We live on an amazing planet, made even more amazing by the different people and cultures. Car culture is equally diverse, and brings with it a unique opportunity to explore the world from the front seat.
I recently discovered a fun show called An Idiot Abroad. In the first season, British celebrity Ricky Gervais enlists the help of his friend Stephen Merchant to send their mutual friend Karl Pilkington out to visit the seven wonders of the world – the great wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Machu Picchu, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Chichen Itza in Mexico, and that stone building you remember from Indiana Jones (Petra).
There’s only one problem. Karl is a bit of a stick in the mud. He hates change and has almost no interest in any of this. Still, presented with a chance to see the world – something everyone might agree is worth a try, especially for free – and with the added benefit of being on TV in the process, Karl agrees to do it.
Unfortunately for Karl, Ricky wants the experience to be painful. A bit of a dick, Ricky says, “Nothing is funnier than Karl hiding in a corner being poked with a stick.” What follows is a unique look at the world through the eyes of a continuously cranky and disinterested Brit.
Karl ends up staying in run down shanties, riding camels across open deserts, and almost always, eating something we in the west would consider disgusting. Through it all, though, Karl perseveres. He shows us the less glamorous side of world travel, yet, in watching each episode, I can’t help but feel a sense of awe at how well things turn out.
An Idiot Abroad shows us the more difficult side of exploring strange new cultures. Much like a Top Gear challenge, the producers make sure there are people to meet Karl when he arrives and point him toward the next awkward social interaction. (He doesn’t know what’s coming.) The results are both funny and inspiring.
Which brings me back to gearhead culture. The world, for all its incredible variety, and despite its relative challenges, is a whole lot easier to explore when you’ve got a local friend or two who want to see to it you have the best possible experience.
As gearheads, we have friends like that. We might not know them yet, but we know that, wherever there are cars, trucks, and bikes, there are gearheads like us. As I watch An Idiot Abroad and laugh at all the awkward situations Karl finds himself in – every time he’s offered something nasty to eat or confounded by a public bathroom that’s little more than a row of holes in the ground – I can’t help but think it would be a completely different – and better – experience to meet up with fellow gearheads and see the sights from the inside of a well cared-for vehicle.
V and I have scraped our nickels and dimes together to get over to Europe twice since 2010 and experienced local cultures (German, British) by hanging out with local gearheads. Not gonna lie. It’s somewhat terrifying pulling up to the group of strangers on the far side of the planet, most of whom don’t speak your language, but within an hour, you find yourself soundly among friends. By the end of the day? You’re with family. That’s the real power of gearheads like us.
My friend Anukraman has offered a chance to ride motorcycles across India whenever I can get over there. Mike, who bought my second Galant, regularly travels to Japan for business. He’s offered to let me crash on his couch and show me the sights. There are no fewer than SIX Aussies and Kiwis on my list of people to meet, not to mention running the Shitbox or Mystery Box Rallies across Australia. I’d also like to run the Alcan 5000, visit Chile, maybe explore Italy a bit, but now – since we’re not made of money and can only really make such trips every other year – we have to choose between new adventures and seeing gearhead family.
I see the shenanigans endured by Karl Pilkington on An Idiot Abroad, and I feel that twinge of apprehension. Considering how expensive this type of travel can be, and how little paid time off we get in the States, I really don’t want to make such a relatively large investment in eating bugs or shitting in holes next to strangers or land diving (though, strangely, I might consider wing walking). At the same time, I see all these exotic places and think, “Gearheads live there. I’d want to see their side of things.”
Wouldn’t you? If you’ve got Netflix, you can watch all three seasons of An Idiot Abroad right now. Or you could YouTube them. I’m sure they’re out there. It’s a lot of fun and gives, I think, a much better perspective of life in other countries. Have a laugh at Karl’s expense, but think about the cool things he sees and remember, the world is full of gearheads like us.