Defeating Stranger Danger, One Breakfast at a Time

One newlywed couple sets off cross-country to restore faith in their fellow Americans—over pancakes.

By Erik Maurer January 23, 2014

While most newly married couples jet off to Hawaii or the Bahamas for their honeymoon, Matt and Courtney Dillard decided that they wanted something a little different for their own romantic getaway.

Packing up their ’97 Ford Aerostar one early July morning, the newlyweds embarked upon an epic quest to defeat a paradigm. Their Holy Grail? To kill the notion of “stranger danger” and prove, once and for all, that this world is really full of good, kind-hearted people. Their weapons? Pancakes, bacon, omelets, and coffee.

Their resulting crusade is chronicled in their new eBook, Breakfast with Strangers: 50 Meals Across America.

It all began at a Portland breakfast eatery, where they spotted a diner breaking his fast all by his lonesome. Wondering what his story was, they questioned whether it was OK to ask a stranger to breakfast. I mean…does anyone even do that? This time, their soon-to-be nemesis of “stranger danger” took over, and they continued on with their weekend routine. But a seed had been planted.

A few weeks later, a serendipitous conversation at breakfast about a man’s dreams of traveling the world in the boat he was refurbishing gave life to those seeds. They began with a post on Craigslist, asking people why they should take them to breakfast. After an inspiring meal with a woman who shared her life-changing travel experience, a successful Kickstarter campaign, and the joyous occasion of marriage, they knew what they were being called to do. Echewing the spendy Eurovan that Courtney had originally envisioned for their journey, they bought their Aerostar (newly christened the USS Pancake), packed up their gear, and hit the road.

They met scores of people of note, including the "mustard master" at the National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin, a Quaker lobbying for nuclear disarmament, and US Senator Scott Brown. They gazed upon the Atlantic from the shores of the other Portland. They stuffed themselves with gumbo in the Deep South. At the Grand Canyon they sang Happy Birthday to a well-wisher who had flagged them down. They touched every corner of this vast country and met the kinds of people who live in each one. They felt the pride that resonates in every American for their home. And perhaps the most important thing of all—they still liked each other afterwards.

Over the 21,000 miles, 153-day whirlwind of a journey, Matt and Courtney discovered a lot of truths. The most poignant of them? People are great. They had succeeded in their quest to defeat stranger danger, at least on the small scale. “Americans are generous, we just don’t believe it,” said Courtney when asked what is right and wrong about America. "People are proud of where they come from, to have won the lottery of being born an American" said Matt. "The 'stranger danger' is disempowering. The individualistic mindset of America can be enriched by going outside your personal bubble and connecting with other people."

Read about their adventures in their eBook, Breakfast With Strangers, available on iTunes and Gumroad (PDF or iBook).

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