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Riding Shotgun With The American Dream

When I say “The American Dream”, Dan Bredeson is not what comes to mind. But that’s your problem, not his. He is six-foot-something, in decent shape, well-dressed, and sure of himself. He has the complexion of a man with Norway written in his genes, but California written on his mail. He speaks with a humble confidence typical of those with modest beginnings who then rose to the occasion and made something better for themselves…. And right now, he is brushing crumbs from his mouth, declaring his affinity for a certain snack he just grabbed at the speck-on-a-map highway convenience store in our rearview mirror. “I do love me some Fig Newtons,” he says in a faint southern drawl that sounds too manufactured to have originated in his hometown of Darlington, Wisconsin, (also a speck on the map but in a different rearview mirror), yet too subtle to be a mockery of the Bible Belt. “Remember that, from Ricky Bobby? When he’s driving with the Fig Newtons logo covering his windshield and goes ‘this is dangerous and irresponsible, but I do love me some Fig Newtons’… I love that part,” he chuckles to himself. See, Dan is also a human IMDB. Can’t remember McConaughey’s line about high school girls from Dazed and Confused? He’s got you covered, word for word. Maybe the impossibly-long monologue Matt Damon delivers to Robin Williams after rejecting a government job offer in Good Will Hunting? He nails that one too. He can tell you in what movies Samuel L. Jackson has played a villain, and the Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacongame with him is kinda like playing chess with Bobby Fischer.

We whisk past yet another monotonous farm on central California’s highway 41, with the quiet hum of the road beneath us in his pre-owned (but cash-paid) 2015 Jaguar XF Sport. That’s the irony of Dan: he’s a man who knows what he wants, and knows how to get it, but in the most methodical way possible. He will bet big on black, but only after doing weeks of research on color theory, and because someone he respects bet on black once, and when he was seventeen, he told himself that someday he’d bet on black too. If impulsiveness equates to tackiness, then Dan Bredeson is Gatsby himself. He buys a luxury car, but doesn’t take on new debt for it; and refuses to buy new, because, you know, depreciation. He looks out to the horizon over an acre of vague crops and casually unpacks a story from his childhood: one Christmas morning, he and his family came racing down the stairs to open their presents. His dad, however, was dressed for yet another day of farm work at the crack of dawn. “He looked right at us and said, ‘Boys, the cows don’t care that it’s Christmas. There’s work that needs to be done.’ I never forgot that. There was almost a joy in his voice, he loved the work. He was a man of few words, but he always led by example.” After a long silence, it becomes clear that the new driving game is to invent fake trivia for each obscure town we pass through, delivered in perfect tour guide cadence, with bonus points for the most unwavering deadpan. Hanford is the birthplace of Journey frontman Scott Stapp, Bakersfield was founded by Bob Kostas in 2012, and Kettleman City is home to both the annual Kettleman City Regatta and the annual Elevator Music Festival. He is tear-inducing funny, but in the most harmless way. Not a mean word about someone else, no raincloud rants, no Carlin-esque tirades. For a man who’s seen so much of the human spectrum, he is allergic to cynicism.

If impulsiveness equates to tackiness, 
then Dan Bredeson is Gatsby himself.

We are listening to an audiobook version of Never Split the Difference, written by the former head of negotiation for the FBI. I ask about something that was just referenced and Dan reaches for his iPhone to pause his Audible app. He answers my question, jumps back ten seconds, and hits play again. This happens a few more times, and I realize that Dan is a pauser… someone who values the two little vertical bars on their remote more than all the others. Earlier in the week, while staying at his house, I shuffled my hand into a bag of chocolate chips (leave your judgement at the door), and he paused his DVR’d replay of The ESPYs until I was finished. Here’s the thing though, it’s not out of impatience, or rudeness, or some weird control issue. It’s because Dan doesn’t want to miss anything. For him, hearing others speak in their expertise is gold. He has consumed more self-help, leadership, and sales books than most people do with all reading combined. He can quote Lombardi and Lincoln ad infinitum, but still makes time for modern greats like Gary Vaynerchuk. Sure, he went to college, but ended up getting his degree in Zoology… “I just asked my counselor what I could change my major to, in order to graduate the soonest, and that’s what they came back with.”

He spent some time in London after college, lived in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley doing standup in the late 90’s (including a bit he did, in character, about coming out to an ultra-conservative family), picked up some per-diem crew work on independent films, and worked for a minute at a casting agency. I ask if he would ever consider doing comedy again, just for fun, maybe some one-off gigs around town; and after a moment of thought, he shakes his head. “You kinda have to be bitter to do comedy. It’s poking fun at the world, it’s taking power from The Man and giving it back to the little guys. I’m not there anymore. My life is to good these days to make fake comedy. I’m happy now.”

What did all that lead to? Maybe a career in acting, maybe cinematography or at least talent scouting? Well, just ask him. “I lead the business consulting team for Aflac central coast.” Yes, that’s right. Dan Bredeson works in insurance. Like, ‘wears-a-tie-and-uses-LinkedIn’ insurance. See, for these next two weeks, I am following him around with my trusty Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera on his territory-spanning excursions, capturing all the brain droppings my SD card will hold. These will be edited, serialized, and branded by me when I get back, and used as the foundation of his new Youtube channel, Lead From The Front. It's 2016, and an entrepreneur without regular and original socia media content is a boat on dry land. Here I sit, waiting for him to jokingly beckon me to press that little red button, ("Scribe!"), where steps up onto a two-to-five-minute soapbox about things like leadership, making sacrifices, communicating expectations, and his love of the McDonald's two-cheeseburger meal. This is our Driving With Dan series for his channel. When we get to his regional offices, I'm setting up talking-head interview segments with his top performers to share their stories and tools of the trade and a series called Leading From The Front. And for a longer, more personal take on select team members, we have Wine For Winners, each taking place at a winery with a bottle and plenty of time to talk.

It's 2016, 
and an entrepreneur without regular 
and original social media content
is a boat on dry land.

His elevator pitch is as refined and honed as the slopes and crests on a luxury sports car, born out of the level of R&D seen in a clinical drug trial: a thousand handshakes, introductions, sleight-of-hand business card maneuvers and voicemails to perfect his ask. “It all comes down to the why,” he tells me matter-of-factly. “What’s your why. Everyone tells you what they do… but I want to know why.” So when I put him on the spot about his ‘why’, he springs into a finely-tuned micro-speech about his belief that America, as an idea, still works, and the people’s right to choose what’s best for themselves, and his desire to give them that control back in the face of hurdles like the Affordable Care Act. It makes sense. It clicks. It’s genuine. In an era of ‘Content Is King’, Dan is all content. There is no fluff, no filler, no industry jargon to amuse the masses into signing on some dotted line. His mastery of sales, leadership, and corporate communication is the offspring of midwest earnest values and big-city entrepreneurial drive.

We’re halfway through John Mulaney’s New In Town comedy special on YouTube, two hours into a late-night drive, days after the Fig Newton Incident, and heading to a hotel in a far-off town to go to one of his regional offices the following day. “People ask me if I travel a lot, and I usually say no, but I should change that, because in the last eighteen months, I’ve put thirty-eight thousand miles on this car. The national yearly average is twelve,” he tells me, fully used to seeing the shock on my face whenever he drops that kind of trivia on someone. I ask if it makes family time that much better, and his tone changes. His body language shifts and he’s off his ‘stage’. “Yeah. I love the porch. That’s probably my favorite part of the house; the back porch. I love a good porch. Just looking out into the hills behind the house, beer in my hand. I get to change out of the suit-and-tie work uniform and just watch the kids, tell them to be nice to each other, and just... be. I love when I get home, seeing them run up to me, like ‘daddy daddy!’... that’s good times,” and on that final phrase I hear his inflection change a bit, maybe to mask an emotional crack. But then again, maybe it’s just because he loves doing voices. Yeah, let’s go with that.

For Dan, leaving his beautiful coastal home base in Pismo Beach and traversing thousands of miles across California’s less-than-glamorous central stretch isn’t hard, as he puts it. “We wear nice clothes, drive around, and talk to people.” Somewhere in that phrase is a twentysomthing kid from the midwest, freezing his ass off in the dead of London winter, unsure of what to do with his Zoology degree. But, inside that phrase is also someone with enough matured perspective to realize how good he has it, as a result of his own hard work; and that he could be baling hay in a barn with "a thousand percent humidity.” And if tomorrow, this career vaporized right before his eyes, there is still work to be done. In that event, he would lace up his boots, grab a pair of work gloves, and be up with the sun; because the cows don’t care that it’s Christmas.