8 Years Later… We’re still here!

Shane & Amy 2016 – Jack London’s cabin – Oakland.

“The book is a vivid reflection of the U.S.A. in our time, and Amy is a top notch cookie baker.  May you both live long and prosper.” ~ R. Crumb

Eight years ago, it was another tumultuous election year. War was raging overseas and in the bank accounts of Americans. The media was barely beginning to acknowledge what the people of America had known for some time, that the housing market was crashing. The entire nation was living on maxed-out credit, and foreclosures were leaving entire blocks of houses empty. The development bonanza came to a standstill, with sprawling subdivisions of McMansions half built on bulldozed wetlands, forests, and farms all over the USA. Our house of cards economy was exposed as the over-extended defaulted on their overpriced homes, and took the poorly invested pensions of countless civil servants, millworkers, and teachers whose retirement planners had hedged their bets the wrong way, right along with them.

I remember it well. In technicolor actually, because we caught it all on video. There was anger, frustration, despair, and hope on the lips and minds of the people, some more than others, sometimes in rolling waves.  We, being my husband Shane and myself, our dog Cheyenne, and our turtle Myrtle, set out on the roads of America for a full year before the election with the goal to end on election day in the capital. Our mission was to document the people of America and share our findings in short videos and blogs in the fledgeling new media movement, or what would eventually become the new media movement. We called our quest ‘A Year At The Wheel’. The videos were posted on the the newly formed YouTube – over 200 shorts by the end, blogs and photos were shared on our WordPress website. We networked using MySpace, various newsgroups and message boards. Facebook had yet to be invented, as did Twitter and Instagram, instead we found hosts, odd jobs, and interview subjects by posting on Craigslist. Years before Kickstarter existed, we crowdfunded support by offering a variety of incentives to those willing to help, and we needed the help since we left on this adventure with $180 in our pockets, no credit cards, bank account, or a sponsor.

We were heralded as pioneers in the budding social media revolution, we were called the “Johnny Appleseeds of Podcasting”. In the course of the year we interviewed a Baptist minister, a CIA assassin, a noted anthropologist, numerous artists, politicos, folks on the street, and people forever ignored by the media. As Shane likes to say it, “We went to the canneries not the colleges”. We asked no one about the candidates, it wasn’t about the face person that stood in front of our corporate masters, it was about the State of the Nation from the People of the Nation. We asked if the American Dream existed, we asked what were the best and worst things about America? We documented those we met in their shabby or spectacular homes, in small towns and crumbling cities, we gave a voice to the people who had no voice or didn’t know they had a voice. They didn’t know the power in their pocket, that their phone made them as powerful as the corporate media. That was still a foreign concept. Citizen journalism was still being scoffed at, bloggers and podcasters were considered super nerds and treated as jokes, but oh how that would change!

The trip was long and it was hard. We had no backing, so we took odd jobs to make gas money to get to the next location. We were hungry and tired, exhausted. Many times we wanted to give up, we wanted to curl up and die sometimes under the weight of it all, and their was the pain of our own struggle that had set us on the road in the first place with nothing left to lose.  But, every time we were ready to give up, we captured the words of someone that fed us with the determination to continue. We felt obligated to tell the stories we’d been given, the truth, the honesty, the trust these people gave to us – from Fred Hampton’s next door neighbors who were there on the night of his assassination, Edwin and Helen Kagin leaders, of the American Atheist Movement, the wisdom of photographer Joel Peter Witkin, or crossing paths with the American Indian Movement (AIM) on their Longest Walk 2, and Old Chism selling junk on the side of a Kentucky highway who explained what a “Yellow Dog Democrat” was. Against all odds, we did end our trip in Washington DC on Election Night, we saw first hand people drunk on the hope of change and the excitement of a new era, but we were not there for Obama, we were there to catch the wisdom within of another white house, the Discord House, and the words of a legend in Punk and its ethos Ian MacKaye.

The debts we felt to those who shared their home, food, or their words with us led us to produce a book of our travels and interviews more than 500 pages long, a full length documentary, and of course our shorts on YouTube which garnered more than a million views. We were invited to the Internet Archive (archive.org) to deposit all of our raw footage there, and it’s there for anyone to use forever. It took us four years on the beach, living in a shack, to digest our trip and then tell the story. Normally, we would have turned back to being creative entrepreneurs, but we wanted to devote ourselves to honoring our project, so we put 20 years of entrepreneurship aside and instead worked various menial tourism industry jobs as not to be too distracted by earning a living to focus on the book and movie.

The last eight years has been full of contradictions, sweeping change both good and bad, and the continuation of much of the status quo. Corporations and government colluded to try to control the internet, but same-sex marriage was made law in all 50 states. We saw the end of the confederate flag happen virtually overnight after a 20 year fight over it flying on southern state capitals, but we also saw our dark skinned citizenry targeted and brutalized in the awfullest of ways by our police. We continue to see more and more Americans with only a tarp to call home, while the bankers we bailed out rewarded themselves with grand bonuses larger than many people’s annual income.

We’ve also seen the inspiration that our trip gave people, whether they knew it or not. First there is the Occupy Movement, which was helped by a small handful of new media activists, and for which Shane acted as an impresario, linking people up to help push forward. We inspired dozens on our trip to start blogs or podcasts, and many a road trip commenced, one fellow spent ‘A Month In The Air’  flying to a different city every day and documenting his experiences, a couple in Portland saw our shorts and took to the road as Eco Jaunt to document those living off the grid, organic farmers, and others woking to improve the earth.  A movie called ‘Craigslist Joe’ came out conducting a fake and cheesy ‘A Year At The Wheel’ light, literally quoting our press materials in their narration (without giving us an iota of credit).  There have been many more that we are not even aware of, and who are not directly aware of us. Just weeks ago Shane met three young men on the bus who were road tripping and documenting their experiences on social media, in a minor return of support they camped in our yard for a night.

If you were wondering, the last eight years have been no less contradictory for us.  Since our trip finished, we have lost several wonderful people that we met on our journey, including both Helen and Edwin Kagin. my own father died in 2010 forcing a six month or longer hiatus on the book and movie as we dealt with all the things that death brings. We slowly eased back into entrepreneurism when I began making and selling my own fine vanilla products. Then, in 2013, we were invited to speak at Harvard University by a student organization. Turning back to social media, we used GoFundMe.com to raise money to drive there so we could bring Cheyenne and Myrtle on the trip, as that was the right thing to do. It was a great drive, Cheyenne took in every moment of it with wonder and joy, a true road dog, jumping in snowdrifts in the mountains of Montana, walking all the streets of Cambridge with determination, loving every smell of New York City, and then falling for a Southern gent in North Carolina. Five weeks after our triumphant return from Harvard, Cheyenne passed away.

A few months after Cheyenne’s death I was offered a fairly decent job. A real job. You know, the kind with a 401K and insurance. I felt the opportunity for a steady income and to be insured for the first time in 20 years was something we needed after so much uncertainty, but after nearly two decades of spending all of our time together and working side by side on our various creative entrepreneurial endeavors this was very difficult. While on the beach, Shane had taken up sculpting and was really excelling at it. I figured he would spend his newly found free time time in his usual creative fury. Instead, he struggled with grief over the loss of Cheyenne, and then what felt like the dissolution of our creative partnership, he was devastated and things took a dark turn.

Shane fell into a deep depression that lasted over two years. But even without trying, Shane’s creative force kept producing amazing things out of thin air, he did an incredible photo project literally from his recliner. About a year ago he dove into creating patches and pins, helping the youth of today wear their politics on their sleeves, he likened the fun of making and sharing these little trinkets to the early days of zines. But, he still could not work in his studio. Until just recently Cheyenne’s blanket remained folded up on the floor under his abandoned worktable. He is just now getting back to feeling like himself again. I can see the sparkle returning to his eyes more and more.

For me, it has been surreal to be in a professional world, not unlike spending 5 days a week on another planet. Having never been in a white collar environment for more than a visit, it is sometimes challenging to navigate. These last few years have been strange and foreign, we’ve been forced to look deep within and wrestle with our inner demons, the gifts and the curses of our past, but it seems the smoke is finally beginning to clear. More balance is needed, but we are working hard to adjust to this new chapter and figure out how to make it work.

Now, as this election year heats up, we are again on the edge of our seats. We want to act, but this time we are in a different vantage point, stationary from a small coastal town that has surprisingly welcomed us, unlike our previous small town experience which left us running for our lives nearly a decade ago, Astoria seems to have accepted us as their own. We live in a cute little house with visiting deer and eagles soaring overhead. A few months back, we were astonished to realize that we have lived in this house longer than any address for the last 20 years, we called our landlord and told him. So, one might wonder, are we still angry? Are we still fighting for free thought, or have we given up? Rest assured injustice, mediocrity, and man’s inhumanity to man is still gnawing at us day and night, driving us to the brink of despair. We are still furious over the status quo, and heart sick about the treatment of our planet. We still have the need to speak, to debate, and to find truth in the lies. Expect to hear more from us over the next months.

Until next time,

Shane and Amy Bugbee

“The book is a vivid reflection of the U.S.A. in our time, and Amy is a top notch cookie baker.  May you both live long and prosper.” ~ R. Crumb