Drivin’ Me Wild
The following tale may or may not be all true.
“Lets go to Philly, man.”
“When?” I asked.
“This Saturday. We can go just for the day, and we can get back home the same night.” I was intrigued.
I met Kevin (@TurnOne) through Instagram, and a road trip with him to a city a few hours away seemed like a cool idea. It became evident at that moment that something which separates Instagram from other social media is that it can provide a certain level of motivation to venture out into the world. There are few Facebook status updates or tweets that make you want to explore the world around you. In contrast, photo-sharing apps provide you with the motivation and the opportunities to bring new life to both familiar and unfamiliar places, as well as introduce you to new faces and local talent through various meet-ups that users coordinate. I follow a variety of DC folks, and they commonly post photographs of interesting nearby places that I have never visited. Chances are that I will ask them for directions or details and go myself. I appreciate that aspect of these apps.
- @cbeatz852 during the Philly Instameet
Taking a road trip with people you meet through these apps is definitely not unique in any sort of way. Earlier this year, two Instagramers traveled across the country and documented their trip through their photography; they made stops along the way to meet people that were following their feed. I personally didn’t follow their travel, but I did see when they arrived in DC, as a few locals posted photos of their pit stop. I wish I could fund something like that. I also heard about Josh Johnson and his crew, who took a Fiat-sponsored road trip. They were provided with a vehicle as well as merchandise to give out to the crowds that would attend their instameets throughout their various stops. Those who attended left with red Fiat sunglasses and a smile. Even road trips can apparently be sponsored now.
“We should do that,” I said to Kevin.
“Let’s get a sponsor on this road trip to Philly. I mean, we can get one more person, and between all of us in the car, we’ll have over 50 thousand followers. Some company would want that, right? I get that Josh Johnson has a million followers, but we would bump A Tribe Called Quest all the way to Philly, man. And back. That’s gotta make up the difference, and then some. Throw in some DJ Premier, and case closed. Am I wrong? Plus, our journey is one-fifth of the Josh Johnson road trip. I say we ask Mercedes.”
“Yea, doesn’t Mercedes play the Instagram game and get people to post photos of their cars on their feed? I saw they recently had a challenge, and they got people to drive the car, post photos, and basically promote their car. We could ask for that and ask them to supply the whip. Dude, we won’t even put that many miles on the car. It’s a short drive.”
Little did we know that Mercedes was more than eager to reach our followers.
- By @TurnOne during the Philly Instameet
The E-Class was delivered to my doorstep early in the morning. I opened the door and immediately took in the new car smell. I looked inside and noticed the interior was impeccable, with the leather gripping the steering wheel in a sleek black tone. As the car sat in park, with the keys in the ignition, I slowly felt the material on the dashboard. Under the rearview mirror hung the Instagram logo, dangling and unavoidable. “Funny asses,” I said to myself. I started the ignition, and a CD immediately began to play. The melody that started playing was vaguely familiar, as was the voice that began speaking to me through the stereo. The voice gave me directions on how to properly post on Instagram — what specific hashtag to use (#Mercedes_Winning) and how many photos were required (7 photos per every 50 miles). I thought, if you give me a car for this road trip, I’d post the photos on my account and force the other dudes to post on theirs. This is just common sense. The backseat also came loaded with three T-shirts that Mercedes required us to wear for the duration of the trip. This, though, was a sticking point because the shirt was ugly as hell. They were a strange shade of maroon, and not even the Mercedes logo could make it look halfway decent. But, it was nothing that revving the engine a few times couldn’t fix. After throwing on the shirt, I was off to pick up Brandon (@theB2xpress) in the city. Feeling good about myself, and my ugly ass shirt, the journey began.
Brandon is a good dude, an “old soul” who can tell you everything you want to know about DC in the 80s and 90s — go-go music, New Balance shoes, and the Madness shop on Georgia Ave. — for me, an ideal dude with whom to get in the car and ride for hours. I scooped him up in Chinatown around 9am.
“What up, homie? You ready for this trip? I see you brought a camera bag, too. I thought you were #iphoneonly,” he said.
“Yea, but I figured I would bring it out this time,” I said. “It’s still #iphoneverything, man.” I have a tendency to actually say “hashtag” before certain words.
“What iPhone are you using”?
“I’m still on the 4S,” I said. “I’m holding out for the 8. I heard from my dude @Frankensinatra that it will have 41MP, attach a device to your eye, and allow you to take photos without your hands. You will be able to snap photos just by looking. Next level shit. Beyond Google Glasses.”
We left to pick up Kevin who lives out in York, PA. We pushed that E-Class to its limit and reached York in two hours. Kevin already was waiting outside when we pulled up. Kevin is authentic Bronx. From the way he speaks to the way he speaks his mind, it’s all real. Geared up in camo pants, his hat brim low, and his camera bag locked and loaded with his “weapons” of choice, he looked ready for adventure. He shoots with his iPhone about as often as he does with his other camera. I like that he takes his mobile shooting seriously.
After Kevin threw on his own mandated ugly-ass Mercedes shirt, we got in the car and sped off. Ten minutes later, everything began to spiral out of control.
- @365Ken and @cbeatz852 in Philly
“Brandon, can you feel that”? I could feel the right side of the Mercedes shaking.
“Hell yeah, I feel that. Pull off and let’s see what it is.”
I pulled off right after the tollbooth, and we all got out of the car to inspect what was causing the shake. The three of us looked at the car from all angles. No flat tire, no smoke, nothing.
“I thought this car was new,” asked Kevin.
“It is. I think. I mean, it had no mileage on it when it was delivered. Dude, it had the new car smell.”
“Well, if it isn’t working right, I’m not wearing this ugly ass shirt,” Brandon said, pulling it over his head and tossing it into the backseat. I agreed and tossed mine too. Kevin took his off and threw it into the middle of the road. We gave one more glance over the Mercedes and, finding nothing apparently wrong with it, decided to brave the shaking and push onward to Philly. It’s not our car, we shrugged. Let Mercedes handle the problem when they get the car back. The ignition stalled twice before we could hit the road again, and the further we continued to drive, the more the car kept shaking. We blasted Tribe on the stereo and bullshitted about music, movies, and photos the whole way, anything to drown out the steady death throes of the vehicle — and to distract us from the fact that all our bladders were about to explode. I had guzzled three cups of coffee on the ride, courtesy of master brewer Kevin, so my anxiousness to reach a bathroom was becoming more urgent by the minute. But the nearest rest area was still 30 miles ahead, and we wondered aloud if the car would start again if we turned it off. Since we each only had one pair of pants, we all agreed it was worth the risk.
We finally reached the rest area, where Brandon and Kevin sprinted to the men’s room. Not me though. I couldn’t hold it. I put aside my pride and pulled over on the side of the highway 25 miles ago near a bush that was so convenient I knew it had grown there just for me. When Brandon and Kevin returned to the car, both looking much more relaxed, we decided this was a good place to take photos of the E-Class, as per Mercedes’ guidelines. We framed the car, got really low, and snapped away. The photos were terrible. There was no amount of editing that could minimize the giant smear of purple bird shit on the windshield or the assemblage of bugs that had been slaughtered all across the grill.
“Mercedes doesn’t care about the quality of photos, man. It’s the numbers,” Kevin said. I grinned and enhanced the saturation on the bird shit.
As you approach Philly, you can see the tall buildings from miles away. Being from DC, this always captures my attention. Almost like a child whose venturing off into a new place. In DC, buildings can only be but so high. Even just crossing the Key Bridge into Rosslyn, VA, one can see the difference, as the buildings are so much taller in Northern Virginia. But Philly is something different. I love that feeling.
“Dude, grab the wheel? I want to take photos of this street with the buildings in the back,” I said.
Brandon grabbed the wheel and steered. “Anything for the gram, man” he said. I began snapping pictures through the dirty windshield, knowing I would delete these later. But it was the process, the act of shooting, that was fun. Maybe if I Snapseed them enough, they would look cool, I thought. [Author’s note: They did not.]
The meet-up was at 1pm and we arrived in Philly at 1:15. After we parked, we looked at the car and wondered if it could make the trip back. “Dude, I should have just driven my car,” I said. “This was not worth it.”
“Nah, we were just in a world-class machine,” Brandon said. I had been less and less impressed by the mile. “What if I post that this car is terrible?” We all started laughing.
We met up with a few other DC folks: @Philography, @dccitygirl, @erin921, and @melodyinfocus, who also ventured off into Philly for the day. This whole adventure from DC to Philly was initially Phil’s idea, but we couldn’t all fit in his Tahoe, which Phil lovingly calls his hoe. This meet-up, organized by @RachelHara, was the biggest I had ever attended. There must have been over 50 people, all there to meet up with people that they followed, take photos, and get to know each other. People from NYC came down as well. It was cool to see such a great turn out.
No one discussed products. Instead everyone was interested in photography, in techniques, and in approaches. During one moment, I walked with Ken (@365Ken) and witnessed how he calmly approached a young man on a bike, who was not part of the group or even someone Ken knew. He walked up to him and asked the young man for a portrait. The guy on the bike began to pose, but Ken told him that he was messing it up. “Do what you were doing. Do what you were doing as you sat naturally on your bike.” The dude on the bike found it hard to recreate the moment. He just could not stop smiling. The photo may have been a bust, but that moment was awesome for me, because I got to see the behind-the-scenes of what I admire every day on his feed — those street portraits of everyday people in Philly. During another moment, Ken asked @cbeatz852 to stand and look ahead. Ken positioned himself strategically to get the cityscape in perfect view.
- By @365Ken
Three hours quickly passed, and I had to return to the Mercedes to reload the meter. When I returned to where I’d parked the car, I found a single rock in its place, securing a note that read, “Welcome to Philadelphia.” Motherfucking Philadelphia. Nevertheless, I felt some relief that someone had stolen the burden that had become that car. I felt a little strange that I had been so superficially enthusiastic about Instagram giving me an opportunity to drive a luxury car, when what had initially attracted me to this and other photography apps was sharing my photos and building a sense of community. I’ve never hated on anyone making a dollar or two on these apps, but I did realize that what I loved about these apps has been on some level cheapened by commercialism. I guess as apps become more mainstream, companies will become savvy enough to cash in on certain people with sway. Whether on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, companies will find ways to reach a wider audience, live and direct on your feed, with a product ready to be sold. Some companies are just one step ahead of the curve.
Our return home was a story all its own…