The Renaissance Man Project is an original non-fiction book by Nathaniel Kostar, also occasionally known as, Nate Lost. Welcome.
I suppose, I come from the school of insatiable souls.
That my curse is my thirst.
—from notebook, summer 2010.
When I was 19, I read On the Road by Jack Kerouac and decided it was essential for my development as a human being to road-trip across America. For better or worse, books move me.
In the spring of 2005, I snail-mailed my best friend Aaron “The Road Trip Manifesto” from Salem, Virginia, a small town tucked into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I was spending my freshman year of college. I had left New Jersey to attend Roanoke for one reason—to play basketball. It was a Division 3 school with a solid program, and I was confident I would play. But the competition at Roanoke proved better than expected. The starting point guard (I was a PG as well) was also a freshman, but he had 30 pounds on me and could dunk with two hands. Keith Carter—a local star from Roanoke City. He lived across the hall and became one of my best friends that year. Thinking back, I don’t ever remember being jealous of him, though I had reason to be. He was living the dream that motivated me throughout my childhood. I was abandoning it.
I remember the call home to my dad. I stood on well-groomed grass outside the freshman dorms in a little plaza under a warm Virginia sky. The night was clear, and the stars were bright and indifferent when I said, “I don’t think I’m going out for the team.”
I was frustrated. Disappointed. Tired.
I was coming to grips with the limits of my potential, slowly realizing that basketball (which up until this point had been my life) could only take me so far.
“I love you,” my dad said, as we hung up the phone.
He must have felt it in my voice. He must have known the weight of a failed dream…how it crushed, caved in on you.
“I love you too,” I said.
“The Road Trip Manifesto” was a 3-page persuasive essay of sorts that outlined the path, means of transportation, and budget necessary for a road trip across the U.S. It made the claim that if we were curious about the world then it was necessary for us to see our country, meet our countrymen, and in the process, learn more about ourselves.
Basketball had brought me to the mountains of western Virginia, but now the ethos of the Beat Poet was taking hold. I thirsted for excitement, new ideas, relationships, and most of all, adventure.
Luckily, Aaron was the homie, and he quickly got on board.
The route was from New Jersey to California—the width of the U.S., then down to New Orleans and back to Jersey again, a big triangle through places neither of us had ever been. As summer approached, we plotted the cities where we had friends and family, and noted places we had to see.
It didn’t take long before we realized we had a problem. Money. We lacked it. With expenses—gas, hotels, food, camping equipment, park fees, booze—the trip was going to be tight. We both had part-time jobs and were doing our best to save, but we needed an extra boost. And then Aaron came up with the plan.
At the time Aaron was working to pay for college as a salesman for a commercial real estate company near our hometown in Central New Jersey— and he was damn good at his job. He was quick, smart, witty, funny as fuck and he wasn’t afraid to say just about anything on the phone. The year before he’d gotten us all free tickets to Summer Jam by claiming to be a journalist for the Trenton Times. And though he used his wits less and less for scams and prank as he grew into what society calls an “adult,” he still had a few tricks up his sleeve.
In the spring before our cross-country adventure, we began emailing restaurants with messages like this:
(For extra flare, I liked to use names with the initials BS).
Of course, neither of us had girlfriends, and in many cases, we’d never been to the restaurant we were writing and had to search for menus online to find specific dishes that would make our claim look credible.
We were young, clever, and full of shit. But no one ever called us on it.
Chile’s, Boston Market, Burger King, TGI Fridays, McDonald’s, Crackle Barrel, Ruby Tuesdays, Olive Garden and many more franchises and chains around the country clamored over themselves to uphold their customer service records and keep us and our imaginary girlfriends happy.
By the time we set out on our trip sometime in July of 2005, we had accumulated $365 in coupons to various restaurant chains throughout the country.
When we finally made it back to New Jersey, we were dead broke. But our bellies were full.
Thanks for reading!
Click here for Intro: Part 2.
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