Season 6 - Episode 602
Chet Garner, a 2006 Baylor Law alum, hosts the Emmy Award-winning Texas travel show, The Daytripper. As the face of Baylor’s Bears in the Wild alumni campaign, he encourages alumni around the country to connect with their fellow Bears. In this Baylor Connections, Garner takes listeners inside his Baylor experience, his love for Baylor University and the Lone Star State, and the joys of traveling Texas highways to share hidden gems with viewers.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are visiting with Chet Garner. Chet Garner believes his job to be the greatest on earth, as host of the Emmy Award-winning PBS program, The Daytripper, Garner travels across Texas exploring landmarks, restaurants, businesses, those well-known and obscure. And he highlights the people and places worth finding across the Lone Star state. A 2006 Baylor Law graduate, Garner is also the face of Baylor's Bears in the Wild Alumni Campaign, an expedition of sorts, encouraging Bears to connect with other Bears across the country and around the world. And we were able to find some time. You're at home today or in the studio, at least today, at your home base here. We appreciate the chance to visit with you, Chet. Thanks so much for joining us on the show.
Chet Garner:Oh hey, absolutely. Thrilled to be here. Chance to talk Baylor, talk barbecue, talk whatever, Baylor Sports and Athletics, I'm all about it.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, I do think I would agree with you that you have a pretty cool job here, that we're going to talk about, getting to travel around the state. And I'm just curious though, try to write a way to the Bears in the Wild Campaign. You're alert around most of the state a lot of the time. How common is it for you to run across other bears in the wild?
Chet Garner:What I'd say, since we launched the campaign this football season, very common. Because I don't think it was that well known that I was a Baylor alumni. Of course I'm a law alumni, but people do know and the Bears in the Wild Campaign has given people just more knowledge. And so I'm getting a lot more sic 'ems in the wild these days, which I welcome.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Are there any meetings that were particularly memorable or most random or unexpected?
Chet Garner:Oh, let's see. Dallas saw a bunch of people, Houston recently. I think it's not so much, it's just the frequency of them and then also everyone has a story, which I love. So it's not just, "Hey, I went to Baylor." It's, "Hey, I was there during X period, or Y. Or have you been back to campus and seen all the construction? I went to this football game. Or we're coming off a football season," so a lot of it was around football. "Got to go back for homecoming. Oh yeah, I was in the stadium." A lot of people were in the stadium it seems the day that we launched the Bears in the Wild Campaign. So they saw a lot of that stuff. So I'm sure the stories will keep building. At this time it's just kind of like, "Whoa, there's a lot of us out there." To the point of the Bears in the Wild Campaign, we need to be a little more vocal.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Visiting with Chet Garner, host of The Daytripper and face of Baylor's Bears in the Wild Campaign. So some people know you from The Daytripper, some people know you from Bears in the Wild. So let's talk about your main gig and now I'm someone who loves road trips, so I would definitely agree that your job is up there among the best. So if someone who's never seen The Daytripper were to check it out, what sorts of things would they find?
Chet Garner:Yeah, so making The Daytripper is my main gig and of course that's spun off into all these sort of different branches, if you will, from the tree. But The Daytripper is a Texas travel show and we air on PBS and we're online, but it is one day adventures in towns all across the state. So we travel to your most podunk town, to your biggest cities and show people all they could eat, see and do if they happen to be in that town for the day. We're talking cities like Houston, Dallas, Austin and then even ones that, they're not just one stoplight towns, they're no stoplight towns. Ones that if you blink, you miss them. You don't even realize it's a town until you exit the highway. Like, "Wait, I guess there's a post office." And so we flip rocks and find fun things to do under every rock we look under. So it just goes to show people that there really are things to do in every corner of the state and that's the idea. So we eat a lot of barbecue, we eat a lot of chicken frieds like you would when you're on the road, but more than that, we tell the history of these towns and each 30 minute episode features a single destination. So that, the way my idea is, people don't have to do the work. I've already done it for them. Just trust we've done the research. Just get in your car and go. Go have a day trip adventure and you're going to have a good time. So that's what I want to do. I jokingly say that I make a television show that is here to inspire people to watch less TV.
Derek Smith:That sounds good. Hey, you get out there, there's something romantic about the road, the back roads. And I'm curious, I remember as a kid, my mom and dad when I was young, I didn't pay as close attention then, but they watched Charles Kuralt, who was On the Road on CBS.
Chet Garner:Oh, heck yeah. Oh yeah, pioneer.
Derek Smith:Yeah, absolutely. So I kind of thought of him when I see what you do. What was your inspiration or where did The Daytripper come from? Especially from someone, I don't know what the tie is between being a law graduate and a TV show host, but maybe you can tie that all together for us.
Chet Garner:I t's a bit of a winding path, as life always is. You mentioned Charles Kuralt, he has one of my all-time favorite quotes that inspires what I do. And it says, "Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything." And I'm like, "Yeah man, it is so true." Because I love getting off the highway and just really diving into all the cities and towns and there's a reason the highway is where it is and it often bypasses some of our best stuff, which is a shame. But to be inspired to do this, I grew up traveling Texas in the back of my parents Suburban. Saw Texas from the top of a mattress as we went cross-country, not cross-country, cross-country of Texas, to go visit family. And so we would rip out the backseat, put a mattress in, we'd be back there and inevitably we'd be on some back road, my dad would slam on the brakes and we would move from the back of the Suburban to the front of the Suburban as he whipped around to haul us out and look at, what I called tombstones of death, which is Texas historic markers. For kids those things are totally painful. But that was my childhood. So we would stop at little cafes because my dad did not fast food cheeseburgers. I love fast food cheeseburgers, but I had a childhood without them. But what it meant we were in these diners and barbecue joints and stuff like that, and my family lived all over the state, we were the ones visiting them. So I got this deep love for the state of Texas and not just the main roads and big cities, because my family didn't live in those places. And that inspired, once I found my grandpa's VHS video camera, it was over for me. I would throw that thing on my shoulder. You remember how big these things were?
Chet Garner:Huge. And I was making movies with my cousins and my best buddies in every backyard that we could. And so it was a love for Texas as a child, a love for storytelling and filmmaking that sort of started when I was in middle school and then continued all the way through college. And then as a lover of education and just a curious by nature, I thought, "I'm going to go get a law degree. Sounds kind of fun." And so went and did that, always knowing that I really wanted to tell stories. And I thought a law degree would be a great sort of all purpose degree to understand the entertainment industry inside and out, whether it's copyrights and intellectual property or the contracts and the law of making a movie. And so I thought at some point in my life this would all gel in this universe where it would make sense. And now it has, miraculously. It took a long while. I went to Baylor and Baylor's known as the Marine Corps of Law Schools. And so it was a meat grinder there, but I made it out, did pretty well and when you do well in law school you sort of find yourself in these jobs, whether you intentionally did it or not, but they're the best paying, high recruiting jobs and you're like, "I'd be an idiot not to take this money and go do this thing." Especially after you've just paid for private law school experience. And so I did that not knowing if it would stick or not. And it wasn't but a couple weeks in that I was like, "All right, yeah, this isn't my forever." There's people who are gifted to be incredible attorneys, not me. And I thought I need to start creating something that I want for my future, not just something that I sort of followed a path and found myself into. And so that was, we're jumping way ahead, man, but that's sort of the genesis of The Daytripper right there.
Derek Smith:So it wasn't really a hardcore pivot from you from law school to TV? More of a number of streams kind of coming together, you just weren't sure exactly how they would come together.
Chet Garner:Yeah, I wasn't. I knew that I wanted to tell stories and I wanted to make films. Whether I wanted to be the director, the producer, never did I intend to be the host, truthfully. I was just the guy that would work for the cheapest, standing around. We didn't have any budget and I would do it for free for myself. So I was like, "Okay, I guess I'll go for it." And then now it's second nature, it's fun. But I'd never intended, my goal was never to be the host of a travel show. It was just to be a storyteller. But there comes a point, I think, in everybody's journey where they're either going to go for it or they're not. And that was for me, after about three years of working as a lawyer and I had been working on The Daytripper as a side project for about a year and a half and making cold calls, trying to find anybody that would support it. And I mean, I made 150 calls to all kinds of companies seeing if they would toss me any bit of money so I could go out and make The Daytripper. And the very first one was a very small brewery in Austin that I asked for so little money that they weren't even going to notice it was gone from the budget. And so they were like, "Yeah, that sounds fun, Chet. Sure, go make your little movie." And I remember hanging up the phone and being scared to death because if someone's actually giving money, then you have to do it. It can no longer just be a pipe dream. And so that was the crux for me. Like, "Okay, I can't do this and be an attorney full-time." And I had a new baby at home, less than a year old. And I was like, "All right, this is it. I got to go for it." And so that was the hardcore pivot moment. But the year and a half before that was sort of, "Oh, I've got this side project. It may come out, may not." But as soon as I got someone to say, "Yeah, I'll write you a check," I was like, "Oh no." That's when it got real. It's worked out. It's worked out.
Derek Smith:Worked out pretty well now, since 2009, the show has aired. And if I've got this right, was your first episode in Waco?
Chet Garner:You better believe it was. You better believe it. Okay, so obviously, Baylor Bear, I moved to Waco from Austin and fell in love with Waco. It was the right size town. There were all these hidden gems that were old, kind of those institutional spots. Cameron Park mountain biking. I lived across the river from Cameron Park. And so if I ever needed a blow off steam, I would just ride my bike across the bridge and disappear on those mountain bike trails for a couple hours. And I was like, "Man, how did I not know this was there?" Meanwhile, having lived in Austin, I knew that everyone hated Waco. And so it epitomized that idea of, "Here's a place that you've already made your judgment on and you decided you don't like it. But I, as an insider, know that there's all these wonderful hidden gems." And so my thought was if I can convince Austinites to want to come to Waco, I can convince them to want to go anywhere in the world. And so it was sort of like, "This is the test." And the overwhelming response was, "I had no idea any of that stuff was in Waco." It was Dr. Pepper Museum, Cameron Park Zoo and at that point people really didn't know it was in Waco. And this is before Magnolia, right? The whole everything shifted.
Chet Garner:Chip and Joanna, I think, got a lot of their inspiration from The Daytripper if I had to trace it back.
Chet Garner:They haven't said it on record yet, but I'm sure they will soon. No.
Chet Garner:But it was kind of like they saw the same stuff in Waco that I saw, that it was this really great, charming town, had all this wonderful, not just potential but wonderful things already. And so I made an episode and that kind of was the aha moment for a lot of people. Like, "Whoa dude, if this guy found stuff to do in Waco, I'm going to keep watching. Because he must know there's stuff everywhere." And 13 years later... I wasn't sure at all if anyone was going to watch this thing, but I knew that, hey, I found it useful and my mom would watch it out of mom guilt at least. So that's all I needed.
Derek Smith:We are visiting with Chet Garner, host of The Daytripper and the face of Baylor's Bears in the Wild Alumni Campaign. So let's tie this into this campaign a little bit, Chet, because now I have to say, you've mentioned Austin a couple of times, we have to give you a little bit of a hard time because I don't know if you're the first UT undergrad alum we've had on this show, but I know it's a smaller list. But we're glad you saw the light, we're glad you eventually found the light and came to Baylor. You mentioned Baylor had that reputation of being kind of the Marine Corps bootcamp of law school. What was it that brought you to Baylor and tell us a bit about your Baylor experience, what it was like for you?
Chet Garner:Oh man. So I jumped on the opportunity to vary from my undergrad. You get one experience and I had an opportunity to go to Baylor and a couple other schools and I was like, "I am going to change it up." As a Christian, the idea of going and jumping to a Christian school was super, super cool for me because my undergrad is University of Texas and giant secular public school. And then it couldn't be more different than Baylor, your mid-sized private Christian institution. And so the idea that I would get a higher education that had a different kind of worldview, or at least a worldview that had some form to it, because UT, whoo, it's all over the place, man. And so that was super cool and so loved, loved, loved Waco, came and visited and I was immediately sold. It was cool, it was like all things pointed that way. Got some wonderful scholarship support and just kind of jumped in. I didn't know how hard it was going to be before I was there. And that's probably a good thing because I don't think anybody really realizes how hard Baylor Law School is until they're already signed up and they're past the point of no return. Because it is. It's crazy, it's fun and I'm so thankful. As someone who comes from a job where I've got to think on my toes all the time, we really don't script The Daytripper, I'm freewheeling it out there. I couldn't have been more prepared for this job by any other education than Baylor Law School. Like, "Hey, go make a closing argument and just make everybody believe you and trust you." And that's just what we do on The Daytripper, it's about building trust and rapport. And so the audience knows me. They feel like they can trust me when I tell them, "This is an exceptional barbecue and you got to come and eat it." So Baylor, I wind up there, I'm a bachelor at this point. My undergrad experience was a room full of bunk beds and other dudes and now I'm living by myself, focused in on law school. And it was just a wonderful, difficult, very formative part of my life. Had to make all new friends, didn't know anybody in Waco, but most of the people there were from other walks of life. The experience is very different when you attend for graduate school than undergrad. I didn't get to run the Baylor Line, which was a total bummer. But I did, this October, check something off my bucket list, I finally ran my very first Baylor Line.
Chet Garner:With the Bears in the Wild Campaign. You want to talk about intense? Oh my gosh!
Derek Smith:How was that?
Chet Garner:Oh, wow. My heart rate was through the roof, man. And I'm sitting there stretching before, if I'd been a 20, 18, 19 year old kid, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. But I'm like, "I'm about to sprint a hundred yards, I better stretch. So I'm not the old dude with the torn hamstring lying on the field getting carted off." So I had to actually think about things so I didn't die or get trampled by those kids, man. The amount of hormone and emotion that was behind that line, I've never seen anything like it.
Derek Smith:No near spills, right? Did you stay on your feet easily enough?
Chet Garner:Oh, I had to jump over a girl in a banana suit, like straight up hurdle her, and she ate it and then the one in front of her ate it, or the one behind her. So I hurdled her, looked back thinking I've got to stop, I got to be the salmon in this stream to go backwards. And she was already getting up and getting help because if I had to turn back, I would've been demolished, eaten alive. But at Baylor, there's people who go to graduate school and I think too many of them fall into one camp where they think, "Ah, this is just my grad school, I'm here to learn. I'm not going to get sucked in. I'm going to keep my head down." And I took the opposite approach and it was like, "Man, I'm here for three years. That's about the same as my undergrad. It would be such a waste if I didn't get into this." So we started going to basketball, women's basketball. We won a national championship when I was there. Football, was a bit of a dark age for the football team at that point, but it was fun. One of the first things I did, I went and bought all the green and gold from the bookstore and I said, "I'm not just going to sit on my hands for three years and miss out on college sports." So I got in. I think one thing they do need to do over at the law school though, and all the graduate schools, we should have gotten in on the Baylor tradition earlier. It would've been really helpful. So, hey, if you're listening, Dean Toben to this, you need to get all the Baylor lawyers, you need to take them out, tour the campus, teach them the traditions, and it can take a couple hours, then they'll feel like they're more part. Because when we were across that road, we did sort of feel like we were out there on an island and I had to intentionally go out and seek out. No one told me y'all had Dr. Pepper Happy Hour. I just happened to be walking at the bookstore or something. I was like, "Wait, what are all these happy kids eating ice cream for?" And then found out about Dr. Pepper Happy Hour. So it was just a bit of a mixed bag, you don't get that full on brainwash right off the bat. And I say that in the best possible way. So you have to learn as you go. But it's been fun. And now even Bears in the Wild has given me even more insight into some of the traditions that I missed, like Baylor Line being one of them.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Chet Garner and let's talk about that. Because you're right, when you have the grad school connection, some people really lean in, not everyone does. And you don't always find someone who was necessarily a grad school graduate coming in and being a part of a campaign like this. So tell us about the Bears in the Wild Campaign. How'd you get involved and what did you hear about it that made you want to be involved?
Chet Garner:Well, yeah, so I've been a proud Baylor Bear, haven't hidden that at all. And the marketing department, through some stuff that I've done, and then also going to Waco multiple times for episodes of The Daytripper I think has gotten a little bit more visibility to the fact that I did go to Baylor, and so the marketing department, Jason Cook, Karen Kemp, Ashley Lowe, some of those folks found out about it and they built this really great character. It was like this crocodile hunter, Steve, mixed with this National Park ranger, and they needed somebody to fill those boots and that hat maybe more. And they thought of me, and I'm so thankful they did. So I got an email or a phone call, I can't remember exactly how it was, but it was basically Jason who, small world, we went to the same high school in southeast Texas, and he was like, "Hey Chet, we got this great vision for this campaign and we think you're the guy, if you're open to dawning the Baylor Green and Gold for us with pride." I said, "Oh, no doubt, let's do it." And so neither one of us had an idea quite of what it was going to look like exactly. They gave me a lot of creative freedom on how to be an idiot and fall out of a canoe and do all sorts of stuff. So it's been a blast. It came up, I was like, you think, "Okay, yeah I did. I'm a Baylor lawyer, not a Baylor undergrad. Is that strange?" And it's been such a welcoming family. There's been no line drawn. Hey, you went to Baylor, I've got a Baylor degree on my wall, I'm part of the Baylor family, and that's been awesome. That's been absolutely awesome.
Derek Smith:So how would you describe, what are the goals of the campaign for people who haven't seen it? What do you hope people take away and do?
Chet Garner:Yeah, so the idea is Baylor alumni base, of course, we're a lot smaller than some of the other big schools in Texas, be it the Longhorns or the Aggies or some of the others, Tex Tech. And so just because of just who Baylor is, we tend to be a little smaller, a little quieter, a little more just reserved when, why? There's no point in doing that. We just won a basketball national championship, that's enormous. We won the Big 12 last year. Whatever it is, women's basketball, all the sports, we've got some domination that we happen. And that's just in the sports arena. We got a lot of other victories in the academic world too. And so it was this idea that we need to connect more out in the wild. One, to help build that Baylor pride amongst ourselves, but two, the value in networking, Baylor Bears are spread out all over the country. So helping them, helping facilitate, say, Baylor Bear who's in Atlanta, connecting with another Baylor Bear that's in Atlanta so that they can get together, maybe they get together and watch games at a restaurant. Maybe they are more active in their business networking, maybe then they're more active in recruiting other people to come to Baylor. And so Baylor needed just a kick in the pants, for lack of a better word, just like, "Hey guys, come on, let's get proud when we see another person wearing green and gold out there in the wild and go make a connection." So it's this idea that Baylor Bears, we may be one of the most elusive bear species out there, but once you identify one, you need to make that connection so that you can get a little bit more vocal. So it's really to inspire alumni connections that'll ultimately help Baylor Bears wherever they are. It's more fun to watch games with fellow Baylor Bears, right? And then Baylor Bears could open the door for all kinds of business opportunities. And then from a spiritual perspective, Baylor Bears, we hope, are carrying the Christian light wherever they are. And so helping inspire others to do that, whatever community they find themselves in.
Derek Smith:As we talk about that, and people can see more at baylor.edu/alumni, building those connections, the last couple years have been interesting after the pandemic. We've all had our worlds, our habits, our worlds rocked a little bit. I'm curious, I don't want to tie too much directly, but whether it's going out on the back roads and seeing something after being maybe indoors more, or whether it's putting yourself out there to find connections with other Bears in, like you said, Atlanta or wherever. We've got a national alumni base.
Derek Smith:Phoenix, wherever.
Chet Garner:Los Angeles, wherever, yeah.
Derek Smith:Wherever you look. Yeah. Is that more needed than ever, I think? I don't know. Maybe we all need to get back in the habit a little bit. Flex those muscles.
Chet Garner:100%. 100%. The truth is it's easier to stay inside, but there couldn't be anything worse for us. It is part of the human experience to be part of a community and to build connections. That is not just from a naturalistic human perspective, but that is all over the Bible about how important community is for all sorts of life. And I think we gave it up, we got into some bad habits over COVID, and now we're having to break those habits, kick the moss off, break the dirt up a little bit and get that wheel moving again. But we got to be out there with other people. And so it has been slow for people to readopt some of the habits. I think there was this huge burst of people like, "We're outside again!" And they swelled into places, and then now we're kind of maybe falling back into some of that COVID comfort, where it's like, "Ah, I think I'll just kind of stay inside," or whatever. Only work from home, which isolates us and it's just not good for us. So I think we need this now more than ever.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, we'll look forward to have to check out even more of the episodes and take a look at those and hopefully connect with other Baylor alumni around the country here as we visit with Chet Garner and winding down on the show. So I have to ask you, you mentioned that when you were here, you were single, now you've got a family, and I've got to guess, how involved are they in the show and how much does the show impact your lives?
Chet Garner:Y Yeah. Oh gosh. My whole world is built around balancing the strange job that I've got with... My wife and I, Laura, we have five kids. So the kids, my strange job, nothing's normal ever. There's a perpetual state of spinning chaos. But we chose this life and it's wonderful. So I call my kids, my kids are my scout team, they're my A-crew. And so they come in, we'll take family vacations and go just... I don't know how excited the kids are sometimes when I say, "Hey, we're taking a family vacation to Littlefield, Texas." Like, "What? Why are we going?" But we'll get there, I'll have a couple things in my back pocket, we'll have a blast. And they're sort of there with me when we scout stuff. And they've become some pretty bougie food critics sometimes or pretty refined barbecue pallets. And so we'll go to a place, eat a bunch of restaurants, go to see all sorts of stuff. And I do it when the cameras aren't with me, that way there's no timeline. My youngest is three. You want to tell the three year-old that, "Hey, wait back on cue number one, wait for the camera roll and then you'll walk in." That ain't happening. So we scout it, I decide where I want to go on the show and then in due time I'll come back with the crew and we'll make an episode about it. So the family, very involved, have seen hopefully way more of Texas than a normal kid has got a chance to. So I consider them pretty fortunate in that regard, whether they consider themselves fortunate is another issue. It'll take some time.
Derek Smith:Oh, they will. Yeah.
Chet Garner:I'm the dad who's still making my kids read Texas historic markers, so apple doesn't fall far from the tree. And so my wife, God bless her, one of the most patient women on the planet, I married her before my third year of law school, which is the most difficult law school at Baylor. So married her, moved her to Waco, and she endured law school with me. And so in a lot of ways, she deserves a degree on her wall as well, just like I have.
Derek Smith:Honorary, yeah.
Chet Garner:And so she's been so supportive and so she knows bobbing and weaving is just part of this. And so it's fun. It's fun. It's definitely not a traditional nine to five.
Derek Smith:No, that's great.
Chet Garner:That's why I'm not an attorney.
Derek Smith:That's great. Hey, your kids know what authentic barbecue is and what's not. So that's good.
Chet Garner:Oh man, they're talking about smoke rings and fat rendering ratios and they know all their grades of beef and it's just ridiculous.
Derek Smith:Well, they sound like sharp kids. So I have to ask, we're only a couple of floors up from admissions and you got five kids. Do we need to work on getting your kids in touch with undergraduate admissions now?
Chet Garner:Hey, yeah, let's go ahead and do it. Let's go, let's do it. I've got some that are all in on Baylor, and I brought my two oldest with me to the football games. Their first Baylor, well, first Baylor football game they can remember. We brought them when they were littler and they were all in. Raising the Bear paw high and proud.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, we'll hope to all see them here in Waco soon enough. Well, Chet, I really appreciate your time. Appreciate all you do for Baylor and for the campaign and helping build those connections with people. Hopeful to see more fans get involved in that. And then also check out on The Daytripper in the days ahead.
Chet Garner:Well, hey, thank you so much for having me. It's been a blast. And sic 'em Bears.
Derek Smith:Sic 'em Bears. See, baylor.edu/alumni for Bears in the Wild. And if people want to learn more about The Daytripper, where can they go?
Chet Garner:Oh, best place to start, thedaytripper.com or search your social media channels for The Daytripper and I should come up.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Baylor.edu/alumni or thedaytripper.com to see more about the campaign and the show. Well, Chet, again, thanks so much. We really appreciate having you on the show today. Host of The Daytripper and face of Baylor's Bears in the Wild Alumni Campaign, Chet's our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other shows online, baylor.edu/connections. You can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.