Woodland Pattern: On the Road with Eddie Kilowatt

by Mary Vuk

If you happen to be driving along the highway next summer and spot a young man on a motorcycle, talking into a microphone attached to his helmet, chances are you have come across one of your Riverwest neighbors: Eddie Kilowatt.

Kilowatt wants to travel the whole country by motorcycle and digitally record his traveling experiences while they are occurring. His plan is to create a talking journal, which will be accompanied by separately written poems, his written journal entries and photographs from the trip.

“This summer I went out east for about a month just to get used to the process and see if it even actually worked. I was able to get some good quality recordings. It has kind of a neat sound to it. You can hear road noise a little bit,” Kilowatt said.

Would Jack Kerouac have approved of such an undertaking?

Kilowatt wasn’t sure. “I don’t know,” he said. “I wasn’t drunk the whole time, so he probably wouldn’t have been a fan because there was no drinking involved really.”

The most memorable moment of his 2006 road trip occurred while he was visiting West Virginia. There he met a middle-aged man who got very caught up in the romance of what Kilowatt was doing and kept telling Kilowatt how much he wished he could do the same thing.

“When [people] feel like you’re doing something they’ve always wanted to do, they kind of open up to that a little bit. The point of the trip is to say ‘everybody can do this.’”

Since last February he has been living in an unheated space without bathroom or kitchen, which a friend has allowed him to use. His frugality is helping to underwrite his next trip, and he doesn’t seem to mind the lack of creature comforts. When he is on the road he camps out in a three-man tent.

He is in negotiations now with a Milwaukee manufacturer who is going to underwrite his 2007 trip.

Kilowatt is mostly self-taught. He grew up in Colgate, WI, graduated from Germantown High School, then attended UW-West Bend for only one semester.

“It just wasn’t my kind of place. [At first] I was all excited like ‘oh yeah, I’m in college, and I’m going to meet all these new people who want to learn things’ but it was just like a high school with ashtrays. It wasn’t very exciting.”

After his unhappy college semester, Kilowatt worked for five years at the corporate offices of a large retail chain, working his way up from the loading dock to setting up the computer systems in new stores and eventually to overseeing all the computer systems at all the branch stores.

But somewhere along the line he thought: “either I’m going to quit or do this for the rest of my life. That scared the hell out of me. I didn’t want to do that. So I quit. Since then I’ve just been making writing more the focus of what dictated my life.” Kilowatt self-published his first book of poetry, Manifest Density, last spring and hopes to bring out another volume in 2007.

Kilowatt will read at Woodland Pattern, at 7 pm, November 17.

Riverwest Currents online edition – November, 2006