Our summer trip across America in support of worldwide orphans — “An Experiment In Gratitude” — started on Friday, July 7, in Charleston with a first stop at my Mommy’s house in Columbia, followed by a fund-raiser in Atlanta on July 8. Privately, friends are calling it “The Michael Fechter Whore for the Poor Tour.”

It would make a nice title for a reality series, wouldn’t it?

Our journey should take five to seven weeks, depending upon how often the ’65 Mustang breaks down, how slow the driving is across the Great Pacific Northwest, and how well my Thorazine works in the altitudes of the Grand Tetons.

After holding the “Charleston Chefs for Orphans of AIDS Dinner” back in May, I decided that I ethically could not use substantial funds from that night for our cross-country trip. Damn those college “ethics” courses.

I decided to push the trip back and spend time working on getting corporate “in-kind” donations of motel rooms, a support vehicle, and even gas money so that no money would be directed away from needy children.

However, despite my best efforts, direct eye contact, and even wearing a tie, I was not able to get a single motel room or even a one-day free rental of a car for the crew. In fact, when speaking with Avis, they told me, “We try harder. But we’re not helping your scrawny ass. Crawl across America for orphans, MF’er!!”

Luckily, a friend alerted me to www.couchsurfers.com, a site for people willing to let strangers “crash on their couch” for a day or two in exchange for nothing other than good vibes. Perfect for a broke and idealistic traveler like myself looking to keep his dinero for the world’s poor.

I checked out the very detailed site and some of the almost 17,000 people online in the U.S. willing to let strangers veg in their crib. As a “parent,” I was concerned by the number of 19-year-old women encouraging strangers to crash in their dwellings, but as a “man,” I am tremendously excited. So very, very excited.

Thus, to keep it simple, or “real,” as the youngsters say, I am taking only one person, my pal Shawn Whittington, as a cameraperson/soundperson in the 1965 Mustang without any other support people. No assistants, no producers, no extra vehicles. And zero corporate support.

OK, I realize that this doesn’t make us Lewis and Clark, we’re not exactly base jumping or climbing Mt. Everest nude, but it just feels right, true to the nature of this film and our grassroots work to help orphans.

So check the website, www.experimentingratitude.org, as we crash on couches of strangers and camp as we travel from Charleston to Atlanta to New York City to Chicago to Minneapolis to Butte to Seattle to Portland to San Francisco and then on to some big-time celebrity ass-kissing in L.A.

Our only costs will be gas and bits of food. And we’ll be raising money for orphans all along the way.

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