Enjoying life vicariously through watching others has always been a major thing in my life. And in the early months of lockdown, it was what I missed the most — hanging out in a coffee shop or taproom watching people enjoying each other’s company and sometimes overhearing their conversations. As an autistic person, I have always had a hard time connecting with people — and watching other people has perhaps become something of a substitute.
But a couple of months ago, something came along that has been providing me a wonderful vicarious experience. I had encountered it before, a couple of years ago when I checked out of the library a DVD set called Long Way Round. It was about an epic motorcycle journey taken back in 2004 by actor Ewan McGregor and his best friend Charley Boorman. Now, I am not much of a movie fan and I have never been into Star Wars, so I had no idea who Ewan McGregor was. But this trip was amazing. They rode BMW motorcycles from London to New York via Europe, Central Asia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada and the Northern States. I am not going to describe in detail what happens — but you can just imagine how difficult it was on riding on roads of deep sand and pushing the bikes across rivers where bridges had washed out. It made quite an impression on me and I have thought of it many times since.
Then around the end of the summer, I was browsing through Apple TV+ and saw a new offering called Long Way Up — and there were Ewan and Charley posing with motorcycles. I was overjoyed to find it. And then I was even more overjoyed to find the Long Way Round was also running — and another trip called Long Way Down, where they ride from John O’Groats, Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa (in 2007). But Long Way Up was more recent (2019, I believe) and the film was just released this year. This trip is from Ushuaia, Argentina to Los Angeles, CA. And the wrinkle in this one is that they ride electric Harley-Davidson motorcycles and the support team includes two prototype electric 4×4 vehicles made by Rivian. I am not going to describe these trips either. What all three trips have in common is stunning scenery, a view of distant parts of the world that I will never see, and a wonderful camaraderie amongst the team as they contend with some trying situations.
Ewan and Charley definitely have a solid bromance. But what makes this so appealing to me is that their bromance plays out amongst a close-knit group of other people. All three trips have involved the same core team members: David, Russ, Claudio and Jimie. And over the course of watching and rewatching these journeys, I have become awfully fond of all them. I have also enjoyed watching their encounters with the people they meet along the way, whether random strangers at gas stations or adults and children at official UNICEF events.
Today I realized that the “bromance within a close-knit group” recipe is something that I have been drawn to elsewhere. Every night when I go to bed, I watch a few episodes of M*A*S*H. I have all eleven seasons on DVD, although some of the discs are now worn out (I bought them used over the years 2007-2010), but I still have plenty of episodes to watch. For the first three seasons, we have the Hawkeye-Trapper bromance flanked by the lovable personnel of the 4077th. And that is succeeded by the Hawkeye-BJ bromance.
I do not know what the “bromance-thing” does for me. And perhaps it does not have to be about men. Another show I have been able to enjoy over and over for decades is The Golden Girls. There you have the mother-daughter pair of Sofia and Dorothy sharing a house with Blanche and Rose. I got awfully fond of them too.
I think shows like these are a substitute for the human relationships I have been unable to form myself. I enjoy watching people living and loving and arguing and fighting and making up with each other. But what makes the Long Way programs so special, is that the guys are not fictional characters portrayed by actors — they are real people with families/wives/children/friends back home. And I really feel as though I am riding along with them all.