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Short-order tourist visits SCV

• Man plans to visit 101 diners in 30 days

Posted: May 12, 2008 2:34 a.m.
Updated: July 13, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Jeff Bratz stands in front of the Way Station Coffee Shop in Newhall Wednesday. Bratz plans to eat at 101 diners in 30 days as he travels a zig-zagging route across the country to Wyoming.

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Two eggs over medium, toast, hash browns and coffee.

One hundred and one times.

His life packed into a weathered Dodge Aries, Jeff Bratz is driving a zig-zagging route across the nation, eating at 101 diners in 30 days and keeping a running Web journal.

"Everybody has a diner experience," he said.

While most Americans were scrambling to finish their taxes on April 15, 26-year-old Bratz was heading onto the open road.

By Wednesday, he said he had consumed somewhere in the area of 140 eggs, and downed about 1,000 ounces of coffee.

"And I'm pounding the vitamins," he said. "I'm just nervous about getting scurvy from eating eggs every day.

"You get really familiar with a meal when you eat it 70-some times," he said over his meal of choice at the Way Station Coffee Shop in Newhall.

"I've gotten really good at distinguishing good coffee from bad coffee."

Bratz started his American journey in Ithaca, N.Y. with $2,700. He bought his burgundy car for $250 from a Bloomfield, New Jersey musician who goes by the name of DJ Bum Rush.

His itinerary has included New York City, Akron, Ohio, Peoria, Ill., and Little Rock, Ark. From Southern California he's making his way to San Francisco, Portland and finally Jackson Hole, Wyo, where he intends to spend a few months writing a book of his experiences.

"It's been great talking to people on the road," he said. "It's like we have so many countries right here in America."

Finding his way

A vagabond spirit seems to have its roots in his family, Bratz said. His mother was a "70s flower child gypsy" and his father was a truck driver, he said. The two met in California and hit the road together.

"I've tried to fight this gypsy vagabond streak in me," Bratz said.

"Maybe it's just time to give in to it."

Bratz grew up in Elk River, Minn., moving to Los Angeles after high school with Hollywood dreams. After two years of living in his car and pursuing an acting career, he decided it was time for a change.

From there he went to music school in Iowa before settling in Ithaca, N.Y., and singing in the acapella band The Fault Line, which made it to the top 20 on the second season of NBC's "America's Got Talent."

In the last several months, Bratz left the band and ended a relationship.

"I was just moving on to something and didn't know what," he said. It was his friend Pete Rognli in Wyoming - whom Bratz said he's known since age 12 - who proposed the idea of a diner-centric road trip book.

"I'm excited to see what the aftermath of this trip is going to be," he said.

Bratz meets Bratz

One of the more interesting stops along the way so far was breakfast with the other Jeff Bratz.

While doing a Google search for his name a few months ago, Bratz said he found another Jeff Bratz, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

When he set out on his trip last month, he got in touch with Bratz of Des Moines, and the two wound up meeting over breakfast.

As if breakfast with another Jeff Bratz wasn't odd enough, he said as the conversation progressed it took a more interesting turn.

"We turned out to be first cousins," he said. "I had no idea." Jeff Bratz of Des Moines said Thursday he was intrigued by Bratz's initial e-mail, and said the meeting was "an absolute blast."

In the course of their discussion it was revealed they shared the same grandfather.

While their lives are in many ways radically different - Bratz of Des Moines is a certified financial planner - he said there are some similarities. They're both fans of Ayn Rand, and, "we've both lived boldly."

In Des Moines Bratz's case, that's included living in Brazil and running Iron Man triathalons.

"It was really cool (meeting him)," he said. "He's a fun guy."

Inspiration

With no tape deck, no CD player and a broken car radio, Bratz has had "a lot of think time," he said.

He added that his journey has taken him through a lot of towns mentioned in the classic song "Route 66."

"I can't get that song out of my head," he said with a smile.

He said one source of inspiration for his trip came from Robert Pirsig's book "Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals," a follow-up to Pirsig's book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

Bratz said the book expands on Pirsig's philosophies and touches on "static versus dynamic quality" of life.

"I realized I was feeling bogged down and wasn't getting enough dynamic quality in my life," he said.

Once his journey ends, Bratz plans to write a book and try to get it published.

He's thought about going back to musical theater, but beyond that his future's as open as a Nebraska highway.

"Everybody at some point in time should do something like this," he said. "Time makes you forget about all the beauty that's in this nation."

For more information on Jeff Bratz's trip visit www.dinertales.com

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