As if you need to be reminded, the world is still a mysterious place, and the portion of it known as the United States contains all sorts of kooks, all manner of dreamers and unusual encounters. And so it is in the state of Florida where we find local actor Will Clinger talking to a couple of mermaids and asking, "Why are there no mermen?"
Florida is but one of the states visited by the three-person team that creates "Wild Travels," which has begun its second season (4:30 p.m. Saturdays/11 p.m. Sundays) on WTTW-Ch. 11. "Florida really is the mother lode," says Harvey Moshman.
Moshman is the show's executive producer. Clinger is its host and Dave Seman works the camera, and this season they take us to a bug art collection in Vermont, the aforementioned mermaid show, a Hare Krishna colony with its temple of gold in West Virginia, a vast collection of Muhammad Ali memorabilia in (of all places) a used car dealership in New Hampshire and an African-American heritage museum and black veterans archive in Louisiana.
There are six shows, five segments per show, more than enough to satisfy all tastes.
Last season featured such cities as Houston, for a parade of artfully, oddly decorated cars and a house made from beer cans; a neon "graveyard" and the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas; the Deke Slayton Space & Bicycle Museum in Sparta, Wis.; and Embudo, N.M., with its Classical Gas Museum, a gathering of gas pumps and other service station paraphernalia.
The "WT" team does things on a shoestring, the three men taking a few plane rides, many long road trips and often sharing a hotel or motel room. As Seman said, "This is really guerrilla television in the best ways. It made us all feel like we were 25 years old again." Though Moshman now says, "In all this time, we have matured. … At least a bit," there remains a marvelously youthful exuberance to the show.
Clinger is a curious and respectful host, never making fun of some subjects that almost beg for derision. "I like to think my curiosity comes honestly," he says. "The quirky hobbies people have really fascinate me. Whether they are artists or collectors or whatnot, they are all so genuine. They believe what they are doing has a purpose and are sincere about it. I have a lot of fun doing this show, meeting the people we meet. It never gets boring.
"I am not performing. Once I'm in there, participating in the back and forth, it's the give-and-take that I am concentrating on. I'm not trying to be funny. It is way better if the people we're talking to bring the funny."
And so many of them do, such as the people at a convention where inventors are trying to sell their often weird creations. Clinger's reaction to one such gizmo, the Boo Alert, a "ghost detector": "I was a little skeptical, frankly."
The ratings were more than solid for the first season, and the "WT" team expects the same this year. It has a number of Chicago-based sponsors, such as The Second City and Lagunitas Brewing Co., and there remain dreams of national distribution. "Naturally the most obvious would be public television," says Moshman. "We are exploring that and other avenues. I have to be optimistic, but I am also a realist."
Whatever the fate of "Wild Travels," it is giving us something valuable. As television continues to provide a seemingly endless and increasingly bloody stream of unsettling images, the show is an oasis of distinctive and delightful dreamers.
"After Hours With Rick Kogan" airs 9-11 p.m. Sundays on WGN-AM 720.