; Sarah was determined; we got out of the car, camera and all, and met Larry Ommen, then his wife Judy Ommen, and ended up sitting on their porch for over an hour. Retired from a power company and kiwi ranch in California, Larry and Judy now spend their summers in Bear and their winters in the Baja peninsula, right on the ocean. This was our first experience approaching strangers at their home, and we were amazed by how welcoming Larry and Judy were, immediately agreeing to speak with us, offering us water and a bathroom. We learned about their lives, their daughters, and the area, and they recommended who to visit in Bear and the scenic route through the mountains to the next town, Cuprum. We were disappointed to move on, but maybe we’ll find Larry and Judy in Baja someday.

We knocked on the door of a woman named Tina, who used to be the schoolteacher in Bear. Larry and Judy said she was fascinating, full of energy, and rich with history and stories about Bear. Unfortunately, she wasn’t home. So we continued up the road, and just after Tina’s house, maybe 150 feet from the road, we saw a bear. We jerked the camera on, pulled over, got out, and watched this teenage black bear sniff around and jog up a hill. We’ve been hoping to see a bear this whole trip, and where better to find one than Bear itself?

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A field of wildflowers in Bear; the mountains in the distance are in Oregon.

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Between Bear and Cuprum.

We drove a great long circle on a rough dirt road (the car has never looked more rugged) until we reached Cuprum. The “Welcome to Cuprum” sign proudly states the population of 8 people; there are a few more who come for the summer, but only 8 live year-round, including the owner of the one shop, where we bought ice cream bars and took pictures with Bill, a stuffed mannequin.

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Greg and Bill in the store in Cuprum.

We’ve chosen to use the Bear days for reflection; we also shoot enough to fill up our video cards, so rather than seeking strangers to stay with in the Bears, we go our own way. In Bear, WA, we stayed in a motel to do some editing and re-evaluate the footage we’re getting. Last night, we decided to camp, and after speaking to some folks in Council, we learned we could pitch our tent in the town park, with public restrooms just a block away. Council is about 35 miles from Bear and the closest full-fledged town. We’re at a coffee shop in Council now to transfer footage and use the internet.

In the last few days we’ve started doing mini-experiments to test some variables in our interactions with strangers. In Couer D’Alene, we got sloppy: making our clothes and skin visibly dirty, messy hair, mismatched clothes. We anticipated that our messy appearance would repel some people; or maybe make some people more hospitable if they figured we desperately needed a home and a shower. But with one exception, we don’t think we received special treatment at all. In fact, we ended up staying at Amber and Cortney’s home, the cleanest, newest house we’ve stayed in. We asked some people about our appearance, and they usually said they didn’t even notice it. Wondering if the camera distracts from our appearance, we’ll do a camera-less approach next time we purposefully look sloppy.

The exception was with a man who ultimately declined to be in the film due to his military affiliation – a shame, because he was open and honest in a way few people are, at least on camera. After he declined to let us stay with him, he described that the main reason was that I was a man, and he was protective of his female roommates. We assume that many people have this reason in mind when they say no to us, but this was the first time someone had directly stated gender and fear together. This man was also the only person to point out my sloppy appearance, asking me what happened to my shirt. I believe there’s a correlation here, that my appearance very well led to his outright concern. I’m looking forward to our next sloppy day to see how many other “exceptions” we find.

In Grangeville we tried a different experiment: we both wore dark clothing, and more importantly, I conducted all of the initial conversations with people. Usually, we trade camera evenly, and whoever’s behind the camera ends up speaking to our interviewees as well. But in Grangeville, Sarah stayed behind the camera and I did most of the talking. Our qualifier for randomness was curly hair, so we only approached people with curly hair, and in our particular time and location, that meant we mostly spoke to women. The fact is, everyone said no to us, and almost half of the people we talked to declined to even interview. Our eventual hosts, Maura and Mark, whom we reached via their daughter Erin via her friend Anna, were actually contacted by Sarah first, a flaw in our mini-experiment just because Erin called Sarah’s phone, not mine. Did people say no to us because I was doing most of the speaking? We’re not sure: we have to try this out in several other communities, and also ask more questions to learn about it, but it does seem to fit with the general consensus that men are more intimidating than women. Next time we do a gender experiment, we will be more rigorous about whoever is behind the camera staying quiet; we’ll see what happens.

We’re almost halfway done with the project, and every day we reassess our approach, try something new, discover we’re more comfortable, and sometimes even find something we’re scared of. With our last shower now three days ago, we’re probably going to try another new thing today: showering at a gas station.

American Bear Catches Up with Pictures


At Kootenai Falls near Troy, Montana.

With (most of) the kids at Wade and Brenda's house in Bonners Ferry, Idaho.


Sitting on Lake Roosevelt near Bear, Washington.

Standing over the Lake near Bear, Washington.

Some of the young folks in Grangeville, Idaho.

David and Nicki in Grangeville, Idaho, who led us to a hospitable friend of theirs -- we ended up with another option first though.

Sleeping in on Maura and Mark's futon in Grangeville, Idaho.

American Bear, Day 23: Grangeville, Idaho

There is a lot to talk about with Grangeville.

We've never given out so many cards. We've never had so many people turn down interviews.

We had a lot of really amazing conversations. A lot of really interesting talk.
But not a whole lot of leaps of faith - not a whole lot of people willing to help us.

We started in the grocery store. Our qualifier was curly hair. And Greg was doing all the talking (It's one of our mini-experiments). So we talked to a lot of women (because most men seemed to have short hair or no hair) and 2 in the store said yes to an interview.

While we were in the store we ran into Anna - who was passing through to visit the parents of her best friend.

Anna took our card and left a message with Mark and Maura.

We talked to a few more people in the pizza parlor and outside of the movie theater. Again, everyone took our card but no one could host us.

We talked to two women on a walk who were incredibly helpful and friendly. A man in the pizza store offered to treat us (but we had just eaten). He had some amazing things to stay about the state of the nation. The kids outside the theater had a friend for us to call. But no luck really. Just a lot of friendly, talkative people.

Around 9pm we got a call from Erin that was followed by a call from Maura - she said she wanted to talk to us first but we should come on by. This was the first time that we've had anyone want to hang out with us before saying yes. Every time we talk, I mention this to Greg, "Why dont people screen us more often?" I know thats what I would want to do. Chat with some to get a feel for them before offering them a place to stay.

So we headed down there and she and Mark told us AMAZING stories. They joked that we had stumbled into the only liberal home in all of Idaho. It was probably true.

Their daughter Lily, was very articulate and excited.

Maura made us blueberries with yogurt and cinnamon and we talked till very late.

In the morning the day care was open. Maura takes care of anywhere between 7 and 14 children on a daily basis and we woke up to giggling kids.

She made us a DELICIOUS breakfast despite her business and they sent us on our way.

It was an amazing evening.

and Maura offered to send me earrings that makes. I want to send her something too.

The Lesson of the Day: There is always someone who is willing to help. Even in a town full of people who are scared of cameras and strangers. And there are always people who will try to help you, but cannot take you on themselves. And sometimes the people who are willing to help are incredibly friendly and have good stories. And sometimes they feed you amazing food.

I've been thinking a lot about my post from Bonner's Ferry. About the idea of excuses. I think excuse is the wrong word. There is something there that is important to get at, but I dont ever want to hold it against some one or accuse them of making excuses if they are unable to take us in. To some people being hospitable means having a bed for people to sleep in. Or a clean house. or food to feed them. And though we dont need all of that, it is still important to some people. Maybe its not only fear that stops people but the pressure of hospitality.

American Bear, Day 22: Couer D'Alene

I have yet to eat a potato in Idaho. Just like it took us a while to eat cheese in wisconsin. The local girls in Couer d' Alene said all the potatoes at the restaurants actually come from Washington. We have a few more days to try a potatoe and I guess I am looking forward to it.

We havent slept much in the last few days so it makes us a little goofy. Especially in the car. Greg won't stop saying everything in various accents and I cant help but sing just about everything I say. I am getting really good at fitting most things into well recognized tunes. It's fun but makes me feel sort of crazy.

Couer d'Alene was a long day. We talked to over 40 people and spent the day baking. We had decided to try what we call the "sloppy" approach. I put on tons of make up and smeared all across my face - I used a hershey's kiss to make little chocolate messes in the corner of our mouth. Greg made his hair really messy and we spilled salsa all of her his wrinkled shirt. He wore swim trunks for shorts and I wore my tank top kind of side ways and really messed up my hair - it was big and filled with tangled and quite greasy.

It didnt really seem to have a huge affect. A couple people asked Greg what happened to his shirt and a teenage selling snow cones told him he had something on his face. Generally people didnt really seem to notice. When asked about it they said we looked like beach bums, but nothing more. We were on the lake and everyone was looking kind of beach-bummy.

Greg and I decided that next time we try the sloppy experiment we need to buy/make him a sleeveless shirt and have him wear a bandana - and I'll to think of something equally as strange to accompany my dirt, smeared make up and funny hair.

We had many people take our cards in Couer d' Alene. No one could help directly but everyone wanted to find someone to help us out. We only got one call back - from Cortney and Amber who had just moved into their house a week ago and were newly independent hard-working 22 year olds. They were possibly the most enthusiastic people we'd ever met on our first encounter. The conversationd zoomed around and they shared so much with us.

While we were talking to them on the street we ran into another roup of young people who were equally as friendly and excited about the film: LJ, Macy, Jackie and Rhett. They invited us to taco bell with them and we had a lot of fun talking and eating. Greg and I have been eating so much mexican food lately, its kind of crazy.

Macy told us about the idea of fondly calling friends racial slurs. She said it was normal there. "You know, I had only known him for a few moments but I felt comfortable with him. So made sense to call him a beaner." This was really interesting to us because she didnt think twice about it. Until we started asking questions, "Now I feel all weird and guilty. Everyone does it here."

At around 10pm we got a text message - Amber and Cortney initially didnt feel comfortable having us over unless they checked with their third roommate - "our third roommate isnt coming home, sou can come over. ***" We called for directions and headed over there - getting a little lost in the process.

Just as we were about to pull into their driveway, we got another text, "ok our roommate came home and said no you cant come ***."

So we decided to knock on the door anyway. We were there and I needed to pee. For almost a minute no one answered. I joked that they were hiding in the bathroom - turns out (we heard later) they were.

Amber and Cortney opened the door together. They saw us and smiled and invited us in. Cortney said we could stay, she had just gotten scared. We offered to leave. They said no. And so the night began.

After Cortney and Greg both showered - we headed to the grocery store for a midnight ice cream run. It took us a while to pick flavors - not because there was a lot of disagreement but because everyone wanted everything. Apprently we all wanted ice cream. We took home two half gallons - mint brownie and frosted cake (or the fancy and strange renditions of those names). And then we found the pie. So we bought a chocolate silk pie. I was already feeling sick from too much sugar - but we were all excited.

Back in the house, Amber's boyfriend had arrived. He called some more friends over. Greg and I had no idea what was happening until we heard Nick say, "Yeah, we're staying up all night. Just come over. We bought ice cream." And so the night really began.

We watched New Moon (because Brock insisted) and ate ice cream and pie and talked and told stories and suddenly it was 4am and Greg was asleep on the floor. We had both been ready for bed before we met the girls at around 8pm.

Once Greg was asleep Amber and Nick went to bed and and everything sort of died down (Except Brock who watched another movie). Which is a good thing really. For all of us.

In the morning we did an interview with Amber. She talked about how scared everyone got - mostly because of the horror movies they had been watching lately. About Cortney having a panic attack and the two of them being scared. She had told us from the beginning that she probably couldnt sleep with strangers in the house. But she did. She slept from 4am till 10am and wasnt worried about us. She told us about her photographs, about her love of learning through experience rather than school. She told us about her upbringing and her family and the pain she experienced growing up. We talked about fear and trust. About intuition and how important it is. About being in someone's presence and how that can calm you or scare you.

And then we talked about good movies. Good non-horror movies.

The conversation as probably the lengthiest of our time there. And the most interesting and important.

This was the first time Greg and I had ever been asked to leave. And also the first time the people who asked us to leave changed their minds. The idea of fear is so present here.

They got scared by thinking too hard - by not being in the space with us. They got scared by scary movies and a cousin who liked to joke with them. (Amber says, "He was making jokes like. Can you hear that? It's knives sharpening." when I wasked if she thought he was scared, "No. He wasnt scared. He just likes to mess with us,") When they were with us and in public they were so enthusastic and comfortable - they approached us. There fear came about when they were alone, at home, at night, talking together. It's a confrontation of imagination and intuition, of public versus private. Maybe we are learning where fear comes from?

We become friends with these girls, but it took a lot of courage from them. And that's interesting too. Because maybe our friendship is stronger because they had to overcome something. Maybe it's weaker.

After our long conversation with Amber, I felt close to her. She got up for a second, went to her room and came back with a photo she had taken of the lake. It was in a bright purple frame. She handed it to me. "Do you like it?" "Yeah. It's nice." "Do you think its pretty." "Yeah, def-" "-You should take it."

People like to give you something when they feel connected to you. I think thats why we leave bears behind where ever we stay. It's a thank you but also a physical representation of the exchange that's occuring. It's why Wade carved as a willow whistle, it's why Jolene gave us necklaces, why Julia gave us a friendship pendant. Hugs and presents and offers. Thats all we can do to show some one that they helped us grow, that we will miss them.

I tucked the painting in my bag and hugged Amber goodbye. She was the most afraid in the beginning and the most comfortable in the end.

I think that's why we do interviews. To get to know people - to create a platform for sharing. It's why we talk too. A good conversation and a good interview can happen at the same time. We can share together.

We piled into the car and as we were driving away I got another text from Amber, "Hey its amber miss ya already haha but if u ever go anywhere beautiful on ur travels and happen to take any pictures i would absolutely love it if u send me some =) ***".

American Bear: More Photos and News

First! Two TV stations in Montana did little features on us:




Second! Photos.


Stanton Lake near Hungry Horse, Montana
I realized how little we exercise while hiking there. sigh.



Teal water!



Beautiful.


The only way we can take pictures together is to get help from someone. Or do it ourselves. This lake was deserted - we did it ourselves.


There are so many more, but my little computer cant post them from the car - many more soon! I promise.

Check In

Greg and I just wanted to take the time to thank you for reading the blog.

It's very exciting that you are following us, and we want to ask you for your thoughts.

What do you want to see more of? Less of?

What is surprising you about our experiences?

What do you wish we were exploring further?

Let us know!

Day 21: Bear, Washington

Bear, Washington appears on a map, and Mapquest and Google Maps provide directions to get there. We didn't know what to expect -- and we've both been building emotional expectations for a year.

We pulled off the road onto the beginning of a dirt driveway, exactly where the directions said "Bear, WA" is -- we got out, walked around, surveyed the dozens of bugs, many of which we had never seen before. While driving as well, we were astonished by the landscape, one of the most beautiful and unique we have seen -- rolling hills (the tallest of which I believe is Bear Mountain), covered in purple, yellow, and white flowers -- some hill faces just shimmer with soft purple color -- and to our right, down the hill, is Lake Roosevelt, thin enough to be a large river, and so beautiful, curving between these colorful hills and pine trees. We walked down some very old tire tracks, which we hope weren't on anyone's private property, until we found a place that felt secluded and comfortable enough to sit, eat some snacks, set the camera on a tripod, and have a hearty conversation.

We've driven about 4,500 miles and arrived at the first Bear. There was so much anticipation -- we both wanted something really big, something profound, a feeling we hadn't experienced anywhere else. Instead, we used the unique location to reflect. Every day we are meeting people and learning about a community; this was an opportunity to be on our own, to be introspective, to experience a location rather than experience its people. We even ended up staying in a motel -- it's currently the following morning, and while I write this, Sarah is assembling footage from our day in Mazomanie, WI, to learn about how we've been documenting our experiences and how we can expand, or condense, or reshape what we're doing. Every day we learn new things, and every day there are dozens of things that happen off-camera, and dozens that happen on camera that we know we'll never use, right after they happen. We've been shooting about two hours of footage a day, and now, in the couple hours of this morning before we have to travel to our next town, we're reviewing what happens in those two hours a day and learning how to make them the most interesting, dynamic, and story-driven two hours we can capture.

As we say every day, we've been meeting fascinating people. Most of the families we've stayed with have been unconventional families -- maybe a mother, a father, maybe divorce is involved, or adoption -- and we've started wondering how this trend works. If complex families are more likely to welcome guests and trust strangers, it then raises the chicken/egg question -- are these people inherently warm and trusting, which may have led them to their complex family dynamics, or did the complex family make them more open and trusting? Maybe we should start asking people what kind of family they come from -- how many of the people that say no to us are from traditional families? We've also acknowledged the Christian element, which hasn't abated -- but it's also geographical. We've visited many towns that are almost homogenous with white Christians. We want to experience diverse races and cultures, and learn about that interaction with strangers, but we also hate the idea of targeting other races just to have them in the film. It's a constant dilemma, whether we should seek out the community's outliers, or continue to experience people randomly. We often choose a culturally-neutral attribute, like glasses, or sandals, to help us randomly select who we approach. But maybe we need to explore the outskirts of town, or spend more time in the grocery store or Wal-Mart, in order to meet all stripes of the community, and not just its majority.

In Bear, we had the chance to reflect on our relationship as well. We are spending more time together than ever before -- including the few days in New Jersey before we hit the road, Sarah and I have spent 25 days together, 24/7. We have literally not been apart. It's a little shocking to think about that, because it feels so natural at this point. And we bicker, and we've had a couple bigger fights. But I've also been experiencing my love grow every day. I'm having experiences that I couldn't be sharing with anyone else, and we are at the height of our working/personal relationships being intertwined -- which is at once stressful and amazing. But it's also difficult to reflect on our personal emotions when the only time we have apart is in the bathroom. We recently decided we needed to document more of our personal experiences -- our conversations in the car, or between interviews, or buying a milkshake, or doing laundry (at a laundromat this morning) -- we want this film to capture our journey, our adventures, we want to bring the audience along. But it's scary to wonder if we're diminishing our experiences by making sure to turn the camera on; by having personal and creative conversations while one person is holding our rig and invisible behind it; by turning this adventure into work. We knew that was an issue months ago, but I think we're both really feeling the effects now, especially as we review our footage and wish we had more of us, more scenes to build our relationship in the film, more to connect and reflect on other moments.

We're more than a third done with the film, but we've also got almost two-thirds left -- how will the camera and the work and the driving and the lack of sleep and the togetherness continue to wear us down? Or create an even more dynamic film?

Days 19 and 20: Hungry Horse, Montana and Bonners Ferry, Idaho

We left Kay's house early to find some internet access at a restaurant. But no one in town had wireless - the Perkins in town center was attached to a hotel that had wireless, so after trying from our table we ended up crouched at the end of the stairs in the back portion of the hotel, writing emails and working.

We made our way to Hungry Horse through Glacier National Park. I grew up around mountains, but these mountains were bigger and greener and covered in snow - a sight to see. The air changed quickly - I noticed it first when we pulled into a little diner for my first slice of huckleberry pie. It was crisp and flowery.

We were officially in huckleberry country - every where we stopped from that point on had something made from huckleberries and even now (we are in Northern Idaho) huckleberries are an option with every sweet thing. We even had them on our waffles for breakfast this morning. But I am getting ahead of myself.

After our first piece of huckleberry pie ever, Greg and I decided a hike was necessary. We have been confined to the car for so long - eating junk food and exercising only when we walk from place to place to meet new people - that my body was in shock for the first leg of our trek.

But once my lungs got used to it and I regained feeling in my feet and legs, it felt amazing. The air smelled great and we noticed bear poop every hundred yards or so along the trail.

The trail ended at an big teal lake. Nestled safely between a couple of the largest mountains I have ever seen - snow decorating the fringes of the tallest one - big pine trees sweet from the rain that we'd just missed- was this little cool clean lake. And it was my favorite color.

------

Hungry Horse, in the order we toured it, was a strange town. Our first stop was a late lunch, early diner at the Elkhorn Grill where I tried an Elk burger for the first time. I told Greg it was somewhere between lamb and hamburger, but more towards the burger side. I also had my (so far) best piece of pie - a too tart raspberry and rhubarb with home made crust -- rating: 8.

Our second stop was the local bar - recommended by both the firework stand operators and our waitress. They said it was colorful, and I imagined a lot of strange people - but mostly it was a lot of drunk people. A couple less drunk people and a couple very drunk people. And they were all still colorful.

We interviewed a few people, asked them for suggestions - no one knew where we could stay and a few even refused to be on camera (understandably, really). At this point it was almost 10pm - and we were starting to get worried.

Eventually we went into a big huckleberry shop - where everything was purple and huckleberry flavored. We spoke to one of the girls behind the counter, when the manager, Lori got a little worried. She spoke with us, making sure we werent asking questions about huckleberries - and then let us tell her all about the project. When we finished she picked up her cell phone, with in minutes we had a place to stay - Amanda, her daughter put us up in their old cabin, and while I wrapped a wedding present for her friend, she did an interview with Greg.

This made us really learn to keep on pushing. Sometimes, when it starts to get dark and we've talked to a lot of people it becomes very discouraging. We sort of want to throw our hands up and drive to the nearest camp ground. And that's sort of what it felt like staying with Kay - not that she wasnt kind or helpful - but we sort of gave up too early - because we were discouraged. But if we can just brave through that we can usually find someone amazing.

And Amanda was great. She had the most wonderful and beautifuly articulated things to say about why we need to help people. She was close to our age, we'd guess. And she wore a hoody and her hair back. But she sounded like she was giving a speech at a graduation - a really good speech about something Greg and I both believe in very much.

-----

We left the cabin to drive to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Stopping only once at a hiking trail and water fall for a quick walk and glance at the river. On our way out we met some strangers who offered to let us stay in their six room tree house. The idea was exciting, but we didn't end up with them - they never called but we also decided it was just a little too easy, and not the right town at all. After much discussion, we decided Bonner's Ferry was where we needed to be.

Again, our first stop was food - At the Panhandle Cafe. Our waitress, Julie, was the funniest, most enthusiastic woman we'd met in a long time. She was super friendly and smilely and very real - every ounce of her hospitality was natural and comfortable - when we sat down she said "It's packed in here - so, I am not gonna lie, you probably wont be getting the best service." Then she laughed a big full laugh and took our orders. Later, when we were eating we heard to tell the table behind us, "Well its not as crazy anymore, so if things stay this way you should get some reasonable good service."

We decided we had to talk to her (maybe stay with her) - but with the craziness of the restaurant and her being the only waitress - we asked her when we should come back and headed towards the town. Our first stop was the Safeway parking lot. We talked to a few people - no takers. Someone recommended the sheriffs office. No help there, not an ounce of hospitality or advice - but then we pushed a little and we were told to try a church. For the first time on our trip we decided that trying a church might be fun, but maybe we should interview some more people at safeway.

It was there that we ran into Judy and Verle Smith, who told us all about the chips the government had placed in Judy's body - many in her brain and arms - to cause her tons of different pains. Verle took responsibility, he spent some time in jail and now this for his work on bullet specs. Judy was wearing what Verle told us as $3000 worth of magnets. She said they helped the pain. Verle told us about the Farraday room he'd set up in their house for Judy - how it no longer worked. We were all set to stay with them and investigate further when two things happened 1- they told us about the government men who followed anyone who visit them home and 2- they told us about the electronic cloud that covered their house making it impossible for any technology to work, and even short-circuiting many cell phones, cameras etc.

So we headed for the church. But on our way we ended up at the Fairgrounds - it was the fourth of July after all and we had been told to go there over and over. We said in the car for all of three minutes when I said, "Let's go talk to Julie again." So we headed back to the diner, where Greg met Wade and Brenda.

They told us about their 8 kids, their full house, their own adventures and help from the kindness of strangers. I thought, these people are so friendly and awesome, I'd love to stay with them, but they have a full house - on top of them they were housing Papa and a cousin. But we told them our story anyway, and without hesitation they invited us over. The one rule they said, is we would have to go see fireworks with them later, and also we would probably need to do some marshmallow roasting.

The rest of the night was a blast - we wrestled with children, ran through tunnels screaming with children, rolled down hills with children, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows with children. We met them all when we walked in the door - Aaron (15) greeted us at the car - he told me my name meant princess in Latin. Cheyenne (10), Sammie (9), James (8), Lexi (7) and Hunter(6) - Wade and Brenda's recently adopted children - grinned at us from the porch and all had something to show us instantly. Tylor (10), also had things to show us, including how easily he could tease his mother into a playful battle. They loved the camera and the sound recorder, they took pictures and whispered and shouted at the microphones. About twenty minutes later, Anthony (19) came home and helped Tylor start the fire.

Wade and Brenda had warned us that in their house play was a serious thing - water fights in the house were not uncommon and at this time of year, firecracker fights happened more than occasionally. And we were not disappointed. We even roasted marshmallows in the rain.
The night was great. I haven't felt so playful in a really long time. So much positive energy.

Eventually we all piled onto the couches for a movie and I fell asleep way too easily. With Greg at my side, Lexi on my lap, Hunter on his, it was warm and comfortable... and I was almost snoring.

A house is never too full for company. Especially if company is need of a place to stay. Of course, it's all about comfort level, but if Wade and Brenda can fit 14 people in a 2 bedroom house, then anyone can take home a couple of extra guests if they aren't afraid. We deal with the fear of strangers a lot, but there are other fears that come up too. There is also a fear of looking bad - a fear that the house is too messy or too small, that the kids wont behave or that these strangers might pass judgement on you. And there is a fear of having your possessions taken. And a fear that you might be manipulated, but personally and in editing. But these two are not afraid of any of those things. Their house is well-lived in, not messy, says Brenda. And the nice tv is of no concern. And the camera is cool and interesting and sometimes even blends in - its not something to be afraid of.

This town takes care of each other - everyone says so- and everyone has stories to prove it. There is a total lack of selfishness here. The kids still want attention and the food still goes fast, but if you need help, people will help you. The first half of our day we just weren't finding the right people - or maybe Julie and Wade and Brenda really are themselves, the selfless ones.

Wade and Brenda have taught us a lot about what's important. Family. And play. And love. We probably knew that already, but they are the embodiment of that - and seeing it only reinforces values that we already understand and believe in. And it makes us feel less guilty about our feelings that "I would, but...." are really just excuses. Maybe those excuses are not just created for us, maybe they are how we ease our own consciences, but when it comes down to it, there is always room and never a mess. Beggars cant be choosers after all. And when those excuses leave, all that's left is fear.

Front Page News

Here's the article David wrote for the Capital Journal in Pierre, SD! We had a great time in Pierre and really appreciate the article. We just completed interviews for two television stations in Great Falls, MT, and hopefully we'll have links for those soon!

And now, catching up on the last week with some photos:


Sleeping in Vermillion, SD at Andrew and Skylar's house.


Al's Oasis in Oacoma, SD, where we met very friendly young lady who gave us Guy's phone number, which would come in handy hours later in Pierre.


Guy himself, mid-sentence.



180: Two sides of the same highway. No one in sight.



Same highway, where we stopped to climb on the hay bale and scratch our bug bites.



On the precipice at Badlands National Park.



Mount Rushmore. Sarah said I should jump to try to have my head in line with the Presidents' -- this is the silliest of six similar photos.


An anti-alcohol mural in Lame Deer, MT.


Very personable teenagers in Lame Deer -- lots of great stories.


Perfectly-timed photo during an approaching thunderstorm near Jolene's house in Lame Deer.


Jolene's grandson Evan.


Extended family with whom we had dinner at Jolene's house -- Jolene is on the left.


Sarah and Star, the smallest of Jolene's many pets.


Stopping to briefly explore Sheep Creek in Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana.


The edge of Great Falls, MT.


A surreal sunset over the Great Falls Voyagers baseball game.

Days 17 and 18: Big Timber, MT and Great Falls, MT

Jolene in Lame Deer had recommended the KOA campground in Big Timber -- it even has waterslides! No matter where we go and what we hear about it in advance, we're always apprehensive that we won't have good luck -- of course, we've only slept in the car once, and we're also optimistic, otherwise we wouldn't do this project. I guess I mean to say that we prepare. We're open-minded. I always check for a cheap motel, a Wal-Mart, and a campground on our way into town, just as a back-up. On our way into Big Timber, we saw the KOA waterslides, but we would never get on them.

The gas station just off I-90 told us to head to the bars in town, especially The Grand, the main hotel/restaurant/bar/saloon. We went there first, and didn't get much farther -- we were in the restaurant for the next three or four hours. The waitress, then bartender, then manager all got involved in introducing us to the locals. It was our first experience like this: the first people we told about our project didn't offer their home, but spread their kindness by making us public celebrities for the night. We met everyone in the barroom when we arrived -- and one customer anonymously gave us $40 on his tab so that we could have dinner.

The manager, Karen, somehow passed our presence along to Sonny Todd, a 72-year-old real estate broker who's a local celebrity and lifelong resident of the Big Timber area. We got word that Sonny wanted to speak with us, but after his meal. So we milled about a little more, spoke with some more people, including some tourists (always a problem for us, even though they're usually darn friendly). Eventually we were led back into the dining room to sit with Sonny and his 16-year-old stepdaughter Brooke. We discussed the area -- one of the most conservative counties in the country -- and Sonny himself -- his cowboy hat, his acknowledgement of and comfort with change. As he put it, "A couple hundred years ago, an Indian chief stood on that hill, looking over all the land that belonged to him. Then we came and took all of it. The same thing could happen to us."

After a hearty conversation, we told Sonny about our project -- and he immediately invited us to his home and promised a great breakfast in the morning.

We hung around The Grand for a while longer -- we had our dinner, courtesy of a kind stranger, and met some other fascinating people. Then we called Brooke, still in town with friends, so we could follow her home. By the time we got to the 800-acre ranch, Sonny was heading to bed, but Brooke was an incredible host, providing a tour of the house, the property, the horses, trying to catch a glimpse of the bear who rummages their garbage. We finished our evening in the heated pool, with pretty purple lights and a rickety and fast waterslide. Brooke was one of the most mature and personable teenagers we've met, and it was great to hang out with her. We even became Facebook friends after saying goodnight and getting on our computers two floors apart in the house.

Sonny's promise in the morning was more than fulfilled: western skillets of eggs, cheese, vegetables, and meat (but a vegetarian skillet especially for me), plus toast, canteloupe, and orange juice. Then he took us on a more extensive tour of the ranch -- we were hoping to see elk and maybe even the bear, but in lieu of wildlife we got to see beautiful land, so expansive, with the Crazy Mountains sitting comfortably in the distance. Sonny was the perfect ambassador of Big Timber and traditional Montana life for us.

We hit the road up to Great Falls, and the scenic drive through the Lewis and Clark National Forest ended up being my favorite drive yet -- winding through the mountains of pine trees, a fast-flowing creek of clear water guiding the highway. We made it to Great Falls and met up with Kay, a reporter for KRTV, the local CBS news station. She interviewed us, then followed us as we spoke with about ten people in Paris Gibson Park -- the first and maybe only time we've been documented with two video cameras. It was a lot of fun, and Kay offered her home as a back-up -- which would come in handy.

We explored the park some more, had a greasy but delicious lunch, met some locals in the downtown shops, and were met mostly with ambivalence -- a smile, an "I wish I could," but the more we receive the same answers from people, the more we understand them as superficial. And understandably -- it's our most common response because it's the way to be nice while in an uncomfortable situation. But it also helps us recognize the sides of the spectrum -- the people who can't hide their disinterest or fear, and of course the people who have no fear and whose smiles are of genuine excitement.

I think we found that genuine excitement in Bronson, a 21-year-old working in the candy shop who recently started his own t-shirt company. He lives with his parents, so he couldn't offer his home -- but he spoke with his coworker, who ended up saying yes to us. She wouldn't be home until 9:30, so we had some time to ourselves, but we had a home to look forward to.

While we were at the park, this time shooting some footage of ourselves, the beautiful necklaces Jolene had given us, trying the choke cherry jam and buffalo jerky from Scenic, SD, we got a call from our host, unfortunately saying that her boyfriend was uncomfortable with it. This is the second cancellation we've gotten on our trip -- the other was in Pierre, SD, a town with very similar vibes to Great Falls. Similar size, similar people, similar number of tourists and locals who feel taken advantage of once we tell them about our project.

We spoke with several more people, but as it was getting later, we decided to take Kay up on her offer -- we met her at the Great Falls Voyagers baseball game and later headed to her home. Our sleeping bags are set up on the floor, our footage is transferring, and Sarah is already asleep next to me.

It's only been two days since we stayed with Jolene in Lame Deer, but I'm ready to go back. We have had excellent experiences with everyone we've stayed with, but with Jolene, I wasn't just meeting a fascinating person, we were also exploring a community and culture that we've never really been exposed to. Everyone we stay with has a different individual culture, but our experience on the reservation really found its way to my heart and it's held on tight. Sarah and I now wear our matching necklaces from Jolene, and every time I see it in the mirror, I feel a reminder of connection, something amorphously profound. I think as I grow more distant from Lame Deer, and as we encounter new communities every day, I will focus in on this feeling, or find it dissipating. Our discoveries, lessons, and conversations are inspired by our experiences juxtaposed with each other -- our day with the Cheyenne does not wield greater power in our film about American culture, but it will be interesting to see how it relates to other experiences we have, and interesting to understand more clearly why it was the most memorable day of the journey. So far.

Day 16: The Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana

The first person who talked to us in Lame Deer became the perfect example of how welcoming the community was. He talked for a while, then invited us home to talk more later if we were up for it. He said just ask around, everyone knows where he lives.

The day was hot and dusty - the second we pulled up people started recognizing us as outsiders. They were curious mostly - asking questions and then asking to be interviewed.

One of the things that we have been noticing is how eager people really are to talk to strangers. How exciting it is to share your life with someone who doesnt know it. Especially if that someone is recording it onto video. People love to tell stories. They love to pick the parts of the their lives that they find most important, and they love to share. But also there are the darker stories, the sad ones. Telling a stranger those stories feels good because you start with a blank slate, and in some ways sharing lends validation to the things that have happened to us.

We met Jolene as we wandered towards the cold drinks. She was pushing a cart and watching her grandson Evan as he danced around. He wanted popsicles, and I couldnt blame him, it was a hot day. [This makes me really nervous for Nevada and Arizona in a couple weeks]

Before we even had a chance to tell her what our project was about - we mentioned that we were making a movie and we had just started asking her about the area - she said "Do you have a place to stay tonight?" We laughed, told her what we were doing, she said come on over before 5:30 because she was cooking a big dinner. She said, "As long as your not vegetarians." and Greg and I laughted pretty hard before telling her that Greg was in fact a vegetarian.

Evan told us his full name was Evan Angelo Walkslast Spiderman.

We talked to some people around town - the Pow Wow was the following day and everyone was preparing for the big celebration - Later Jolene would tell us laughingly - "We aren't really celebratung your independence, it was just the only free weekend on the calender."

When we arrived to the house the the sky was big and dark and filled with lightning. We were later suprised to discover that dinner was actually a reunion of sorts - a neice was coming to visit after being away for almost ten years. We were excited to meet Jolene's sister Charlene, her husband Joe; Sharlene's niece Crystal and her new boyfriend Paul (Jolene kept joking that they were new sweethearts); Crystal's daughter; Joe and Charlene's grandson and grandaughter; and Jolene's other grandson Sheldon occasionally made an appearance with his girlfriend Mariah.

Before we ate Jolene said a lengthy prayer in Cheyenne - when I asked her about it later, she said she had just asked for a blessing, said thank you and wished her family well. She said that she wished us a safe and peaceful journey and that we would meet kind people.

After dinner we went to see fireworks and all the while Jolene was telling us stories. Her personal story; stories about the Cheyenne; stories about some of the issues they have been facing lately; stories about family and friends.

We learned so much so quickly. About a culture we were unfamiliar with. About Jolene and Evan. About how the world works.In the course of the evening we heard a lot of upsetting stories, but the honesty and frankness with which they were told made them very impactful.

Evan was one of the friendliest four year olds I have ever interacted with. He was very much at Jolene's side all the time - both were still suffering the pain of the recent death of Jolene's husband Jimmy. Jolene was a little concerned that Evan still used a bottle - but she said the doctor and dentist both think its fine, so she'll just wait until he decides he's done. And Evan is proud of it - he knows its not exactly normal, but he thinks its pretty cool that he still uses a bottle.

The issue of alcoholism and drug use came up in every conversation we had - whether it was our first interviewee saying that he had worked on a program for drug users for years - or the cashier at the grocery store saying that drug use was down to about 10% of what it use to be - or Jolene telling us that both she and Jimmy never drank, smoked or did drugs. It was mentioned sometimes as an issue that is being delt with, an issue that's no longer really an issue; and it was sometimes mentioned as a big problem.

After dinner there were fireworks.

And in the morning Jolene made us pancakes and eggs - she says its part of her culture to feed people, part of her culture to take care of strangers. We did a long interview, played with the dogs and cats for a few more minutes [Almost everyone we stay with has animals] and raced with Evan through the yard. Then Jolene hugged us both, tried one last time to get us to stay for the powow, and handed us both necklaces that Jimmy made before he passed away. Mine was slender and colorful, with shiny green beads between inside out rainbows. Greg's is thicker with less colors - but still very orange and green and all of his beads have a nice metallic sheen. Both have small carved turtles in the center.

We handed her a bear and a note and she smiled and said, "Evan, A Knuckles." Evan
repeated her, then she turned to me and said "like knuckles, but na-ah-kose. It means little bear." I smiled, "I call Gregory that sometimes." So she wrote it out for us, along with her mailing address and we hit the road.

"Stah -vah - see -woah", Greg said as we left [Thats my poor phonetic spelling of the sentence].

That means see you later in Cheyenne; There is not word for Goodbye.

Days 14 and 15: Pierre, SD; The Badlands; Mt Rushmore; Lead South Dakota

Pierre was interesting mostly because of the way it began. I don't mean that the beginning was the most interesting part, but rather that the beginning created the adventure of the day in a larger way than most of our beginnings.

We started at the Capital Journal - the newspaper for the area - to do an interview with David, a young reporter who majored in Poli-Sci at Grinnell. David, unlike the previous people who have spoken to us, asked if he could follow us on our journey for a bit. So we set out with three instead of two.

We also started late. Maybe around 6:30pm. Maybe 7. Because the interview took a while. In Pierre, just on the line for Mountain Time, this looks like early afternoon, not evening.

The first local we found said yes. Instantly and sweetly - she joked about having us help her make bagels at five in the morning and was shocked when we enthusiastically said we would love to do that. We gave her our card and decided to do more interviews while she cleaned up her coffee shop.

BUT about an hour later, after a lot of long conversations with nonlocals and locals alike - conversation that did not include asking for a place to stay - she canceled on us. She said she didnt realize it was so late in the evening, that her husband had a baseball game until very late. When I assured her late was fine - we had many things to occupy our time, she insisted that it wouldnt work out. I think perhaps the fear hit her late, but that meant that it was almost 8:30pm and we were now without a home for the evening.

We asked a few more people - kept running into out-of-towners. We went to a bar where no one greeted us, and the own her said "no fucking way" to an interview. We went to an Italian restaurant: talked to the wait-staff and the chefs. They were super nice but coulnt help. We asked a woman as she was sitting down to her table. She sent us to another restaurant. We went. We spoke to maybe 5 people there, including a man who suspected us of trying to manipulate him through editing into saying horrible things that he didnt want to say. I'd say generally, people were very friendly, but many people were made incredibly nervous by the presence of the camera. It wasnt our request, premise or idea that got to them. It was the camera. And everyone said it would have the opposite affect...

This entire time David was following us. For nearly 6 hours he hung about diligently and waited for us to find our hosts for the evening. But that moment never really came for him.

Rewind. On our drive to Piere Greg and I stopped to get pie. Pie is probably my favorite food. And I have made it a quest of mine to try pie in ever state we visit - the ultimate goal being of course to eat the best pie in the country. I am mostly a fan of peach and berry pies, but the occasionally pumpkin, banana cream or coconut cream sometimes finds itself in front of me. So at this little restaurant I had homemade banana cream pie. It was not good pie. It was alright pie - it was very banana-y and the coffee was onlce 5 cents. But the woman who worked as a hostess was INCREDIBLY nice. She was curious about our project and when we explained it to her she gave us some phone numbers for people she would almost definitely help us.

As we pull on the highway Greg says, "you didnt get her name did you?"

Fast Forward: back to our second restaurant - we have just left the parking lot after the strange paranoid (and also probably drunk) man and Greg and I decide to call these numbers. David says we can be his fall back plan, but he'd need to stay objective for his article, so we call. Calling people is a new thing for us - even when people we stay with suggest someone, we generally refuse to find them. Mostly because it feels like cheating and because it feels better to meet someone in person. But we call. And this is how the conversation goes: "Hi Guy. My name is Sarah, I am making a documentary and I was told you were a good person to ask for help. The woman who told me works at Al's Oasis, she uh, she took a teaching class with you, and she buys organic millet from you for her goats. Funny thing is, we never exchanged names...so. Yeah. Yeah. .....Its about relying on the kindness of strangers for a home each night...... Yeah? Really? That would be great.... Fishing? This late?.... Yeah. Sounds good. Twenty minutes?......Alright, Thank you so much!"
Guy, and his son Jack met us at the Wal-Mart parking lot and took us home. I think David was a little disappointed.

We had an amazing night. We stayed up till 2AM talking with Guy about everything from our first date to dinosaur bones, to the things we are supposed to talk about like culture and fear and trust, to the Spanish treasure his father is so adamant about finding. He showed us his sunglasses that record secret HD video. Guy is a sort of back country Renaissance man - he runs a couple of small casinos, a farm, and a few properties. He is an avid fisher and hunter (the walls of his home decorated elegantly with mounted trophies), a family man, a hopeless romantic, a collector of dinosaur bones - and he isnt that much older than us.
We woke up first in the morning, only three hours after we went to sleep - had to get the oil changed in the car - so we left without really getting to say goodbye, but made sure his thank you note and stuffed bear were placed in plain sight on the kitchen counter.

I tripped on his cowboy boots when we walked out the door.

Pierre was not the most hospitable town. Not unfriendly but definitely guarded. I never worry that we wont find a place to stay. But sometimes I worry about the movie. It's interesting the way that experiencing what is happening and experiencing what is happening sometimes come into conflict. And how some of the best moments never make it onto film.

So the beginning - our late start, our third person - created the end.

In Pierre we learned exactly how circumstantial everything is. By chance, we met mostly nonlocals. By chance, we met people who were afraid of the camera. I have never been more grateful for a fall back plan. Because our fall back turned out to be an amazing night.



Day 15 is our sort of day off. We knew we had a long drive ahead of us. And tons of National Parks to drive through, so we made a deal: If we got to our destination any later than 8 we would foot the bill to stay in a cheap motel for the night. We left Pierre late - almost 11am - after fixing the car, making copies at the public library, buying groceries. We drove for nearly 9 hours. Because we visited some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

We saw Mt. Rushmore - Greg jumping as high as he could to line his head up with Washington's.

We visited the Bad Lands - Greg found it incredibly peaceful, for some reason it completely destroyed my understanding for proportion, I could never tell how big the shapes I was looking at were.

We visited the Black Hills - Our first glimpse of a pine forest since our journey began.

We visited a town called Scenic and spoke to a wonderful woman named Kim. Her story made Greg nearly cry while he was shooting. She was a remarkable lady - a bison rancher who operated a second hand shop and was very open about her lack of trust and where it came from. She told us her whole story. You'll have to see the movie to hear it.

That night, we pulled into a tiny motel, and it was strange, it felt like one of the best shooting days we'd had. Our camera was full, and we were tired.

There is so much to see in United States. So many different people, whose lives are more complex than I could ever imagine or create. I think a lot about this from a fiction perspective as we go - how these people are so real, why they are so real. And even in the superficial ways that we understand people in narrative film - through small actions, hobbies, details - the people we meet are real even in those superficial details.

And the landscape is amazing.

(pictures soon, I promise. Also - Another blog post about last night)

Days 12 and 13: The Grotto at West Bend, IA, and Vermillion, SD

West Bend, Iowa, is a tiny town, stuck in the middle of county roads that drive past vast farmland and hopefully have a stray gas station every few dozen miles. But it's also home to Iowa's most spiritual and unusual tourist attraction: The Grotto of the Redemption. Built over several decades by Father Dobberstein from Germany, this shrine occupies one square block, and features its own campgrounds and cafe for the many Midwesterners who visit.










Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa.

Jane, the tour guide, couldn't take us to her home in Pocahontas, as it was filled with her recently passed mother's belongings. However, she struck a deal with the Grotto Director, Rhonda, to let us sleep in the rock showroom -- a huge air-conditioned room with rock displays. And thank goodness -- the thunderstorms pummelled West Bend for the second night in a row, flooding fields of crops. We could see the lightning all around the town.

We met some other folks -- like the Maahs family reunion in the Grotto campgrounds, where the kids loaded Super Soakers and the adults played cribbage. We ate at the Wagon Wheel in town, where the vegetable burger on the menu means a hamburger with lettuce and tomato.








A glimpse at West Bend itself. No still photos of the terrible-smelling corn factory-type-place though -- but it will be in the big-screen version.


Spending most of our time in West Bend on our own was still an excellent way to expand our project. We took the opportunity to film a lot of ourselves, so the audience can go on the journey with us.

Today we wound through more of those farm highways till we hit I-29 aqnd crossed into South Dakota. We had interviews with Dr. Jack Niemonen and Dr. Leroy Meyer at the University of South Dakota -- both exceptionally kind men whose knowledge and storytelling are only matched by their love to share. From Jack, we learned about race relations, the ambiguity of the term "racism," and the ideology of "whiteness." With Leroy, we learned about the philosophy and culture of religion -- he also waited patiently while we explored the National Music Museum, the world's greatest collection of historical musical instruments, and one of Leroy's favorite places.


As we did in Grinnell two days ago, we chose to do a camera-less approach today. From the Mexican restaurant where we ate dinner (staffed by one waitress and one cook, both young and white) to the Wal-Mart, we visited about eight different places and spoke with over 25 people. Having heard much about the Native American culture from Leroy, we were very excited by an offer of hospitality from a Native American in Wal-Mart -- but despite assuring us he would check with his wife and give us a call, we never heard from him.

Instead, we happened to run into Leroy Meyer's son, Andrew, working at the movie theater -- a bizarre coincidence, but Andrew, who is typically quiet and would have been much more nervous around the camera, ended up inviting us to the house he shares with three other college-age men. We ended up having a fantastic night with Andrew and his housemate Skylar -- the two are a hilarious pair, and they treated us to conversation, stories, and a trip to Spirit Mound, rich in Native American legend, and, unfortunately, hundreds of mosquitoes. My bite count is over 40, I'm pretty sure, but being on the mound, surrounded by plains, hundreds of fireflies, the nearly full moon, clear sky of stars, made it more than worth it.



Skylar and Andrew.

Yet another great night -- but also a tougher day than most. Keeping the camera and the details of our film a secret means that our question catches people far more off guard, and although some express genuine disappointment that they can't help us, many simply seem apathetic or even bothered that we asked such a silly question. Today we got lucky by meeting Leroy's son and having a connection to him -- but we could have easily ended up in the car, and our interactions with people in Vermillion would have amounted to just an awkward minute or two with each person.

A woman at Wal-Mart warned us that as we head west, the people will get less friendly. So as we lay down on Andrew and Skylar's mattresses on the floor tonight, we hope we discover something a little brighter.

Day 11: Grinnell, Iowa

Downtown Mazomanie, Wisconsin.

En route to the Mazo Beach three days ago.

IMG_1154.JPG

On the floor in Julia's apartment, just two nights ago in Decorah, Iowa.

We interviewed two scholars at Grinnell College. Dr. Kesho Scott had a wonderful conversation with us about her work in “unlearning racism” and what it means to be American, and Dr. Lakesia Johnson discussed gender roles and race relations – both conversations energized us about the overarching themes of our project, and gave us inspiration for the conversations we could be having with our strangers, pushing at nebulous terms like “diversity” and digging deeper into the trust and fear within the American psyche.

So far, we’ve been working with our “camera” approach – bringing the camera along as we explore town and meet people, providing the opportunity to speak directly to people as they see the camera and we ask if we can do a quick interview with them – although these initial conversations are often 20-25 minutes now. We love this approach. It’s easy, in a way – having the camera not only provides more footage for our film, but also legitimizes our project and tends to make people more comfortable (although there are certainly cases where people shy away from the camera or refuse an interview).

To mix it up, we chose to do a “camera-less” approach today. It’s much more difficult to speak to people out of the blue, to start with small talk while knowing that we’re hoping to develop the brief conversation into our big question. And when I say difficult, I mean it’s really hard for me, whereas Sarah has no trouble starting a conversation with anyone – but for both of us, popping the question is a challenge. We chose to make this an indirect approach as well, as most of our interviews with the camera are, in which we tell people about what we’re doing but refrain from directly asking if we can stay with them. In most cases, people offer or back away right when we describe the project.

We met about ten people in Grinnell as we explored the community, and everyone was very friendly. We got two offers, but each offer was also throwing a party and noted that we might want more rest somewhere else. So we continued exploring, and had a couple more hesitant and confusing offers for later on – but our plans fell into place when Sam, who we had met earlier at Yumi’s Bakery, called us and said that his neighbor Bob could put us up in his camper behind the house. We always ask people if they know anyone who could put us up, and this is the first time a reference has actually come through – feeling a little nervous and certainly excited, we set off to meet the complete stranger who had already agreed to put us up.

Bob’s wife Rachel opened the door with a very welcoming smile, and our nerves immediately subsided. We had dinner with Bob, Rachel, and their 7-year-old son Davis, and later got a driving tour of the Grinnell campus and a trip to Dari Barn, sort of a local Dairy Queen with massive tractors nextdoor that the kids love to climb on. We had a fantastic conversation with Rachel about the decision to let us in based on just a recommendation. This was also one of our few nights with hosts who weren’t overtly Christian, which developed some different views on why kindness from strangers is a virtue even without religious affiliation.

Sarah and I spent the night in the camper, waking up occasionally to the thunderstorms rumbling around us – the storms keep chasing us, but at least they’re mostly at night. We’re now transferring our footage in their kitchen, anticipating Rachel’s French toast, and snacking on the best pastries from the best bakeries in town.

Every day is giving Sarah more reason to want to move to Iowa.