According to the dictionary, the phrase “day trip” is a noun meaning “a journey or excursion completed in one day”. It also can be used as a verb, such as “We day tripped to the park”. But to Chet Garner, a day trip means another day at the office on the highways and byways of Texas.
Recently I caught up with Chet on one of the rare occasions he was home at his studio in Georgetown. We sat down for lunch at 600 Degrees Pizza and being that he was the local, I followed his lead on what to order. With some tasty slices of pizza and one of the 30 craft brews, we talked about his journey to becoming “The Daytripper”.
Creator, producer, director, and host of the popular PBS show “The Daytripper”, Chet Garner and his crew have shown Texans both the well-known and little known treasures this state has to offer. I personally was introduced to the show six years ago and have followed it ever since. It opens up viewers to a locals’ point of view in towns as big as Fort Worth and Houston and as small as Marfa and Dublin. The show has been nominated over a dozen times for Lone Star Emmy Awards, taking home 6 Emmys from the lot.
Most people don’t know it, but he started out wanting to be a lawyer. With a degree in law from Baylor University, as well as a degree from UT in Radio, Television, and Film, Chet had aspirations to practice entertainment law. His first job out of college was with the internationally renowned firm of Fulbright & Jaworski Austin office. “Law was sort of a way for me to open a backdoor to the entertainment industry. First day I showed up (at the new job) they said ‘Oh yeah, we’re shutting down the entertainment law division’. So I made it three years there doing trademark and copyright work.” Now he is his only client. “I still use my degree because we have our own trademark and copyright issues that I’ve got to navigate.”
Traveling the Texas roads started early for him. Originally from Comanche, Chet was about 7 years old when his father decided that the family needed a change. “In first grade my dad asked do we want to move to the mountains or the beach? And we were all like ‘Beach! Beach!” But Garner would soon find his young self in Port Arthur, Texas. “I remember pulling in at night and could see the lights of the refineries. I couldn’t tell they weren’t buildings, I was like ‘We’re moving to the biggest city ever in Texas. It looked like Oz, the Emerald City!’” But daylight the next morning revealed the smoke stacks, the chemical plants, and found the Garner kids mad at their dad.
He met his wife in high school there, and now living in Georgetown, they have 4 children ranging in age from 7 years old to 7 months old. The couple work together at his production company Hogaboom Road, but the Daytripper show is just one part of Hogaboom Road’s product. “Commercial projects, corporate videos, some I’m in, some I’m not in at all. We realized we’re pretty good at hitting the record button on a camera so we’ve got all kinds of people calling saying ‘Hey, we love The Daytripper and want to know if you could do something for us.’” With clients like Best Western International and the National Park Service, and projects for the Cactus League spring training in Phoenix and one in the Rocky Mountains, Garner is staying busy.
With 254 counties on the Texas map, Chet admits he hasn’t been to each and every one. At least not yet. “There’s a few. I’m not in the 254 club just yet. I’m getting close. I guess I need to do my official tally,” he chuckled. “The north panhandle, I haven’t gone up there much. West Texas I’ve got covered. East Texas and central Texas I’ve got covered. Panhandle and south Texas has big empty spots. There’s a lot of places right under my nose that I’ve been to personally but I haven’t shot an episode about.” One place we discussed was Temple. Daytripper has filmed an episode in Killeen, but not Temple, so look for the crew to be roaming the streets someday soon.
Our conversation turned to discussing the workings of the show and I took the opportunity to ask a question I had often wondered. How much of the antics on the show, something it’s known for, is staged and how much is impromptu? “I would say we’re 90% spontaneous and 10% planned. When we’ve got a bit we’re going to do we sort of know the basic frame work but I’ve always found it funnier if I have my prompt and the improv comes above that. We were just filming in Richmond at Brazos Bend State Park which is known for its alligators and I knew I wanted to do this ‘Alligator Chet’, like the late “Crocodile” Steve Irwin, but he’s terrified of the gators.” And when Chet gets rolling, you just let the camera and laughs roll along. “Of the 30 minutes (of footage), maybe 5 minutes is good, but it’s only going to be a 45 second bit on the show so it’s the best of the best bit.”
As the pizza was devoured and conversation continued it became clear that Chet loves his work, so I had to ask what made him decide to share his daytripping experiences with viewers. “I was originally a film major so I always wanted to be in production somehow and I saw a need for a local travel show. Turn on the Travel Channel and you’ll go to Rome or South America. These are the kind of trips someone, if they’re lucky, will make once in their life. But there was nothing telling me what I could do in Blanco, Texas, or Killeen, Tyler, Bastrop. All these little towns which have great stories and amazing things to do.” He credits necessity being the mother of invention so “The Daytripper” was born. “I can’t be the only person who wants to know what to do so that’s kinda how it started.” And don’t be looking for The Daytripper to be featuring festivals. The shows goal is to show everyday life wherever it travels, not special events.
With lunch winding up, I ended our time asking one final question. If someone has just moved to central Texas, what three places or activities would you send them on to get their first “True Texas” experience? “Go eat BBQ at Louie Mueller’s BBQ in Taylor. That’ll give you the family, historic, 60/70 year old barbeque joint with the best BBQ you’ll find anywhere. Then hike Enchanted Rock or go swimming at Hamilton Pool or jump in a Highland lake. There’s your outdoor experience. For that quintessential small town shopping and drinking experience, I think Georgetown is a good spot. That’ll give you a mix of beauty of the outdoors, the food and the barbeque, and the ‘small towness’ of the area.”
And if anyone should know, it would be “The Daytripper.” Via Con Dios.
And in case you’ve never seen the show, here’s a taste….