When my friend, Josh Sullivan, decided to quit his job as a junk yard worker and basically couch surf from town to town, from friend to friend, writing a zine along the way, I was like “OK, cool. See you in February.” Fifty-Two Friends is his project for 2009, a journey that has taken him from St. Petersberg, Florida to San Dimas, CA. In another few days, he continues on his way to experience a week of Sacramento, a week in Oakland and onwards. Somehow along the way, “legitimate media” has picked up the scent, and has mutated it into comparisons from everything to Jack Kerouac to something about “mobile internet.” Legitimate Media is talking out their ass.
Having done national radio talk shows and major newspapers, Josh Sullivan takes some time to talk to Racket about Fifty Two Friends.
The Emperor!: You ready for this?
Josh Sullivan: Yea, sure.
TE!: So, you are nine weeks into Fifty Two Friends. And, moving around on a weekly basis has got to wear you down. How have you been keeping up and taking care of yourself?
JS: Mentally and Physically?
JS: I think the biggest thing is that it’s happening so fast that I don’t really realize it. I guess the big thing is that I don’t have the time to second-guess myself, and that allows me to not be so paranoid and scared of the world as I might have been back home. That’s making me enjoy things more than I did at home. Sometimes I get homesick, and sometimes I miss my friends, and I definitely miss St. Pete, but I have to keep telling myself that the way this is set up, everything’s going to be passing by so fast that I need to start living now, instead of living in the past and thinking of back home. It’s really stressful trying to keep up on everything else, but I brought it upon myself with the zine and now I’m so busy booking more of the trip and promoting the whole project that it’s going to be really interesting to see what kind of toll the whole thing’s gonna take on me.
TE!: In your broadcast media interviews, do you think the zine is an overlooked aspect of your entire trip?
JS: Do I think that the zine will start getting people to pronounce “zine” (zeen) correctly? Yes. Absolutely, because one of the big goals with the trip is to get me back to my roots, which is to do a print zine and do comics and to go through the experience of consistently making zines like I was doing in high school before the explosion of the internet, before other zines fell by the wayside. And since this big time exposure started happening a few days ago, I’ve had to promote a lot of this stuff online, and the zine’s taken a back seat, but I’m looking forward to working on the book because there are so many people who are supporting it and subscribing to them and putting in so much love. I’m looking forward to actually making something and sending them out to people, send them something I spent time on making and not just posting online.
TE!: You said the zine (does not rhyme with vine) has taken a backseat: of what? You don’t have a car?
JS: (Shakes fist in air! Then shakes head disapprovingly)
TE!: You been in several media outlets, each attributing what you are doing to things like new mobile technology and some kind of modern nomadic hippie, which one has been the most far-fetched?
JS: Me being attributed to being a lady’s man. But I totally love the idea that pictures of me and friends that are female insinuate that I’m just having sex across the country. I guess that seems the most far-fetched, because I can definitely see myself as a hobo-nerd.
TE!: Of the items you are traveling with, which has kept you the most grounded and balanced?
JS: Wow, I think my cell phone, because I have never had a cell phone until the start of this trip, so I get to keep in touch with everyone back home and talk to them, and it feels like I am right there. And I get to share in the excitement of all these great things with the people back home. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I can walk around on my phone anywhere without my landline cordless phone being out of range. I hate cell phones, the reason I never got one is because I despise it, but it’s nice that the cell phone is what is keeping me grounded. It’s something I would have taken for granted back home, but just the fact that I can hear my mom’s voice and the voices of my friends back home keep me balanced.
TE!: What, besides cell phones, do you think that most people take for granted?
JS: Actually writing something out as opposed to typing it. The reason I say that is because of the zine, I was initially going to type up everything and print it out, but I realized it would be more interesting if I wrote out the entries and made them that way. I think it’s a dying art, the more we move away from writing letters or writing things down and the sensation of using a pen and paper, the prevalence of typing on a computer and email and communicating thart way, it makes me appreciate that I did choose to do the zine that way, in addition to doing the comics and drawing. It’s making me look at my handwriting as an art, too. Where you can look at the writing and the drawing side by side and see the two together.
TE!: With your constant change of surroundings, what has struck you as the most interesting?
JS: What strikes me the most are really the people because I am getting to experience all types of different personalities and how they act around their friends or significant others and see what makes them laugh or what irritates them. And I look at that and reflect on my own life and realize that things that would normally piss me off aren’t really that big of a deal. I think the thing that’s really good about this trip is that it’s turning me into a people watcher and getting me to pay attention.
TE!: Would you say it makes you hyper aware of how you act?
JS: Oh, yea, there have definitely been times where I feel like I might be a burden on the people I am staying with, so it makes me think of how I might be acting or if I am invading people’s space. The trip’s helping me with my self esteem, helping me with my confidence and helping me overcome any shyness that I have because it’s forcing me to confront them. I have to go with the flow, wherever I have to go, I go. I’m two months down on this trip, and I can already see that I am getting better and that I’m happier with myself. But it’s going to be really cool to see what happens at the end of the year, when it’s all done.
TE!: What are some benchmarks you have used to compare cities?
JS: I think, right off the back, how quaint and how livable a place seems to me during my first impression of when I arrive there, when I see things for the first time. I’ve been consistently talking about the different cool things of the past cities that I’ve been in. This doesn’t really fit here but how the music scene is, or how accepting of art a place seems to be to me. But the only reason I can’t say it about San Dimas, is that I haven’t actively gone out to get a feel of how it is here, but I really enjoy it here, and could see myself living here. In the grand scheme of it, I think “I can live here, I can see myself living here.” And what’s really weird, is everywhere I’ve been, I’ve said that. But there are definitely places I have been where I would choose one over another.
TE!: What places have accepted art the most so far.
JS: Austin, Texas. Because of the amazing music scene there, whatever art I wanted to pull off, I think I could pull it off there. Art and music always seem to go hand in hand. There’s St. Pete, where I’ve lived for the past nine years, and I know there’s a really great art scene and a really great music scene, and I haven’t taken advantage of it and used it to my advantage as much as I should have. So, seeing that, really is inspiring me to amp it up and attempt to do some really amazing artistic projects and get my name more out there when I get back.
TE!: What city has had the worst drinking water so far?
JS: Tallahassee. Everyone’s been saying so far that their drinking water is really bad, but since I’ve been sampling it during my trip, I’ve enjoyed it in every place except Tallahassee. I’ll say things like “your water’s really good” and they’ll be like “really?” and they’ll be using filtration systems or bottled water. I think that maybe I can be a drinking water connoisseur by the end of this trip. I was never really into water until I started (singing) in Can’t Do It, then I would have these huge bottles of water that I would go through.
TE!: What was the most unexpected benefit of this trip?
JS: How close it’s making me become with a lot of the people I’m staying with because I’ve gotten to share in their lives for a week, it’s gotten me to understand everybody better to be able to sit down and have a conversation with someone I haven’t talked to in years, or someone I’ve only talked to on the internet. And, I didn’t really think about that, and I didn’t really expect it, but I am so thankful it’s happening, and it’s happening as a natural process as opposed to forcing myself to act closer or be closer to my friends that I’m staying with. It’s really nice that I do have a whole week to experience some of the things that people get to experience during their regular lives. And that’s probably my number one benefit I can think of about this trip, is it’s been great for experiencing things. It’s just been great for getting out and doing stuff, as opposed to back home where I would spend my day at work, go home, be a hermit, wake up and do it all over again.
TE!: In 1999, my mom told me that only kids and child predators were online and everything was new and scary. Do you think that this kind of trip would be possible to set up on the Internet ten years ago?
JS: No, because it was still basically in its infancy, even in 1999, there wasn’t the magnitude of social networking, email wasn’t seen as a primary use of communication in the same sense as it is today, I’m sure it could have been pulled off, but it sure is easier today with how many people are online.
TE!: Has there been any non St. Pete food or drink that you’ve come to love on your journey?
JS: Texas BBQ and Californian Mexican food. Everywhere I go, I’ve been having so much amazing food. I think part of it is that I wouldn’t go out to eat at home. I have been eating at the places I have been staying, and some of the things are great. Some are so weird, or fattening, and they’re like “who cares if it’s fattening, or who cares if it’s unhealthy, let’s just eat it.”
TE!: When you get home, what’s the first thing you plan on doing?
JS: I don’t know, I really want to see every one; I really want to see that city. I think the first thing I want to see are my cats.
-Jonathan “The Emperor” Yost
You can follow along with Josh on his adventures on any one of these websites: