This blog follows the journey of Sarah and Greg as they made their film. To see a trailer, read more, learn about the progress of the film or share your story visit AMERICANBEARFILM.COM

60 days. 25 States. 5 Bears.

Sarah and Greg are setting out on an adventure exploring American trust and fear through hospitality. Armed with their charm, courage, and a camera, they will rely on the kindness of strangers for a home each night, and if they're lucky, a few meals along the way.

The story began in summer 2009 when Greg exclaimed in his sleep, "We have to go to Bear, Colorado!" Unfortunately, no Bear actually exists in Colorado. However, there are five Bears in America, fortuitously located in a perfect a 'U' around the continental U.S. - in Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Arkansas, and Delaware. Following the trail of the Bears, Sarah and Greg will travel through 25 states of all different cultures, demographics, populations, and Americans.

Through conversations with locals, we will explore our themes on a personal level and embrace the stories that turn strangers into neighbors. Our discussions with scholars and professionals will dig into the philosophy and nature of a core aspect of what makes us human. We will understand why (or if) we let people into our hearts and our homes.

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Day 39: Bear, AR

We had been in Bear, Arkansas for about seven minutes. We drove down the road that Mapquest told us to drive down; we saw the old church, now boarded up, but it does say "Bear, Arkansas, Est. 1934." We were headed across the road, easing out from a stop sign, when we got in the accident.

The car was probably going at 45 mph when Corey, the driver, slammed the brakes, noticing us crossing the street. He hit the passenger side -- where I was sitting. And filming. We haven't watched the footage yet.

We got slammed, ran over a stop sign, and came to a stop in the bushes. Corey's pickup truck was pushed up against us too.

Our passenger door was pretty banged in; the front right tire bent at an angle; both car doors have trouble opening. Corey, 18 and extremely friendly, drove a small GMC, and the hood and lights were obliterated, and the driver's door couldn't open.

We are all fine. I have a bruise on my head from having it banged against the window. The car is probably totaled. Doug, who towed our car to the garage, drove us to a hotel as well. The future is a mystery, and we need dinner and cold showers before anything else.
And this is after another phenomenal night, staying with Amber and her two daughters in Talihina, Oklahoma last night. That blog entry will still come. But maybe after we've had a long discussion about what's next.

American Bear visits Dallas and Paris in July

Dallas, TX -

We officially had our best meal of the entire trip (restaurants included) with EZ and Jules in Dallas.

EZ made vegetarian tacos - each ingredient was cared for and spiced and perfect. The options for taco insides: applewood smoked zuccini, portabella mushrooms, poblano peppers, bell peppers jalepenos, and chiles; oaxacan cheese; a bean concotion that was full of complex flavors; and homemade guacamole. Jules had warmed blue corn tortillas in a pan on the stove. We had a texas blonde ale as we stood around the kitchen and a yummy white wine with the meal.

Greg and I have had a lot of uninentional vegetarian food. But this was a meal of intention. And it was amazing. I could not stop eating.

Jule and EZ were both super friendly and playful (each in their own way). I loved watching Jules walk on the high ledge of garden planters and touch all of the plants that looked like they had an interesting texture. EZ told great stories and talked so openly about his love for Jules. Jules later told us about the way that EZ wrote - his letters like poetry.
Greg and I had so much fun. We got to see a lot of the parts of Dallas that we wouldnt have discovered on our own. I feel like I could live there - as long as I could still hang out with Jules and EZ.

EZ told many stories about helping strangers and Jules talked about how her family was so much different than EZ's - almost an opposite. They both talked about their pasts as huge contributions to their feelings towards others. And of course this is something we all understand but it is also something very important. Our families help shape us in such huge ways.

Paris, TX
I think the people in Paris are the friendliest we've encountered. Everyone we talked to sort of took responsibility for us, they became invested in our safety. Our first experience there (always influential on the outcome of the day) was at the public Library. I had an interview with KNPR and they needed a landline. A couple of days before hand Greg had called to see if they could he us. And the director, Priscilla had very generously offered to lend us her office. When we got there everyone was super nice.

Priscilla was friendly and offered to put us up if had some bad luck. And we met Leigh who
offered the same and had us follow her to a place to get an oild change on her way out because she was worried her directions might be bad. Priscilla called the local newspaper to get someone to do a story on us. Both woman were super energetic and friendly and funny and kind.

We got our oil changed at Paris Express Car Care (The Penzoil place across from Wal-Mart). For everyone in Paris - THESE GUYS ARE AMAZING. We mostly talked to the manager, Matt who was super friendly and did a lot of extra stuff for us for free. He was so nice and gave us safety advice as well as teaching us a few quick fixes for our car. So if you are ever in Paris, TX - go visit these guys. and the Library.

We had lunch and our waiter was super friendly, young and hospitable and funny.

We of course visit the eiffel tower.

Finally we made it to the downtown area to talk to some strangers. First stopping at Paris, Baby. A small baby botique. One of the co-owners was working and she was super friendly, offering to find us a place and (later we discovered) making her facebook status about our project, we got about three text messages later in the afternoon. We went to the wine shop - the only local place to buy alcohol for the last 30 years, because Paris had been a dry town until very recently. The son of the owner was super nice, talking to us for nearly 45 minutes and giving me a glass of very cold, very sweet, white wine. His pregnant wife was super nice too and had some ideas for us.

Eventually we found our way into Spanglers. Where we met John. John was friendly and spoke openly about the fact that he felt like America and Americans had changed - they were no longer true Americans. Usually I can tell when someone is going to take us in. I am almost always right. I wasnt sure about John though, and after some funny miscommunication - with Greg's phrasing and John's only occasionally poor hearing, John did not understand what we were asking. Greg, in our usually follow up question said, "So why didnt you invite us into your home" And John said, "What? Oh, I am sorry. " and then "I think that would be fine."

After a bit of faltering and explaining, we met his wife Stella, who also smiled and agreed right away.

John took us on a small tour of the area - we saw the factories and the other neighboorhoods and the Jesus in cowboy boots in the cemetary.

When we got home we waited for a bit for Stella and she came home with Mark, a friend of theirs who they had sort of adopted into their family.

The five of us went for Mexican food and conversation.

Then we talked inthe parking lot for a long while.

Then we talked over dessert.

It was a lot of interesting conversation.

John is an ex-rancher turned mortician turned local downtown shop owner. We heard about the time he contracted TB from a corpse, a time where he contacted another very painful disease from a corpse. We talked to Mark about his time in Alaska and his family.

Lesson of the day: surprises. The evening just kep suprising us. We kept stumbling into interesting conversation. An even John and Stella were a suprise. Because we thought they'd said no and then they said yes. Two days ago we had the opposite, but this feels much better.


American Bear Day 34 and 35: Clarendon and Wichita Falls, TX

Our scheduled stop after Clayton, NM, was Vega, TX, but with an early start leaving Clayton and a longer drive scheduled for the following day, we decided to head a bit farther – an hour past Vega was a town called Goodnight, which we got pretty excited about. But when we drove through Goodnight we discovered it was just a handful of homes, and the Wikipedia article suggests it only has 35 residents. So we continued to the next town, Clarendon, still fairly early in the afternoon.

A small Christian-flavored town on a Sunday, meaning only the chain restaurants on the highway were open. We started at the grocery store, but were told with no good humor that we couldn’t film in the store or even the parking lot. At the Clarendon Outpost, attached to a gas station, we only encountered travelers and the friendly manager, who said in Clarendon, you’re either Christian or you’re nobody. He happens to be one of the only non-Christians in the area, and wonderfully candid. His space was too small to host us, but he offered us dinner at the store if we came back later.

At the Dairy Queen, we met a local farmer who directed us to the Methodist Church. We happened to be wearing our crosses in Clarendon, our second time doing this mini-experiment, and as we got closer to the church, we felt the weight of the crosses more and more. The church was empty, but we met a woman across the street whose husband takes care of the church; they recommended we visit the new pastor who lives in the parsonage next-door.

So, for the first time, we knocked on a door. Lloyd opened it, taken aback, and a bit bewildered by the camera, which he often referred to as our “contraption” later on. He invited us into his living room – the house was beautiful and spacious, but Lloyd and Shirley were still moving in, with boxes waiting in almost every room. We conducted a pretty straightforward interview with Lloyd, and he spoke brilliantly about people’s inclination to trust, and the media’s exposure of violence and the dark side of the news being somewhat responsible for growing suspicion among Americans. Eventually, we had to tell him more about our project; and after asking if we had found a place for the night, he asked Shirley, and they agreed that we could stay with them.

This was our first time trying a church directly, and knocking on a door; we had expected that speaking to a pastor might lead to him calling a family from the congregation to host us, but Lloyd was glad to help us himself. We talked in the living room for hours – and Sarah and I quickly came to terms with the guilt of our crosses, describing to the Methodist pastor that the crosses were only part of an experiment. Lloyd didn’t seem bothered; he said he noticed them, but that the camera and my shirt reading THINK stood out much more. Again, it seems that our crosses made no difference; although we were led to believe that Clarendon is an overwhelmingly Christian community, none of the people we spoke to wore crosses either – as Lloyd said, it’s just a piece of jewelry.

Lloyd, Shirley, Sarah, and I put together a bit of a potluck dinner. We brought our chips, salsa, carrots, hummus, and peaches in, to share with their quesadillas, chicken salad, watermelon, cheese, and crackers. It was an excellent meal, and the conversation just continued. Lloyd described his belief that everything we do prepares us for where we are now; our life is like a tapestry, and although sometimes we only see the ragged back of the tapestry, God and others see the beautiful front.

We talked about the violence and sex spoiling so many movies, and we watched a movie on the Hallmark Channel that was full of positive morals, family values, and was also extremely cute. Afterwards, Sarah and I went to bed – in separate bedrooms.

In the morning, we visited the church with Lloyd and Shirley, then they took us to the VFW breakfast, where a low price brings in a steady stream of regulars and cooks up some great food. It was a wonderful way to cap our Clarendon experience, noting the great community vibes, and having another hour to chat with Lloyd and Shirley. A couple hours after we left, I longed to be back with them – it was one of our most comfortable nights.

We headed east to Wichita Falls. Our first stop was a Carl’s Jr. right off the highway to meet Jason, a cameraman for a news station. He did an interview with us and then filmed us filming our first interview of the day, with Francine, the extremely friendly cashier at Carl’s Jr. She told me the food would make my mouth happy, and from then on I was pretty sure she was making me just as happy as that banana chocolate chip milkshake. After a great conversation, she said we could stay at her house; she took care of 6-year-old twins, and we could come stay with them after Bible study, around 9pm. She warned us that she gets up at 4am, and gets the kids up at 6am – no strangers to an early morning, we looked forward to seeing her again. We were to call at 8:30pm to check timing for coming over.

We headed into town to meet some more people and learn more about the community. Most people were friendly, and we met two people who couldn’t host us, but were eager to call a friend on our behalf – we felt awful interrupting them to explain that we already had a host. Our last interview of the day, Debbie, described that people are scared of what they don’t know. She said she’s scared of swimming in a lake; if it was clear to the bottom, she wouldn’t be scared, but since she can’t see what’s in there, she’s not comfortable with going in. People are the same.

We took a little break, then headed over to Subway for dinner – it was 8:30, so Sarah called Francine and left a voicemail. We ate our sandwich; the sun disappeared. We drove to the other side of town to be closer to Francine’s house when she called back; but she didn’t, so we called again at 9:30 and left another voicemail. We met some guys in the gas station parking lot who were traveling from Ohio to L.A. We quietly weighed our options as our excitement about Francine deteriorated. At 10:15pm, we received a voicemail from her, describing that she had to drive someone else home, and now it was late, and we should take a raincheck. We called back – no answer.

We can speculate, of course – maybe she got nervous. Maybe someone told her we could be axe murderers (a popular phrase around here). Or maybe she just didn’t understand that our project needed her – that a “raincheck” meant we had nowhere to stay. If she had been nervous all along, why did she say yes? Why did she wait until late at night to let us know? And what would have happened if we had answered her call instead of just missing it and letting it go to voicemail?

We had met people who would have found us a home, but after 10pm, it’s too late to call. The timing just wasn’t in our favor. But I was somehow full of energy, and, anticipating our long day in Dallas, decided to drive the two hours from Wichita Falls our to Dallas-Fort Worth to find a Wal-Mart parking lot for the night.

Sarah napped; I sang along to Fountains of Wayne and Vampire Weekend; and we settled into Wal-Mart at 12:15am. We got up at 6 to transfer footage and do some producing in the Chick-Fil-A nearby. In an hour, we’ll drive half an hour to reach the SMU campus for the first of four interviews with professors there. Tonight, we’ve got our host lined up already via CouchSurfing, taking some pressure off the day. We spoke to him on the phone yesterday, and I’m excited to help him make a spicy vegetarian dinner. But I wonder if our Wichita Falls experience will have a ripple effect – that it will make us a little less trusting too.


American Bear, Day 33: Clayton, NM

We are still sitting on the porch with our hosts for the evening. Telling stories, seeking advice.

Judith and Robert were the first people we met in Clayton. They sort of found us, not pandering to the camera, but casting a curious eye in our direction.

I think you can see when someone is going to invite you over before they actually do. Their eyes change when they hear the premise. Sometimes, we get shock, sometimes fear, sometimes surprise, but the people who take us in I think express one of two things (usually the first) 1- excitement or 2- concern.

Judith and Robert were most definitely excited, or intrigued.  I can't wait to string our usual reactions together and end with Judith, gasping with excitement.

Judy and Robert live in a beautiful prairie style house - with bright colored glass in the lighting panels upstairs and beautiful almost-period furniture in some rooms. It's symmetrical and filled with character.

At dinner later they would tell the story of me bending over the camera in the store - they were watching and thought I was maybe a classmate of one of their children with a newly born baby. Their curious glances weren't even about the camera, but sort of an interest in the community. A curiousity rooted in care.

Today has been an incredibly relaxing night. The conversation continuous and varied - we learned so much about the area, had a chance to lightly talk politics and ate a delicious meal (including dessert!).

Robbie and I chatted briefly about the physics of fate and we all got excited talking about the journey. As our first night after our one-day break, we couldn't have asked for anything better. But as a town, Clayton seems to have a lot to offer: we only spent an hour talking to people in the grocery store before we headed over to the house for dinner, but everyone we met was very friendly, even when they declined to do an interview. And we had fun seeing the manager, Janet, between interviews, to get the scoop on who we just spoke to, to fill in our experience. For most people, faith is a huge part of the town, but as in Grangeville, Idaho, the people who took us in were political and religious outliers in their town: in this case, Democrats and cultural Christians rather than by-the-book believers.

Robbie told us several times that the main reason he felt comfortable with us is that we looked like his kids. White, well-spoken, and clean-cut? It made me think about how few people we've stayed with have looked like my parents, or acted like them, or felt like them. By doing this project, we're purposefully not looking for people who attract us because they seem familiar, and therefore trustworthy. We're looking for anyone. Many people cite our clean-cut and friendly appearance as helping them trust us, but no one has said it in such a personal way: you look like my kids. I thought about Milton, the Navajo Indian in Arizona, who told his wife he was bringing home two white kids. I thought about the two African-American women we spoke to in Chicago: they were all about their openness, their community, their generosity, but when it came down to sharing that with us, they told us we wouldn't be comfortable in their community; we weren't like them. Familiar appearances have become a theme in our experiences, but they're both positive and negative, inspiring more trust with some and less trust with others. When our appearance as outsiders (due to geographic location or race) has made people resistant to us, it's not only about trust, but about their preconceptions about who we are, as in, outsiders don't understand ____. In some small towns, it feels like we're slowly cracking our way in. In others, it feels like we're welcomed immediately.

Tonight, we have our own bedroom, bathroom, and we're even going to bed earlier than usual. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? But we've never had a day that wasn't interesting. Driving away from Alamosa, we were longing for a week of vacation. But we found the perfect night to get us re-energized about our adventure. Trust and kindness is in every town in the country, we have no doubt about that. The why, the how, and the people who make it happen: that's the exciting part.