When Courtney Dillard and Matt Webber got married, they hit the road to visit cafes across America. The couple wanted to share their first meal of the day with 50 strangers, as a way to celebrate their marriage and set the standard for the type of lives they want to lead.
They call their trek, “Breakfast with Strangers”
“We were a little worried about the domestic nature of getting married and we didn’t want to narrow our lives too much; we wanted to do something different,” said 41-year-old Dillard, a college professor in Portland, Ore.
The couple is four months into their trip and are now on their way back to Portland. These experiences are sure to last a lifetime, and the couple has learned one very simple fact about the United States:
“I think the main similarity is that without fail, people have been good, I mean, 100 percent,” Dillard said. “And I think that’s really important for people to know is the stranger danger feeling that people have is not necessarily true when you actually meet people. So I think that thing people hold in common is that they really want to do right by their other human beings.”
Sometimes it takes a little nudge
The idea to travel the country wasn’t always appealing to Matt, 37, a political and community organizer. He said she would invite people to their table who’d been sitting alone.
"I was usually like, 'Hey it’s 9 o’clock on a Sunday, I don’t want to do that,'" he said. "But the first time she kind of nudged me to do that a bit more, it was a wonderful experience where we met a guy who was building a sail boat to sail around the world, his version of that trip. I was like, this was a really good use of our time. What other stories are we missing?"
The focus of the trip is the stories; from the Midwest to the Northeast, the pair just wants to hear the tales about other people overcoming obstacles or find out how they dealt with particular situations.
“You really hear about folks that kind of weren’t living their dreams, or weren’t on the path that maybe they thought they were originally going to be on and at some point in their lives said, 'I’m going to do that, I’m going to take that risk, going to make that leap,'" Matt said. "Not all the stories were successes, but everyone as happy for doing it. So to be on this trip, it’s allowed us to move forward every day, and for me to not think about, 'Oh my god, I left my job', it’s just very positive about the decision."
"Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds"
They are doing the cross-country journey without getting into debt, and they don't have smart phones or a GPS system to guide them. They figure that it's better to see where the road will lead without quite knowing what's ahead.
They've shed tears, swapped stories, and are learning what makes people more similar than different, even after a very heated political season.
When they arrived in San Antonio, they met up at the iconic Jim’s restaurant on Hildebrand to talk with John Dean, a queer activist who said he was accidentally outed to his family, an experience he is using to help others tell their story.
"My parents have always been super supportive of me in that they love me and they want my life to be as happy as possible, and in this they see that I'm driven by not just a desire but a need, a moral need to help other people and to try my best to help other people" said John Dean.
Courtney and Matt say these are the stories that inspire them.
"There's so much richness around you, and there's so many friends that can easily be made and you can get to know your fellow countrymen, you can get to know your country better and just your community by just kind of speaking to the person next to you,” Matt said.