Forms of identification Timothy “Speed” Levitch
Timothy “Speed” Levitch, left, on location in Kansas with director Richard Linklater for the original series Up To Speed. (Dana O’Keefe/Hulu)
Irreverent responses from our favourite travel ninjas.
Name: Timothy “Speed” Levitch
Title/bio: Actor, tour guide, speaker, author, voice actor, Kansas City and New York City tour guide, the subject of the documentary The Cruise, and currently hosting Up To Speed, an original travel series created by filmmaker Richard Linklater, premiering on Hulu.com on 9 August.
Twitter/website: @HuluUpToSpeed | facebook.com/HuluUpToSpeed
Born in: New York City
Currently living in: Kansas City, Missouri
1. Famous person (dead or alive, real or fictional) you’d most like to go on a trip with:
I've often thought about what a blast it would be to go on a road trip with [French playwright] Antonin Artaud. It's just that I would insist on doing all the driving and I'd probably keep him away from the maps, too.
2. Tourist must-see you think is actually a “must skip”:
Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. Something mystical is going on with that island. I mean, for decades, prisoners yearned to get off the island and now people make reservations months ahead of time to get onto it.
3. Everyone asks what’s #1 on your list of places you want to go before you die. But what’s your #3?
I'd like to visit the natural terrain of one of my spirit animals, the cassowary, which is the flightless bird indigenous to New Guinea. The cassowary is a unique animal, truly formed by its habitat, so I feel that maybe I'll understand this awkward and belligerent spirit animal of mine by hanging out in the underbrush of New Guinea. It would be a dangerous trip, as the cassowary is known for attacking man on sight. Well, of course, I understand well the frustration of being a bird unable to fly.
4. If someone was visiting your town, what’s the one thing you’d show them?
I'm currently living in Kansas City, Missouri, in the middle of the middle of the Midwest. There's plenty to investigate here, but one thing I'd certainly show any of my guests would be a painting that hangs in the big art museum in town, the Nelson-Atkins. The painting is a self-portrait by Thomas Hart Benton who was a renowned Kansas citizen painter and raconteur. In his self-portrait, Benton portrays himself as a peeping tom. He's peering, wide-eyed, around a tree, secretly watching a beautiful, goddess-like lady who is lounging in the nude. I don't know. Something about this painting sums up daily life here so well.
5. Best celebrity encounter while travelling:
I wasn't travelling, exactly. One night I was leading a tour group up the Empire State Building. It was pretty late, near to closing time -- the observation deck closes at midnight. I was on the outside terrace of the deck, enjoying the breeze and the magnificent view of Manhattan sparkling in the night. I turned to my right and standing next to me was Paul McCartney. I didn't speak to him. I just enjoyed that moment of standing beside a man who is a gigantic fountain of creativity as we looked out and marvelled together at this epic view of human ingenuity that lay before us.
6. The place you don’t want anyone to know about but are willing to divulge here:
The Burning Man Festival. My favourite city on the planet used to be a secret shared by subversives, but its recent rise in popularity is, I think, good for the world. The Burning Man Festival is 40,000 life-artists building their own temporary, prototypical metropolis, Black Rock City. It's called Black Rock City because it’s reborn once a year on a prehistoric lakebed, in the middle of the Black Rock desert.
7. Travel-related film or book that inspires you to pack your bags:
Easy Rider. Dana O' Keefe, executive producer of Up To Speed, thought up a great one-liner to describe Up To Speed that is actually an inversion of the aphorism that was in the original Easy Rider trailer. In the trailer for Easy Rider it states, "Here's a story about a man who went searching for America, and couldn't find it anywhere,” while Up To Speed, as Dana says, "...is the story of a man who went searching for America, and found it everywhere."
8. The travel story you’ll never stop bragging about:
When I was 13 my family took a trip to Israel for my Bar Mitzvah. It was my first time travelling to the Middle East. As the airplane was about to make its descent into Tel Aviv, I was in the back of the plane waiting in line for the restroom. Eventually, I was next and there was just one other person behind me in line, an elderly Israeli man. Immediately, as the restroom door opened and I prepared to step into it, the old man shoved me aside, scurried into the bathroom in front of me and locked the door behind him. I appreciated the gesture, it was like "Welcome to the Middle East, kid."
9. Lay on us a priceless bit of travel advice or wisdom:
We're all tourists, all the time, even when we're at home. Why? Because we're all ephemeral. We're all in a current state of just visiting.