Call it a quarter-life crisis: Andy Raney does. Because before watching the documentary that resulted, it's slightly difficult to imagine why two adult males -- Raney and co-creator Jeremy Make -- would travel the United States in a used and dilapidated golf kart named Christine for a hundred days, moving at a brisk and booming 35 miles per hour. Christine's sputters could -- and maybe should -- have been a sign, since the kart broke down in the first five miles. Somehow, they weren't.
Neither was the unfortuante fact that the two lost the key in that same thirty-hour period, and spent most of it using a screwdriver to operate the kart.
As foreshadowing, it should also be noted that both Raney and Make refuse to use a female pronoun for Christine, whom a previous owner named after Stephen King's possessed vehicle villain, and instead refer to her as "it." "We have a love-hate relationship with it," Raney says. "You have no idea."
But their story goes farther back than that: As many of the best documentaries do, it began with national identity -- specifically, a lack of one. And that started with Jäger. After spending a year in college studying abroad in Hong Kong and at sea, Raney ended his trip with the realization he had no idea what American culture was. This is where Christine comes in: In her, the two could explore the concept slowly, taking back roads and the occasional highway shoulder across a country they knew too little while consistently and narrowly avoiding the sideswipe of a sixteen-wheeler.
"I was literally holding a shot of Jägermeister, and he said, 'I'm thinking about traveling the country in a golf kart, want to come?'" Make recalls. "I said yes, and we took shots."
Watch the trailer for kART Across America below:
Early concepts included a (wisely) discarded plan to support breast cancer research by tracing breasts across the country with their route. The golf kart idea itself came easily, but the two, friends since middle school, also had to have a point. In a moment of strange self-awareness they trace inside the film, its title played a key factor in this decision: kART Across America. In the end, they would spend their hundred-day trip asking people, "What is your art?"
"This was right after Katrina and the election, and America was so polarized," Make says. "We were still feeling the pull of red and white and the repercussions of a post-racial world. I remember that in college, none of Andy's friends ever, ever asked what you did for a living, and we wanted to stray far outside of that shallow end of life."
From there, the trip's planning process took the better part of a year, after which the roommates left their jobs and shelled out a collective $15,000 for supplies: $5,000 for Christine, $5,000 in supplies and food along the way and approximately $5,000 for the camera they used to film the movie. Today, the two have returned to roughly the same jobs. The 28-year-old Raney works in financial wholesaling while Make, 29, is an actor, filmmaker and an instructor in effective communication for medical students at the University of Colorado. He teaches bedside manner.
This probably came in handy on a trip in which their now genderless golf kart, held together with duct tape and tube socks, broke down at least once almost every single day and caused a minor spectacle as she crawled across the fringes of the country. If you attempted to judge Raney and Make by their intentions, the result would be something like the world's most lovable combination of dreamers and masochists. Raney had never used a camera before, he is something he alarmingly refers to as a "rearview mirror driver," and neither one of them know anything about car repair, much less possessed golf kart mechanics.
If you judged them by their results, they'd be geniuses.
But they were geniuses with help: Cross-country golf-kart travel is not quite a novel idea, and its greatest champion to date is likely George Bombardier, a man Make describes as the "coolest, craziest and oldest" he knows. Bombardier himself has embarked on similar trips three times, and his character in the documentary is nearly as significant as theirs. It was he who sold them Christine, for better or for worse.
Their trip began with a one-way flight to Rialto, California, where they drove Christine away from Bombardier's house after her windshield had been extended to cover their heights. (Bombardier might also be the smallest man Make knows.) It's safe to say that the people Make and Jeremy met and documented on their trip are extraordinary - a graffiti artist, a choreographer, a blacksmith, painters, a curmudgeonly Edward Albee who claims not to wear underwear - but the movie is for their stories and this article is for that of its creators (who frown on spoilers.)
"The length of the journey was the most difficult part for me because I had the idea in high school but didn't act on it until three and a half years out of college," Raney says. "When we watched all the footage, we had to relive everything. I had my own memory of something, but then I'd watch Jeremy's footage of it and now all of a sudden I have two memories for every aspect of our trip."
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What resulted, after 100 days spent wearing the same shirts, camping in Wal-Mart parking lots, discovering their own art (again, no spoilers) and engaging in frequent philosophical fights about car repairs neither of them could perform, is 130 hours of film, 10,000 photos and roughly three and a half years of piecing it all together. That thankless task was designated to the documentary's editor, Lyman Smith, who eventually created a project as much about the artists interviewed as about the process of discovering them. When asked what he learned about himself during the trip, Make's answer is a telling, "Everything."
"The best part was, when I saw our friends at the coming-home party, realizing I'm not just one of those people who talk about doing things," Raney says. "I do them. I did this -- we did this."
kART Across America debuts at the Mayan Theatre, 110 Broadway, at 7:30 p.m. tonight. Tickets cost $10.