(Left to right: Chris Simon, Amy Chin, Steven Hascher, Amy Wallace, and Rob Gelb of Bus 52)
Around the country at this very minute, people are telling other people that their small attempts to make a difference won’t work. “They really don’t care. They do it anyway. They’re unstoppable,” Steven Hascher of Gloucester, VA., observed today. They’re the kind of people he wants to know and wants you to know about, which is why he agreed to live on a converted school bus for a year, in close quarters with four other people, traveling the country to document their stories.
The five — Hascher, Rob Gelb and Chris Simon of Bethesda, MD., Amy Wallace of Belgium, and Amy Chin of Houston — pulled into Minnesota this week in the blue school bus known as Bus 52. Parked at a campground in Apple Valley, it serves as the studio and control room — also bedroom, kitchen and bathroom — for the ambitious media project in which the five research, report, produce, and distribute stories through YouTube videos at a dizzying rate.
Today, for example, it released the story of Operation Happy Note in Alexandria, MN.
Touring the country in search of the good was Gelb’s idea. “I was graduating school and trying to think about what to do. We were in the middle of the economic downturn and the news was reinforcing negative stereotypes and I wanted to work on some sort of project that focused on people doing good,” he said today. “Plus, I like school buses.”
Bus 52 is in its eighth month of travel. The team has posted more than 60 videos so far and is working this week on four in Minnesota, while trying to contact people in Wisconsin and Illinois for future stories on their next stops.
“Viewership has been a challenge,” Gelb acknowledges. Each video runs about four minutes. “Maybe it’s the short attention span of the Internet,” he suggests. Or the fact it isn’t about cats, Hascher adds.
“This isn’t fluff,” Amy Chin says in a manner that suggests that, perhaps, others have suggested it is. “These are important lessons about good leadership and that you don’t have to have a lot of money to make a difference; you just have to have some compassion,” she says.
“We hope that by showing how other people do it, that they can do it too,” says Wallace, who is simultaneously working on her Master’s degree in literature, while serving as Bus 52’s writer and publicist.
Gelb, who learned some of his media skills through an internship with al Jazeera in Washington, says one of his friends shopped the idea of a reality TV series about the trip to some contacts at the Discovery Channel. “They said ‘no,’ and that it would be better if the five of us hated each other,” he said. That does not appear to be the case, although they acknowledge that living in tight quarters requires a specialty in conflict resolution.
Gelb and Simon have known each other since childhood, Wallace met Gelb at school, but Chin, a photographer, and Hascher, a videographer, weren’t entirely sure what they were getting into when they applied to join the team.
The team ducks the question of the most memorable person they’ve met on their journey, but each has a favorite video.
“It’s the first one we did,” Wallace says. “Steven and I went into a prison where two ladies were teaching inmates how to knit. You had these huge men with all of these tatoos knitting little pink hats.”
Simon, a musician, composes the musical scores for each segment. “Sometimes you’re sitting there with nothing,” he says, “and sometimes it just happens.” For him, it happened with Random Acts of Flowers, the story of a man in Tennessee who collects flowers that otherwise would be thrown away and delivers them to nursing homes.”
A whiteboard keeps track of all of the YouTube videos posted, an the number of people who’ve watched them.
Where the magic happens. And where Steven sleeps.