For my first blog post for the Ulster PR Student blog I decided to write about a topic / experience I consider important and the impact that it had on myself as an individual. In the summer of 2018, I embarked on a road trip across the United States of America with my three best friends in a Dodge caravan.
This motley crew consisted of a German American named Yanique Apgar, Jake Becker from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, two Irish men (including myself) and a lad from Carland, County Tyrone. One thing we shared in common? We had all met at a summer camp in Fryeburg, Maine in 2017.
The surreal and bizarre choice of wording for my title is deliberate and a direct reference to Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.’ A basic synopsis of the novel revolves around journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo as they travel to Las Vegas in 1971 in search of the ‘American Dream.’
From an early age I’ve found the concept of the American Dream and American culture fascinating. One of the many definitions available describe it as ‘the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.’ Basically, meaning if you work hard enough you are entitled to the millions of dollars that you deserve.
When myself and my friends planned this road trip spanning from East coast to West coast, I was excited to see if the American consumerism and excess Hunter Thompson described in his novel still existed and if Las Vegas still symbolized the coarse ugliness of mainstream American culture. So, in a way, we were looking for the American Dream as well.
‘Buy the ticket, take the ride.’
The first phase of our trip involved a 17-hour over-night drive from Boston, MA to Nashville, TN. The layout of the people carrier we were driving allowed for two passengers to sleep in the back (since the seats could be concealed in the body of the vehicle), whilst there was a driver and co-pilot in the front. The foggy descent along the East Coast travelling through New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and West Virginia into the South was an endurance test for all of us. My last recollection of the East coast was seeing the bright, high-standing structures of New York City, as I had decided to rest in the back and take the second shift of driving once, we arrived in Nashville.
We arrived in Nashville and had decided to enjoy one night on the town. We visited the main strip, a variety of vintage guitar shops and famous honky-tonk bars, a brief taste of what southern culture had to offer.
Then came the bruiser…
My friend Jake had contacts in Golden, Colorado who we had decided to meet up with. Our trip was based on a 10-day window to arrive in San Diego, CA as I had to board a flight to NYC to meet my family. This meant I was riding shotgun for a 17-hour drive straight through the night through both Missouri and Kansas. This was a change from the opulence and wealth you’d experience on the East coast. Both Missouri and Kansas hold proud agricultural significance for the US, but what did this mean for us? 1,000 miles of driving through corn fields…
When we arrived in Colorado however, we were treated like kings. Jake’s friend’s family put us up in their mansion located in the Rocky Mountains.
After four days of wining and dining like celebrities in Denver, Boulder and Golden Colorado, it was time to travel the most significant leg of our trip, through the Utah desert.
We had been experiencing problems with the axel of the caravan, this problem only escalated when approaching state lines leaving Utah and into Arizona. One of our back tires exploded on the desert highway leaving us stranded. After two hours with limited signal coverage a friendly passer-by stopped his pickup to offer assistance.
The good Samaritan was a Native American who explained to us that his ‘son owned a reservation down the road,’ and that he would be more than happy to offer assistance. When we arrived on the reservation, we couldn’t help but notice how harsh the living conditions of the desert were for native American families living there. But also, a feeling for admiration for how resilient they must have been to continue life as normal in such a hostile environment.
Where was the reservation located? Around 50 miles outside the city limits of Las Vegas…
This made me reflect on the writings of Hunter Thompson and his critique of whether or not the American Dream was still alive and it’s relevance during our era. Has the ‘get rich quick’ culture popularised today with social influencers, multi-media conglomerates and celebrity youth culture made us lose our moral compass? Did me and my friends find the American Dream?
Francis Sherry is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on Instagram: frankoosherry