Tom Albrecht (front) and J.F. Musial, hosts of Thrill of the Road.
I always felt at home when we entered Colorado, where the plains became arid, the rabbit bush prolific. (Occasionally we would take "the southern route," heading into the harsh rocks of northern Texas or New Mexico.) Our search was for elusive river beds—sometimes full only in the spring. In the shallow pools, we would seine—this is a type of net—for fish, to find what species still remained or were gone, extinct due to human folly. When it got dark, we'd pull off to the side of the road, kick the rocks out of the way, throw tarps down, and prepare our sleeping bags. We never checked into motels. Mom would get out the Coleman stove and Dad would take notes about the day's proceedings. We kids would then run through the sagebrush until dinner. Next morning, we'd get up with the sun and shake our shoes out to make sure no scorpions had crawled in. Sometimes we'd change location every day.
I mention this only to explain why I am not bothered by my current lifestyle.
- Roger Miller
I first encountered J.F. Musial as a liason for Alex Roy. At the time, I suppose he was about 19; a college student at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. We got to know each other better during Roy and Maher's 31:04 crossing of the United States and the year of secrecy where we had nobody else to discuss it with. I figured that J.F. would go on to some sort of junior-management level and work his way up to a senior management position rather quickly, trading in his B5 A4 for an S8 before the age of 35.
But then something remarkable happened. When I was in NYC a few weeks ago, J.F. was worrying about what he'd do when he finishes school. What he didn't comprehend — and what Alex and I had already figured out — J.F. is already doing it. It's called Thrill of the Road. And it's one of the best web-only shows for petrolheads yet — simply because it's got a fantastic loose charm to it. Take three early-twentysomething dorks with conflicting personalities, throw them in J.F.'s Audi, add a bit of music and see what the guys run across along the way. It's essentially the formula that Charles Kuralt perfected in his classic On The Road series, and it's been used to both wonderful and unintentionally humorous effect by native Tennesseean Huell Howser on the public televison travelogue California's Gold.
Kuralt famously dropped a sad bit of science: "Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything." Interestingly enough, the transcontinental highway system; a large part of which brought Alex to his initial modicum of fame and led to his meeting with Musial, hasn't so far been much of a big deal when it comes to TOTR. Instead, Musial, his good-natured loudmouth Samoan attorney/Ryan Dunn doppelgänger Tom Albrecht and their cameraman Ian Jenkins head off in search of Musial's platonic ideal of roads.
The first part of Episode 1, including a coal mine in Penna that's been burning for 45 years
Neither Musial or Albrecht are particularly comfortable in front of the camera — rank neophytes in fact. To compensate, Jenkins has taken to holding the camera up at all times, regardless of whether it's on or off. Every once in a while, amateur hour holds the kernel of brilliance.
It's not to say TOTR is by any means perfect — each episode only costs about $250 to make in materials, and it shows at times — but there's a measure of just-enough in the professionalism that lets it slip by. There's a palpable joy in the show; like discovering just how easy it is to whack a power chord on a distorted guitar and come up with a pleasing noise. The boys hop into J.F.'s Audi, ignore the terrible noise the car's first gear tends to make and just go. Some of the camerawork in the first two episodes is pretty dizzy-making when it comes to the traveling shots, but Musial assures me that they've got a gyrostabilizer for Ian's camera now, which should make the new episodes more watchable.
There's no pretense; no bullshit; nothing really in the way of posturing; although Albrecht does have his hammy, antic moments, he ultimately comes across as a goofy kid-brother type while Musial plays the straight man. Somehow, the show is more than the sum of its parts; it's heartfelt and earnest without really trying to be. At the end of the episodes, the guys simply point out how long they were gone; there's no moralizing; no grand conclusions about what the great American pastime of the road trip means. It's just, "Well, we went here and we did this." It's just honest, and for that, I love it.
When your co-workers are the reason you reach for your revolver; when a Max Ernst fever dream leaves you trapped beneath Père-Lachaise dirt alongside avian hallucinations of Edith Piaf, Marcel Marceau, Seurat, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, it might be instructive to remember that you can just get in your car and drive somewhere you've never been. Some people run. Some people walk. Some people pump iron. Some meditate. The trick is finding perspective in the old and the new; in discovery and change. And to be honest, for that mission, there's no better steed than an automobile.
Fast as a Shark is an electronic broadside aimed at what's historically right and gut-wrenchingly wrong with the automotive industry and culture. We're betting that while Udo Dirkschneider has at one point owned an Audi, he probably finds Mission of Burma "Kind off veird."