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Off the Beaten Jack

Off the Beaten Jack

Author: Jack Boswell

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ARIA-winning in 2023 and 2024.

Series 1 - Jack Boswell winds his way across the United States by train, documenting his experiences in small-town America and interviewing the people he meets along the way, covering everything from spirituality, adoption and abortion rights to gun control, gambling and addiction.

Series 2 - Jack heads to a small town in Mississippi to housesit for three months, painting a picture of a community in the heart of the Bible Belt, interrogating the stereotype and looking at the nuance which is left out.
19 Episodes
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In the final episode of season 2, I volunteer as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army and get talking to a woodworker named Chip. We chat about his past addiction to drugs and alcohol, the Christian motorcycle group he rides in, and the analogies between woodworking and life. There’s even a Christmas miracle… 
In episode six, I compare the experiences of two black women in Mississippi: T’Keeyah, a news reporter who was born-and-raised in Corinth at the top the state, and Deborah, an author who moved to Columbus from Rome. T’Keeyah discusses everything from the issue of hunger in the community to racism and the KKK in her hometown. Deborah and I talk about her experience moving in as an outsider, the dichotomy of writing her books in the South and some of the nuance in the state. 
In this double-interview episode, I speak with Columbus’ Mayor, Keith Gaskin, about the polarisation of American politics, the removal of the confederate statue from downtown, and the split in attitudes towards the spring pilgrimage where homeowners open their houses to the public. I then meet Dick Leike, president of Historic Home Tours, to hear the other side of the debate, the risks associated with removing historical artefacts -  as well as “all this woke stuff”
S2 E4. I Was Obedient

S2 E4. I Was Obedient

2023-04-1526:342

I sit down to chat with Laura Beth, who I met at the Preservation Society Gala. Our meandering conversation takes us from southern accents and politics to religion and Laura Beth’s moving story adopting her children.
A near miss with a tornado prompts me to take stock of my life… so I visit a strip club for the first time and end up interviewing one of the dancers - Penelope. We discuss Russian literature, feminism, Mississippi’s “velvet ditch”, mental health, antidepressants and the less-obvious reasons one might go to a strip club.
S2 E2. High Cotton

S2 E2. High Cotton

2023-04-0824:242

I get invited to a swanky fundraiser for Columbus’ Preservation Society, then sit down to interview its president, Ralph Null. We discuss the split in attitudes towards the town’s historic homes, Ralph’s career in floral design and his experience being openly gay in small-town Mississippi for several decades.
For series 2, I’m headed to housesit in Columbus, Mississippi, a state with a painful history and perhaps the worst reputation in the US. I wanted to immerse myself in the community and paint a picture of a town in the heart of the Bible Belt, interrogating the stereotype and looking at the nuance which is left out by telling peoples’ stories. In the first episode, I spend a week getting to know a few locals. We talk about the legacy of segregation, how it plays out in the community and if change is on the horizon for Columbus. 
11 weeks and over 3,000 miles later, I finally make it to Los Angeles. As the California sun sets on my journey, I flip the interview on myself. Having asked others to open up, I bare my own soul and discuss the trip, how I felt it went and what I can learn from the experience.
In part two of my Portland adventure, I go through intensive training with Darryl Purpose - learning to count cards and play blackjack basic strategy. Then we make our way to the casino, where I stake my last few hundred dollars and try to turn it into thousands. Will I lose everything or take the house for all it’s worth?
S1 E10. Portland, OR

S1 E10. Portland, OR

2022-04-1528:29

This week I'm in Portland, staying with Darryl Purpose - one of the world’s best blackjack players, now a folk singer-songwriter. We talk about card-counting, earning a living as a gambler, his music, creating art when you don’t understand the rules and how his mum supported him on these very different paths.
S1 E9. Seattle, WA

S1 E9. Seattle, WA

2022-04-1017:50

In my most *exposing* interview yet, I strip down to my birthday suit to interview my host, who likes to hang around the house naked. We talk about Western attitudes towards nudity, reading between the lines when choosing a Couchsurfing host, cancel culture, and how my eyes may be sending a message I wasn’t aware of…
S1 E8. Wolf Point, MT

S1 E8. Wolf Point, MT

2022-03-2630:30

A trip to the pub leads me to an embalmer and funeral director named Kelly, who invites me to stay with him and his wife Cleo. We discuss the unique circumstances of how they met, growing cannabis, the emotional impact of killing someone (in self defence), and becoming desensitised to death by working with dead bodies. Oh, and guns…
S1 E7. Fargo, ND

S1 E7. Fargo, ND

2022-03-1725:58

Fargo may have been immortalised by the Coen Brothers, but I’m in for a different experience. I talk with my hosts Jason and Kelli about raising seven kids, as well as discussing the immigrant experience and American Dream with Annett, who came to the U.S. shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A chance encounter with a charismatic bartender in the Amtrak observation car leads to a profound conversation about dopamine, how it influences our decisions and his struggle with alcoholism.
S1 E5. Elkhart, IN

S1 E5. Elkhart, IN

2022-02-1830:21

Elkhart, Indiana is a town living in the shadow of its 1970s heyday. My host Evan and I discuss how these changes have played out in the community, as well as guns, Midwestern stereotypes, the Amish and how we can better love our fellow man.
S1 E4. Harrisburg, PA

S1 E4. Harrisburg, PA

2022-02-1134:50

This week I'm in the state capitol of Pennsylvania. My hosts and I discuss their experience travelling to Russia just before the end of the Cold War, spirituality, second victims in healthcare, Unitarian Universalism, the butterfly effect, JD’s project Seven Candles and much more.
S1 E3. Manhattan, NY

S1 E3. Manhattan, NY

2022-02-0432:022

Soon after pulling into Penn Station, things take an unexpected and chilly turn. I also chat to my host Joann about how New York has changed since the 70s, Roe v Wade, her travels in Cuba and much more.
S1 E2. Boston, MA

S1 E2. Boston, MA

2022-01-2822:25

Yellow school buses, a rolled newspaper on the porch and steaming manhole covers. It can mean only one thing: I’ve made it to the New World… I start the trip on familiar ground, or with familiar faces at the very least. My old neighbours from London (sorry, “neighbors” sans U) take me in at only a week’s notice and we chat about how their relationship was formed through distance and strengthened by a bold move across the Atlantic.
In episode one, I reflect on how the pandemic forced me to dwell on where I am in my life - feeling  I’ve left things too late - and how I’d like to change that in the coming year. I speak to my mum about Couchsurfing, and her experiences as a host when it first started, as well as her tips as I prepare to cross America in the dead of winter to pursue a long-held dream.
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