What The Heck Is the Front Porch of America?

I’m glad you asked. The Front Porch of America Project is in its simplest form a crazy idea conceived by a crazy man fed up with the craziness we see in America today. Practically it was myself, Terry Little our videographer, and Adam James our Wildcard traveling 8,500 miles in 14 days across America, interviewing folks from their Front Porches to try and see what’s really going on in in this country.  Here’s some excerpts from a blog I wrote about it, maybe it will make a bit more sense once you read onward.

Conception

What the hell is wrong with America?

 

What THE HELL is wrong with America?

 

Are Republicans really this uneducated? Are Democrats really this out of touch? Is it all a bunch of shit?

 

These were the ideas that sailed through my skull as I was perusing social media posts recently.

 

Could people really hate each other that much? Is the media making this up?

 

Someone needed to tell me the truth. I demanded it. I couldn’t believe our country’s decency and civility were crumbling so quickly and completely. The media had to be magnifying or exacerbating what I was witnessing. I NEEDED to know what it was. The seed of an idea was born.

 

Here’s where I’ll stop you, or stop myself rather. I feel obligated to point out that I have no training to solve this issue. I have zero skills that qualify me for any of this. I didn’t graduate college, I didn’t read any special books or train under some master. I’m just a guy with an idea.

 

You’re so worried about America? Then stop complaining and get out there and do something about it asshole.

 

That’s what I’d do. I decided that I had to get some answers. I got on the line with my cinematographer Terry Little in St. Petersburg, FL and outlined my idea. We’d take off from Nashville and drive around the country interviewing folks to see what’s actually going on in America. WE’D do everything ourselves, so at least I could trust my own source.

 

This country is stunningly beautiful, why don’t you shoot some music videos along the way?

 

Thanks voice in my head! Terry loved it. But how could we tie it all together? I had a thought. My friend Sean Patrick McGraw and I had recently written a song called the “Front Porch of America” that dealt with some of these issues. What if we interviewed folks from their front porches? The Front Porch has always been a place I’ve sat with a beer and a friend and tried to figure out the world. Everyone’s view would be colored by their front porch, and we could get a sense of their perspective.

 

Terry: We’re going to need help to do this, you and I can’t do it all alone.

 

Me: Yeah, but who’d be dumb enough to ride in the backseat of a pick-up truck for two weeks for the sheer adventure of it…hang on, I’ll call you back.

 

Ring ring.

 

Adam James: Hello?

 

Me: Hey buddy, wild idea. You wanna ride around the country with Terry and I interviewing folks and shooting music videos? The accommodations will probably be lacking, the truck will probably be overpacked, we’re probably gonna…

 

Adam: I’M IN!!!!!!

The Planning

 

What would we need to survive this adventure? Well, whiskey for one, but more importantly a plan. Google maps is quite helpful for this. After several iterations, I landed on an itinerary that made sense (*Terry’s Note: Nothing about this entire plan made sense). We’d leave Nashville, haul ass up to Washington DC, hit NYC, head through my hometown of Syracuse, NY, across to the West Coast, and then come back via Denver. It all made sense (*Please see Terry’s Note)

 

Gear. We’d need cameras, lights, audio recording instruments, guitars, cheese, batteries, and a way to haul it all. I bought a truck sack, which is basically a giant waterproof* (*more about that claim later) bag you strap into the bed of the truck and fill with gear. Adam wanted his guit-ele, Terry wanted 4 million go pros, but we thought it would all fit.

 

We’d have to line up interviews, plan where and when to shoot music videos, and drive (it looked like) about 6500 miles in two weeks time (*More on THAT claim later too). We could do it, but it was gonna be tough. We picked a date to depart, and gathered our gunna in earnest.

 

Day 1

 

Terry got in on a flight from Tampa early in the morning. I scooped him up and brought him to my apartment where we inventoried and checked all the gear was working. For the music video portion, we wanted to shoot each song with its own video “style.” A bunch of videos that all looked the same wouldn’t be too interesting. We wanted to get creative. One style decided to try was a drone video, so I borrowed a drone from my friend Scott in Naples. We fired up the drone, promptly crashed it, and realized we would need to use it with a bit more care in the future.

 

Adam swung over, and once the gear was packed (slammed) into the truck sack, I bid adieu to my lady, waved goodbye to Nashville and we hit the road bound for DC.

Oh yeah wait, quick stop at Belcourt Taps for a drink.

Our planning had us driving through the night and doing our 1st interview with Pete in Washington DC before he had to leave for working the morning. Fueled by 3-4 double espressos, I powered through the night, sloshed through a rainstorm, and pulled into DC with the sun winking around the Washington Monument.

 

As I wiped the crud from my eyes and tried to come to, I was hit with a realization: I’ve never interviewed anybody before. What if I froze up? I needed a jumping off point. I know, just pretend its a 1st date.

 

So, do you do interviews in the morning often?

 

Shit! That wasn’t gonna work.

 

Luckily another cup of coffee, a tea, two cups of water and a sniff of whiskey and I came around. The interview went swimmingly.

We bid Pete goodbye as soon as the interview ended, grabbed some quick shots in the National Mall, and we’re on our way to New York City before you could sing “How A Bill Becomes A Law.” (I was actually very well versed in that song, so I guess that does give me some pretty serious credentials to conduct interviews about politics. I can also sing all 50 states in alphabetical order after two high gravity beers.)

 

By midday we pulled into Manhattan and drank in the sour smells and welcome wonders that is one of my favorite cities. We nabbed some video from the Statue of Liberty to Wall Street to Times Square, then settled in on a roof in Spanish Harlem with a strong glass of whiskey and Steve Glauser as our spirit guide. As the sun set, Steve let us into the world of someone who has struggled and fought both as a chef and later as a social researcher in the City that never sleeps. Interview captured, we caught a slice of New York Pizza with Adam’s brother, then set sail for Syracuse to our 1st night’s sleep.

 

The road is long, the sleep is spotty, and the hours roll by like an Adirondack timberline.

 

Day 2

 

Already an error, because technically it was Day 3 by the time we rolled into Syracuse to crash out for “night.” Two hours later we were back up guzzling coffee, heading over the The Keep to interview JP. Its called the Keep because JP is a dirty old knight and lives in an all stone castle looking structure. We had to defeat The Kingslayer just to gain an audience with JP, but it was worth it as JP laid down the law for 30 minutes about what’s going on in America.

Off and running. Couple of quick shots in Syracuse downtown and back on the road to meet with Derek in Detroit. Derek was an emergency room doctor at Detroit Receiving, and we were hoping to catch him after his shift. Who doesn’t wanna talk politics at 2am?

 

Day 3-4

 

The days started to become a blur quite quickly as we rolled into Derek’s apartment in Downtown Detroit. He mentioned that he often liked to hang behind his complex by the Detroit River and look South to Canada* (*Detroit is the only sopot in America where one can look South and see Canada).

 

We chatted until 3am about his experience at one of the busiest emergency rooms in America, about living in a rapidly changing city, and about his experience growing up black in a white community. We snuggled in for a couple hours of sleep on his couch, then headed out in the morning before he awoke to grab some footage in Chicago with our friend Greg Dixon.

 

Day 5

Greg almost called the police on us when we showed up. Broken and dishevled from driving 2,000 miles in 4 days on no sleep and a diet of coffee and whiskey, he logically assumed from our appearance that we’d been beaten up by homeless people and had our truck and gear stolen. Once we’d convinced him we were the real deal, he offered his expert cinematography skills on some shots in a graveyard and in front of Wrigley Field. He then told me to “hold on” as I sat in the bed of the truck and we accelerated through Downtown Chicago. He said my life was definitely worth risking for the “perfect shot.”

 

 

Collecting our things, we took off for Minneapolis to interview a Dog Soldier who was present during the Standing Rock Protests.

 

Day 6

 

We noticed signs as we entered the Minneapolis Metro area for Prince’s House and we had to stop and get some shots. What a cool exterior. We continued on into the evening and a thunder storm rolled in blasting lightning shots off the cliff side as we drove beneath it. Way out in the sticks we arrived near midnight at a hotel/casino on Indian lands. There we met out interviewee Vaughn Bull Lodge, who suggested a better person to speak to: Art Owen, a Dakota Tribe Elder who played a pivotal role in the Standing Rock protest. But it was late, would he be available?

 

Vaughn: Art lives right next door, let’s go see.

 

We hopped in our car and followed Vaughn down a side road that paralleled the casino. After a few knocks on an old wooden door, Art appeared in the doorway and ushered us in from the storm.

 

Art: I have a lot to talk about regarding Standing Rock, let’s get started.

 

And we were off to the races.

 

After nearly an hour of stories and tales from his life, Standing Rock, and his views on Indian lifestyle, we stumbled out of Art’s house around 2am with wide eyes. How were we going to be able to sleep after that?!!!

 

Vaughn: Hey guys, I have a room at the hotel. Don’t sleep in your truck, come crash on my floor.

 

And they want you to believe that everyone in America has gone bad! Not in our experiences!!!

 

Day 7..8….9…?

 

What happened next is kinda fuzzy. We awoke early the next morning to the realization that we had to make 2,000 miles in the next 48 hours to arrive on time for an interview in Oregon. Quick calculations told us we’d need to drive about 35 hours in the next two days, including a stop on the grounds of Standing Rock, to even have a prayer of arriving in time.

 

We hustled to the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota figuring we’d drop by fast, take a few short videos, and be on our way. Funny thing happened though. We found our way to the Sitting Bull statue, planted in fields of tall yellow grass rolling down hills into a dark blue river. The wind was lightly kissing our faces, but otherwise, silence. Nothing. Just nature, and us.

Something happened on that hill that touched all 3 of us. Its hard to put into words, but I’d like to say we gained a touch of appreciation for why it was so important the fight for the sanctity of this land. We tried to capture that sensation on video, but even now the memory of that day burns brighter than any image ever could.

 

Day 9 I think

 

South Dakota bled into Montana blurred into Cour de’Allene Idaho before I finally came to. We met a friend of Adam’s in Idaho, did some quick filming and had a drink, and then were right back on the road.

We arrived in the early morning at our interview with Emmy. Our eyes were red and watery, our hair and clothes a mess, and we were all struggling to think straight. Fittingly, the interview was happening on Emmy’s Medical Marijuana Farm. Whoooeee!

After the interview, Adam took the wheel and sent us shooting down the Pacific Coast Highway at highly illegal speeds. We arrived in record time at my friend’s Zac’s house in Northern California, where we prepared for Adam’s departure on a plane from San Francisco. We gave him a tearful goodbye (mostly because our eyes had melted on the blazing ride there) and sent him off back to Nashville.

 

 

We collected a few shots in San Francisco before Terry returned with Zac to Santa Rosa. I milled around San Francisco visiting my friend Mark at Danko, a Michelin Starred restaurant in the City. Back to the airport I went to collect my girlfriend Michelle who’d be joining us for the next couple days of our journey.

 

Day 10

The day started with a scene we were shooting for a music video. I was driving the truck to pick up Michelle. I backed out of the driveway, and Terry signalled for me to wait for the landscape crew to clear out before I pulled back in as their truck was obstructing my view.

 

Me: I got this.

 

I wheeled the car around the landscape crew, expertly cut the wheel and gave it some gas, and crashed sidelong into a tree, sending everything crashing down inside the truck.

 

Terry, practical as ever, walked to the truck and took stock of the damage.

 

Terry: You put a pretty good sized dent in the side of this puppy, that’s probably gonna cost ya.

 

Great.

 

We piled into the truck and headed off for Northern California’s Wine Region. We stopped by Sterling Vineyards, which has a gondola that takes you up to the top of the vineyard, and collected some stunning shots. We then visited Castella di Amorosa, which looks something like Castly Rock, and filmed a bit more. We bid adieu to Zac, and started back down the highway again, bound for Ojai, CA.

 

Day 11

 

Our first “day off.” We still managed to collect a few shots during the day, but we mostly relaxed in Ojai, recharged our camera and personal batteries, and had a home cooked meal with my relatives. We took a shot down the PCH to Neptune’s net, where we had some seafood and too many beers. Ah, “recovery.”

 

Day 12

 

Day 12 started with Michelle’s flight be delayed, then cancelled, then reinstated, then delayed. We dropped her off at LA with a thumbs up and wished her the best of luck. We had two more interviews to shoot and not much time left to do them.

We rolled into John Fulton’s Beverly Hills apartment early in the morning. He strolled to a park he liked to hang at, and began grilling him about his thoughts. He surprised with a song he’d composed for the project. The title was “Fury, Mick Fury” and the story slammed everything I was about as a human. It was delightful.

 

We said goodbye to John and powered to the Las Vegas. There, we collected some shots on the strip, of the famous Las Vegas sign, some delicious organic tacos, and then reboarded our steed bound for Monument Valley.

The sun was getting low by the time we began to pass the Mesas and Red Sand Buttes in the distance. This place had been the setting for a dozen spaghetti westerns featuring John Wayne, so we felt it had to be included in some of the shots. Ok. Off to Denver, only 8 hours through the rapidly darkening desert. No problem….

Somewhere in Utah we got stuck. I’m talking 2 feet down into the sand, tires spinning lower and lower, quicksand style dead stuck. Wonderful, now what?

A long hair trucker happened by.

Trucker: Y’all need some help?

He took some chains out of his truck and we made a path for our truck to drive on. Now I would just pull along the chains, give it some gas, and we’d be back on the road rolling. No problem.

Except all that happened was we went deeper down in the red dirt.

Trucker: I’m gonna have to tow ya. My truck is powerful, if I lift ya too quickly or an angle, it could tear your frame off. Be ready.

Me: Be ready?! Wait, what?

Next thing I knew the tractor trailer was hauling away, chained to our pick up truck as it pulled us backwards down the road.

Trucker: Cut the wheel!

Me: Which way?!!!

The truck lifted up off the ground onto 3 wheels and slammed onto the highway. I hit the gas and straightened it out. Holy shit!

After profuse thanks to our savior, Terry took the wheel and I fell into a wasted out sleep in the back.

Day 13

 

I woke in a bed in Denver and saw Terry dumping his footage onto his camera.

 

Terry: I pulled us in and got you into bed a few hours ago. Jess is outside by her garden ready to film, are you able?

 

I shook my head “no” but managed to pull on my pants and stumble out to the kitchen.

 

Jess: You look grrrrreeat. Here, have a green smoothie before you die.

 

We sat on Jess’s deck and while her energetic baby Keller squirted around, we chatted about the environment and why its so important to look towards the future. She has such a wonderful outlook on life. Speaking with her gave me the energy to finish what Terry and I had set out so long ago to accomplish.

Remember when I said 6500 miles? While the odometer had long since passed that and we were creeping towards 7500 quite quickly…

Back on the road, Terry and I headed South through New Mexico to pick a flight we’d booked for Terry out of Oklahoma City. Along the way we made a stop in Amarillo and did some fun shooting on the railroad tracks. Then we hit 40 east and arrived at the airport in OKC a few hours before Terry’s flight.

 

Terry: You gonna be able to make it the last 700 miles alone? You don’t look so good.

 

This whole trip people had been telling me “You don’t look so good.” Shit I KNOW, its been a long strange journey out here.

 

Me: I’m fine. Fly safe.

 

And with that Terry gave me a wave and boarded his flight back to Tampa.

 

I hit the road back to Nashville right as the sun was cresting the horizon. My head hurt, my clothes were stinky, and I didn’t need to look in the rearview mirror to realize “I didn’t look good.”  Thanks everyone. As the day’s first orange rays struck the highway in front of me, I wondered what I had just done. The past 2 weeks had been a haze of highways and high gravity beers. We’d ventured all across America in 14 nights, and had a chance to see what life looked like from folks’ front porches. Some looked out and saw the grasslands of middle America. Others sat on rooftops and watched the Big Apple ebb and flow. Still others smiled by their gardens, with the city lights in the distance making their way to dance faintly on their roofs. They all looked out and saw a different America. A different side of a President’s face, a different angle on what was important, a different view of life. And yet somehow, weren’t those views all the same? Didn’t they all want the same things? A better life for everyone on this planet, a better legacy to leave behind.

 

As the oranges turned to reds turned to yellows, they melted into the distant highway lines. I understood that when you sat with someone on their front porch, heard what they had seen pass by their windows, and had a drink with them, you got a taste of their lives. You tasted their dreams and worries and hopes for this great land. The drink tasted good, hot and sweet. Each time I sipped it, the folks would all say the same thing, “Stop by again sometime, I believe it’ll taste even better the next time.”

 

 

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