The Bagboy Dreamer

By Braden Webb

To view Lesley Onstott's audio slide show on John Reynolds, click the image.

To view Lesley Onstott's audio slide show on John Reynolds, click the image.

“Paper or plastic,” is a phrase that, 18-year-old, John Reynolds often speaks.  Dressed in khaki pants and a red Kroger’s Groceries vest with nametag, he directs customers which aisle has the Nutella or where they can find a bay leaf.  John has been a Kroger bagboy since August 2008.  

However, despite his current job title, John is not a bagboy.  His dreams carry him far beyond a grocery store surrounded by a sea of asphalt and his aspirations surpass the art of double bagging the milk and separating the loaf of bread and eggs from canned corn and jars of jelly.  

John plans to travel the whole world– on a bike.  After a few years of preparation, John will put conventional life on hold and pedal the planet.

His employment at Kroger’s is just a temporary gig, a provisional occupation that will help him earn the resources needed to bike a lap around the globe. 

“I’ve heard of a lot of people that love the idea of it, and I’ve been thinking about why.  Really, think back.  Didn’t you ever just wanna hop a train and travel the world?  It’s in everybody’s nature to do that.  I don’t know why more people don’t follow it?  Maybe they just see reality sets in and they realize it’s inescapable.  You know?  You’re gonna have to grow up sometime.  Maybe they see it as an obligation,” John said with a sigh.   After a pensive pause he continues, “It’s really hard to say why I’m doing this or why more people don’t do it.”

John is still catching up to his own growth spurt.  He is six feet tall and weighs 135 pounds.  “One hundred and thirty-six dripping wet, I’m sure,” John said.  He is what Barney Fife would look like at his age and he has a voice to match.  Black-framed glasses rest on his nose and he has a mop of short brown hair on his head.  

John moved up from the outskirts of Savannah to Athens after graduating from high school in 2008 to live with his dad.  “My dad, that’s who I live with, so I don’t have to pay for utilities or anything, which is nice because that means a lot more money can go to my trip.  I’ve offered him money but he won’t take it,” John said.  

This has been a pending journey since John was 12 (he originally wanted to walk around the world) and he made his dream public at 15.  John’s family includes four older siblings, his father, mother, and step-father.  Their reactions were both frantic and skeptical when first hearing of his world-travelling plans.

David, John’s closest brother geographically, emotionally and in age, recalls growing up with John as a kid whose interests changed periodically. “There were no other kids were we lived, it was out in the boonies, so I had John,” said David.  “He was a weird kid; we were weird kids.”  Their days together consisted of video games and boyhood mischief, as they often played pranks on their mother and step-father.  David witnessed John’s “stick-to-it-tiveness” as he approached a wide variety of hobbies.  He taught himself to play the ocarina (a small ancient flute made of ceramic); within six months, he learned to read Plato’s Dialogues; for awhile, his interest was throwing knives.  “He was actually able to do these things quite well,” said David.  “You never know what to expect with John.  Our mom said he would either grow up to be a millionaire or an axe murderer because he was so off-the-wall.”  So when David first heard of his dream to bike the world he was not surprised.  “It was pretty typical of John.”  

John’s mother found his dream to be a harder pill to swallow.  Knowing her protective wing would not be able to stretch all the way to the rugged terrain of the Pyrenees, or keep him dry from the monsoons of Southeast Asia, she often tried to deter John from going.  John has never left the country.  “She has thrown some hissy-fits, I think would be a proper adjective for’em,” said John.  However, John’s determination has trudged through her motherly impediments and now her attitude has changed from discouragement to encouragement.  “When I really think that it struck home that I was gonna do it and that she accepted it was when she gave me that book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die. At that moment was when I knew that she had accepted what I was going to do because she was actively trying to help me instead of dissuade me.”

Now, he has finished school and can focus more of his energy into getting ready for a world of adventures. 

Upon arriving in Athens in August 2008, he scored a job at Kroger’s and shortly after he got a second job at UGA’s East Village Commons Dining Hall. At one time he was working seventy hours a week.   Tamala, John’s supervisor at both Kroger’s and the UGA’s dining hall, describes John as dependable and willing to do whatever you ask.  She comments on his ability to please the customers and on his youthful energy.  “I think that is awesome that he works toward his dream.  He is only eighteen and he was working two jobs,” Tamala said.  John told Tamala about his dream over casual conversation as they both worked the main buffet line at East Village Commons.  John figures he will have enough money saved up to leave within the next three years.

The commute between jobs and home lasts about two hours, in which he covers, not surprisingly, by bike.  It’s an old, entry-level Bianchi.  You can’t help but think of Don Quixote mounted upon Rocinante when seeing John clench his handle bars and pump his peddles with a determined glare in his eyes– a dreamer riding his steed.  

He quit the dining hall once he saved enough money to buy a professional cross-country bike.  He has his eye on a Titanium Planet Cross bike made by Independent Fabrication, a $3800 thoroughbred racer.   New horizons will be visible for the preparation of his trip once the bike is purchased. “What my main goal right now is to get that bike, because [the trip] will depend a lot on the bike.  How much weight I can carry, how fast I’m going to be moving, generally what I’m going to have to pack to make it livable but not weigh myself down too much,” John said.  Planning out the trip without understanding your mode of transportation is like “putting the cart before the horse,” John added.  Once John has his bike he will take short expeditions to neighboring towns.  He already has one planned for Hartwell, Georgia, about 47 miles away.  “A good day would be about 60 miles.”  

However, a nice bike and day-long rides don’t even scratch the surface of what John is ready to prepare for.  John has increased his visits at his nearby YMCA.  He lifts weights and focuses on running and endurance.  He has looked into countries’ rules on acquiring visas so he can enter their roads and paths.  He has decided to improve his French and learn survival phrases in many different languages.  “That is one reason it will take so long before I ship out.”  He often flips through a National Geographic Adventure magazine to feed his spirits.  “He is training really hard, already knows everything about bikes: how to repair them, how to build them.  I’d have to say he is completely serious.”  David does worry that John has not thought out all the logistics but he believes his brother has the true character of a nomad.  “The main attribute John has that will help him on this trip is that he does not mind being alone,” said David.  “He enjoys his solitude.”  

John’s eyes sparkle as he talks about all the places he’d like to see on his journey.  His voice gets excited as he describes the rock-cut architecture of Petra or the forts that have never been defeated in the Caucus Mountains.  He will go at his own pace and possibly stay in an area for months at a time, working odd jobs to sustain him.  “I daydream about it everyday,” John said.  

John’s dreams are so far ahead of him they have already circled the earth and zoomed back to his return.  Besides bringing home an immense amount of memories, stories, and photos from his odyssey, John would also like to bring back his own book of recipes from places he visits.  “I have recently discovered that I love to cook.  I also have a knack for baking.  I was thinking about opening up my own bake shop.  There is always a demand for sweet stuff.   I’ve definitely seen from Kroger’s everybody always wants something sweet.”  He dreams of being surrounded by food and happy customers.  For now, John buttons his red vest and straightens his nametag, working closer to a dream as big as this world — one bag of groceries at a time.  John is not a bagboy.  He is just a boy who bags groceries.


Braden Webb


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