Before they were the humanitarian Facebook video darlings known as the Nowhere Men, Brian Doochin, Eric Messinger, and Alex Portera were three kids form the Tri-State area who met when they all attended Washington University in St. Louis. After college they all got jobs in New York City: Doochin and Portera as management consultants with Deloitte Consulting, and Messinger as a third grade teacher.
They were also wildly bored.
“After three to four years at our jobs in NYC, we were all getting restless,” Doochin says. “Not bad jobs — but we had the itch to do something else.”
“A friend told us about the Mongol Rally, held every summer, where a couple hundred comically unsuitable cars drive from London to Mongolia. It was the craziest thing we’d ever heard, so we did it. We all quit our jobs at the same time and went for it.”
Before they could drive 35,000 miles — that’s more than the circumference of the Earth, by the way — they needed to figure out how they were going to pay for all this. Luckily, the group was put in touch with a television production company that supplied some funding, as well as cameras and “a few hours training,” telling them to document the experience to see what might shake out. After raising additional funds on Indiegogo for the Well Dunn Foundation, they had enough to buckle up.
What was your very first destination? And how far into that trip did you get before plans changed and you just decided to start winging parts of the journey?
The first stop was London, our starting point for driving to Mongolia. We first had to buy a car, which we got for ~$600 in rural England. The steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car and it was stick shift, which none of us had ever learned to drive. We racked up several hundred pounds of ‘congestion tickets’ before we even left London.
Within 100 meters of the Mongol Rally launch, we got lost from the procession of about 200 other rally cars. Basically from there, for the next 10,000 miles, we were lost.
How long after that first trip did you look at each other and say, “We need to get back out there” and start planning the NYC-to-Argentina trip?
After driving from London to Mongolia all summer, we each went back to our normal jobs – somehow, they all let us take a 3-month break. (Ask your employer!)
Within a month of being miserable at our jobs, our producer emailed and said they’d been watching our footage – and that they’d like to make a full series. So we very quickly quit and prepared for another road trip, this time from NYC to the bottom tip of Argentina.
Can you talk a little about the philosophy behind telling local humanist stories? How you chose to start doing it and why you feel it’s something that’s necessary for people to hear and see?
When we were planning our drive to Argentina, people in the States told us not to go through Mexico. In Mexico, they told us to avoid Guatemala. In Guatemala, they told us to stay away from El Salvador, and in El Salvador, Honduras. We ended up spending more than a month in each of these countries, and meeting amazing, earnest people throughout.
We realized that people fear, and even hate, what they don’t know. And that a lot of the divisiveness in the world can be leveled if we all just have a little more empathy for each other. We’re all just people working hard for ourselves and our families. So much of the fear comes from simply not understanding each other. So we made it our goal to share the stories of people from around the world to remind our viewers that yes, people are good. And we’ve been amazed by the impact that’s had.
Was telling other people’s stories always the intent? Or did Nowhere Men start as something like soul-searching/road-tripping before taking on its eventual form?
At first, we were just trying to have the adventure of our lifetimes. Then, we were given a second. But we quickly realized throughout the trips that the most exciting, meaningful moments were not about seeing the sights, but about meeting the amazing people, who were always willing to help out some traveling strangers in our most vulnerable moments. We would never have made it to Mongolia or Argentina without the help of countless strangers. People around the world shared their lives and stories with us, and by taking a genuine interest in everyone we met, we had authentic, meaningful encounters (even through language barriers), and forged some lifelong friendships.
How many cars do you think you guys have gone through? Do you name them?
We’ve driven 3 cars throughout our 35,000 miles on the road, and drove each of them to their deaths….
Our car from London to Mongolia was called the Auto Goulet, a tiny, purple, 1998 Nissan Micra. By the time we got to the finish line in Mongolia, we rolled in with two completely flattened tires, 1 working door, 0 working windows (duct taped on), we had lost our headlights, been hit by a Turkish bus, and been towed out of a frozen Mongolian river.
Getting from NYC to the bottom of Argentina took 2 cars. We purchased a used Nissan Xterra in New Jersey without looking under the hood, and found out quickly she must’ve been underwater for Hurricane Sandy – the whole underside was rusted over. We got to know every mechanic in Central America (and slept on some of their floors). We finally had to just hand her off to a friend we made in Panama, because she was beyond repair.
Then, we took a gorgeous sailboat from Panama to Colombia. In Bogotá, we purchased a 1995 Toyota LandCruiser, named Velita. Velita carried us all the way to the bottom of Argentina, but also encouraged us to meet every mechanic in South America. We put her through a lot – getting stuck in remote Bolivia for over a day (we had to cut out our seatbelts to use as tow ropes for rescue), driving through salt flats, traversing windy, high-altitude Andean roads, you name it. She now lives on a farm in Chile and is pretty immobile.
We’ve become friends with mechanics in over 30 countries. While the car issues are always frustrating (and expensive), this also has been an amazing way to meet people – real people, who aren’t usually dealing with tourists. We’ve had a lot of amazing encounters this way.
Now that you guys are back in NYC you’re interviewing local characters of interest like James “The Dogfather” Guiliani. What’s coming next for Nowhere Men?
There are about 7 billion more stories to tell and we’re excited to share them all. We’re going to keep meeting people and telling their stories. Currently, everything goes up on our Facebook page first.
We have some really exciting travel projects for the beginning of 2018 (details forthcoming), and we’re thrilled to get back on the road! Additionally, our TV series remains in post-production and we’re looking forward to seeing where it ends up. Again, we’ll be announcing any updates first on our Facebook page.
We’re also now helping others learn how to tell great stories worth sharing. Over the last few years we’ve amassed a tremendous amount of hard-earned storytelling expertise for the social media age, and this is a powerful tool we’re now sharing with people, brands, and organizations. Shameless plug: contact us at email@example.com or via Facebook message if you’re interested in learning how to tell your story!
Lastly, what’s one food you discovered on your travels that you can no longer live without?
We all got into Argentinian maté – a potent herbal tea. Argentinians are never seen without their maté. There’s a whole ritual to drinking it, and it’s beautiful. (And strong.)
And nothing compares to good Mexican food.