Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Craigslist Joe": living on the road by volunteering, barter, your wits -- and Web 1.0

I watched “Craigslist Joe” on Netflix MLK weekend, and it seemed fitting given the backdrop, during the inaugural events, of the “National Day of Service”.

What director Joseph Garner shows, in filming his month-long social experiment over the Christmas season (2011-2012) is that perhaps people can do quite well without money, bartering their time and labor.  And he refutes the notion that the Internet is separating us off into separate worlds of our own fantasy.

Specifically, Garner (now 31) hits the road from southern California with nothing but a cell phone, laptop, and backpack with the bare essentials, no cash.  Can he find enough ways on Craigslist to barter his way through life, perhaps across the country, and live well?  He certainly does.

He manages to hitch a ride to Oregon and Seattle (learning some handyman car repairs along the way), where he volunteers in a soup kitchen for the homeless and meets a man from Iraq who gives him a chance to tutor kids.  (There’s the service requirement right there.)  He hitchhikes (heaven forbid) and barters a ride back through Wyoming (spectacular winter scenery) and the Midwest to Chicago, where he gets learn break dancing (he isn’t that good at it) and attends a straight S&M party.  No, nothing happens to him, but the visuals do show that heterosexual S&M entertainment is pretty much like its better known gay counterpart.
He hitches to New York for Christmas, and then to Tallahassee, FL (home of Bush v. Gore in 2000), then to New Orleans.  There, he gets a lesson in how individual artisans are slowly building back a smaller city (most of us remember Oprah’s images of horror right after Katrina).  Finally, he gets another ride back through the southwest, stopping in El Paso to tour Juarez across the border, before getting back to San Francisco.

Craigslist, as a source of contact, doesn’t always enjoy a good reputation. But maybe good people (people with good character) tend to meet other good people.  The movie seems to confirm that.

In December of 1966 (when I was 23), when I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas, I left with three other students in  a “transit car” to ride across Colorado all the way to San Francisco (where we crashed in someone’s house in San Jose and slept 12 hours), up to Seattle and Vancouver BC (where we stayed in another friend’s townhouse and crashed in sleeping bags on the living room floor). One of the guys took the car back to Longview, WA for delivery.  I flew “home” to Arlington VA from Vancouver (two changes).   We called the experience “taking off”. 

I remember “Dave’s” waking me up at 3 AM as we saw the lights of Denver and passed under the runaways of old Stapleton.  We crossed the Continental Divide around 7 AM, and played in the powder snow at 10000 feet west of the tunnel.  We went across the Salt Lake desert, and I remember driving the night shift through Nevada, and I drove Donner pass into California.  I felt sleepy.  I stayed awake to “Chestnuts roasting over an open fire” (Nat King Cole, and it won’t keep you awake) and “Lady Godiva” (which will keep you awake.)  I remember that.  I had never been west of Topeka before that week. 

How many road trips would I make over the next 40 years, mostly with rent cars?  I can’t count them.  The farthest from home I’ve ever been is Krakow, Poland (near Auschwitz) and Warsaw.   In 1994, in the remote town of Sterling CO (known for cattle mutilations), over lunch, I would make a decision to write my first book.

Joe Garner rather resembles a graduating senior (in 1998) from Hamline University who helped set me up with my cable lecture on my book at Hamline.  He resembles Anthony physically and in terms of personality.  Anthony came from the Seattle area, and would caravan back and forth by car between the Twin Cities, and fly back and forth to London it seemed.   He liked the road the same way Garner does.  Even at 21, he drove safely.

The link for the film is here

The film seems to be distributed by Vesuvio and was largely produced by Zach Galifianakis.

I guess I should consider using Craigslist more for my own project needs.  

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