Matthew McConaughey’s Airstream Trip

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Greenlights" by Matthew McConaughey. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why did Matthew McConaughey buy an Airstream? How did his travels shape who he was?

Matthew McConaughey bought his Airstream after becoming a successful movie star. He found that it was easy and fun to travel around the country alone and work on his career in between his trips.

Read more about Matthew McConaughey, his Airstream, and the journey that helped him find himself.

McConaughey Buys an Airstream

After chasing his Amazon dream, Matthew returned to Hollywood, where he took the role of spiritual writer Palmer Joss in the film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel Contact. He felt a strong connection with the character’s insistence on the reality of spirit in the midst of a culture of science.

After this, he began to feel the need to travel again, not to Peru but around the United States. He bought a GMC van and radically customized it, adding, among other features, a mounted microphone and cassette recorder so that he could record himself talking and musing while he drove. Many of the musings he recorded with it went into this book. He named the van “Cosmo” and took off to travel the US highways.

Several months later, he bought an Airstream RV to pull behind the van, becoming an official full-timer in the world of RV living. He drove everywhere, from east to west coast and across the northern and southern borders, following his own schedule, going where he wanted, attending sporting events, concerts, and more.

He also continued with his movie career, taking meetings with directors while on the road. During this time, he appeared in his old friend Richard Linklater’s The Newton Boys. He felt a deep sense of identity with his character in that one, the real-life bank robber Willis Newton, who was one of the progenitors of outlaw logic, and who hailed from Matthew’s hometown of Uvalde, Texas.

Matthew enjoyed making these movies, but he exulted in the life of trailer parks, which he found were home to a wonderful variety of human types. To his pleasure, he discovered that people in such parks lived by an etiquette code that valued privacy, and even though they often knew who he was, they mostly left him alone. 

A Compass for Life

While shooting a movie in Canada, Matthew lived in the trailer park on the Squamish Nation Indian Reserve in Vancouver, where he ended up becoming good friends with the local residents. He spent many nights cooking beef rib-eye on his outdoor grill to trade with them for salmon. These new friends once escorted a paparazzo off the premises when the man tried to get pictures of Matthew.

When Matthew departed after the movie was over, the chief and his brothers gifted him with a handmade canoe paddle bearing the engraved image of the Squamish Nation’s thunderbird symbol. They called Matthew their brother and said that just as the paddle gives direction to the Squamish nation on the water, so this paddle could serve as Matthew’s compass during his travels. He recognized this as another profound greenlight, and their words inspired him to name his RV “the Canoe.”

An Accidental Greenlight

Sometime afterward, he encountered another greenlight unexpectedly after driving all day through western Montana. He followed a campground sign in the hope of finding a stopping point so he could watch a college football game on his satellite TV, but instead he stumbled across a tavern with a colorful array of characters inside. These included the Cheyenne barmaid Asha; the grayed and grizzled Ed, who ran the bar; Josie, the tavern’s hotel manager, who had arrived two years earlier, gotten pregnant from a one-night stand, and stayed; and Sam, whose wife had died two weeks into their marriage many years ago, after which he called all the women at the bar names like “honey” and “sugar” because he couldn’t make himself say another woman’s name. Sam recognized Matthew, bought him a drink, and introduced him to everybody. Matthew recognized the moment as an opportunity to get to know these interesting and very real people. So he chose to spend the night drinking with them and rolling dice with them. It was an accidental greenlight, and something far more fulfilling than watching football alone in his RV.

Matthew McConaughey’s Airstream Trip

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Matthew McConaughey's "Greenlights" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Greenlights summary:

  • How "greenlights" help you confirm if you're on the right path
  • How McConaughey switched college choices because of family finances
  • Why family is at the center of everything for McConaughey, no matter what's happening in his career

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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