Metro-East Living

Travel author suggests ‘100 Things to Do in America Before You Die’

Author talks about his travel book that includes St. Louis' Fox Theatre

Author Bill Clevlen, a 37-year-old freelance travel reporter, wrote the book "100 Things to Do in America Before you Die." He’ll greet people at Skyview Drive-In in Belleville from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 22, and the Breese Public Library wi
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Author Bill Clevlen, a 37-year-old freelance travel reporter, wrote the book "100 Things to Do in America Before you Die." He’ll greet people at Skyview Drive-In in Belleville from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 22, and the Breese Public Library wi

Bill Clevlen has visited national parks, Washington monuments and other famous tourist spots, but some of his most memorable trips were off the beaten path.

Take the small town of Santa Claus, Indiana. Its post office gets thousands of letters to Santa each year from all over the world. Some of the best are displayed at the Santa Claus Museum.

“There’s a theme park there called Holiday World,” said Clevlen, 37, a freelance travel reporter based in St. Louis. “It was the first theme park in the country.”

Reading the museum’s letters to Santa is one of the suggestions in Clevlen’s new book, “100 Things to Do in America Before You Die” (Reedy Press, St. Louis, 176 pages, softback, $18).

It’s a list of experiences, not just places. Clevlen kept the mindset of “What would an alien from outer space need to do to fully understand the American story?”

Looking out over the Grand Canyon isn’t enough, he argues. You have to ride a mule down into it. And taking a guided tour of the White House is way better than just driving by.

“You contact one of your senators and make a request and tell them the dates you’re going to be in town,” Clevlen said. “Tickets are scarce, but they’re free, and you can get one. I did it.”’

White House
Bill Clevlen, author of “100 Things to Do in America Before You Die,” stands in front of the White House after going on a guided tour. Provided

Clevlen will make two metro-east appearances this week to promote the book, as well as his KTRS radio segments, iTunes podcast, travel videos and blogs.

He’ll greet people at Skyview Drive-In in Belleville from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 22. (One of the book’s suggestion is seeing a drive-in movie.) Breese Public Library will host a talk at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 24.

“I try to have a couple authors a year at our little library,” said director Angie Chute. “Many people already know Bill’s name from the radio, and (travel is) a topic that attracts such a variety of ages and interests.”

“100 Things” lists travel experiences in the categories of history, food, culture, amusements, sports and recreation, road trips and photo ops. Clevlen has personally done 86 of the 100.

The rest are on his bucket list. He hopes to see the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, for example.

Clevlen is reluctant to pick a favorite travel experience, but near the top is talking to a veteran in the lobby of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

“These guys essentially saved the world, but they’re so humble,” he said.

“The museum is probably one of the top three museums in the world. It’s just phenomenal. Somehow they figured out how to tell the entire story of World War II to people like me with short attention spans.”

The book lists one experience specific to St. Louis: Riding a tram to the top of the Gateway Arch.

Two others could happen in the city: Taking a Mississippi River cruise and seeing a show at a Fox theater. The only three left are in St. Louis, Detroit and Atlanta.

Other suggestions? Riding a cable car in San Francisco, viewing the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives and standing in the spot where the Wright Brothers tested their flying machine at Kitty Hawk.

“It was tough narrowing it down to 100 things,” said Clevlen, who couldn’t include all 50 states as originally hoped.

Many people already know Bill’s name from the radio, and (travel is) a topic that attracts such a variety of ages and interests.

Angie Chute on upcoming talk by Bill Clevlen

Clevlen grew up in St. Louis and attended high school in California before spending six months at a community college and deciding to get his higher education on the job, not in a classroom.

He operated a teleprompter at KMOV-TV in St. Louis and worked as a disc jockey at KEZK-FM radio, fooling late-night listeners into thinking he was much older than he sounded.

Eventually, Clevlen came up with the idea of trying to make a living by combining his love of broadcasting and travel.

He began roaming around the country, shooting video, interviewing people and posting Facebook reports under the title “Rediscover America.” In 2013, he created a website, Bill on the Road.

“I’m not an expert on anything,” he said. “I’m the everyday guy out exploring.”

Clevlen used to travel constantly, hitting 50 cities a year and setting foot in 38 states. But that got to be too much. Today, he limits each trip to two weeks with breaks in between.

He prefers driving his Hyundai Tucson SUV to flying because it allows him to stumble on cool places. Sometimes he trades website advertising for hotel stays.

Clevlen contributes 8- to 12-minute travel segments on two St. Louis radio shows, “Larry Conners U.S.A.” and “Frank O. Pinion,” on KTRS-AM.

“He takes people places they’ve never been before,” Conners said. “And if they’ve been there before, he shows them something they overlooked or didn’t spend a lot of time on.”

Conners has reciprocated by giving Clevlen travel tips, telling him to check out the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennesse, and to eat some crawfish in New Orleans.

Clevlen has sold a few copies of “100 Things” to people from other countries. A Canadian man took his son on a three-week vacation based on the book’s suggestions.

“That was one of the neatest emails I have ever received,” Clevlen said.

Teri Maddox: 618-239-2473, @BNDwriter

Connecting with Bill

  • Meet and greet: Author Bill Clevlen will greet people from 7:30 to 9 p.m. June 22 (before the show) at Skyview Drive-In, 5700 N. Belt West in Belleville. Admission fees apply.
  • Talk and book signing: Clevlen will speak and sell and sign copies of “100 Things to Do in America Before You Die” at 1 p.m. June 24 at Breese Public Library, 530 N. Third St. in Breese. Free.
  • Ordering a book: Clevlen’s book sells for $18, plus shipping if mailed. To order or get more information, visit www.billontheroad.com.
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