Over this past winter break, I read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.
Vance. More than any explanation that I’ve read from political scientists about
why Trump won the Presidential election, I found J.D. Vance’s memoir most
compelling. Even if Vance did not directly address the election and Trump
supporters, he painted a clear picture of why half of America felt so angry
about their government. While reading the book, I came to empathize with Trump
supporters. In many ways, their country had let them down by not creating a
sufficient safety net. When globalization and technological innovation took
their jobs away, nobody gave them new opportunities to make a living. In my
mind, the only way to really understand why one side of the aisle feels a
certain way is to talk to people from that side of the political spectrum.
Vance’s book exposed me to those stories in depth for the first time.
If a book could help me understand the political views of one
side of the country, I decided an immersive experience could have a similar—if
not stronger—effect. Inspired by Hillbilly Elegy, I created Appalachian
Adventures. The weekend experience is meant to take upper-middle class and
upper class Americans from New York City and provide them with an in-depth
understanding of how a totally different demographic of America resides. After
reading Hillbilly Elegy, I had the yearning to meet the characters in Vance’s
memoir. I wanted to ask them about particular parts of their lives. Appalachian
Adventures is supposed to provide that platform. It’s a form of educated
Unlike conventional tourism, the place itself isn’t as
important as the people. When we visit Paris or London, we set out to see the
Eiffel Tower or Big Ben. Here, however, the people are the ultimate highlights.
When you spend time with people you barely know, a greater empathy for the
people and their viewpoints is the logical result.
Appalachian Adventures is also meant to meet the dual desires
of respite and education. While the trip is not meant to be a vacation—there’s
no hiking involved—anytime in a rural environment for a New Yorker can be
The term “hillbilly” is
derogatory, and I’d never use it to refer to a group of people in conversation.
In Randy Weiner’s controversial style, I thought a poster with the term would
draw attention—in a similar fashion to Vance’s book title.
I used American Typewriter as
my font of choice given the nature of our challenge. The goal here is to get
one half of America to get to know the other half of America in a mutually
beneficial manner. Keeping in line with such a goal, the folksy typeface seemed
Act I. New Yorkers arrive in
the Appalachian Mountains. They’re limited to only one carry-on bag to ensure
they fully immerse themselves in their new experience. They meet their host
family and help cook dinner.
Act II. Each visitor is
assigned to a workplace. They spend half a day in their new environment.
They’re mentally and physically challenged.
Act III. The trip culminates
in a final dinner. The hope is that both sides get to know each other better.
While this form of tourism contributes to the local economy, it also gives the
residents of the Appalachian Mountains a chance to be heard. The point of the
experience is a better mutual understanding of each other’s pain points.