Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Kogan recently caught up with veteran journalist Michael Sean Comerford, who cycled the length of Route 66 during the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year and talked to scores of people along the way.
Comerford began his journey from Chicago in March, averaging 35 to 70 miles daily, with a sign affixed that read, “Tell Me a Story.” He made it to the Santa Monica Pier in May, enduring all sorts of weather conditions and five breakdowns with a Panasonic bicycle he bought off Craigslist.
“The idea came to me in a dream,” he told me. “I knew the time was perfect since I would be riding during some of the major milestones of the country’s portion of the pandemic, including crossing the 500,000 mark for deaths, the one-year anniversary of the CDC declaring it a pandemic and a record vaccine rollout that in May would see half the country vaccinated.” […]
His journey attracted some modest attention and admiration. Sam McManis, a reporter for the Arizona Daily Sun, wrote this: “Part Studs Terkel’s ‘Working,’ part Steinbeck’s ‘Travels with Charley’ and part Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo reportage, Comerford has encountered all manner of Americans with widely divergent stories and opinions, from COVID deniers to those dealing with severe illness to just common folks trying to cope in this most uncommon of times.”
Most people, Comerford says, were eager to talk, and he was impressed at how “articulate they were, how heartfelt their opinions.” He is respectful of even the most outlandish stories, such as that from a rancher who told of curing himself by taking a friend’s advice to drink a de-wormer used on cattle.
Comerford talked to the Santa Monica Daily Press after the completion of his journey:
“It occurred to me that most people are not dying of Covid; they are living with Covid,” said Comerford. “They are adapting to a worldwide pandemic, as they have throughout human history and they are adapting in ways that are astonishing.” […]
“I want them to see where these people are coming from and why they feel the way they feel,” said Comerford. “I want people to hear the inflection in their voice and see their eyes and know where they’re speaking from.”
The Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff also caught up with Comerford during his trek.
Comerford collected about 100 videotaped interviews during his journey, which all are compiled on his The Story Cycle channel on YouTube.
One of the most-viewed videos is the interview in April with Sandee Pasquale of the Acoma Pueblo near Cubero, New Mexico.
Surfing through the videos, here’s an interview with a familiar face to the Route 66 community — Harley Russell of the Mediocre Music Makers in Erick, Oklahoma.
Comerford stated on his website he’ll gather his thoughts from the trip for a future book later this summer and is trying to get financial backing for a documentary film.
(Hat tip to Brian Gregory; image of Michael Comerford at the Santa Monica Pier via his Facebook page)