Friday, July 12, 2013

Roadtrip Nation Crew Visits Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Jul 12, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Do you remember what you were doing when you were 20?

If the answer is "not much" or "finding myself" or "I'd rather forget" you have lots of company. An outfit called Roadtrip Nation is in its 12th year of crossing America in a green and blue RV to document the stories of stumbles, false starts, failures of nerve, and other misfortunes on the road to success or, at least, something close to it.

The Roadtrip Nation RV was in Memphis Friday after overnighting on a side street at the south end of downtown. Its five occupants include a producer for public television, a camera guy, and three 18-to-22-year-old "roadtrippers" who do the interviews. Memphis was only a stop along the way on this summer's trip, but the door of the RV was open and Dan Ford, the producer, was inside poring over a map of the United States while his team went out for coffee.

The group set out from San Francisco three weeks ago and has stopped in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Taos, Dallas, and New Orleans enroute to St. Louis and points north and east for the next four weeks. They preschedule some interviews in each and wing it on others. The University of Phoenix, a for-profit network of online courses and operations in several cities including Memphis, is a key sponsor.

Cameraman Willie Witte (left) and producer Dan Ford
The basic question, Ford said, is pretty much this: "If you don't know where you want to go after college or while you're in college, how do you make a life and career that fulfills you?"

The idea is that by showing how other people came to grips with their failures and uncertainty, people watching Roadtrip Nation on PBS or using its curriculum in high school or college will take heart and find their own selves and their own definition of success.

"You see where people are at now but you don't see the hard and winding path to get there," said Ford, 29, in his seventh year with the project. "You have to fail to keep moving forward."

The inside of the RV was comfortable but not plush. Olivia ZanFardino, the only woman in the group, does most of the driving. So far she's accident free.

In New Orleans, the team interviewed a chef and an urban designer. Several of the interviewees over the years did not go to college, dropped out or changed careers in mid-life. "Renegade engineers" are especially commonplace, the crew said.

There are others who found their calling early, like the guy they met in Louisiana who wrestles alligators.

"He jumped right in the water to give us a demonstration," said ZanFardino. "The alligator looked like it was scared of him, like it knew this guy is not to be messed with. He told us he had been doing it since he was ten years old."

Memphis station WKNO does not broadcast the program but it can be viewed online.

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