Archive for the ‘The Juan Way Tour’ Category

The Meaning of a Bus
January 26, 2011

Maybe some of you know that I spent ten weeks in the summer of 2009 living on a veggie-oil powered school bus with a few of my friends and tooling around the American South. Well, the guy who came up with the idea, purchased the bus, drew up the plans and repaired the diesel engine/veggie oil system whenever the bus broke down — my amazing, brilliant friend John Pags — has a blog post reflecting on the meaning of the trip. I hope he won’t mind if I just excerpt his post in full:

I finished Blue Highways recently, and I’m not quite sure whether I liked it or not. It has many lovely stories about small towns all across America, which I loved to read about, but it’s also littered with little throw away facts about towns he drove through. It felt at times like the entire premise of the book was just an excuse to tell stories about small towns, but there’s a point of separation from the story when he just rattles off facts about a town without having stopped in it or talked to any residents. It feels like it would have been better as a collection of short stories, each with their own setting and characters instead of pulling them all into this larger narrative. I realize it’s all true, it’s just that I didn’t find his voyage all that interesting in and of itself.

Although I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, since the author/narrator didn’t really either. From the last page:

The circle almost complete, the truck ran the road like the old horse that knows the way. If the circle had come full turn, I hadn’t. I can’t say, over the miles, that I had learned what I had wanted to know because I hadn’t known what I wanted to know. But I did learn what I didn’t know I wanted to know.

I feel a similar way about the Tour, and often replied as such if anyone asked what I had learned. That’s also why I probably won’t ever write much about the trip, save a few events. There was a more revealing passage, several pages earlier, that had also echoed what I had felt about the Tour. Looking back, it really reflects what I feel was the purpose of the trip:

In a season on the blue roads, what had I accomplished? I hadn’t sailed the Atlantic in a washtub, or crossed the Gobi by goat cart, or bicycled to Cape Horn. In my own country, I had gone out, had met, had shared. I had stood as witness.

This drove me nuts for maybe a year or so after the trip had ended. I kept trying to write some sort of cohesive, definitive account of the trip, but I always came up against the fact that there seemed to be no cohesive plot. I had no idea where things had begun, I had no idea where they ended, and there was more discernible arc connecting the two. It was with a certain arrogance that I just assumed that a series of thematically and causally connected events in my life automatically formed a story.

We’re conditioned to believe that our whole lives are in the stories we tell to ourselves and each other. Any story has some sort of meaning embedded in its text, so the natural instinct is to judge that there is some sort of meaning imbued into actual events, and that making sense of those events is a sort of forensic, archeological process. But of course, we’re not archeologists. We’re sculptors working with raw, shapeless material. Telling is shaping, no matter how much we try and convince ourselves otherwise.

As far as the Juan Way Tour goes, I’ve abandoned shaping a single big document out of it for now. I treasure the raw material too much to dare chip at it with shaking hands. Maybe some day when I have the time, focus and skill, I’ll give it another shot.


Shameless Roadtrip Plugging
February 26, 2009

Did you notice that the Juan Way official site got a spiffy new redesign, courtesy of John? Did you notice the Help page is still there?

And did you know that our Facebook group is very close to 300 members, and you should join and invite all your friends?

Sorry, I have to do this stuff. Normal blogging resumes later.

Big Media Us
February 13, 2009

Yesterday, Jess was kind enough to write a very nice post at my alma mater, NYU Local, on the tour. Check it out.

Also, if you have yet to join the Facebook group or fill out the help form, you should totally do that. Invite all your friends, too!

Help out the Juan Way Tour!
February 6, 2009

As I said in the message that I sent out to all of our Facebook group members today, John’s put up a new section of the official site, where you can learn about all the ways to help the tour succeed. The page links to a simple online form you can fill out, telling us where you’ll be this summer and how you can lend a hand. Monetary donations are appreciated, yes, but free services like the use of a parking space, shower or laundry machine are also extremely useful. And, of course, we’re always looking for cool places to go and cool people to meet, so if you want to hang out with us in whatever neck of the woods you happen to reside in, filling out that form is a good way to let us know.

We can’t really promise any money in return, but we can promise you our eternal gratitude. And I’ll put a personal little thank you on this blog as well. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got to offer.

The tour’s still a little over three months away, but here are some ways in which you can help us right now:

1.) Join the aforementioned Facebook group, and invite all your friends to join.

2.) Fill out the form.

3.) Just generally spread the word around as much as you can. Right now the most important thing for us is to let as many people know that this is happening as possible. So any links or press coverage is hugely valuable, but so is just telling all your friends.

The level of enthusiasm I’ve already heard is hugely encouraging. You guys are awesome. Let’s keep it up.

Video of Cheney Tech
January 11, 2009

John took all the video I recorded and cut it together:

If you get nothing else out of this video, understand these two things:

1.) Joe is super cool.
2.) By the time all of the modifications are done, this bus is going to be less of a bus than a ship. I can’t wait.

Cheney Tech
January 7, 2009


John (left) and I went to Cheney Technical Institute in Manchester, CT, where Joe (right), a teacher there, had kindly offered to work on the bus with his students. The work they did was pretty remarkable; they’re rigging up the whole biodiesel system in the bus so we can go hundreds and hundreds of miles without having to stop for more veggie oil. Everything’s shaping up pretty well.

If you want to see more photos from Cheney, here’s my Flickr scrapbook on the subject. I also uploaded a few videos to my YouTube channel.

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