"Thumbs Up!" and Other Forms of Winging It

This Summer I immersed myself in the thing that is David Choe. I'm not going to provide any links to this character nor will I encourage you to seek out who he is and what he is about without caution. He is an artist. He's a Korean-American artist who was born in L.A., raised up in the 80s and 90s and made a lot of money doing commissioned graffiti work in the new Millennium. I like to think of him as more a graphic artist who branched out into the art world with graffiti and Korean personality notoriety. Dare I say it but he's a nobody who created a brand with zero creation at all. One of his earliest branding stints was traveling the states with no money or expectations. He documented this in a multiple season low budget Vice show called "Thumbs Up!" In the show, he basically train hopped and hitchhiked across the United States. Of course in-between the kindness of others he was sponsored by many casino wins and various collaborations with fellow affluent Korean-Americans. Since then he's been featured on Anthony Bourdain's show touring the culinary genius of L.A. and created his own dirty Asian ran podcast. At this point, he sort of misnamed as the "Facebook" guy who made a million drawing graffiti in the original HQ in exchange for stock options. The reality is he does a lot in the art world and gambles his fortunes which keeps him on the up and up. The show "Thumbs Up!" well that's an entirely different monster that continues to inspire people to just go.

Of course, I didn't come to Mr.Choe until well after traveling myself. However, I can say he's touched me in various ways. I'm certain that my late teens and early 20's were riddled with his early work but I myself did art back then so I probably ignored him. I didn't get to see his first documentary or the original airing of the Vice shows. At the time the show premiered I was too busy working and going back to school. In fact, the only reason I stumbled upon the show was "No Reservations" in 2013. I seriously just thought he was cute and the Korean food scene was sort of new thing for me. The airing of the show sent me on a downward spiral looking for all things Choe. I hate his art. I think his work is deplorable. Maybe early on his "graphic" stuff was deemed important but later on his large scale murals were contrived and he utilized the help of others to create them. The Facebook HQ stuff is also shitty and Mark Zuckerberg is an idiot for paying him in shares. Choe basically did whatever he wanted on those walls and it was later deemed as a distraction. What I like about him art wise now is that he knows where he failed and he's moving on. He's created a niche brand that is more about defiance than anything. So the more conceptual and anti-single medium work is what pulls me. The podcast is/was a trashy montage of his privileged thoughts amongst other Asian friends. Although, he says a lot of negative things about Black people with emphasis on Black women I sort of align with their Asian stereotypical dialogue. Now the travel aspect isn't just about the show. He talks about travel constantly and I love hearing it from the mind of someone who has money and chooses to pretend he doesn't. Most people don't know or care who the fuck he is anyways. So he can escape his life and be in Korea or China or Africa and easily come back to the States and pretend he's homeless for a full summer in the midwest. The duality is interesting and that is what truly makes him an artist. The only disclaimer is that he has absolutely no shame and does his fair share of badmouthing and exploitation of women, different races and Asian customs. There is a lot of cussing, fighting, gambling, sex, nudity, self-destruction and downright debauchery in his documentation.

"Thumbs Up" is the one pure display of real travel at it's finest. In the original season he shows how to jump a moving train, where to take a dump if needed and how to get a room comped after some basic casino play. He isn't altogether stranded. There is a lone camera man and he has a companion/side-kick. You know they aren't starving or necessarily have to continue on without money. They show when they haven't sleep for lack of shelter, when they are denied kindness when they appear homeless/penniless and they eat things you wouldn't care to if you had an alternative. They are clearly off the grift but when they encounter situations with real homeless or endangered types they allow them that train car or hitchhiking real-estate. They never exactly steal anything and they don't lie. It is extremely entertaining to see how they are constantly mistaken for criminals, terrorists etc and how some think they are harmless simply because they are Asian. The entire thing is a great play on how funny you think life is and how shitty it can actually get. However, there are great shows of hospitality, trust, humanity - and it can only be shown when you claim to be in that particular circumstance. While you're watching you begin to realize that you are watching happens day in and day out. This mode of travel and seeing the world isn't far fetched. Many people let go of their lives, live off the grift and thumb it up.

There are also the many other methods available to those who yearn to travel but think they cannot. We've all used them and it's interesting to see just what is available for us to use. Frankly, if we all had passports but lacked money or connections yet saw the plethora of options we'd be on our merry ways. Of course, at the bottom of the list is hitch hiking but ride shares are second best. A sign in lieu of a thumb or a simple road stop question of "are you going my way" can get you far. I've witnessed this in France and it was mostly women doing it. Surely, I would fear holding up a sign saying "Take Me To Paris With You!" but I don't know the circumstance. Had I not had my train tickets to Paris secured I myself may have had to go that route. Then there's house shares - be it AirBnB or "couch surfing" or hostels. These options aren't always lower on the totem pole than a hotel or motel but they are a means to an end. There's budget and economy travel where we are sardined on small planes or herded onto ferries and trains. There is the gypsy and nomadic circuit of odd jobs, circus life and "missionary" trips. There is fundraising whether it be for personal reasons, education or religious fervor. Carwashes, bake sales, parent contribution, Honeyfunds and Indigogos are all forms of "clean" begging. One wonders is it better to swipe for your trip and be in debt or save face and ask for the money? Which of the choices are more rewarding and what if your trip isn't successful? - who benefits and who lacks? I guess the real question of the hour is do those with private planes feel horrible that they themselves didn't fly? The point of this - is get there whatever way and however you can - just get there! Whose to say what got your there and no matter what debt or freedom you are in - you're both rewarded the memory of travel. 

Now of course David Choe is no authority on rogue travel nor is he a role model for going about it. I just like the idea that he may have sparked a revolution. The concept of art isn't always visual and I think inspiration is the key. He inspired me to re-think travel and sort of opened my eyes to the places in my backyard I've avoided. There is a strange, cultural outer space out west that many of us east coasters don't believe we can ever see. Sometimes, it doesn't have to be all about L.A. or Cancun or Toronto. There are Americas that are still wild and exotic that need to be seen. I used to relish on the idea that Europeans could country hop whenever they pleased but navigation of the states is much easier. Basically in seven days time it is possible to see our own little world whether it be in a plane, in a car or in the back of an empty freight train. There are many people just winging it and sometimes you have to take what you can get. The Australians have the "walkabout" and we have the railways - again just a means to an end to see the world turn. I'm down for it. 

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