Dan Ettinger and Simon Goldberg experienced pretty much everything a pair of cyclists could before reaching Asheville: They tasted ocean spray on the Pacific shore, crossed a handful of mountain chains, crept across the vast prairie states and nearly died on Indiana’s secondary roads.
But their ride into Asheville last Thursday—across the Smoky Park Bridge, at rush hour, in failing light—was one of the most harrowing legs of their coast-to-coast tour. By the time they’d reached Wall Street they were gray-faced and shivering. And yet, they were eager to tell a few jokes.
“How do you kill a circus?” Ettinger asked.
“You go straight for the juggler!” Both men bent low with laughter, as if they were hearing the punchline for the first time.
Friends since middle school, Ettinger and Goldberg, now in their mid-20s, left Astoria, Ore., on Aug. 21. Their plan? To cross the United States, collecting jokes along the way. At every stop, they’ve trained their digital camera on willing subjects and asked them to tell a few of their favorite jokes. To date, they’ve collected more than 200, many of which are posted at their Web site, www.jokesacrossamerica.net. After reaching Charleston, S.C., in another 10 days, they plan to compile them in a book.
Some parts of the country wear their humor on their faces. Other states are full of stolid types who take a while to loosen up. “It’s a little hard to connect with Montana ranchers,” Ettinger reported. Since the men turned south, the jokes have been more abundant. Not necessarily better, but abundant.
“Pineville, Kentucky,” Ettinger recalled. “If you go there, you’d better be prepared to stay a long, long time.”
“The unique thing about riding overloaded bicycles and wearing these silly outfits is that people immediately come up and talk to you,” he continued. “It’s so easy to connect with people. They’re inspired by what we’re doing, and we’re inspired by how inspired they are, and soon enough we’re talking and the joke-telling starts.”
Before making his home on a bike, Goldberg lived in Asheville, where he played trumpet with bands including Afromotive, Trainwreks and Jar-e. As he and Ettinger talked, a former bandmate passed by, apparently unsurprised to see Goldberg in head-to-toe spandex.
Goldberg’s teeth were chattering; he pulled on a windbreaker and gobbled down a few pieces of donated Halloween chocolate. Ettinger glanced back at the family-sized shaker of talcum powder on his bike rack. “I could really use some of that right now,” he said.
“We’re spending the night with friends in Montford,” Goldberg said, sounding tired. “It’s close, right?”
With that, they mounted their cycles and were gone, friends on the trail of American humor.
Visit www.jokesacrossamerica.net to keep track of Ettinger and Goldberg’s travels.