June 14th, 2012 | by RUTH BROWN Arts & Books |

Kickstart My Heart: Breakfast With Strangers

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Kickstart my Heart is a semi-regular blog series on Portland Kickstarter projects we don't hate. 

Most folks choose to spend their honeymoon lying on the beach, sipping wine or just having a whole lot of sex. Courtney Dillard and Matthew Webber want to spend their honeymoon eating breakfast. For five months.

Their plan is to drive across America in a 1997 Ford Aerostar, having interviewing strangers over breakfast and writing about them in a book called Breakfast With Strangers. Dillard, a professor of Communications at Willamette University, and Webber, a community organizer, are looking to Kickstarter to raise $8,000 to help fund their meals


We spoke to the couple on the phone last week:

WW: Where did this honeymoon idea come from?
Webber: Courtney and I would just be out to breakfast, and Courtney would see someone sitting by themselves at a table and say out loud, "We should just invite them over and have them join us." And we didn't do that, but when we'd leave the restaurant, we'd pay their bill without them knowing it and slip out the front door. And then it just evolved. We went online and said, "We'd like to take you out for breakfast. Tell us why we should take you out for pancakes." And we put it on Craigslist and got a couple of good responses. Then it stayed dormant for a while, and we thought "What if we did this on a bigger scale?" And it was like "This would be a great honeymoon trip!"

How many places are you visiting?
Dillard: The way we've talked about it is from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, but really, the way we're doing it is snaking across the country, hitting some of middle as we go east, then coming back through the south. So probably 35-40 states in five months.

How do you plan to meet your dining partners?
Webber: It's going to be a mix, we're going to find some of them through online communities—like Craigslist and Reddit. I just put a thread on a food Reddit and we've had 200 plus emails in 24 hours. It's really insane.  People are writing us from Portland, Maine to Enterprise, Alabama. 

Will that dictate your route? 
Webber: I think we're going to leave it up in the air, too. We'll have the knowledge of where some of these folks are through those, but we really want to have some serendipitous breakfasts. I want to get lost in northeastern Montana and just run into some guy in a diner and be brave enough to ask him to have that person be our breakfast interview. 'Cause if we just keep doing it just through online communities, we're going to get a very specific segment of the population. So there's a bit of that; we're doing couch surfing; there's an international nonprofit called Servas that we're members of that does house stays; just grabbing people at diners—we've done enough travelling before to know that if you just put yourself out there, you're going to meet people. 

What are you going to talk about over breakfast?
Dillard: We start off just getting to know what they're about, what they do, some of their perspectives on life, and then we have set up about 25 questions, everything from what's the most influential book you've ever read to tell us about your best friend, to what's your biggest regret. What is right with America? What is wrong with America? I think my favorite question we ask is "what's the nicest thing you've ever done for a stranger?" 

So you've had a few breakfasts already?
Dillard: Right, we wanted to get a feel for it by taking a few people in Portland out and see how it went. We've taken five people out, and all have been really wonderful.

Where do you eat breakfast in Portland?
Dillard: My favorite place is our home when Matt makes me breakfast. We eat a lot at Paradox and Vita, and we take our old neighbor out to breakfast at some of the old joints around town, like the Overlook.

Webber: There's some old greasy spoons around town—Dotty is this old lady Courtney used to live next to and who is kind of the recluse with several cats kind of lady who wears an overcoat all the time. So we take her out once a month and that gets us out to new places.

Are you worried you'll get sick of eating out?
Webber: I just bought a new pair of running shoes yesterday. There's probably going to be a point where it's just like: oatmeal. Somebody's going to order whatever it is in front of us and we're just going to order oatmeal or fruit. We'll probably go to two meals a day whenever we're doing the interviews.

Can you eat breakfast at people's houses?
Webber: We've had a bunch of different responses from people who want to cook breakfast for us, have us over to their house. There's a couple in Portland, Maine who are going to cook us breakfast on a sailboat. 

And if you can find some people of different ethnic backgrounds, you might be able to spice up your breakfast options beyond toast and eggs.
Webber: Yeah I just got an email from a pastor in Denver who sounds fascinating, he does a Monday night service at a bar. Then I had an 18-year-old undocumented kid in Southern California. So we definitely want to reach out of the Portland bubble and the more interesting and diverse stories like that we definitely want to track down and hit their home town. 

Dillard: Though it is true that each person seems to have a different "nugget"—that kind of orienting principle to them. So even if all of them are around the same age or have the same outlook. In our five Portland breakfasts, we've had a guy who was bullied and is now a real advocate for sexually abused women, to a guy who left Nebraska and lost 100 pounds and left his old self behind, to a women who tends to the 10,000 corporate plants in downtown Portland, to a women whose work is to listen to the calls of prisoners that are held for domestic violence charges. 

Do your friends and family think you're crazy for not just going to a beach resort?
Webber: I think the family is slowly coming around; the fact that we're trying to make a book around it allows them to wrap their heads around it a bit more. There's a business aspect—fathers can understand that. 

Dillard: I think for me, the reason why this is an intriguing project, to look across the table to somebody you know has taken a risk, they're kind of proud of themselves for having taken that risk, they wanted to be the person who responded to an ad and went to breakfast with a stranger as much as we wanted to be the people who took them to breakfast. I think our friends get that, like "I think that's a neat idea because there's a part of me that wants to be that person."


Breakfast With Strangers currently has $4,371 of its $8,000 goal. You can pledge here if you're so inclined.

Read previous Kickstart my Heart posts
 
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