Gone to Look for America: A deep inspection of the country departs from Bend in a shag-covered RV | Local News | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Gone to Look for America: A deep inspection of the country departs from Bend in a shag-covered RV 

"She needs a name."

This is what Brad Lockwood says as he's standing in a driveway halfway up Awbrey Butte staring at a 1979 Ford Econoline RV. He takes a long look at the 22-and-a-half foot vehicle and lights a Lucky Strike cigarette as snow flurries land on the upturned earflaps of his hunting hat.

The RV actually has a name, written in brown cursive on the rear door: Van de Gran II. This is of course the name someone else slapped on it some 30 years ago and obviously won't do because this isn't just an old RV - it's Lockwood's home and office for the next two months.

This house on wheels will be the vessel in which Lockwood, a Brooklyn author who has in the past two years made Bend a second home, will sail across the country for the purpose of creating an Internet television show that could become a cable television show or eventually be made into a documentary. Accompanied by video editor and all around "crazy saint" Nicolas Mamula, who prefers to go by the moniker Hank Saga, the duo will be traveling some 200 miles per day creating 52 10-minute segments that will be immediately uploaded to their website, or-bust.com. The purpose? It's best to let Lockwood explain it.

"This time in America is a really strange moment and I think people feel that. There's a change going on and we want to create a living document. I hope that's not too cheesy," Lockwood says and laughs. He has moments of profoundness like this several times during this particular afternoon and for whatever reason, they don't come across as all that cheesy.

"We want to travel around looking for environmental, historical and interesting stories to document and upload those as real time as we can," Lockwood explains. "What we're trying to do is catch America at this moment. This goes back to earlier projects like Let us Now Praise Famous Men where James Agee and Walker Evans went out and documented people during the Depression. And we're in the middle of a depression and this is a critical moment in America where we need to retrofit. We need to rethink everything we're doing and we want to meet those people who are in the middle of it."

Lockwood has arrived at the Awbrey Butte home to take a last look and test drive of the RV before officially selecting it as the official Or Bust vehicle. At the moment, the RV is owned by a terribly helpful young man named Nolan, who is quite literally tattooed from his chin to his fingertips and probably more. Nolan opens up the back door and reveals the van's interior, which is lined with shag carpet from head to toe. Seriously. The bushy brown carpet lines both the floor and the ceiling and much in between. It's like someone put your great aunt's living room on wheels.

Lockwood grins and settles into a chair in the rear of the RV. He seems quite pleased with his selection. But why, with a solid base of investors in the project, would Lockwood choose, of all the recreational vehicles packing craigslist.com these days (the post-RV era) a 1979 Ford?

"I think the whole thing hit me when we were looking for vehicles and I saw this '79 Ford. That's what America is right now. We're aged, we're a little rusty, we're breaking down, we need a new smart grid and how do we do this?" says Lockwood as he takes driving duties over from Nolan about 10 minutes into the test drive. He adds that they plan on outfitting the RV with solar panels to power their video equipment.

Lockwood looks natural behind the wheel. And he seems to know it. He passes his digital camera to Nolan, who snaps a photo of Lockwood steering the ship down Newport Avenue as AC/DC's "Back in Black" plays over a stereo that's only one year older than the song itself.

I then realize that in the year and a half I've known Lockwood, this is the first time I've seen him behind the wheel of anything. He's usually seen walking around town - perhaps that's the New Yorker in him - but again, the '79 Ford suits him well. For much of 2008, Lockwood was a contributor for the Source (and still occasionally writes the Upfront column under the name Mick McMenaminuses), filing stories about ghost towns, sasquatch hunters and concealed handgun owners. For his first piece, I sent him to review a local play and half expected a piece lambasting our shoebox community theater in comparison to what Brooklyn has to offer. But Lockwood turned in a thoughtful piece that was partially about the woman who sat behind him eating a bag of Doritos throughout the show but mostly focused on the notion of the beauty in community theater.

Lockwood is relatively new to Bend and actually isn't a permanent resident by any means, rather dropping into town on short notice to edit his books. But it would be easy to mistake Lockwood for a local. The Bendites who know him speak of the man like an old friend and he does the same. This has helped him in raising a remarkable amount of cash for the project from in-town investors in a matter of only a couple weeks and a reason he will likely find even more support in the weeks to come.

Hank Saga is a rail-thin 25 year old with an omnipresent toothy grin and a penchant for speaking like he's reading from the collected works of Walt Whitman. He met Lockwood at a Poetry Slam, then while working on the set of Age, Sex, Location, the short film Lockwood wrote and directed last summer. On a Monday morning, having just returned from a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Colorado the night before, Saga reflects on Brad and the trip the two are about to embark on. And Saga knows a thing or two about traveling. He once planned a three-year sailing trek around the world but had it cut short only three weeks in when he had his passport stolen by a gang of children as he slept on an island beach.

"I get on board things really quickly and I'm committed to this. I dream of experiences like this so I step up really fast when something like this hits my plate," Saga says.

The Internet has become a dumping ground of sorts for endless hours of video projects. So what makes Lockwood and Saga's trek around the country something more than two dudes with a camera? Because at the end of the day, the Or Bust team is essentially, well, two dudes with a camera...and a shag-covered RV.

"Everybody I tell about this is like, 'Oh you're going to have so much fun, I wish I could go.' But the thing is, we're going to be working a lot," Lockwood says.

Although Or Bust will intentionally look like Lockwood and Saga are wandering, the trip is for the most part painstakingly planned out with the team beginning their trek in Astoria - because this is where Lewis and Clark ended their trek. Saga says Lockwood originally proposed the project as following the legendary explorers' route in reverse - and then hitting up 20 or more states before making it to the Mississippi. From there, they need to make it to a birthday party on the East Coast. And Lockwood offers few details beyond that on this subject.

"This old lady is having a birthday party and we have to be there. We have about two months to get to her birthday party and everything that we run into on the way is fodder," Lockwood says.

While Lockwood and Saga both say that they're open to documenting anything and everything they run into, Lockwood outlines a few specific locations they'll be hitting and subjects they'll be tackling. He has plans to visit a Mormon compound in Southwest Missouri, spend some time with the Hopi, and also hopes to take in several instances of people who are living on the cutting edge of sustainable living. On a more topical note, Or Bust plans to find some of Obama's economic stimulus package in action.

"We especially want to follow these stimulus dollars and see this new deal in progress," Lockwood says. "It takes a deep recession or depression to really force people to change and I want to see what people are getting into and what they're doing."

With 52 segments, all edited and uploaded to the Internet, as well as the makings for a documentary and a book soon to follow, Or Bust is unquestionably ambitious in scope. There are plenty of variables to consider and obviously things that could go wrong. But both Lockwood and Saga are confident in the project and say that if a tire blows out, well, that's just another episode.

"Is this ambitious? Not at all. Look at what faces us as a country right now. It's time for some people to just jump out and go out on a limb and do something. We need ambitious people doing things," Lockwood says, "I don't know if I'm one of them, but now is the time. This is the most exciting time to be alive."

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