SAN ANTONIO — As honeymoons go, the one chosen by Matt Webber and Courtney Dillard falls somewhere between odd and adventurous.
For the past four months, the couple from Portland have been driving around the country in a beige 1997 Ford Aerostar, having breakfast with interesting strangers and listening to their stories.
“It’s been a wonderful honeymoon. I don’t think I could have envisioned anything better, although someone did tell me I was a van wife,” said Dillard, 41, who teaches communications at Willamette University..
The idea behind the whimsical journey of discovery was to challenge the sense that America is increasingly a divided country, where strangers are dangerous and people have stopped talking to each other.
Along the way, they said they’ve learned much from ordinary people about taking chances.
“At a lot of these breakfasts, you hear about people coming to a crossroads, and those who took the much harder path are happier for doing that, even if not all of them were successful,” said Webber, 37, a political and community organizer.
The couple’s personal pilgrimage brought them to Jim’s Restaurant in San Antonio. There, for Breakfast No. 42, they bought local gay activist John Dean Domingue, 21, the “Texas Two Step Breakfast.”
Months earlier, Domingue responded to the online invitation at breakfastwith strangers.com to share a meal, and when the couple finally hit town, the three sat down for a leisurely talk.
“I wanted to challenge myself by telling my story to a complete stranger, and also someone who might put it on a website or in a book,” Domingue said.
Afterward, he said he felt somewhat changed by the experience.
“I realized I was revisiting parts of my story I hadn’t been through in a long time, which reminds me why I’m involved in activism. Second, I realized how important it is for people to tell their stories and take bold steps,” he said.
Four months into their mission, Webber and Dillard say things have gone quite well, with only one busted breakfast date, when they got hopelessly lost in Philadelphia. And so far, they said, they haven’t met any scary or creepy strangers.
“We haven’t encountered the person who wants to have breakfast in their basement,” Dillard said.
The couple say the experiences on the trip have only fortified their original theory, that America is a better place than it might appear in the mass media, and that ordinary people are resourceful, accepting of others and often happy with their lives.
“The people we are talking to are taking the optimistic spirit and fervor of America and applying it to their dreams, rather than to the monolithic American Dream. There are many more paths to happiness in America,” she said.
By the time they wrap things up in Portland in a couple of weeks, the couple estimate they will have spent about $12,000 of their own money, on top of $8,300 provided by sponsors.
They plan on writing a book, including summaries of the 50-some breakfast interviews. And while there may be a sequel — “Breakfast with Strangers in Europe” — they rule out the possibility of any television spinoffs.
“The worst-case scenario would be that they create a reality TV show and make us fight with the people we’re having breakfast with,” Dillard joked.