The official blog for the documentary, "Happy Hunting."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cross-Country Tripin' Journal!

Below is the very, very, very lengthy Parts 1-4 of our cross-country trip. I must admit that Darren, the Boston Herald reporter who hosted my entries, did a much better job in regards to the page layout. So I suggest checking out the blog there if you seem to go dizzy reading it on my page.

The postings can be read here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Otherwise, here are the postings below. I'll find some way to add the online photo albums as well.


Tuesday, May 20th
Day 1: Boston – Niagara Falls, Ontario

It was a little difficult to get everything together on time on the first day of our road trip—I had just graduated from Emerson the day before, and was still trying to process all of that. Graduation was a lot of fun, but of course, in typical Prowell fashion, I wiped out before the ceremony began! Thankfully it wasn’t in front of the audience, but I still managed to do it in front of all the grads. In addition, while I was able to protect the camera I was using, the same couldn’t be said for my tailbone, which hit the marble floor of the Wang Theatre like a ton of bricks! So I pretty much hobbled around for the rest of the day, which I guess could be looked at as a blessing in disguise: I was in so much pain, it kept me from being all emotional during the ceremony! No tears! I was convinced I would have had my own Niagara Falls streaming from my eyes ☺. Of course, all that pain didn’t keep me from still filming the ceremony, and my degree acceptance. Yes, I can proudly say that I was the only grad student who walked on stage with a video camera. It gave everyone a good laugh, and in addition, I got to capture life in true cinema verite style.

After Commencement, Emerson held a lovely reception outside on the Common, with music and a ton of food. We all gathered there to take advantage of some last minute Kodak moments, but it was SO windy! Any Bostonian will tell you how horrendous the wind can be on the Common, especially between Boylston and Tremont. I’ve been to Chicago a few years ago, and I really think they should reconsider giving Boston the title of “Windy City.” It never stops blowing!! Ever!! Even when it’s a solid 87 degrees outside, people are still getting whipped around. And that’s how it was on Monday, except it was chilly, too. So my whole little dress and flip-flops outfit wasn’t really working (Ryan wants me to tell everyone that he kept nagging me to bring a coat, and I didn’t listen).

Anyway, we ended up joining friends and eating dinner at the Union Oyster House (JFK’s favorite restaurant) over by Faneuil Hall. The food and company were great, and I got a moment to ice my tailbone!

So when I woke up on Tuesday morning to take my parents to the airport, it was no surprise that I couldn’t walk too easily without having some stabbing pains go through my lower back. I was hoping it would be a temporary pain, but as I write this now, a few days later, I’m still pretty uncomfortable! But the excitement I have over the trip has made it easy to ignore the pain.

Not to mention the article about Happy Hunting in the Herald!! I woke up early to read it online, but was shocked when I actually saw it in print (as the centerfold page and with color photos!). It was very surreal to see us there, especially under the American Idol weekly write-up. When I arrived at my parent’s hotel to take them to the airport, my dad greeted me with an armful of copies of the Herald. He then proceeded to tell everyone at the airport how I was in the paper and “a celebrity.” It was all very adorable, but I wouldn’t have been as embarrassed had I actually gotten dressed that morning: trying to stay as comfortable as possible in my broken condition, I had worn an Emerson hoodie, sweatpants, and flip-flops, and hadn’t even put in my contacts or (gasp!) brushed my teeth! So anyone who saw the newspaper article kind of did a double-take and said “Is that you?”

Once I returned from dropping off my parents (and buying 12 more copies of the Herald), I finished packing and met up with Ryan, who had picked up our rental car, a Toyota Corolla. I was pretty happy with the fact we got a Corolla—while it doesn’t really seem like a midsized vehicle like the rental company promised, it does get great gas mileage. It’s a peppy little car, as well. We made a stop at CVS to pick up some waters and a box of Icy Hot instant heading pads for my tailbone. The thing pretty much looks like a diaper when wrapped around my back, but I can’t complain. When you’re sitting in the car all day with a lower back injury, you’ll do whatever it takes to stay comfortable!

We left Boston around 2pm and arrived in Niagara Falls at 10:30pm. The ride was pretty uneventful: We had our trusty Trip Tix, compliment of AAA, as well as Juanita, our Garmin GPS, which was a graduation gift from my dad, to keep us from getting lost. Yes, I named it Juanita. I also named our car Dexter. I have a habit of naming inanimate objects.

We relied on area radio stations until about 5:30pm. Then everything was either static or country, so we got out the iPod. First album of choice? Collective Psychosis Begone by Hallelujah the Hills, an incredibly talented rock band from Allston. Their song, “Wave Backwards to Massachusetts” was definitely appropriate for our trip.

We stopped off at a rest stop somewhere in Western Mass, and I am very ashamed to admit that we ate McDonalds. I had some weird chicken sandwich thing and I believe Ryan got a Big Mac, which he probably deserved after having to carry all my luggage and equipment out of my apartment and into the car.

Heading into New York near Albany, we almost went off the road when we saw gas prices: $3.99! Holy crap! I guess I was thinking the more rural you get, the less gas costs, but I was wrong. Since moving to Boston, I have been car-free, and occasionally rent during holidays. I was aware that gas has been going up and hit over $4 on the West Coast, but yikes! I didn’t think it was going to get this high this fast. I’m just going to go ahead and blame that on the unmentionable leader of our country ☺

Ryan and I switched off driving and shooting, and we were able to get some beautiful sunset shots over I-90 in New York. After driving through the dark for what seemed like forever, we arrived at Niagara Falls, which looked like a mini-Vegas all lit up with skyscrapers and casinos at night. We arrived at our hotel, exhausted, but in good spirits (no fighting over iPod tunes!), and we rushed to the top of the hotel to see if we could see the Falls. Of course, the hotel had locked the roof access, so we were able to sneak a peak through a side window on the top floor. The Falls are lit up like a rainbow at night, and they’re absolutely stunning. I went outside to get some exterior shots of the hotel and the city, and collapsed into bed, “back diaper” attached, around 11:30pm.
Wednesday, May 21st
Day 2: Niagara Falls – Cleveland

We woke up around 8am on Wednesday morning and decided to start our day off with a swim in the hotel’s heated indoor pool. From there, I tried to soak my tailbone in the Jacuzzi for about a half hour, which seemed to help a bit. Since I was still in a good deal of pain, poor Ryan had to carry my camera backpack around. The backpack is on loan to us from my friend/fellow Emersonian, and it is specifically designed to hold camera equipment. It’s also massive and resembles a turtle shell. “It’s not that I mind carrying this around all day,” Ryan said. “But seriously, I’m smashing into people every time I turn around.” After our swim, we got ready, had breakfast, and headed down to see the Falls, which are SO much more impressive in the daylight! And they’re so much mistier than I realized, which I was kicking myself about: in a state of “Yay, it’s May!” delusion, I had packed nothing but a hooded sweatshirt and light summer clothing. And it was freeeezing once we got close to the Falls. Luckily, my classmate had also loaned me the raincoat for his backpack, as well as a rain hood for the camera, which kept the camera nice and dry as we got closer to the Falls. We headed down to the Maid of the Mist ride, but we were both a little worried as we got closer: Ryan gets seasick pretty easily, and I’m pretty clumsy at times, and the way the boat was rocking up and down and throwing people about right near the Falls just didn’t sit well with either of us. But we decided to suck it up and do it anyway “Think about the amazing footage we’ll get!”—and we had an awesome time. Plus, not a drop of water on the camera! If only I could have said the same thing about us.

We left the Falls and started on our way to Cleveland (and I made it through Customs without them trying to take my footage, hurray!). We stopped off in Western NY, to switch off with driving and grab some lunch (Denny’s, ugh!). Ryan is convinced that Denny’s tried to poison him, that’s right, not food poisoned, but poisoned. This caused us to have to make an emergency pit stop in the middle of the woods somewhere along I-90. And them another one at a rest stop in Erie, PA. But at least we got to see Lake Erie, and take some sweet photos under the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign.

Something funny or interesting always seems to happen whenever we don’t have the camera running! We passed by a giant “Fireworks! Karate Supplies! Knives and Swords!” sign somewhere in Pennsylvania. There was also a memorial field with an old B-52 plane and graves along the highway, and a giant statue of a Native American. It’s so tough to be able to capture everything you see unless you’re shooting 24/7. But I am certain that we’ll have more of these moments where we’ll actually be shooting and be able to capture these unique monuments.

We hit construction on the way to Cleveland, which delayed our arrival time of about 45 minutes. As soon as we arrived to my cousin’s house in Cleveland Heights, she stated, “Back in the car!” and we headed out to dinner at a jazz club with she and her husband, and their two adorable kids, Jenna, who is 5, and CJ, who is 15 months. After dinner, I got to read Jenna a bedtime story, and then passed out on the couch with Ryan while watching The Daily Show.
May 22nd
Day 3: Cleveland

We woke early to spend the morning at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then lunch at Slyman’s, which is hailed for its corned beef sandwiches, and then Jacobs Field, home of the Cleveland Indians.

I first visited the Rock Hall a year ago, and it still remains my favorite museum of all time. A must for any music buff!! It’s situated right on the water, next to the Museum of Science, as well as the Browns Stadium. But as I prepared to get a full day of shooting there, I was soon greeted by a large sign at the door of the Rock Hall. “No cameras!!” No way!! We couldn’t even bring our digital camera in. I missed out on some great interview opportunities because of it-- there were so many high school field trips there, and very excited kids.

So while we have no visual record of what we saw, I can certainly give you a highlight: Jimi Hendrix’s childhood drawings, Janis Joplin’s glasses, original costumes worn by Mick Jagger, the Beatles, and David Bowie, Michael Jackson’s rhinestone glove (and his red Thriller jacket!), Madonna’s notorious cone-shaped brassiere, plus a handwritten letter from her to a college friend back when she was a freshman at the University of Michigan. The museum also had original film cameras (and film stock!) used by D.A. Pennebaker in his Monterrey Pop film, and they were showing the film within the museum. We also saw pieces of Otis Redding’s plane (very creepy), original hilarious memos written by Hunter S. Thompson during his days at Rolling Stone magazine, the very first Les Paul guitars, a huge Polaroid mosaic of the Talking Heads (created by David Byrne himself), and an incredible Doors exhibit, which included Jim Morrison’s childhood boy scout uniform. The list goes on and on, so you’ll have to go there yourself and check it out!

In the end, we spent a total of FIVE HOURS at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (we had planned for 2-3). We missed out on Slyman’s, but my cousin promised us we’d go to dinner in Little Italy. We also missed out on touring Jacobs Field, but we made it our mission to tour Wrigley in Chicago.

Unfortunately, the chilly weather kept a lot of people indoors while we were at the Rock Hall, so we didn’t get to talk to many people. We did, however, interview Jenna, my cousin’s 5 year-old daughter, who happily told us that happiness is “playing bowling on Wii and listening to Hannah Montana.”

We finished the day with a wonderfully authentic Italian dinner in Cleveland’s bustling Little Italy district, and pistachio gelato. We took the kids to a local playground and slid down slides and swung on swings (which made both Ryan and I nauseous—we’re getting really old). Ryan and Jenna both hung on the jungle gym bars, and I watched in awe as Baby CJ climbed up to the top of the slide all by himself. Of course, I didn’t bring my camera to capture these happy moments, and I left my digital camera in the car, but I was almost glad that we had this experience to share just between the two of us.

May 23rd
Day 4: Cleveland-Chicago

My cousin Jeanne had taken both the kids to school, and wanted to give us a larger tour of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. Both towns reminded me of Chestnut Hill back in Boston. We were informed that all the large estates were homes to family members and wealthy employees of John Rockefeller. She then took us to the historic Lake View Cemetery. The gorgeous, sprawling cemetery also doubles as a park and a place where people get married. It’s home to President Garfield’s remains, which rest in a giant, towering memorial. We took a trip there and even went into the crypt where his casket lies. We also visited the graves of John D. Rockefeller, Eliot Ness (who was responsible for busting Al Capone on tax evasion), and a really creepy statue of a crying angel.

After the cemetery tour, we went to Jenna’s school to pick her up, and I filmed her running out with her classmates, all excited to begin their holiday weekend. We took Jenna to her favorite restaurant, Tommy’s, which reminded me of something right out of Davis Square. It’s very family friendly, as well as vegetarian friendly. Jenna informed us that Tommy’s makes “the best” milkshakes, so of course we each had one: Chocolate Chip Mint and Moosetracks.

We then toured a toy store right next door, but this was no ordinary toyshop: they had a whole section of vintage (read: 1980s) toys! Ryan went nuts once he saw all his old GI Joe action figures, and I stood fixated on all the She-Ra and Jem dolls. I really wish I had saved some of my old toys!

We brought Jeanne and Jenna home, and headed off for Chicago via Indiana. I was sorry to leave Cleveland so quickly, but I hope to get back there in the fall. Ryan was impressed with how east coast the city felt, so maybe we’ll get back there for an Indians/Sox game, or a Browns game.

We enjoyed driving through Indiana because the speed limit is 70mph ☺ We also high fived each other once we hit the Central time zone sign and realized that we’d get to Chicago an hour ahead of schedule. The only thing we didn’t like about Indiana was driving through Gary—it’s a huge industrial city, but the smog was horrendous and set both of our allergies off in a frenzy. But once you’re through Gary, you can see the beautiful Chicago skyline in the distance.

Arrived in Chicago around 6:30pm central time, to our dazzling apartment building which rests on North State Street. The apartment is being used by Ryan’s dad, who has been traveling between there and Boston for the past few months. It was a beautifully furnished place, with a balcony to boot! Looking out our window, we were right down the street from the famous Chicago Theatre, and the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot buildings (any Wilco fan will know what I’m talking about). We were eager to start running through the city, but decided it was best to make an itinerary for the next day. Then we took advantage of the building’s gym (with a basketball court!), outdoor track, pool and Jacuzzi, all offering incredible views of the city.

May 24th
Day 5: Chicago!

We started the day early, and called Wrigley to see if could get tickets for a tour, but we were informed that they were all sold out. We decided to head there anyway, to get some great photos of the outside of the stadium, and to do a Perfect Strangers theme song re-enactment. We took the red line up from Grand to Addison ($5 for a 24 hour Metro pass!). When we got there, we checked with the staff at Wrigley, and they told us that they could squeeze us into a tour. Awesome! Although they did joke that they charge triple for Boston fans ☺ The staff also allowed me to film the entire 90-minute tour, which includes a walk through the team’s locker room, and taking a trip onto the field! Our cheerful tour guide, Kevin, was nice enough to announce to our tour of 50 people about Happy Hunting, so we had some great interviews inside and outside Wrigley. One young man, who just finished boot camp and is in the Reserves, told us that happiness was spending time with his family (they were there together on vacation). An older woman who was there with her sister said that happiness is when the Cubs win the World Series, “but if Boston has to win again, that would be ok, too.” Another young woman said that traveling, as well as dedicating time to volunteer work and charity organizations made her happy.

We left Wrigley and headed to the beginning of a 3-mile tour of the city. We began at Chicago’s Public Library/Cultural Center, and walked through Millennium Park, marveling at the Mirror Ball, and squirting fountains. We met a man there who redesigns bicycles to make them more “fun” for adults (radio, GPS, better back support, and a laser light system) who said he’s happy when he can share his skills with other cyclists.

From there we visited the famous Picasso statue (I think it’s a horse, Ryan thinks it’s a dog). While walking past the Marshall Field building, we decided to get lunch. “I could really go for a hot dog,” I began, and stopped dead in my tracks: across the street from us was a restaurant called America’s Dog,” and it was indeed a hot dog restaurant! Walking inside, we knew that it must have been a sign. There was a giant poster of the US on the wall, highlighting the various hot dog styles across the country, and next to that was an explanation of the poster. “The Great American Road Trip,” it began, and described how one man and his brother went across the country to discover America’s hot dogs. We knew we hit a goldmine there, and ordered two Chicago style dogs for us (tomatoes, pickles, relish, mustard, hot peppers). Of course I finished before Ryan did. While there, I noticed the manager was very friendly with her staff, encouraging them to dance to the music being played overhead. She was also nice enough to let me use the staff-only restroom. I asked her about happiness, and she told me that she had a job that she loved, and that she woke up every morning excited to go to work.

We said goodbye and walked towards Magnificent Mile. Ryan commented that it seemed like a clean Manhattan, and it’s true—the Magnificent Mile is very similar to NYC’s 5th Avenue. We headed to our next destination, the beach! We walked over to where Lake Michigan began and I walked through the sand for a bit. It was a little too chilly to go swimming, but some people were doing so. We both realized that even though the lake is enormous, something was missing: the salt air! Lake Michigan doesn’t smell like anything besides air. We were both a little homesick for the Cape at that moment.

We walked over to Navy Pier: a giant outdoor fun park. The pier offers a huge Ferris wheel, and we got in line. I was really excited over the thought of aerial footage of the city. BUSTED! A security guard came towards me screaming that she was going to take away my camera, and she didn’t care that I was making a documentary, no matter what credentials I showed her. I decided not to put up a fight, and we quickly said goodbye to the pier. Looking back, I noticed that the Ferris wheel was owned by McDonald’s, who probably didn’t want us accidentally filming any kiddie death-by-Ferris Wheels. Punks.

Not to worry, though, because our next destination was the John Hancock tower, where we were allowed to film some of the most incredible views of Chicago and Lake Michigan. I don’t know if it was the high altitude or being out in the sun all day, but we were exhausted when we left there. We headed back to our apartment to get ready for dinner. While I was getting changed, I heard Ryan turn on the TV and scream from the other room “The Celtics game!! I almost forgot!!” Being one hour behind meant the game started at 7:30pm for us, so we rushed out the door in search of a restaurant that offered both Italian food and a view of the game (passing by a “Gino’s Pizzeria” which gave us (and any Celtics fan, I’m sure) a good laugh. We found that at Maggiano’s, which made me happy because every time I’ve gone there to eat in Boston, it always has a 90-minute wait. We both had a good feeling about the game, since our day had gone so well (we are superstitious, I admit), and sure enough, our boys won on the road!

May 25th
Day 6: Chicago-Sioux Falls, South Dakota

We woke up reluctant to leave our beautiful apartment and lovely city. Ryan really seemed to enjoy his time in Chicago, and he agreed that we’d have to come back in the late summer or fall for a longer trip.

I turned on the Weather Channel and froze in panic: our entire driving route for the day was covered by a dark red circle on the radar map. Extreme hail, rains, and thunderstorms, with a chance of tornados. I immediately began running around the apartment, trying to pack as quickly as possible. We got on the road pretty late, around 12:30pm. As we crossed into Wisconsin, the land got flatter and the skies were dark, but luckily, no threatening weather. We decided to try to drive though the day to beat any storms, though the local radio stations kept warning of a tornado watch. As we crossed over the Mississippi River, we were amazed at how spectacular the river looked. Neither of us had realized how wide and dazzling the river actually was. The river is the divider between Wisconsin and Minnesota, and once there, we truly felt very far away from home. The cars seemed to disappear along I-90 in Minnesota, and the lush hills of the Mississippi River valley area flattened to wide open plains, home to farms, fields, and cows. We stopped off a few times to film these wide-open spaces, but to our left, dark skies loomed and we knew we had to keep moving. We hit one spot of torrential downpours, but luckily it lasted less than 10 minutes. Soon the sun broke out, and we watched a breathtaking sunset unfold before our eyes.

The sun set below the horizon, and the skies got very, very dark. No streetlights along this stretch of I-90! As we approached South Dakota, we both realized we were extremely hungry, having gone all day without stopping. “You know, it’s Sunday night and a weekend holiday, plus we’re in South Dakota,” I said. “You think anything’s going to be open?”

Nope. Everything was closed, of course, but as it turned out, out hotel room had a microwave, so we ran over to the convenience store and bought Hot Pockets for dinner. Definitely not the tastiest meal we’ve had so far, but absolutely the cheapest!

May 26th / Memorial Day
Day 7: Sioux Falls-Mount Rushmore

Waking up this morning, I was shocked to see that a tornado ripped through Iowa, and through Minnesota, on the eastern end of the state. Yesterday I had been looking though our USA Tour book, and lamented that we didn’t stop off in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Looks like our choice to not make any detours was a wise one. Sadly, there have been reports of fatalities in both Minnesota and Iowa, and the destruction in both areas is immense.

It’s been a week since I graduated/cracked my tailbone. It definitely still hurts, so I’m assuming that I did indeed fracture it. It still hurts to sit down, kneel, climb stairs, etc., but I’m trying my best to ignore the pain and swim/soak in the hot tub whenever possible.

We’re going to try to visit Falls Park and the Great Plains Zoo today before we head out to Mount Rushmore. I can’t wait to do a North by Northwest re-enactment!

We headed over to the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls. I’ve been pretty spoiled after visiting the spectacular Prague Zoo in the Czech Republic last summer, but this zoo was still a lot of fun, and packed with families who were celebrating Memorial Day. We saw giraffes, zebras, tigers, and even a snow leopard. We interviewed some of the families coming out of the zoo. One interview was with a grandmother who was taking care of her newborn granddaughter, Annabelle. She told us that happiness is “having good health, a close family, the opportunity to get an education, and having faith.”

We left Sioux Falls enroute to Mount Rushmore, but we absolutely had to stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, which we kept seeing signs for. The “a-maize-ing” Corn Palace is the world’s only corn palace, and it doubles as the town’s civic center. Built in 1892, as a way to disprove (and flip off) Lewis and Clark’s declaration that the land was unsuitable for farming, the town of Mitchell now remakes the giant corn mosaic every year. About 275,000 ears of corn are nailed onto the Palace’s exterior each year. Ironically, the inside basketball court (also with a corn mosaic), has been called “The Boston Garden of the Midwest.” We interviewed some of the people there, all of whom agreed that Mitchell is a great place to live. One employee of the Corn Palace said that “solving people’s problems” makes him happy.

From the Corn Palace, we headed to the Badlands, which is 244,000 acres of sheer desolation. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, so I had an idea of the emptiness that we would see, but I was not at all prepared for what was actually there. Being in the Badlands is like being on another planet, a red planet. It’s absolutely amazing, and it instantly became our favorite spot on our trip. You HAVE to visit there!! Ryan said he kept expecting a dinosaur to walk out from behind the crater-like mountains. I tried to film as much as possible, but neither video nor digital photography did the images any justice. While we were there the sun set, and a light rain set in. The mist only added to the eeriness of the jagged rock formations.

By the time we left the Badlands, it was getting pretty dark, and raining harder. We had a long drive still to Hill City, where Mount Rushmore is located. We decided to stop off to eat dinner in Wall, home of the famous Wall Drug, a place that advertises 5 cent coffee, “Shady Brady” hats, and other kitschy items. We had seen signs for Wall as soon as we entered South Dakota—I’m pretty sure they post one every single mile. By the time we got there, I was pretty excited to drop some money on fun souvenirs that I don’t need, but as we got closer, Wall Drug seemed pretty dark… wait, CLOSED?! Wall Drug never closes!! Apparently because it was Memorial Day, they closed early. I really wanted that 5 cent coffee!

We left Wall, defeated, and headed towards Hill City. Things got very dark, and very hilly! As we started up the winding mountain that would eventually lead us to Hill City, the rain got harder, and the drops got whiter… wait a minute! Are those snowflakes? Are you KIDDING me?! Sure enough, we were soon driving in a complete whiteout, uphill, on a winding mountain, with no streetlights. Visibility couldn’t have been more than 20 feet. With our speed limit set at a minimum, Juanita announced to us that it would take close to an hour to finally arrive to the top of the mountain. We finally got to our hotel, and the door was locked! I had to wake up the poor night manager, who had gone home for the evening. Exhausted, hungry, and chilly (I wore flip-flops all day, but hey, it was warm back in Sioux Falls!), we called it a night.

May 27th
Day 8: Mount Rushmore-Cody, Wyoming

We woke up to snow EVERYWHERE!! I stomped around the room for a little while, cursing the winter weather (winter does not make me happy, if you haven’t guessed by now). One of the hotel assistants informed me that Hill City only had 2 snow days this year, and they were both at the beginning of May! If that’s not a blatant example of global warming, I don’t know what is.

We called ahead of time at Mount Rushmore, and they informed us that everything was in fog. But Ryan and I both agreed that we should give it a shot and head up there anyway. When we arrived, the four heads were absolutely in the fog. Such a letdown! But I stood there hopeful with my camera recording, and it worked-- occasionally we could see the giant faces, and everyone would shout “There it is!” and we would all run to the grand viewing area. So in the end, I was able to get some footage of the massive faces. We saw some great films on when the monument was first being sculpted and unveiled, and loaded up on postcards before heading to the Crazy Horse monument. Crazy Horse was officially started in 1948, and once it is completed it will be the world’s largest monument (641 feet long and 563 feet high!). Unfortunately, the monument was completely encased in fog when we arrived, but we spent time in the numerous museums, learning about the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, a Boston native, and of course, about Crazy Horse and Native American culture.

From Crazy Horse, we got back on the road and started for Wyoming. I had been so amazed at the beauty of South Dakota, but was even more in awe of Wyoming once we crossed over the state line. Wyoming is the 9th largest state, yet it has less people in the entire state than we do in the City of Boston. So it goes without saying that we were truly in the middle of nowhere! But it was an immaculate nowhere, with pristine rolling hills, and colossal mountains. At first, we were a little creeped out—Juanita, our GPS, informed us that the closest hospital was over 50 miles away, and gas was 19 miles away, but soon our worries subsided with each “Wow, look at that!” that we gasped over every mile of sprawling landscape. We stopped off in Sheridan for dinner, and then continued to our destination of Cody, named after the famous Buffalo Bill Cody. On our way to Cody, we took a detour through the Bighorn Mountains, which would have been fine, except for the fact that 1. It was foggy, 2. Night was setting in, and 3. Yours truly was driving. Fog, mountains, and night are all manageable things usually, but combine the three and I get really, really, really panicky. But Ryan had driven all day, and I was determined to get us through it, since he had gotten us through our fun little snowstorm the night before.

The mountains seemed like they would never end, and visibility was much less than the night before. We slowwwwly crawled up each winding spiral, carefully watching the white line on the side of the road so we would know when to turn. Occasionally the fog would get less dense, and we would see signs informing us that we were over 9000 feet above sea level. On a clear day, that would have been really exciting, but during a time like this, it was extremely nerve-wracking!

After about an hour or so, the fog finally lifted and we made our decent down the mountain. The sun had set, and we watched the mountains glow under the twilight, when suddenly in front of us: a moose!! A real live moose! I’ve never seen one in real life, so I was terribly excited. We tried to get a photo of him, but he quickly ran off into the mountains.

The rest of our drive to Cody was uneventful, except for the occasional mouse and rabbit dodging on the road (they just love to run right into the street when you’re approaching!). The towns got less frequent as we went on—we saw one town, Emblem, with a population of 10. Yes, 10. They even had their own post office! Another town had a red glowing church with an ominous glowing cross in front. Maybe it’s not so bad in the daylight, but I certainly took advantage of the liberal speed limit and got us out of there fast.

We finally arrived in Cody around 11:15pm and our hotel attendant laughed at us when we told him about our adventure through Bighorn Mountains and back roads. He had every right—we are, after all, clueless city folk!

May 28th
Day 9: Cody, Wyoming-West Yellowstone, Montana

We were actually able to get an early start today! We knew we wanted to spend as much time in Yellowstone (in the sunshine, finally!) as possible. Driving through the town of Cody, we stopped off near the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and interviewed some women who work in town. One of them was a transplant from Michigan, who moved out here with her husband and children because she loved the big open sky and mountains in Cody. Another woman had relocated to Cody as well, and said it was the best decision she and her family ever made. She has everything she wants there, and that makes her happy.

We got back on the road and headed to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is the largest forest I’ve ever visited, and absolutely the most impressive. Upon entering the East side, we stopped off to take in the views of a crystal clear lake, which was frozen! Yes, we had foolishly worn shorts, as the weather in Cody was rather warm. As we got out of the car, someone noticed our camera and said, “You better hurry up before they leave!” Looking past him, I saw two very large, very furry, and very real buffalo!! I hobbled my little broken tailbone over there and immediately began filming, while Ryan got still shots.

We saw more buffalo as we set out towards Old Faithful, which is about an hour from the East entrance. Driving along the massive Yellowstone Lake, majestic snow covered mountains reflected off the water. We lamented that we didn’t have more time to spend there, but between the Badlands and Yellowstone, we’re already thinking of making a trip back next summer.

As we got closer to Old Faithful, smaller geysers greeted us with steaming, smelly sulfur. That’s not the only thing that greeted us— dark clouds rolled in, and it started to pour. We remained hopeful, and sure enough, the rain cleared up, just in time to watch Old Faithful gush boiling water up to 120 feet in the air! We walked around the area, observing more thermal pools, watching them bubble happily. As we left Old Faithful we saw mule deer, which look like a cross between, yeah, you guessed it, a mule and a deer. Except they’re about the size of a moose!

As we exited the West entrance, we immediately were in West Yellowstone, Montana. The town is adorable and has dozens of Wild West shops and lots of fun tourist attractions. Tomorrow we’re going to dress up in Western clothing and get our photo taken on a giant stuffed moose. That’s how you roll in Big Sky Country.

I interviewed some people here in Montana, and they seem pretty happy here. In fact, everyone seems happy here. I met a new father who said his 4 month-old son puts a constant smile on his face. Another person said that living constantly in the moment makes him happy. We’re going to do more interviews tomorrow with the people we encounter on the street. They’re all so friendly! People say hello and hold the doors open for you, and everyone has a smile on their face. I can’t really blame them: it’s beautiful here. Even as I type this I can see the snow-capped Rockies standing tall from our hotel room.

For now, we have a pizza and the Celtics game to keep us preoccupied. If the Celtics win, Ryan’s going to celebrate by going down the fun slide in the indoor pool ☺

Tomorrow we head to Spokane, Washington, and on to Seattle Friday. I can’t wait!!

May 29th
Day 10: West Yellowstone, Montana-Spokane, Washington

Still smiling from the Celtics’ victory the night before, we headed over to the Trappers Restaurant in the morning and ate a very delicious, very artery-clogging breakfast (sausage, egg, and cheese on Texas toast). I interviewed Alex, one of the waitresses there who is working to help pay for radiology school. She said happiness is getting to play with her little brothers and being around her family.

From there we stopped off at Big Sky Rides (they don’t have a website, but you can call them at 406-861-3509), which is a place where you can get dressed in Western garb and have your photo taken on or with a buffalo, moose, grizzly bear, horse, or a PBR bull (that’s Professional Bull Riding, not Pabst Blue Ribbon as I ignorantly inquired). The owners are a wife and husband duo, and they took over the business when the husband’s brother passed away.

The two were very helpful in orchestrating our outfits and poses (we chose the moose). We each donned chaps, a fringed leather jacket and hat, and of course, red bandanas. Barbara, the wife, narrated various scenarios for us to act out (a mountain lion ready to attack us, for example), and happily snapped away at her camera while we feigned terror.

I got interviewed Barbara afterwards, who said, “Happiness is not having knots in my stomach when I go to work.” She said her job now is fun and stress-free, as opposed to her previous career in the nursing field.

Barbara seemed very excited about Happy Hunting, and she was sweet enough to give us a DVD with our wacky photos to share with you guys. If you ever get to West Yellowstone, we absolutely recommend stopping there!

We left West Yellowstone and headed onward to Spokane. Not much else to see in Montana, except for those glorious blue skies. Though we did manager else to see a woman riding a tractor with a baby sitting on her lap. We also saw numerous adds for the annual “Testicle Festival,” which boasts, “You’ll have a ball!” And a sign that had a yellow smiley face which read, “Be happy! Your mother chose life!” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to grab the camera quick enough for any of these.

The drive through Idaho was less remarkable, though we did gain an hour by hitting the Pacific Standard Time. Ryan said, “This place is kind of a downer,” and he was right. The houses we had seen way out in valleys in Montana were now uncomfortably nestled along Route 90 in Idaho, each a little shabby. We stopped off at a gas station/deli called “Piggie’s,” and I grabbed some Idaho Spuds for us to share. They’re little brown chocolate-covered marshmallows, with coconut flakes on top, which are supposed to resemble Idaho’s most celebrated export. I also bought a taffy candy called “Big Hunk,” and joked that it was made for Ryan ☺ The instructions call for smacking it on a hard surface, and I did so, but only after I had taken the wrapper off. Whoops. Big hunks of Big Hunk taffy went exploding all over our car. Later I discovered a piece had melted in my flip-flop. Gross!

We arrived in Spokane around 7:30pm, dropped off our gear at the hotel, and headed straight for downtown Spokane, specifically, Spokane Falls. I had visited Spokane a few years back, but didn’t remember them being as rapid as they were this particular night. We both agreed that they were almost impressive than Niagara Falls, because of their powerful current and deafening roar. Plus, no tourist traps in the area! All the sights were free of charge. We ate dinner at the Rock City Grill. I ordered a giant mojito, which arrived in a pitcher, along with a southwest chicken wrap. It was the probably the healthiest meal I had eaten since Cleveland.

That evening, after Ryan had quickly fallen asleep, I watched the news and started to feel as though maybe we should get back home to Boston. Between two major fires in Boston, as well as the D line accident (which they actually broadcasted on Spokane’s nightly news), I started thinking about how fortunate it had been that Ryan and I avoided natural disasters, or any acts of crime during our voyage. Not once had we seen a car accident, fire, or any other tragic event, for which I am extremely grateful. I felt sorry that Boston was going through so much at once while I was traveling through the country, in search of happiness and happy people. It reminded me of Ross McElwee’s documentary, Six O’Clock News, which is one of my favorite films. In it, McElwee, who has just become a father, tries to make sense of victims of crimes or natural disasters across the country, only to arrive back to Boston where the 1994 Planned Parenthood abortion clinic shootings happened close to his own home.

Finally, I put on the Home and Garden TV channel to keep me from having panicky thoughts, and fell asleep to the sounds of window treatment suggestions.

May 30th
Day 11: Spokane – Seattle

We left Spokane rather early, skipping the pool since it was outdoors. To me, the drive across Washington was going to be the longest stretch, because the middle of Washington is pretty barren. There aren’t as many gorgeous mountains to “oooh” and “ahhhh” over as we had seen back in Wyoming or Montana, and knowing that we were so close to our final-ish destination of the west coast caused us to finally whine, “Are we there yet?!” Luckily, we stopped off at a friendly rest area, which offers free coffee and homemade cookies (plus Wi-Fi!), and then made one more stop at a scenic overlook in Vantage, home to the Wild Horse monument.

Suddenly, the deserts turned green with sprawling pine trees, and more cars appeared along the highway. And then the sign: Seattle. We made it! West Coast! I could see the Seattle skyline and Space Needle. And then came the traffic. Yikes! It was like sitting on Storrow Drive after a Sox game. It was our very first traffic jam since we left Allston.

While sitting in Seattle’s Friday rush hour traffic, we had a brilliant idea. “Let’s go to the Mariners game tonight and try to get tickets,” Ryan suggested. “It’s gotta be easier than going to a Sox game.” We arrived at the beautiful home of Ryan’s boss, who lives half the year in Boston, and the other half in Seattle. We left our bags, and I finally promised to treat Ryan to a video camera-free night (assuming that the Mariners probably don’t allow giant cameras in the stadium anyway). We rushed over to Safeco Field to see if we could get tickets, avoiding scalpers and going to the box office. And did we get tickets! 13th row behind third baseline. And for under $50 a ticket! You could never get seats like that at home! The sun began to set (yes, there’s sun in Seattle!), and we got cozy with our brew and a batch of garlic fries. And, can I just say for a moment, as much as I love Fenway, there’s something to be said about new stadiums, and their comfortable seats!

Ironically, we sat behind two Red Sox fans who had transplanted to Seattle earlier this year. We also sat next to a woman and her son, who both were Sox fans and had lived a year in Boston. Both groups were more than happy to give us places to visit during our time in Seattle, but of course, by the end of the night, I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera. They would have done great interviews!

The Mariners lost to Detroit, but we saw it as payback for beating the Sox earlier in the week ☺

May 31st
Day 12: Seattle!!

We started the day the way any 20-something Bostonians would—brewery tour! We visited the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, and I got to interview some of the rowdy (buzzed) members of our tour, who all agreed that beer—what else?—made them happy.

From there we headed back to town to tour the Space Needle, but I couldn’t use my camera, according to the security guard, who thought we were terrorists. They even threatened to take away a small pocketknife keychain that an old boss brought me back from the Grand Canyon. Seriously. I packed everything away, only to discover about half a dozen people filming illegally on small camcorders. Grrrr. But, it was still nice to learn about the Space Needle and take in the breathtaking views of Seattle and the harbor.

Soon after, we met with my friend Laurie and a fellow friend of hers. I met Laurie four years ago when I first visited the Redhook friend in Woodinville. Laurie had been my tour guide, and ended up being my gracious hostess for the evening! We had tried to stay in touch throughout the years, but it was my first time seeing her since then.

We purchased our tickets for the Underground Tour, and waited at a bar with some delicious brewski. The Underground Tour is a must-see for anyone visiting Seattle. It’s a tour of what Seattle was before the Great Fire of 1889, when almost the entire city was destroyed. Parts of the original city still remain underneath the sidewalks of Seattle, and you get to walk through them on the tour. It’s home to old, stinking toilets from the 1800s, as well as a funky fried chicken odor, decrepit street signs, and rats.

The tour was well over 90 minutes long, and we rushed over to Pike Place Market, only to find that it had closed up for the day! I was pretty disappointed, because I had wanted to interview the guys at the fish market. Laurie and her friend were kind enough to let me interview them, though, and Laurie told me that when she was little, her mother would give her a penny to throw in a fountain. “Always wish for happiness,” her mother told her. It made me smile—for a long time in my life, I always wished for that at wishing wells or on birthday candles.

We parted ways, but not before Laurie promised a trip to the East Coast (she’s lived in Australia, but has never been to Boston or New York!). Ryan and I had dinner at a restaurant along the water, feasting on Alaskan Halibut, Wild Tilapia, and of course, mango mojitos. As the sun set over the scintillating harbor, I thought about how much I had grown and learned in four years, which was the last time I visited Seattle. I was very, very happy to be who I was now, and to be there with Ryan.

June 1st
Day 13: Seattle-Portland, Oregon

We awoke early and said goodbye to Jeanette, our wonderful hostess. I was determined to (as always), cram a lot into our day before arriving in Portland. One of the Sox fans that we had met at the Mariners game had suggested going over to the Laughing Buddha brewery to interview its owners. But because we had missed out on filming the fish market guys at Pike Place Market, I was insistent on going back there to get some fun fish-tossing footage. But of course, not before breakfast, and a stop at an “old friend’s” house.

We had breakfast at the Original Pancake House in Kirkland. Apparently, there’s hundreds of them in the US, but none in New England. (The closest one is in Jersey, which is a big no-no to any true New Englander.) Everyone marveled over the fact that two Red Sox fans were having breakfast there, and they playfully teased us about the Mariners winning earlier that week. We feasted on flapjacks, since we had made it our goal to get to Portland without stopping for food. And then we headed onward to the house of our friend, Kurt Cobain.

I had visited the house during my first visit to Seattle four years ago, but that didn’t take away from the surreal nature of being there. Unlike last time, there were about half a dozen people there as well, walking around the park next to his house, sitting on the benches that are covered in messages to the late musician. One of the benches had a bouquet of tulips, and a message to Kurt written in Japanese. Some of the messages dated back a few years, but many of them were within the past few months. I filmed some of the people there, who were all in a state of disbelief to have finally made the pilgrimage to this unofficial gravesite after fourteen years. Three of them were cruise ship employees, and relatively young (one was a film student from Vancouver). They didn’t really understand the connection between the topic of my film and visiting the place where Kurt Cobain had his last days. And I guess I didn’t, either. But it was a place of importance for myself, and for Ryan, and for anyone who was a young adolescent in 1994. The music of Nirvana was music I’d listen to during my most unhappy times, but it carried me through those times, and inspired me to become a writer and a musician when I was a teenager. And even though the music is often sad, it still brings a smile to my face when I hear it on the radio. And ironically enough, we did hear it, as we left his home and drove through the winding hills of Seattle.

Our last stop in Seattle was Pike’s Place Market, and I was told ahead of time that not only could I film “the fish guys,” but that they’d probably enjoy it. Perfect! I used the giant, intimidating camera to wedge my tiny, non-intimidating self up to the front of the market. As they gleefully threw fish back and forth to each other, one of them said to me, “Happiness? Then why are you filming here? This place sucks!” As my heart began to sink in my stomach, he quickly said, “Nah, I’m just kidding. I got the best job in the world!” and threw another giant fish over his head.

We headed south for Oregon, and arrived three hours later in Beaverton, a sleepy suburb of Portland, where Ryan’s aunt, uncle, three cousins and four pets (2 loving Yellow Labs, a cheerful Cockatiel, and a cuddly bunny) reside. It was my first time meeting the Grays, and they’re a family full of fun and energy. We immediately headed back out for a tour of Portland. First we walked up and down “23rd”-- the Newbury Street of Portland. The funky shops and townhouses resembled those similar to home, but I was grateful for the absence of the Armani Exchange and other pricey fashion conglomerates that we have back home. Ryan, his uncle Tim, and cousin Jarrett, all competed over who could jump the highest, or reach the tallest street sign. This had actually started back at the house when Ryan challenged both Tim and Jarrett to a “jump and touch the rim of the basketball hoop” competition (Jarrett is the only actual 10 year-old of the trio). Ryan’s aunt Mimi and his cousins Kelsey and Kendall (both accomplished gymnasts) just shook their heads with embarrassment. We stopped off for some delicious chocolate truffles (“the best chocolates in the world,” according to Tim) at Moonstruck Chocolates (did I mention how much I like the Gray Family?), and afterwards went for a driving tour through the entire city. I loved the hip feeling of the place—lots of renovated warehouses and funky architecture. Then we stopped off at the airport to drop off Dexter. I was really sad to say goodbye to our car. He held up for us, through heat, cold, rain, and snow, for a total of 3625.3 miles! (Yes, I took a photo.) We settled in for a huge seafood dinner at McCormick and Schmick’s, and then retired for the night.

June 2nd
Day 14: Portland

When we headed down to breakfast, Mimi had dug up dozens of childhood photos of Ryan. Being one of the first-born cousins, Ryan’s family has more photos of him than any other child in the clan. I enjoyed making fun of photos of him wearing a Pee-Wee Herman suit and red bowtie to Tim and Mimi’s wedding.

We soon left, destined for the Oregon coastline. Tim was extremely excited to show us around his “fishing hole,” which takes about an hour to get to (on a really long, winding, narrow road). We stopped off at a fish hatchery in Nehalem, home to Chinook salmon and steelhead. I interviewed Mike, an employee at the hatchery, who is happy both with his work and personal life, though he “would like to have a bigger truck.”

We went down to the Nehalem River, which is excellent for fishing, but also offers extremely treacherous water. Tim insisted on taking me to the very edge of a cliff so I could film the river’s currents (he held onto my shirt in case I fell). Normally I’d be worried about the height, but I was more concerned about snakes (or bears) attacking me.

After touring the river, it was on to Cannon Beach, a sleepy little beach town right on the coast. I gasped when I saw the ocean—real waves! Salt air! Sand! I was in heaven. I rushed out of the car, set up the tripod, let the camera roll, and dipped my feet in the Pacific Ocean. Then I made Ryan jump up and down with excitement as we shouted, “Yay, we did it!” I know, I know, it’s cheesy, but it might make for excellent footage in the film ☺

We stopped for lunch (New England Clam Chowder in a bread bowl, just like home) and then drove further up the coast, towards the Haystack, a gigantic rock in the middle of the ocean, which apparently flew off the top of a volcano, according to Tim. Tim liked to exaggerate a lot, calling the Haystack the “biggest rock in the world.” Turns out it’s actually the third largest coastal monolith in the world, clocking in at 235 feet. We drove up to a look-out point to get a better view, and saw sea lions and pelicans relaxing out on other rocks nearby.

I interviewed a park ranger, who was kind enough to let me interview him in between handing out park permits to other tourists. He was very happy with his job, which was no surprise. I hadn’t encountered anyone who was unhappy with his or her job on the whole trip!

We left Cannon Beach and shopped around the town a bit, checking out local art galleries, jewelry, and candy. The rain started to pick up a bit, so we left, but Tim made one last stop. “You want to see some bunnies?” he asked me. Um, of course! I got out of the car and was greeted by three adorable fuzzy little bunnies, which hopped over to me! Wild domesticated bunnies! No way!! I took out some soup crackers from lunch, and they actually ate of out my hands! I was in my glory—anyone who has seen me around animals knows that I get a really high, squeaky voice and talk like a 5 year-old. They were so sweet, with their little cottontails. Oh, I get all mushy just thinking about them. I wanted to take them all back to Boston, but Ryan convinced me that they wouldn’t get along with the street rats of Allston.

Later at home, we had a shish kebob dinner with the Grays, and I got to interview them about happiness. Tim felt that being able to fish and be out in the wilderness was his key to happiness. All of the kids agreed that happiness is when “dad is taking a nap and not bothering us.” We said goodnight and goodbye to the kids, since it was a school night and they’d be gone when we woke up. Then the rest of us watched an episode of “Pimp My Ride,” or “Cribs: Car Edition” or something like that and then went to bed.

June 3rd
Day 15: Portland-Salt Lake City, Utah-Boston

I hate flying. Besides of all the obvious reasons for being scared to fly, I also get terribly sick. I’m pretty sure it’s all the recycled “air” (read: SARS, Bird Flu, TB) that usually causes me to get the worst sinus infection of my life, whenever I’m in a plane. So I have to prepare myself mentally and physically: Earplanes earplugs to prevent my eardrums from exploding into my brain, lots of water with Emergen-C, 2 gigantic pieces of gum, which I chew obnoxiously like a cow, and Sudafed. I take the Sudafed about 30 minutes before getting on the plane. That usually helps to start calming my nerves as well as opening my sinuses. Or something like that. At that point, I’m too drugged up to care about anything, and focusing on not choking on the giant wad of gum keeps me distracted.

Anyway, as soon as I woke up this morning and heard the pouring rain, I knew something would go wrong with our trip home. For one, I certainly wasn’t ready to head back to the East Coast. And I especially didn’t want to fly in the rain. Sure enough, our flight was delayed for 45 minutes, which would make us too late to catch our connecting flight to Boston out of Cincinnati. We said goodbye to Mimi, and Tim drove us to the airport, where we discovered we’d be flown over to Salt Lake City instead, and arriving in Boston close to midnight. Ugh. Instantly Ryan and I both agreed: we missed the Grays already!

Then we were “randomly selected” as terrorist suspects, and I had to fearfully watch as the Portland TSA ran scanners up and down my (Emerson’s) camera, microphones, miniDV tapes, digital camera, laptop, keys, dental floss, lip gloss, used tissues, lint, and anything else that my sneaky MacGyver boyfriend and I might try to use in our plan to wreak havoc over the friendly skies. Luckily, the polite, compassionate security guards at the Portland TSA were kind enough to not overly manhandle any equipment, and, unlike Ryan assured, no body cavity search was involved.

So now I’m flying home and I’m pretty sad to be heading back to the Northeast. I didn’t think I’d ever say that, but I guess I’m just going to miss all these beautiful spaces and friendly faces. It will be nice to return to Red Sox Nation, but I can’t help but wonder how much more pleasant Red Sox Nation would be if our fellow New Englanders took a lesson or two in random acts of friendliness, or, dare I say, happiness. But maybe that’s just the Sudafed kicking in. I’ll see you on the home front.

June 4th
Day 16: Home

What I’ve learned:

If you’re going to go across the country, take more than 2 weeks (if you can afford it and take the vacation time). We saw SO much in that time, but there were so many more things we would have liked to stop off to visit (I’m still reeling over Wall-Drug being closed that night!).

Don’t damage your tailbone the day before you embark on a road trip (although I just got the X-Ray results back, and good news—no fracture!).

Always charge your iPod! But if you forget, fear not, for, every single state will always have at least one awesome classic rock station.

Don’t forget your toothpaste. The kind they give you on the road is from the 1990s.

Check the weather forecasts before you depart. Don’t assume just because you’re out of New England that you won’t encounter a snowstorm in the summertime. Or a tornado.

AAA has the BEST discounts for rental cars, hotels, and attractions. And have them make you a TripTix, which maps out your routes (and it’s free!).

Bring a GPS so you avoid being lost in the desert or mountains (or both!). It also lets you play fun games like, “How many miles is it to the closest gas station?” when your gaslight goes on.

No one follows the speed limit in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, or Idaho. You shouldn’t, either ☺

Pack hand sanitizer for all those shady looking rest stops.

Magnets, postcards, and rocks off the side of the road make for frugal souvenirs.

Finally, make sure you travel with someone who is your absolute best friend—someone you can really tolerate for extended periods of time, and who also can tolerate you! I am extremely grateful that Ryan is someone who is very patient, very fun, and that he can carry my luggage when my tailbone is bruised.

In regards to the film, the most important thing I learned is to keep filming! If you think you only need to capture something for 30 seconds, make it a minute. Double everything. Bring more tape than you’ll ever think you’ll need, because you never know what you’re going to film next. Pack a raincoat for the camera, and keep your lens dry and clean, no matter what! Lav mics are a must for outdoor interviews, but only if your subjects have the patience. Label your tapes as SOON as you take them out of the camera! Make sure to pull over and get some great slow pans of wide-open landscapes. You can only film out the window so much before wanting to puke. And above all else, if you’re trying to film and have a vacation, allow for downtime, to rest your arms, your eyes, and your companions.

So now I have endless hours of footage to go through, and about 2 months to finish the film! The first task is to digitize everything, which happens in real time (an hour of footage = an hour of digitizing). Next, the logging and transcribing of all the B roll, formal interviews, and informal interviews (hello Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!). Finally, I’ll have to take about 50 hours of footage and narrow it down to a teeny, tiny 20-30 minutes. Piece of cake, right? One thing is sure: it’s going to be one busy summer!

And as for happiness itself? One of the most telling things came to me while I was with Ryan’s family in Oregon. His cousin, Kelsey, had a collage of famous quotes hanging up in her room. One of them was a quote from Henry David Thoreau, which read, “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” It’s true: the true meaning of happiness doesn’t come from sticking a camera in the faces of strangers and asking them about happiness itself. It comes from seeing them smile when they talk about their jobs, or their favorite pastimes, or watching them interact with their families once the camera has turned off. It’s watching children run around a playground, full of giggles, without a care in the world. It’s seeing buffalo for the first time in the wild. It’s being in a wide, open field, surrounded by spectacular snow-capped mountains. It’s the people we met and all the friendly, positive connections that we had during the trip. All of that is happiness to me. When I wasn’t searching for it, it was right there in front of me.

Now if I can just say that all in my film, I’ll be one happy filmmaker ☺ Thanks for your listening and support, and happy hunting to you all!

We're back! Now the real fun begins...

We're back from our amazing journey across the Mass Pike to the West Coast ;) I cannot believe that the weather has been hotter here than it was on our trip!

We had a wonderful time, and met a ton of wonderful people, and wild buffalo! But now the real fun begins-- editing the film! I've been locked away for the past few days at Emerson, digitizing all of the footage I shot. It's fun to be able to relive the trip, but it's not so fun sitting in this editing suite-- it's FREEZING in here!! I packed an extra pair of socks and am wearing long sleeves and gloves, despite the 80 degree weather outdoors.

In case you haven't seen the blog journals that we posted on the road, you can check them out in the next few posts.

Many, many thanks to Darren Garnick and the Boston Herald for sponsoring the blog and supporting the film!

You can read more of Darren's articles (and view his own film trailers!) on the following links:

The Boston Herald's Happy Hunting article

In case you were unable to view it on the web (, you can read the full article here!

Emerson grad hunting for happiness on cross-country road trip
By Darren Garnick | Tuesday, May 20, 2008 | | Movie News

As she packs up her rental car this morning for a coast-to-coast quest for the definition of happiness, Nicole Prowell is a little worried about how strangers might define her. Will they perceive her as a “spoiled college kid” without enough life experience to tackle the question, or a “Kumbaya”-singing simpleton who believes she can find answers that have eluded humanity for centuries?

The 26-year-old Prowell, who just earned her master’s degree in documentary video from Emerson College, is producing “Happy Hunting,” a film about her fascination with the “positive psychology” movement. On the road from Boston to Portland, Ore. over the next 15 days, she plans to interview dozens of strangers about their current state of bliss.

“I’m no expert,” Prowell shrugs. “I’m not expecting to find a universal truth. But we just seem to be so lost all the time.”

The filmmaker’s route includes major cities such as Cleveland and Chicago and tourist meccas including Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. She will share the driving with her boyfriend, Ryan. In Seattle, the couple also intends to pay their respects at the spot where Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain committed suicide. A downer, perhaps, but they were both “little 12-year-old grungers when he died.”

Achieving lasting personal contentment is a trendy topic. Tal Ben-Shahar’s course “Happiness 101” is now one of the most popular classes at Harvard University, and Daniel Gilbert’s book “Stumbling on Happiness” recently cracked the bestseller lists.

Prowell says “Happy Hunting” will interweave the experiences of strangers with her own personal ups and downs - from a part-time job promoting Axe shower gel at Kmart (“the loneliest weekend of my life”) to a sombering ordeal watching her father recover from quadruple-bypass heart surgery.

A 20-minute version of “Happy Hunting” is slated for free public screenings at Emerson College in mid-August and at the Coolidge Corner or Brattle theaters in the fall with other graduate student works. Prowell hopes to eventually expand her effort into a feature film.

As for the conventional wisdom that long road trips strain relationships, Prowell insists that she and her boyfriend have already been battle-tested: “We’ve sat in traffic on the way to the Cape.”

Darren Garnick covers independent film for the Herald’s “New England Film Junkie” blog, which will be tracking Nicole’s happiness tour over the next two weeks. Go to: for the latest developments.

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