Back in 1960 the much-acclaimed writer John Steinbeck (and his faithful poodle) hit the open road in a customised GMC truck to see for himself the true state of the United States, before jotting down his thoughts to create the classic travelogue, Travels with Charley.
60 years later, road-warrior, dog-owner and esteemed-icepick-grinder Bob Scerbo swapped the GMC truck for a 2002 Toyota (and replaced the poodle with a rat terrier) to create an equally raw document of life in America, Vacilando (Travels with Harley), capturing the people, places and angle-ironed loading-docks that make up the land of the free.
Seeing as the video has finally landed on British shores, here’s an interview with Bob about Vacilando, America and anything else we could think of. Questions by Sam and Clarky, photos by Wozzy, Bob and Clarky.
Sam: Starting off with a fairly obvious question for the year 2020… but how has all this virus business affected you? Have you been working?
Bob: My job was at a music venue that has a 1200 person capacity, so we were one of the first places to close, and obviously will be the last to be allowed to reopen, but I personally don’t believe we ever will. I have given up on that at the moment and I am trying to figure out what is next. I haven’t worked since March technically, but on the bright side it gave me time to get the video done, so I am not complaining about that part at all. Rat ended up here for almost three months of the situation and that was really fun—we are quite a duo of idiots when together.
Sam: What’s been the situation in Texas?
Bob: It’s been sort of backwards honestly. The state took strict precautions in the beginning when NYC and Cali were getting hit hard and we generally had a low rate of cases. Oddly we got hit later with a spike but things are way more lax at the moment then when everyone was being preventive. In all honesty I imagine the economy is collapsing and business is failing so people are risking whatever just to stay afloat. I have had a bunch of random jobs down here and it’s hard to watch stuff collapsing, I have a lot of love for all the people I worked for over the years. I have mostly just kept to myself this entire period, it made me realize how much I enjoy being alone. It’s been nice to be out of the hectic life of working in a bar, it takes its toll on you mentally and physically.
Clarky: Texas seems very different to the east coast, what drew you there originally?
Bob: It started as a place to ride in the winter. At that time Austin was super easy to visit, it was cheap and had a really big riding scene. I had no intentions of ever moving here, it happened out of necessity. When things fell apart at Animal I had to do what I could to keep a roof over my head. I had picked up some work down here in the past doing festivals and I knew at least that was something I could do. Rent was still cheap then as well. I plan on moving out of here as soon as possible once I find work somewhere—I need to be closer to the ocean. I still have a lot of love for this city, I am just personally at a point where I need a change again.
Clarky: How does Harley cope with the heat down there?
Bob: She sits in the air conditioning all day and gets frequent trips to the beach. Neither of us like the heat and usually we spend the whole summer on the east coast but this year has been difficult because of quarantine stuff.
Sam: I don’t want to delve too deep into the conspiracy stuff as it can be a can of worms, but what are your thoughts on the current virus stuff going down now? How do you think the reality matches up with what’s in the news?
Bob: I have mixed views on it—I believe the virus exists obviously but I also believe it is planned. The agenda being ushered in is really scary and has been my biggest fear since I was a kid. Obviously a lot of people are making a lot of money off this ordeal and a lot of good ideas got thrown out the window. In Austin there was a major push for years about using more ecologically sustainable things and now all food has to be served in disposable dishware. All that effort to stop plastic and styrofoam for all those years went completely out the window over night. I see a lot of that going on.
I also imagine this will be the end of physical cash as well, most places are not accepting it anymore. The endgame of it all is horrifying, the fact it is being sold as being in people’s best interest makes it harder to digest.
What do you think the endgame of the virus is? Are mandatory vaccines, fully digitised currency and non-stop surveillance the new price of freedom?
I would imagine total control—I feel like it’s almost there to be honest. Everything is tracked pretty well and although things sometimes seem chaotic, I feel like it’s perfectly under control and regulated. If you choose not to go with the new rules you will simply just be cut out of society—similar to 1984. 6th street in Austin is an excellent example of controlled chaos. It’s ‘wild’ until you act out of line and get tackled by one of the 300 police standing around.
Most people don’t seem to mind the way it is going though and a lot of people I have spoken to seem to actually embrace it. The craziest thing is going to be when my niece and nephew get older and they will be confused that the world was different. Explaining to them that people used to actually attend concerts and sporting events, and not just watch from home, is a wild concept. I really hope I am wrong about this kind of stuff to be honest.
Sam: Moving onto a slightly lighter subject… you’ve just finished your new video, Vacilando. Was there anything specific you wanted to do with this one, or was it a case of just filming what goes on?
Bob: There was no real plan to it, the video itself is a combination of people coming to Texas to visit me and me taking trips to go see family and friends. So the title sort of applies to everyone in the video, not just me.
One thing I did differently this time was go on trips to edit, which might sound a little weird. I would just pick random towns and travel around with the dog and edit in hotels which was a really fun experience. A lot of time was spent on the Texas coast doing that and I had some really interesting encounters. It was cool to get to ride with Begin, Casey Starling and George Duran and feature them in the video too, it gives me hope for the future.
Sam: John Steinbeck roughly described the Spanish word ‘Vacilando’ as going somewhere with direction, but not necessarily caring about whether you get there or not. Is this a valid description of how you like to do things?
Bob: Yeah, that is pretty accurate. I was always drawn to the word “Vacilando” since first reading Travels With Charlie and the “Harley” coincidence was too good to pass up. Harley was on most of the trips with me and I like the idea of it being about her having a good time as much as being about going riding. I have also heard Vacilando as a verb, “Vacillating” used in another context meaning “lazy, or not really doing much.” That also applies in a way, I do find it interesting that it has no English translation technically.
Sam: What’s the usual set-up for your travels? Do you plan stuff out much, or just see where the road takes you?
Bob: Every trip is totally different. There are trips where we ride a lot, and trips where we don’t ride at all. Sometimes I would just jump the bus to Boston on a whim and stay with Lino and that turned into some really fun adventures. In my older age I’m down for anything, I love just camping and chillin’. Riding is not really that much a concern to me, I try and just do it when I feel like it. It seems most of my friends feel the same way about it as well.
Sam: What’s your approach to finding spots these days? Are you specifically seeking stuff out on the road, or just stumbling across things? There’s some amazing spots in the new video.
Sam: The approach is always the same—wander around aimlessly and try and see as many cities as possible in the process. Staying off the interstates is always a good idea, there is always an old state road that runs parallel to an interstate that was there first that actually cuts through the towns instead of past them.
It is in an endless mission so I try not to be in too much of a rush. I always try and ride in downtowns on Sunday as well and try and plan trips to make sure I am there on that day.
Clarky: The video has a high dose of super 8 footage in it, what keeps you using that format instead of just dragging on a film-look filter?
Bob: I like using the super 8 camera itself. I rarely ever film anything that is not a bike trick with my video camera. Obviously anyone who shoots film lives for that moment of getting it back and watching it for the first time. I wish it wasn’t so expensive to shoot but it is always worth it. I have never been a huge fan of filters on footage.
Sam: In 2017 when we last interviewed you, the Toyota had clocked just over 150,000 miles. What’s on the clock now? And how is that almighty vessel going? Any major repairs or anything lately?
Bob: It’s had some issues with brakes and things like that and I have put a little money into her but she still runs pretty good. I think she is pushing 180,000 miles now. I use it as a daily driver more than anything and always make sure she is running in case I freak out and need to go to Galveston, which happens a lot.
Sam: Going back to Steinbeck, Travels with Charley was sort of his last chance to look at America and work out what he thought of it. What are your thoughts on America in 2020?
Bob: That is what I always loved about that book. I first started travelling cross country in 2000, I like being able to do it again at an older age. Obviously I see things totally different now and have noticed the changes. I tried my best to show what America looks like to me in the video, but I consciously tried to avoid some of the low hanging fruit as well. It does not take a genius to figure out the nation is failing—it’s right in your face the second you get away from the coasts. Downtowns have tent city’s right outside million dollar condos and drugs are completely running rampant everywhere.
There is always something to distract us from what is really going on and most American’s don’t care as long as they have TV and air conditioning. On the other side people are rioting and looting and it appears to be chaotic, but I always feel like it’s fully under control. It seems coordinated and almost theatrical to me.
Clarky: I see similar things happening here and often wonder what the solution is, is there anything you think that could help things?
I have no idea how to fix it other than economic reform—some sort of post-capitalism plan. The inequality of wealth in this country is just insane.
Sam: What with the internet and the rapid spread of information, it sometimes feels like a lot of places have become quite similar, and there’s maybe less regional flavour… but how are things over there? Are the states still noticeably different, or have a lot of them started to melt into one?
Bob: Everything seems to be completely pasteurized at the moment, but I can’t really say for sure because I am making that assumption from IG. I have no idea what the younger generation is really like on a personal level. I make it a serious point to avoid people I don’t know at all costs on trips, especially when riding.
I do think regional style exists to an extent in groups of young people, it’s just the second it hits the mainstream people steal it. ‘Drill’ music was a really good example of that—out of nowhere everyone was rapping and shooting their videos like they were from Chicago. I can’t think of anything in BMX at the moment that I can watch and be like “He rides like he is from this place, but years ago that was definitely a thing.
Sam: What other books are you into? Do you read much?
Bob: I used to read books a lot, not so much these days as I am more into reading information—a lot of math, science and history stuff. I spend a lot of hours reading crime stats and studying behavioural patterns. I like data a lot. The last book I read was the old Anthony Bourdain book and I enjoyed it. I like conspiracies a lot too, so right now is an interesting time for sure.
Sam: I’m intrigued about your studies in behavioural patterns. What do you mean by that? Have you got any interesting examples?
Bob: I have a weird obsession with fractions and mostly reducing fractions, so I like to notice patterns and try to reduce them to their simplest forms. From travelling so much over the years it was hitting a point where I felt like I was meeting the same people in each city—almost as if a social structure creates the same position over and over again. Obviously the more people around the more bizarre people start acting and then usually a group gets big enough that it splits. Just things like that you can’t help but observe when you move around a lot.
Working at the music venue I would start noticing really weird things because each night you have a totally different crowd—one night would be a punk show and the next night would be a hippy jam band—that kind of stuff was mind blowing.
Sam: On the subject of population behaviour, I suppose even with riding there are patterns… in each city or scene it seems like there’s someone who holds it all together, maybe making a video, then all the various people around them… a few regular faces on a reliable schedule and a fair few loose characters dipping in and firing out haphazard wild moves. I imagine it’s the same for any subculture. Perhaps people aren’t as individual as they’d like to believe. Are there many people out there you’ve met who were 100% unique?
Bob: Obviously everyone has influences and people are very impressionable at a young age but it is no secret that most of the world is trying to emulate someone else, even in something as small as riding. Edwin’s impact was absolutely insane—there is no denying that he was the most copied rider on earth in the early 2000’s. Then Eddie Cleveland came along and people switched their thing up to copy him. I don’t see anything wrong with that though. Taj and Joe had that impact on my generation.
I have definitely known plenty of people I would say are truly one of a kind as far as personality and their thought process and things like that go. Tag, Leland, Edwin, Rat, Hoogerhyde, Lino, Dolecki, Bobby Puleo, Jerry Mraz and plenty others. People who just seem to do things for their own amusement are my favorite kind of people.
Sam: For someone particularly laid back, you certainly manage to make a lot of videos. You’ve already made three this year. What’s the secret to getting stuff done without the stress?
Bob: Just not being in a rush and knowing that it’s not really that important to get it done. I think the only time I was really stressed was when I had bosses telling me I needed to be doing more. My videos are just a hobby at this point—video and photos being souvenirs in a sense. Oddly everyone is doing it right now—just follow someone on IG—I probably use a camera much less than the average person honestly.
Sam: Sort of following on from that, what are your thoughts on the modern phenomenon of everyone wanting to be busy? Everyone seems to have this ‘hustle mindset’, but not a lot gets done.
Bob: I have no idea what people are talking about when I read that stuff, people just seem to say what they hear rappers say and try and apply it to whatever it is they believe they are doing. It’s a weird phenomenon for sure. It definitely seems to be one step closer to man becoming a machine, so maybe in the future likes and views will be currency and technically everyone was hustling? I hope that is not the case.
Sam: Changing subject a bit, 2020 marks the tenth anniversary of Cuts. What are your memories of making that video?
Bob: That was an interesting time in my life, I was about to turn 30, my friends were all growing older as well. I was oddly motivated and burnt out at the same time. There was a weird aura around it, I think everyone involved sort of knew something was about to change. We were partying a lot for sure. I do think it is the time period that sort of solidified that we were more than a group of people who ride together and we were gonna remain friends the rest of our lives.
By that point I had been travelling with Wiz, Ed and Vinnie for ten years straight, and Lino and Steven for like seven years off and on. Rat and Hoogerhyde were becoming my actual riding crew and when things eventually split I really started spending more time with those two and Joey Piazza. I am happy that ten years later all of those people are in my new video and I still keep in constant touch.
Our current group chat situation seems like a virtual hotel room on an old trip—you can only have that kind of banter with people you know really well. It was a great time for sure and I’m happy I experienced it. It is wild to think that more time has passed between Cuts and Vacilando then DQYDJ and Cuts. Time definitely moves faster when you are older.
Sam: Yeah it certainly feels that way. One of my favourite parts in Cuts is before Edwin’s section where people keep slipping over in the ice. What was going on there?
Bob: Edwin filmed that with a little point and shoot digital camera. He had gotten off the train and almost fell himself and realized what others were going to be dealing with so he sat there and filmed for a while.
Sam: Cuts was, I suppose, a company video, but it sort of feels more like maybe five scene videos in one. It shows a lot more than just the Animal team of the time. Was that intentional? It’s a lot longer and more sprawling than All Day.
Bob: The goal was really to try and showcase the people involved with the team and the people they associate with. At that time Animal was obviously completely different than any other company, the crew was enormous and I always liked to show the next generation of riders as well as the locals in all the cities we rode. Unfortunately it could not go on forever and that was sort of the last hurrah.
Sam: Did you think back in the DQYDJ-era that you’d still be riding and making videos? What do you think the 1999 Bob Scerbo would think of 2020 Bob?
Bob: I always knew I was never going to stop riding back then but I didn’t realize it would still be to this capacity. Obviously I am much older and have a different outlook on riding and life in general. My interest in non-riding photography is a big part of what keeps me riding as well. There is no better way to get around then on a bike. 1999 Bob would hate and love the current version of me equally but he would love Harley.
Clarky: What keeps you making videos?
Bob: There really is not much else to do and it’s a good excuse to travel around. I love torturing myself and losing money I guess?
Sam: What next for Bob Scerbo?
Bob: I have no idea, this situation is amazingly confusing. I am going to have to find a new job soon and I have no idea what to do.