Roadtrip Nation: A Revolution Rolling In A Green RV (Interview With Michael Marriner)

The Roadtrip: a philosophical journey in search of yourself? Or a cliché response to “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”? Taking a roadtrip cross-country has always had an air of adventure as well as avoidance, so it doesn’t seem surprising that college graduation seems to inspire many a journey. What better moment to panic about who you are, then when everyone is waiting with great anticipation for you to do something with yourself? For Mike and Nathan, graduating from Pepperdine University was just another step on the road of life. Mike would head off to Med School and Nathan would embark on a career in business and both would be successful and happy and eventually live in white houses with picket fences. On the surface it looked like they knew who they were and where they were going, but brewing underneath was an instinct that something wasn’t right. Mike explains, “We were about to graduate college and we’re just so frustrated because all we’ve been exposed to were traditional roads, like being a lawyer, doctor or accountant and we’re graduating college and we’re just like man, there’s got to be more to life than that, you know?”

Instead of accepting their rite of passage onto the expected roads before them, Mike and Nathan decided they’d find out where the “more to life” was by taking a roadtrip across the country. Only instead of driving around waiting for the great epiphany to occur on its own, they would seek out people from all walks of life to ask them how they had unraveled their internal map. How did they get to where they are today? And as any good explorer would do, they’d bring their discoveries back to their peers by capturing what they learned in a documentary film.

Too big an expedition to manage on their own, they recruited their friends and fellow grads, Amanda and Brian, and began searching for subjects and booking interviews. A year later the crew had bought an RV, painted it green, learned how to operate a video camera and were ready with a list of appointments that included some of the most well-respected and successful CEOs, artists and entrepreneurs in the country. With a sense of purpose burning in their back pockets, the four set out on a journey that would spark its own philosophy and turn the roadtrip cliché into ashes.

Glide caught up with co-creator Michael Marriner to get a feel for life on the road.

How did you actually come up with the idea to go talk to “leaders” — how was that idea born?

Well Nathan and I had always taken roadtrips growing up, to just go surf up the California and Oregon coast. And slowly we started doing these roadtrips to kind of talk to people from different areas and ask them how they got to where they are and we just kind of always did that growing up — we’ve been friends since Junior High School [he pauses to confirm this] yeah, sixth grade. And we never did it on a large cross-country scale. So when we graduated we were like, ‘yeah, you know those roadtrips we used to do? Surfing and talking to people about who they are and how they got there — just for fun — let’s freaking do it big time! And let’s try and film an independent documentary out of it! Let’s get a big motor home!’— we literally thought this up one night after a surf. We were surfing Malibu Point and we just kind of came back to our apartment and we’re like, ‘yeah, we can get a big motor home, and paint it green and get some film equipment’ — totally naïve. I mean I was a biology major and had no idea how to film a documentary and we just got really passionate about the idea, and ended up just taking off around the country, you know? Buying that motor home for eight grand from my friend’s dad.

How did you pick who to interview?

Ah, randomly. We went to a magazine stand, and we figured that on a magazine stand you have interests of all walks of life represented. And so we’d look in cooking magazines [to] find people associated with food and look at like fashion magazines and find people in the fashion world. Our whole goal for who to book for interviews was just broad — people we never knew existed.

Did you know anyone you wanted before you left?

Oh sure, we spent a whole year booking interviews [and building the roadtrip]. You can’t just like walk into the founder of Starbucks’ office and ask for a meeting, you know. Relentless cold calling, you know, hunting down these people. I mean by the end of the process they either loved us or they hated us. We have enemies all across the country and we have friends all across the country.

Was there anyone that you didn’t get to interview that you really wanted to?

Ah, yes. The person that we tried the most to interview was Rod Paige, the Secretary of Education. And he denied us six times — so you can put that in your article (laughs).

That’s interesting…Were most people fairly open to the idea?

For the most part people were…I mean we got rejected one out of six times. A lot of it was for scheduling and what not. But the people — you know everyone can identify with ‘what do you want to do with your life?’ because everyone was there at one point in time. And so you‘d be amazed at how cool people are to just sit down with you and share their story.

Did you learn anything from the people you met along the way who weren’t necessarily interviewees?

Oh for sure — that was the one thing we learned, you can learn from anybody, not just the founder of Starbucks, but the mechanic who fixes your tire. We had a flat tire on the Louisiana-Texas state line and some guy comes out and he’s fixing our tire and we start talking to him and this guy is freaking amazing. We ended up going to coffee with him for three hours at an old diner.

What was so amazing about him?

[This guy had…he was a POW in Vietnam. He flew helicopters in Vietnam and was a POW. Then came home and went to MIT and got his PhD in electrical engineering and…ah, just had this amazing philosophy about life. You know, what we found on the road- follow your passions. Like get back to the basics, don’t over complicate things. And what he was passionate about was fixing trucks. So he started a little truck stop on the Louisiana-Texas state line. I mean, we learned just as much from him as we did Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell computers who we met two days later.

Is there another story or classic roadtrip moment that didn’t make the movie?

We did an all night drive to get to the guy who decoded the human genome. We left at 10 at night and got there at 4 and if you look at the footage we’re just hurting. There’s a lot of funny footage of us just tired and falling asleep. I think it’s kind of funny that just like the transition we go through from being in an RV to being with like the founder of Starbucks. We’re basically trailer trash for two months on the road. If you could be a fly on the wall and see what we look like when we’re getting ready for these meetings, it’s like we have no business meeting with these people at all.

So is it, on the surface it just looks that way and once you start talking to these people it’s a different experience?

When you really dive into an interview it’s like you’re in a different world. You’re not in an RV; you’re not on a roadtrip. You’re just with this person. It’s really cool zoning into that; you kind of feel their whole bone marrow you know? And you really dive into who they are and put them back into their shoes when they were your age and kind of dissect those people.

Did any of the interviews surprise you?

Honestly the guy from Starbucks surprised me because on the outside it’s like this big corporate machine, and on the inside you talk to the guy and he’s really authentic and really real. I guess I was expecting something more corpo but he was just a really authentic person.

Do you have a favorite interview or one that you learned the most from, personally?

Um, my favorite interview….I think…what really floored me?…I felt that the lobsterman from Maine was just amazing. Just ‘cause he was so passionate and so fulfilled by what he did. That one really impacted me. Also, the founder of Starbucks was really authentic to me and really, if I had to pick a favorite it would have to be the guy that decoded the human genome, ‘cause I come from the science world and in the science world you’re lead to believe that the only way to be successful is to have a 3.8 GPA in bio chemistry and have published research and present in Las Vegas. And then we interviewed the God of the science world, Dr. Craig Ventor and he didn’t even go to college after high school. He’s like, ‘I thought academia was a particularly unrewarding experience,’ ‘I got a D- in high school physics and barely graduated from high school.’ You know, it’s just like nothing is as it seems and when you really go out and find for yourself you’ll see that the paradigm has totally shifted.

What was the biggest challenge other than the RV breaking down?

The biggest challenge, (laughs) yeah, the RV broke down so much. Honestly we missed so many interviews because of that thing.

Who did you miss?

The CEO of Caterpillar Tractors in Illinois, we missed that, and a couple of others. But yeah, the RV just broke down everywhere. Challenges — I guess one of the biggest challenges was also coming home, you know? Like when we came home from the trip we just didn’t have much going for us. It’s not like we had book contracts and sponsors before we left. So when we came home it was an amazing experience but we were in debt — majorly! And society is looking at you like ‘you’re out of college, what are you doing with your life?’ They didn’t have that window or any of that experience that we had on the road. How amazing it was and how moved we were. We were sitting on 450 hours of footage but no one can see that. That was a really challenging time for sure. Then shortly after, an article ran in Forbes magazine that kind of [told] our story. And shortly after that we got approached by Random House [about] doing a book with them. Then came Apple and we talked to them about sponsoring the production of the documentary. So literally a three month window after the Forbes magazine article we had a book contract with Random House and then we had brought on Nike and Apple to sponsor the production of the documentary. This was like a year ago. So for the last year we’ve just been in caves like writing the book and editing the documentary. And on April 1st the book came out and did really well. It’s in its third printing now – we were on the “Today” show — it reached as high as number 15 overall on And everything’s kind of like climaxing this fall. We’re going on a national tour to 12 regions across the country and in each region we’re going to have campus events and rally students to go explore the world — hit the road on their own. And also air the documentary on PBS affiliates in [the] regions that we’re hitting. It’s kind of like the launching of Roadtrip Nation, you know the philosophy and the story and everything we kind of captured on the road.

Do you see yourself doing this for a long time? I mean are you going to keep doing this?

Well yeah, that’s the dream — we’re actually starting a program on college campuses called “Behind the Wheel,” kind of like “Semester at Sea.” It’s going to be implemented in career centers and basically students can apply to get behind the wheel on their own summer roadtrips. And we’re trying to spread that on different college campuses and then we’d actually put students on the road.

In one RV?

Yeah, students apply in teams of three so they’re friends and there’s not ‘mutiny on the bounty’, you know? [They’ll go out and interview on their own] to show us their skills [as interviewers] and then we will select the team — and basically pass the torch. They would be the next student roadtrippers and then we would do a new documentary on their roadtrip and a new book on their roadtrip and basically repeat that every summer. So in it’s biggest possible sense you havBehind the Wheel programs on colleges across the country.

Who would do the filming?

We would. We started a production company called Roadtrip Productions. And that’s kind of our vision for this project, to become less two guys on top of a motor home, like on the front of the book, and more like the people behind the scenes, producing it and making it more student driven – you know, like grassroots, for students by students.

What was your impression of the students you picked up?

It was cool being around students so much ‘cause you kind of tap the pulse of our generation in terms of like the issue of trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. I think a lot of what we found from students was like — I think we’re almost reaching a breaking point in our society in terms of all the conformity and all the noise telling our generation to be this and be that. I think we’re going to see — I mean I hope that we see this movement on a national level, you know? Young people just fighting that and not succumbing to it anymore. Just breaking it and saying, you know, ‘I’m going to be who I’m going to be because this is who I am and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks and if I love cartoons then I’m going to work at Cartoon Network and be a cartoonist, and if I love coffee I’m going to start a coffee company; if I love being a lobsterman I’m going to work to be a lobsterman.’ I think we’re starting to see that in our generation whereas a few years ago — even today you see a lot of conformity, a lot of people going to law school for the wrong reasons or med school. I mean if you love law then go for it — I’m just saying that a lot of people are doing it for the wrong reasons. And I think what we’re about to see is a national shift in perspective among our generation in terms of how they define their own roads in life in stead of following what someone else tells them to do.

What have you learned about yourself through this whole thing?

Probably just have more confidence in myself and who I am. I think a lot of times you have so many messages from society telling you who to be and what to do and who you’re supposed to be and deep down we all know who we are, you know what I mean? It’s really hard to listen to that and have confidence in that and it’s just a tiny perspective shift, but once you kind of change that perspective and get a little bit of confidence in who you are, you start making decisions in your life that are more in tune with who you are instead of what other people think you should be. And I think after sitting through all these interviews, it just gives you confidence and it’s like wow, life’s not about living for you parents, or for your teachers or society, it’s about living for yourself and making decisions based on that. And if I’m a roadtripper than I’m a roadtripper — this is what I like to do. So, I’m not going to med school and I have confidence in that and this is how I am — in all parts of your life.

What do you think your other roadtrippers, Amanda, Brian and Nathan learned? Did they learn anything personally that you saw happen?

Well it’s interesting cause it’s looking at where all three of them came from. Nathan came from a family of businessmen, and he was going out to kind of walk into those shoes. But his passion was design and being creative. And if I can speak for Nathan he learned that it’s ok to be a designer and be creative and that’s what he did with Roadtrip Nation. He does a lot of the editing he’s like this genius creative filmmaker man. And if you watch the documentary it’s just amazing what he’s done. What he’s done — that’s just who he is. He’s not a businessman. And with Brian, Brian grew up in a family business so it’s the same thing. It’s just kind of like how he was brought up and Amanda was brought up to be a teacher. And we all kind of came from these boxed lifestyles.

How do you think you’ve grown as a group?

Definitely our friendships are deeper now. You know whenever you go through experiences like that and build things like we have, I mean it’s one thing to go out on the road and do that but to actually take it to the next step too it’s actually been really special. ‘Cause like we went on the roadtrip and had that, like any other group of friends that travel Europe together, but then we’re actually able to go through the process of sharing it. You become like a team. On one side we’re a group of friends who like to roadtrip and on the other side we’re like this team of people that are committed to this total cause, this mission for our generation — that really bonds us together.

When you guys sit around and talk about it, is there one story or something that comes up that you guys laugh about or find a bonding moment, like ‘oh yeah, that was the coolest thing?’

I keep getting back to Maine, that was a good time. We developed an alter ego on the road too, Ray, he’s like the fifth man — what do you call those things? – like an imaginary friend, we kind of laugh about that a lot.

Wait, you developed an imaginary friend and his name was Ray (laughs)?

You know, you have those late night drives and you just start talking to Ray. I don’t talk to Ray by myself — I’ll be driving and Brian will be sitting shotgun and we’ll just start talking to Ray and asking him questions and he’ll talk back — Ray’s cool. Ray is funny because he’s about four-feet tall, he’s kind of a Muppet character, he’s an entrepreneur, but at the same time he really cares for his people. And ah, the ladies love Ray. You know, that small guy in the crowd that women, they just want to hug him

L.L.Cool Ray?

Nice that’s good — go with that. Yeah, Ray’s the man. Ray really makes everything happen for Roadtrip Nation.

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