Three-Week Trip Stretches Into Nine Years

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 20, 2010

Jeffrey Buchanan remembers clearly the day he started his journey. It was Jan. 9, 2002. The date is a milepost in his life because that three-week trip morphed into years.

Today, he jokes that he is homeless with an iPhone. But that modest description of himself is just a hint of who he is and where he’s headed.

It’s true that this rolling stone doesn’t have a traditional home. That’s because Buchanan, 61, has gypsy winds filling his sails. He travels in a pickup with a camper. He doesn’t stay in one Zip code very long, although he continues to manage the Illinois window cleaning business he has owned since 1980.

He contacts local talent agencies in major cities to promote his broadcast training and his work as an extra in documentaries.

Jeffrey Buchanan enjoys listening to people tell their stories. “This country is full of nice, nice people,” he says. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Buchanan’s companions on the road are talk radio and his CD collection of early rock ‘n’ roll, classical, blues and world music.

“I want to see the country, want to see people, want to travel,” he says.

Buchanan, divorced with two grown children, isn’t confined by four walls or a monthly mortgage or rent payment. He is a member of the baby boomer generation, the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964.

Buchanan says he led discussion groups in Christian ministry in the 1970s and 1980s.  He says teaching from the Bible and listening to people’s personal challenges sharpened his people skills.

His decision to cruise the nation’s ribbons of asphalt, connected to his business by an iPhone, makes him a member of a large club of travelers.

According to one report, more than 1 million retirees have uncoupled themselves from their homes so they could wander America in their RVs.

Between occasional overnight stays with relatives and friends, Buchanan sleeps and cooks in his 1997 Mazda pickup camper. His camper shell has drawers, hooks and space for clothes, daily necessities, and the $200 guitar he bought in Downers Grove, Ill.

Connected by iPhone

Formerly of Illinois, Buchanan has logged more than 150,000 miles on his pickup. He says a friend calls him “The Voyager.”

Technology keeps him connected. He uses his iPhone to run his window-cleaning business in Illinois while he travels.

Buchanan met me for coffee recently in east Phoenix. He was staying with a nephew. A week before he arrived in Phoenix, Buchanan was in Texas. Before that, he was in Illinois caring for a friend in her unsuccessful bout with cancer.

From Phoenix, Buchanan plans to drive to Southern California where he hopes friends and a cousin will share their homes for a night or so. His routine is, if they invite him to stop by, he brings food.

Later, he will find a safe place to park and sleep in his camper. He prefers a quiet residential street or a Walmart parking lot. Truck stops and busy rest areas are ideal, too. He will park for the night next to semis or in a well-lighted area. For safety, he avoids remote rest stops.

He pays for his groceries, gasoline and other expenses with a debit card. His checking account is fed by proceeds from his window-cleaning business in Illinois. He uses his iPhone to contact clients and send workers to clean their windows. If he needs to use a computer, he stops in at a local library.

Ready to sing on streets

If he runs short of cash, Buchanan will stop in at local businesses, offering to clean windows. If that doesn’t work, Buchanan is thinking about putting on his father’s old black tuxedo and singing on street corners.

“I’ve got my guitar,” he says. “I’m perfectly willing and ready to sing on the streets.”

Buchanan smiles when asked about his lack of a permanent address. “I just love the road. A lot of it is financial because my window cleaning business has not been as fruitful as it was, since this economy has hit. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and usually I weather it okay because I’ve got pretty much a rich clientele of residential people.

“But even those people are backing off (reducing expenses),” he continues, “so it’s been a lot of work to keep the business going. But we’re keeping it floating.”

A few years ago, to supplement his window washing work, Buchanan received broadcast voiceover training in Chicago. He was hoping to find work in radio. Soon after he completed that training, the September 2001 terrorist attacks occurred in New York City and Washington D.C.

Those events made Buchanan consider wandering America. Time is passing too quickly. So he sold his house, paid his bills and started cruising. His broadcast training fell by the wayside. He enjoys listening to people tell their personal stories.

“Meeting people is one of my main interests,” he says. “I’ve grown to really love people more and to trust people more since I’ve been on the road. This country is full of nice, nice people.”

Favors California’s coast

He’s fond of the Central California coast, especially Morrow Bay, Cambria and Big Sur south of Monterey.

For a few years, Buchanan stayed with a girlfriend for several years in the San Francisco area. In early 2009, he had a heart attack. Doctors placed a stent in his right aortic artery. He followed their advice to improve his diet and lifestyle.

Last fall, his wanderlust flared up again. He told his girlfriend he had to move on. He headed first to “a couple of festivals out in California.”

His new journey took on new focus when he received a call from a friend in the Midwest. She was battling brain cancer. He drove to her home in Illinois to help her two adult daughters care for her. His friend died, and Buchanan left for Texas where he spent the Christmas holidays. He then headed for Southern California, stopping in Phoenix to visit his nephew.

Contacts talent agencies

Wherever he is, Buchanan stays in touch with talent agencies. One is AE Casting in Santa Rosa, Calif. Lori Lauber at AE Casting says she cast Buchanan “in a couple episodes of a national TV show called ‘I (Almost) Got Away With It,’ which airs currently on the Investigation Discovery Channel.”

Lauber says she would hire Buchanan again, if she had the right role.

“He was dependable, on time, enthusiastic, and (he) jumped right into his roles,” she says by email. “He even figured out how to do his own makeup to show a 10-year age difference in one episode. I’d certainly cast him in something else, should he be a good fit for a project. People with his type of interesting background and ability to draw on their experiences add much to their characters.”

Buchanan says he also worked as an extra in a documentary about crucifixions. It has been shown on the History channel.

Recording books

“My real dream is to dramatize books,” he says. “I’m recording public domain books, and I’m going to sell them. Public domain books like ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I’m looking for public domain books that don’t require a copyright.”

Asked where he sees himself in five years, he pauses. He says he hopes he has consistent work as an extra in documentaries, in voiceover work or in recording books for children.

Buchanan adds that his lifestyle isn’t for everyone, especially if they are traveling alone. He stays in touch with his girlfriend in the San Francisco area.

Although fascinated with seeing different parts of the United States, Buchanan admits that traveling alone has it downsides. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

“There are lonely times,” he says about his journey. “With every lifestyle that we would choose, there will be ups and downs and pitfalls and shortcomings.”

Buchanan’s links:

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Jan 20th, 2011

One Comment to 'Three-Week Trip Stretches Into Nine Years'

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  1. Carol Romley said,

    Great story Mike.
    What an interesting man and I wish him the best.

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