Nervous laughter. The type of nervous laughter only found in situations of intense disorder; otherwise known as the we’re screwed effect.
What was once a downcast day gone wonderful, abruptly turned for the worse. Only three hours before these two college students were celebrating their salvation from hunger. An alumni from Patrick Henry College, where one is graduated and the other is still enrolled, had agreed to send them food and gas money in exchange for photo editing and Instagram work.
In a rush of excitement, knowing that they weren’t going to starve after all, they spent their last few dollars at a McDonald’s, in Grayson, Kentucky. After completing the job for the PHC alum, the payment was sent via a money transfer app called, Venmo. That’s when the guys figured out their salvation would be postponed. They had no way to access the money. No one had Venmo in the small town, and the nearest Wells Fargo was two and a half miles away. No food, except for the McDonalds in their bellies, very little gas, and no place to stay that night.
Once finishing off another we’re screwed laugh followed by a whoop, Josh, the 21 year old soon to be senior at PHC declared that, “Things have gotten real.” Another we’re screwed laugh erupts almost uncontrollably, “They have gotten serious.”
Josh, along with his partner in crime Andrew Kelly, a recent PHC graduate, are described by some who know them as made for each other. Both are eccentric, in their own ways. Andrew tends to like making split second decisions and changing his life plans weekly, while Josh is extremely good-humored with a laugh that makes him easy to pick out in a cafeteria. Each blessed with the gift of making friends easily, few people were worried they’d be unable to find people to help them. But this journey was not merely one of good-nature adventuring.
For both men, this undertaking is a move away from what they see as a forced standard of happiness and contentment. At home the perception was one of financial success; get a good job and support yourself. Surrounded by siblings who were lawyers, doctors, and otherwise vocationally successful, Josh grew up feeling like he needed to be financially secure. Once at college, the expectation students had to change the culture for Christ while holding a respectable job reinforced his prerequisites for what a successful life looked like. It created a lot of pressure in him to go to law school; he had planned to intern at a law firm over the summer.
If you knew Andrew Kelly when he first entered college you would assume he’d be off on his way to law school by now. That predetermined facet of his life was shed off well before this trip, but the external pressures of success haven’t left.
“I really wanted to put myself in a position, give myself a premise,” Andrew said, “where I had to rely on God and other people and quit thinking.” To him, that position looks like an environment where he’s engaged, stretched, tested, and excited about where to go next. Although others might find value in a high-stress career, big family, or stable normal job and life, Andrew doesn’t. He wants to expect the unexpected. He’s young, single, a recent graduate; why not?
For both men, their distaste for a normal life culminated in a late-night discussion on a baseball field. Both had had a rough couple of weeks, leaving them feeling depressed and down. But both felt like they needed to do something to find peace in life, get out of the ordinary, and rely on God more. That’s when they randomly came up with the concept of Guys on a Dime.
Shaking hands at 3am that night, Josh remembers feeling a weight lifted off his shoulders. “I think I’m done with law school,” he said, “I don’t think I have to follow a similar path moving forwards. I don’t have to be successful to be happy or content.”
Guys on a Dime was born from the game Bigger and Better, where participants start off with a trivial item like a pencil and try to trade it for something better, and mixed with minimalism. Eight clothing items per person, a tent, two pillows, two hammocks, and no food or water was all they brought with them. $100 in cash was supposed to go along with them, but inadvertently gave a friend their debit cards before heading out. Unable to withdraw any money from the bank, they started off with $9.47.
The first day was one of comedic mishaps and incidents. The first location chosen, ironically, was Dumfries, Virginia. Both of them go to college in Purcellville, Virginia; an hour away from Dumfries. However, thanks to Andrew suggesting they use an atlas for directions, and both men not being good at following directions they went in circles, arriving in Dumfries later than expected.
Looking for work in the town at local restaurants did not turn up much. The McDonald’s proved otherwise. Although the manager could not put them to work in exchange for food, he gave them free burger coupons in exchange for filling out surveys. That night was spent in a hotel parking lot.
Subsequent nights would be spent in charitable backyards, random parking lots, hammocks in parks, friends and acquaintances’ houses, and an older gentleman’s docked boat discussing life and social issues deep into the night.
Days would be spent attempting to volunteer at food pantries unannounced, doing landscape work for people, driving, and other odd jobs.
Asking for help in exchange for work has been a worldview shifting experience for the duo. Josh attributes it to America’s deep individualism. “We associate asking others for help with what people have to do if they’re homeless,” he said, “and have never had money or anything like that.” Receiving grace without earning it is a difficult feeling to get over.
“It’s a lesson in humility,” is how Josh described being turned down to work for their keep. The desire is to feel valuable and needed by others.
In a perspective shifting experience, the guys signed up to a food pantry as recipients one day, and volunteered there the next day. Being both the assisted and the assistant was incredibly humbling.
Asking for help has been straightforward and stressful. By refusing to plan and strategize the trip, much less what the next day will look like, it has made stress points out of asking for help. “Our story is literally trial and error, open book,” Kelly said when asked if they plan at all, “anything goes (almost).” If someone doesn’t respond well they might not have a place to sleep, or something to eat. How they ask, however, is pretty simple. They tell people what they’re doing and want to work in exchange for necessities. Reactions to the guys’ story as a whole are positive: some wish they could drop everything and travel, while others wish for time for themselves, or the uncertainty of it all.
Only family, friends, and fellow students have been critical of the expedition. As they progressed further many of their critics got in touch with them to express their change of heart: “Almost all of those people have later communicated with us and said ‘I thought you guys were idiots and you still are, but you’re lovable idiots and I think it’s really cool what you’re doing,’” Josh said.
Despite some mishaps and dead ends, Guys on a Dime always found a way to move past it. They’ve persevered. And if you ask them about the trip, they’ll be sure to fill you in on all the amazing stories and people they met, alongside the lessons learned.
Editor’s note: the author of this piece personally knows both men