Friday, May 26, 2006

Man Walks Across Country, America Captivated

A guy who was unemployed, depressed, and 400lbs, became a walking icon for America in a sort of slow-motion Forrest Gump-type experience. Why did Steve Vaught decide to walk across our great land? Because he was unhappy. Why was he unhappy? Because, in his own words, he was fat. And so Vaught, facing personal demons, a growing girth, and a looming divorce, decided to start walking.

Luckily this is America, the land where empty lives are forged every minute. The media and film crews picked up on the story and latched on. A website was born complete with t-shirts (of course), inspirational notes, and media buzz. Vaught completed his journey 13 months later but The Washington Post says he may have cheated.

“Interviews, online journals and a timeline of his progress provided by the documentary film crew have raised serious questions about whether Vaught in fact walked every inch of the way,” said a Post article on the odyssey. “Members of the film crew gave Vaught a camera (they didn't accompany him for the whole trek) and in one case, the film places him in Albuquerque one day and 117 miles to the east in Santa Rosa, N.M., the next.”

Even his wife, who has filed for divorce, wonders how he could have walked 117 miles in a single day. (That's like Pat Robertson leg-pressing 2000 lbs) "I know what he told me," said April, who spoke with her husband nearly every day of his cross-country journey. "He said, 'I walked all these miles around Albuquerque.' He skipped ahead to Santa Rosa and counted the miles in Albuquerque to getting to Santa Rosa."

Not to mention at one point in the trek Vaught flew back to Los Angeles for a two-week session with his personal trainer. Uh, what is that?

But I don't think the problem is with Vaught as much as it is with us. Really, whether he walked the whole way or not isn’t as important as why we were going to make this guy a hero in the first place? Why is it even news if a guy decides to walk across the country? Are we that desperate in this country for heroes? Sports, American Idol and SNL stars no longer do it for us? What do we need?

First of all, the idea has been done. Forrest Gump went soul searching; jogging back and fourth across the country after Jenny left him. It's all in the documentary "Forrest Gump." If your best idea has been done before on the silver screen, it’s not that great. Come on.

Secondly, the man was unemployed, overweight, with a marriage on the rocks. So, he did what any hero would do, take 13 months and walk across the country. Hello? If any one of us came up with that idea we’d be mocked and scorned, rightfully. He received a book deal and film crew.

Things have gone terribly wrong in this country. There’s not enough hazing or sober judgment or something. Why don’t people want to give more money to welfare? Because an unemployed man becomes an icon while prolonging his unemployment. Who wouldn’t like to walk across the country, see natural and historic landmarks, get away from the grind and get fit and find themselves along the way? Why doesn’t everyone do it? Because we have to work. If everyone did it the country would fall apart. This aint France! Luckily the rest of us are working, and donating, so that he can take the journey on behalf of all of us. What a bunch of crap.

I’d love to take 13 months off and get in great shape and get myself happy. I’d love to build a cabin in the woods and write poetry or sit on a mountain and meditate. Then, after finding myself, I’d love to ski down that mountain laughing hysterically. But I also have to live in the real world. I have to pay my bills and take care of the people I’m responsible for. That’s life. Am I a hero? No, I’m just a boring schmuck. Where’s my book deal? I’ll write it myself, “The Life of a Boring Schmuck: how I worked and put myself and my offspring through college.”

And guess what, in the process of accepting my responsibilities I found myself along the way. It turns out it is found in the last place you'd look: your life. Dust it off and spend time with it. That’s where the joy and fulfillment is. Work, take care of your family, enjoy the time you have. You don't have to walk across the country to figure that out. Who has the bigger problem? The person walking across the country to lose weight and find himself, or the person buying his t-shirts? Come on.

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