On July 4 last year, Dave “Rooster” Bierstein set out from his mother’s home in Clark with a vague plan to travel around the country for a full year. He had $2,007, a laptop computer, a cell phone, and whatever possessions he could fit in a car.
He had two rules: to write about his experiences every day, and to have fun, and a bunch of guidelines — basically to keep moving but not too fast, to do good along the way, and to attend lots of concerts and sports games.
When NJ Jewish News caught up with Bierstein, 36, last Thursday, June 16 — day 347 of his expedition — some things were clear, some very much in question.
“I have written every single day, sometimes for up to 12 hours,” he said.
He had just come through a bad patch. He had been sick the night before — amazingly, for the very first time the whole year. He was flat broke — not for the first time — and not sure he could keep moving for the last few weeks. On the other hand, despite his fatigue, he was enthusiastically positive that it had all been worthwhile.
On his website, WheresRooster.com, you could see the family support coming in, from his dad, his brother, and friends old and new.
Speaking on the phone from a friend’s place in Manhattan, he said, “I don’t know how I’ll end this, and I can’t think yet about what comes next, but it has been an amazing experience.”
Central to that experience has been the kindness he has encountered. While playing poker has earned him some money — “I’ve won slightly more than I’ve lost,” he said — and 60 or 70 comped hotel rooms, most of his accommodations and food — and numerous tickets to all kinds of events — have come from strangers, from Florida to Washington State to New York.
“No matter where I was, people stepped up to help me,” he said.
The dire state of the economy might have helped. Bierstein said people seemed intrigued and heartened that someone without a job and so little money was willing to undertake such an adventure. “They were looking to do something good,” he said. “I wasn’t some trust-fund kid, and they could see I was having a great time.”
As part of his commitment to himself, he looked for ways to help others along the way. For example, he took part in a 5-k charity run in Las Vegas on day 153. It turned out to be an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for people dressed as Santa Claus. He had — what else — a rooster outfit from Halloween, so he put the Santa suit provided by the organizers over that.
“I was definitely the only Jewish guy dressed as a giant Rooster Claus or Old Saint Chick,” he declared. He also made it into the record book, along with 12,000 others.
Some moments were a little more lofty, like when he got to meet President Barack Obama in Seattle, on day 109. When his hosts told him the president was going to be in town, that experience fell into the category of grasping every opportunity that came his way.
A late sleeper by lifelong inclination, he still managed to get up at 3:30 a.m., and by sheer determination, got into the front line at the event, among the VIPs. They were dressed in suits; he was in a Yankees T-shirt and ski cap, and he knew he had caught the president’s eye. Sure enough, the president stopped to chat with him about the Yankees.
‘Having a blast’
Not being one to fit in with regular routines, Bierstein had done a lot of different things in his life. His driving motivation, he admits, has been to be liked — or simply to get attention, “even negative attention.”
He went to college briefly, became a well-known on-campus character, and dropped out with no credits. He worked on a radio sports talk show, did stand-up comedy, and even had a brief stint with a Fox TV reality show. “My ambition was to be a famous actor,” he said, but no big directors came calling.
“Intelligence has never been the issue,” he said. “My problem has been wanting to live by my own beat.” When it came time for his bar mitzva ceremony, at Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah in Clark, he ended up learning his portion from English phonetics.
But Bierstein has proved that when he put his mind to it, he gets results. At 32, he enrolled at Kean University in Union, and graduated summa cum laude in May 2010. He said that studying what he loved — film and American history — made all the difference.
When he announced the cross-country plan last year, most people declared him “crazy or an idiot.” But his best friend, Jeremy Frank, a buddy since his childhood in Clark, said, “Great — go for it.” As a graduation gift, that very night he set up a website for Bierstein, so he could post his daily writing and photos about the trip. “It also meant I couldn’t back out,” Bierstein said.
If Bierstein hoped that this trip would bring wisdom as to his future or a great career opening, that has not — as yet — happened. But all kinds of possibilities have emerged. He said he would love to teach and enjoys public speaking, and he has a lot to speak about.
As he wrote back on day 344: “Anyway, this trip wasn’t to prove anything to anybody; it was to go and experience America while documenting it and having a blast. And in my opinion, I’ve done that and I’ve done it better than I ever could have dreamed.”