Eight Weeks in America

A Love Story

"It’s Monday,” said the keyboardist at a crowded bar in Nashville, Tennessee. “You have all week to repent for this.” Then he played “Highway to Hell.”

One floor above the stage, Matthew J. Glazer ’06 and Andrew H. Golis ’06 sat at a tiny round table and listened. Late into the cross-country road trip that had occupied the last month and a half of their summer, they had exactly one week left. This might have made them feel sad, but, as one learns quickly on a road trip, a lot can happen in a week. They slouched backward and ordered drinks. Below them, women with teased hair swayed to the music. A big-bellied man lip-synched soulfully into his Budweiser, trying to serenade the object of his attention.

Later, outside the bar, a guy in a University of Pennsylvania t-shirt was shouting. “Harvard?” he asked, emitting an astonished stream of “holy shit!”s. “What are you doing here? You must be the only Harvard kids to walk down this street in—well, don’t tell anyone—holy shit!—don’t tell anyone about the Harvard thing. What are you doing here?”

He sized them up. Matt’s straightened hair had grown since the spring; it fell gracefully onto his white dress shirt, framing a full beard. Andrew, who styles his shorter blonde hair with gel and has a habit of stroking his goatee, wore small-framed glasses and Diesel jeans. “Well, you gotta try to blend in,” the Nashville native told them. “You gotta master the Woohoo! and the ye-ah.” He laughed. “Oh man, holy shit. Well,” and he looked them over one last time, “good luck.”

He wasn’t the first to offer it. Just before they began the trip, Matt and Andrew ate dinner with friends in Tribeca. Their plan was to leave New York and make a 45-degree angle into the Midwest. From there, they’d head west to Seattle, dip down the California coast into Texas, and snake east through the South. Fifteen thousand miles later, they’d end up back in New York. Their dinner companions were impressed, but wary. “They said, ‘Be careful, there’s crazy people out there,’” Andrew told me later. “Out there, quote unquote. Whatever that means.”

Traveling is standard fare for a Harvard summer, but traveling in the United States is something different. “People know the streets of Prague better than they know the streets of their own country,” Andrew told me. Indeed, representatives at STA Travel say the Harvard students they advise rarely want to remain within this country’s borders. Matt and Andrew wanted to try something different. They weren’t trying to be radical; they just figured it’d be fun.

But, like it or not, Matt and Andrew had stumbled onto a landmine. Driving in search of escape, adventure, self-realization—that’s great, but Jack Kerouac died a long time ago. In the aftermath of the 2000 election, the American road trip has become a political act. No less a figure than Bill Clinton said so in a June speech at the Washington Convention Center. “How do the Democrats win again?” Clinton asked. “We have to go to so-called ‘Red America.’ And you listen to this, every single one of you listen: Wanna know how we can win again? There can be no single person we do not see.”

None of this was on Matt and Andrew’s minds as they stood outside the bar in Nashville, trying to figure out where to go next. Sure, Matt is from Long Island, Andrew just north of San Francisco, and between them they have only ever lived in sky blue, major metropolitan areas. But by that night in late July, all that stuff in the middle was starting to feel like what it is: their country.

Wearing exactly zero cowboy hats between them, they said goodbye to the stranger, shook his hand, and accepted his offer of luck. Not that they needed it.

FOR WHAT?

“New York to New York, by way of America,” Matt had said when the guy in the Penn shirt asked what they were doing in Nashville. The truth is, the exact details depend on whom you ask.

In Matt’s telling, providence played a leading role. At the start of last year, someone posted a map of the United States at the bottom of Winthrop’s F entryway; around the same time, Winthrop’s housing director assigned Matt and Andrew to F-43. It was like when the stars pulled Romeo and Juliet to the same costume party, except without the untimely deaths. Soon, they were spending idle time at the bottom of the entryway, staring at those 50 states, so many oddly shaped unknowns, longing. By the spring they made their intentions clear, and by Commencement they were officially committed.

Andrew is less romantic. “I remember us at a certain point kind of jokingly being like, ‘Oh, we should travel around a little bit,’” he told me. “And then at one point we were like, ‘We should really do that. Do you want to do that? Okay, let’s do that.’ And then the rest of the year—neither of us had an internship or anything—‘We’re still doing this, right? ’Cause I haven’t applied for—we’re still doing this, right?’”

Road-tripping across the country may be the last American cliché that is also simultaneously a revolt. To do it requires the ability not to do anything else, a special challenge in the summer before one’s senior year, when so many Harvard students exit internships with job offers in hand. Friends and classmates struggled to grasp the concept; “going on a trip” didn’t seem like much of a plan. “For what?” people would ask. “What are you doing? Is this for your thesis?” Matt and Andrew have long been of the David Brooks, today’s-college-students-have-sold-their-souls school of thought, so issuing an emphatic “no” probably brought each a fair amount of satisfaction. Why were they dropping everything to drive around America in a 1999 Volvo sedan? Just ’cause.

The concept may have been difficult to grasp in part because Matt and Andrew might be this school’s least likely candidates for rebels against the Harvard grind. Last spring, when Matt ran for Undergraduate Council president, in a campaign even his predecessors agree was the best organized in UC history, Andrew was his number-one asset. As campaign manager, he woke up at seven every morning to prepare a schedule for Matt and his running mate, Clay T. Capp ’06. He organized an army of supporters to escort Matt and Clay around the dorms for door-knocking and quick chats, ordering each escort to politely yank him out should Matt, who likes to talk, spend more than five minutes in one place.

Since then, Matt’s job has taken up nearly all of his time and much of his sleep—frequently this summer he would excuse himself from a relaxed meal to use his Blackberry—but he has no regrets. “I love it,” he told me. “I love my job. I have a lot of exploring to do, but I really do love having a public service job.”

Elected office is probably not in the cards for Andrew. “Relax, think, and prepare for the revolution,” he signed a blog post this July. Andrew claims the revolution talk is 100 percent a joke, but his record suggests otherwise. He is a former director of the Harvard Progressive Advocacy Group (HPAG), a project to revitalize campus activism that he helped found his freshman year. He is founder of Cambridge Common, a blog designed to challenge what he calls the campus’s “political monologue.” He is a Crimson columnist who specializes in passionate calls-to-arms for large-scale campus activism. In his spare time this year, he plans to launch a campaign against final clubs.

This summer, though, he was just driving. Sure, it was a little hard to believe. After all, that UC campaign was pretty successful. Why stop at Harvard? Why not introduce themselves to the rest of the country? But the fact is, though they live and breathe politics, Matt and Andrew happened upon the trip with little forethought and less planning. This is probably not what Bill Clinton had in mind. But in the future, he might consider writing it into his philosophy because, as it turns out, falling in love with your country is a pretty convenient way to figure it out.

‘MONEY’ FOR MY ‘HONEY’

“Travel is the best education,” said a woman in a New Orleans park exactly five days before Matt and Andrew arrived in Nashville. She had pushed a cart full of electronic equipment next to a huge oak tree. Wires from the cart connected to soil on the ground and then up into three pairs of headphones worn by her assistants, kids about our age. “What are you guys doing?” Matt asked. They were listening for termites, what were we doing?

The day had begun, like fortunately few days that summer, with the smell of vomit and the sound of retching. Matt and Andrew had been out until 4 a.m. drinking on Bourbon Street—New Orleans’ main stretch, where, before Hurricane Katrina drowned the city, Mardi Gras beads were available year-round and brightly lit bars served frozen cocktails from spinning machines, 7-Eleven-style. But the vomiting was all courtesy of an anonymous roommate they’d met in the bunk beds of their hostel, a place called India House. They shrugged it off, washed their faces, and got into the Volvo.

Though they spent nights in a series of hostels, motels, and friends’ homes, the car served as the pair’s real home this summer. In the front, they kept their travel guides, which they would consult before nearly every major decision, learning brief histories of each city, as well as brief overviews of its lodging, tourism, and restaurant options. In the back, stacks and stacks of maps. One contained all 48 contiguous states. Every time they arrived in a new state, whoever sat in the passenger seat would pull out this map and then check the state off in light pencil; when I joined them in New Orleans, 26 of the states had been checked.

If travel really is the best education, information overload may be travel’s most overlooked risk. Six weeks in, here are some of the things Matt and Andrew had already learned: that “rodeo” is often a euphemism for sex; the seductive appeal of fried pickles; that, according to Boston Market, “corn and convenience should not be mutually exclusive”; that, according to experience, nine times out of ten waitresses in bars are not actually interested in sleeping with you; the name of Paul Bunyan’s ox (Babe), and the size of his balls (very big); a whole lot about American history, but less about American art; the state bird of South Dakota.

Early in the trip Matt and Andrew had taken precautionary measures against the inevitable information overload and started a diary. But it didn’t last. The third time they used it, someone struck their Volvo hard on its side. Suddenly superstitious, they never wrote anything down again. They told me this as we walked toward an outdoor café in New Orleans’ French Quarter, ruled at the time by a bizarre economic love triangle. Tourists shared the space equally with the homeless, drunk, and destitute, who entertained them to get by; meanwhile, dozens of missionaries in bright orange shirts roamed the streets, handing out hygiene packets to the homeless, and occasionally looking at bead-festooned tourists like they’d be happy to say a prayer for them too.

When we got to the café, we ordered frozen lattes and powdered donuts. To our left, a man whose entire body was painted silver stood on a block of plywood and posed. Behind us, another had draped Mardi Gras beads around his neck and propped a handwritten sign in front of him: MAKING ‘MONEY’ FOR MY ‘HONEY,’ it said. I pointed to the sign. “Yeah,” Matt said. “We’ve seen a lot of misused quotes.” It was one of the few broad conclusions they shared the whole week.

“When we were imagining the trip, we imagined that we’ll be sitting in, like, St. Louis, and it’ll just be: St. Louis, St. Louis, St. Louis—just soaking it all up,” Matt explained. “But it’s not like that. It’s just normal.” Andrew nodded. “There’s no great epiphany,” he said. “It’s not like there is some moment when you’re like, ‘Aha! Now I understand!’”

Nevertheless, they were confident they wouldn’t leave the trip having learned nothing. Experience made Matt sure of that: he’d had only five minutes with the Harvard students whose dorms he visited during last spring’s campaign, but he said he left the blitz knowing more about them than when he started. “I totally understand,” Matt said when I asked him if he was serious. “It doesn’t seem like you could really grasp anything, but you can. You definitely learn about people.”

Of course, Harvard College is one thing. The United States of America is a much bigger thing. Andrew and Matt had to choose not only where to go, but also how to go, when to go, and how long to stay. To make these choices, they relied on one repeated question—what are we least likely ever to see again?—but also on intuition, culturally ingrained preference, and “Let’s Go.” Sometimes they were limited by what was possible (talking to a small farmer in South Dakota who let them stay in his home was great, but they could only do it because they knew his daughter from school; more often their interactions with locals were in a customer-server context), other times by what they felt was appropriate (in Memphis, they skipped hip hop clubs and stuck to blues bars, believing the latter were more representative).

Acknowledging all of this, Matt and Andrew avoided broad conclusions with fierce determination. Instead, they stuck to safer ground: story-telling. Sitting in the French Quarter, they filled me in.

What are you doing here?” a woman had asked them weeks earlier, when they visited the country’s poorest town, an Indian reservation in South Dakota with a monument to the Battle at Wounded Knee. “We’re here to pay our respects,” they said.

“Your grandparents killed my grandparents. You can’t pay your respects,” she shot back. “Get the fuck off my land. What’d you come here to do? Take pictures of my grandfather’s grave?”

The memory followed them across the country. “It was so sad,” Andrew said in Nashville, telling the story one more time. “’Cause in some sense she’s kind of right.” Both agreed seeing the reservation was worth it, despite the problems. But they didn’t forget her reaction.

“It was disturbing and kind of moving,” Matt said. “We’re thinking, ‘Why are we here?’”

OH YES YOU CAN

“I’m sick of New Orleans,” Andrew said the next morning, standing outside the Volvo to stretch before a long day’s drive. “Let’s go to a new city!” Later, he would regret leaving so soon. But at the time, he was ready to move on.

There is something indescribably exhilarating about driving fast down a highway, away from where you’ve been. As you drive, lines of flat green zip past on either side, becoming water, which becomes waves, which unfold away even faster than the green, and you feel like you just might reach that horizon, because—look—now the trucks are getting off at that exit, and Andrew is pressing down on the gas, and the Volvo is moving faster. Everything seems possible, and there is no need to worry why you are there, because, like that saying goes, there you are—and anyway, soon you’ll be gone.

It was after a long stretch of driving like this that we arrived in a Jackson, Miss., diner called the Lamar, whose design scheme paired pink flamingoes with American flags. The restaurant, like the entire capital city, was almost completely abandoned. Aside from a few friends of the sole waiter, we were the only customers. “Yeah, this is America, sure, but pretty soon we’re gonna have to speak Mexican,” the waiter was telling his friend when we stepped in. “Mexican.” We took a booth in the back and waited for someone to take our order.

“Listen,” Andrew said a few minutes later, breaking the silence. “Do you hear that?” A deep country twang rattled from an overhead speaker. It was Toby Keith’s “As Good As I Once Was”—and it was, apparently, Matt and Andrew’s absolute favorite. In the song, Keith faces a series of demanding challenges. For instance, twin sisters named Betty Sue and Bobby Jo ask him to join them in a threesome. “My body says, ‘You can’t do this boy,’ But my pride says, ‘Oh yes, you can.’” The thing is, he ain’t as good as he once was—“but I’m as good once, as I ev-er was.”

At the time, there were just a few things Matt and Andrew didn’t know about Toby Keith. They did not know that before he turned to music, he worked as a rodeo hand. They did not know that he once bragged that before him, “there was zero attitude in country music.” And they did not know that he was the author of the 2001 “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue.” In that song, Keith promised retribution to the terrorists responsible for the “mighty sucker punch” of September 11, 2001. “You’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A, ’cuz we’ll put a boot in your ass,” he sang. “It’s the American way.” All they knew was: they loved his song.

When we left the Lamar, we got back into the Volvo and onto the highway. Andrew put on the radio, moving between stations until he found the local country one. Soon, he was turning the volume way up, and he and Matt were belting out along with Keith, lowering the windows so the whole highway could hear them.

Country radio, I learned, is simultaneously the most fun and the most embarrassing music to sing along to in public. To do it, one must let go of all pride, adopt a serious twang, and periodically howl. Often, the words one must howl are ‘country’ or ‘love,’ but in one currently popular case, ‘alcohol.’ In three years living together, Matt and Andrew have suffered greater embarrassments. They howl with pride.

The long stretch of driving from New Orleans ended two days later, in Memphis. We had visited a plantation in Louisiana’s swampland, passed dozens of trailer homes, left behind many stalks of corn, and checked another state off the map. Memphis was frozen in a traffic jam, but there it was: urban, alive.

“Hey,” Andrew said, offering Matt his fist. “28!” And they commenced with their customary pound. (Every time they entered a new state, Matt and Andrew consecrated the moment by touching fists.) A few minutes later, Matt plugged in the radio adapter they’d bought for their iPod and hit play. Slow piano filled with the car, and then Marc Cohen’s voice, and then the drums: “Put on my blue suede sho-oes, …touch down in the land of the De-elta blues… I was walking in Memphis!” Sitting in the driver’s seat, Andrew looked out his window, embarrassed; a baseball game had just ended, and happy fans were passing the Volvo in droves. “Hold on,” he said to Matt. “I’ve gotta roll up my window first.”

Two weeks earlier, driving into Las Vegas, Matt and Andrew had played “Luck Be a Lady.” In Arizona, Matt had steered them temporarily off course into Winslow, where he’d stood on a street corner as their stereo blasted the Eagles’ “Take it Easy.” Then he asked Andrew to take his picture. Days later, “Sweet Home Alabama” would welcome us to Birmingham. For purposes of cultural immersion, pop radio is often sufficient, in its limited, capitalist way. After all, even the locals listen to Clear Channel. But sometimes, an i-Pod is also useful.

The Volvo’s windows tightly secured, they sang along.

SPOILIN’ FOR A FIGHT

Just before I joined them on the trip, Andrew and I spoke on the phone to make final arrangements. “You realize we’re mostly going to be sight-seeing during the day and drinking heavily at night?” he asked. “We’re not doing any, like, sociological research or polls or anything.”

In Memphis, this meant that after a day spent at the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, we jumped out of our hotel and into a cab, instructing the driver to take us to Beale Street. He obliged, and gave us a tour along the way. The city, like many Matt and Andrew visited, is in the process of trying to revitalize its downtown. Unlike many cities they visited, however, in Memphis the project actually seemed to be working.

Just to get onto Beale Street, which is closed to cars in the evening hours, we had to pull out our IDs and prove our age. Inside the gate, brightly dressed revelers tripped down the clean streets. Mosquitoes were everywhere, as were, we realized, bachelorette parties: flocks of heavily made-up women trying hard to get another woman, identical to them except for her painfully nervous manners and lace veil, as intoxicated as possible.

“Yeah,” a petite blonde woman named Erin told Matt and Andrew later that night, in a bar called the Blues City Café. “I was supposed to have my bachelorette party here too.” She laughed. “I didn’t make it past dinner.”

Beale Street’s heat had pulled us to Blues City, where we’d been greeted by the bouncer, an enormous man in a black leather vest and a long skinny ponytail that fell greasily onto his back. The band didn’t look much different: their hair all long, frizzy, and pulled back into awkward ponytails. Matt and Andrew exchanged skeptical looks. “They look like they should be members of the Dungeons and Dragons club or something,” Andrew whispered.

But soon, the Magic nerds were rocking, pulling more soul out of their banjos than it seemed possible for undersized string instruments to contain. Matt and Andrew were transfixed. Half an hour later, Erin abandoned her stool and introduced herself as a friend of the bass player—he was Erin’s husband’s cousin, and that was her husband, over there, and that girl spinning on the dance floor? That was the bass player’s other cousin. Soon, Erin was sitting down, telling us about her bachelorette party, and then about her wedding, and how she desperately wanted children, but she was 28, losing time. Maybe it was just too late.

Later, her husband Matt joined us, and our Matt pulled him a chair. The conversation turned to politics. The older Matt said he was a Democrat, and Andrew asked why Al Gore’s home state had gone to Bush. “Well, you know, there’s a ton of rednecks here in Tennessee,” he replied. “And after 9/11, they were spoilin’ for a fight.” Andrew nodded. “But now—what? two years later?—they’re still serving in Iraq, and they just want to come home. They don’t understand why they have to be taking care of someone else’s country.”

After some silence, everyone ordered another drink, and the band gained steam. Earlier in the night, Matt, Andrew, and I had watched an Elvis impersonator perform. “Everyone in this town has some connection to Elvis,” the older Matt said when we told him about it. “Like me. I went to high school with Lisa Marie Presley.” He let that sit and then turned to Matt and Andrew: “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did you bang her?’” Then he reached out to Andrew for a high five. “Yeah I banged her!”

Andrew hesitantly returned it, looking wary. Erin rolled her eyes. Nearby, a girl who had spent the last 30 minutes eyeing the dance floor gathered her courage and bounded forward. On her way, she knocked into Matt Glazer, grabbing his hand in what I assume was meant to look like an apology. Soon, they were dancing.

When we got back to the Red Roof Inn that night, Matt collapsed on his bed, pulled his hands behind his neck, and went over the night out loud. In the cab ride, he had christened the various women he’d met with a series of pet names: Baby, for Erin, who wanted a baby, Spinny, for the bassist’s cousin, Jumpy, for the girl who jumped into him. At the Red Roof Inn, he repeated them again, like the names of stars in a newly discovered constellation. “Oh God,” Andrew had groaned two days earlier, when Matt told me how, lying on his back in the open landscape of Yosemite National Park, he had seen a shooting star. But Matt had not cared; his earnestness comes without apology. Baby, Jumpy, Spinny, he repeated. Then he fell asleep.

NOISE FOR OUR TROOPS

“Well, holy shit.” The boy in the Penn shirt had finally finished screaming, but before saying goodbye: some advice. “You don’t want to be here,” he said, gesturing to the bar we’d just left. “It’s 80s night here. You want to hear real honky tonk shit. Go down the street, that way.” This was useful information. Matt had a song he wanted to hear.

It sometimes took him a while to break out of his UC zone this summer, but in between organizing the fall concert and working on electronic registration, Matt Glazer found time for himself. In Louisiana, he stripped to his boxers on a populated street on the side of the Mississippi River, screaming that he was being attacked by ants (which was true: they crawled over him with the purpose of an army). In New Orleans, he tried to beat a pool shark at his own game. And in Nashville, he let his Blackberry sit in his pocket while he focused on bigger things. Toby Keith’s power over him was so strong that weeks later, when I met up with him in D.C., he seemed to light up just talking about that night. “It was an emotional roller coaster,” he said, eyes glazing over.

The high began with his request, which he made at the next place, a bar called Tootsie’s. It took a little bit of deliberation, but soon he was rushing to the front, where the band stood. Then he rejoined Andrew and me at a back table.

“Make some noise for our troops,” came the singer’s voice, introducing his next song. “Start ringin’ the bell…,” he began. Nobody didn’t know the words to this song. On “God bless our troops,” everybody raised their drinks in a toast. In place of the beer he didn’t have, an unshaven man who said he was a Vietnam vet raised his hand.

Matt and Andrew joined in the cheers, but when the singer got to the part about the Statue of Liberty shaking her fist, they her fist, they quieted down and took their seats. What is this? I asked. “It’s like that guy was saying in Memphis,” Andrew whispered. “Spoilin’ for a fight.” “Jingoistic crap,” Matt added later, in the car. “Do they even know what this war is about?” But neither Matt nor Andrew shared that the song was Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”—that was something they still didn’t know.

Instead, Matt turned his attention to a Toby Keith song that was not playing. Thirty minutes after he’d requested it, he had still not heard “As Good As I Once Was.” His high was deflating. Sipping a Budweiser, he stood up and stared at the front. The song ended and another one came on. It was not “As Good As I Once Was.” Matt shook his head and retreated to the bathroom, resigned. He did not expect to make any conversation when, from his right, a growling voice: “Today is my 53rd birthday.” It was the unshaven Vietnam vet, sickly thin, in an old t-shirt and a worn-down hat. He smelled foul. “I don’t have any money. Haven’t even had one beer, and it’s my 53rd birthday.” Matt, pretty dejected himself, listened.

Back in the bar, the singer was leaning over his microphone. “This one is for the kid in the marijuana-smoking section in the back,” he said, and then he did it. “I ain’t as good as I once was… But there was a time, back in my prime, when I could re-ally lay it down...” Andrew and I looked desperately for Matt. Thankfully, he had run from the bathroom just in time, pumping his hands high in the air. So what if the singer had misinterpreted his long hair. That was it! His song! He pumped his hands in the air one more time and grinned.

According to Andrew’s psychology professor, falling in love comprises three parts: first comes lust; then comes obsession; and then, when those die, the hardest part: partnership. You realize the other person is not perfect, and she grows some unfortunate facial hair, but you stay with her anyway. It’s hard, but for love, people really do that.

The song continued, and I thought Matt would want to enjoy it in the company of his best friend. Instead, he walked to the bar, bought two Budweisers, and brought them back—one for him, one for the Vietnam vet. “Happy birthday,” he said.

Weeks later, the trip over, Matt and Andrew were off the road—and back online. Browsing Google, they learned the full scope of Toby Keith’s repertoire. But when Matt talked to his parents about the last eight weeks, he mentioned “As Good As I Once Was” anyway and even downloaded the song for them to hear. So he and Toby Keith had some ideological differences; so what?

***

The only thing predictable about a road trip, Matt and Andrew repeatedly told me, is that nothing is predictable. But in my week with them, a routine emerged: they would say how thankful they were to be able to take the trip, and then, like thunder after lightning, they would say that everyone in America who could should do the same thing. True, they’ll never really get America, just like no matter how hard they try, no one will ever know what Harvard students really want. But, Matt says, “between no understanding and a better understanding is a big difference.”

It probably wouldn’t hurt if everyone across the land stopped what they were doing, went to Triple A, and picked up a stack of TripTiks, but it is also probably a little bit unfeasible. Travels around America will in all likelihood remain what they seem to have irrevocably become: the domain of retirees, foreign tourists, and the occasional presidential nominee. At best, a handful of members of Matt and Andrew’s generation with the means and the balls to drop everything and drive will suck up their pride and join the silver-haired crowds. Most likely, however, they will not arrive in a 1999 Volvo, but on a campaign bus. They might not even set foot in the cities. They might just look out the window of Air Force One.

“Politicians are saying, ‘We understand your pain,’” Andrew said in mid-August, a month after his trip ended and a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city where I had first joined him and Matt. “Clearly, I could feel it a little bit more and conceptualize it a little more because I’d been there. There’s people that we know there.”

“We’re never going to be able to call them up and talk to them again,” Matt said. “But we hope and wonder.”

A few weeks before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Matt and Andrew ended their trip in Matt’s house in East Rockaway, New York. Not forgetting their superstition, but worrying that they might forget everything that happened, they decided to act. How would they compress the eight weeks into words? Instead of writing down all the places they’d been or all the things they’d thought, Andrew told me, they recorded something I’ve never before seen in a travelogue: the names of all the people they’d met. “Yeah, that took forever,” Matt confirmed, laughing. “We’re still not finished.”

That was mid-August. More than a month later, when this magazine went to press, they were on number 72.