Appropriately enough, Chet Garner called from the road. He was about to launch the fourth season of The Daytripper With Chet Garner, his PBS travel show, and he called in while making a visit to the Czech Stop, the popular kolache bakery in West, just north of Waco.
"I can't drive on this highway without stopping at this place," Garner said. "It's a habit. I didn't know a whole lot about [Texas Czech history], but we've got a whole episode in LaGrange where we go to the Czech Heritage Center, and they let me put on some croj and let me dance around, and we made some kolaches down there."
Garner called while en route from Austin to Denton, where he was doing an in-person appearance at the local Rudy's barbecue joint. The stop was part of a "4 for 4 Tour" that over the course of four days took him to Rudy's (a show sponsor) in Austin, New Braunfels and Houston. Even for Garner, who is used to spending his life on the road, the four-cities-in-four-days swing is pretty intense. Episodes of his show, which airs on KERA/Channel 13, center on one Texas town, although he'll often stretch the boundaries of what town means and go into surrounding areas. It's fast-paced, cramming a lot of info into a half-hour slot, with a big dose of Garner's outgoing personality and his willingness to be goofy.
"Every month, I'd say I'm on three to four solid road trips," Garner said. "We have 13 episodes we have to produce a year, but beyond that, I've gotta go and scout all these places. But it really is my passion to find these hole-in-the-walls. I'm never driving to a place using the same route more than once. I'm always deviating, finding some back road, exploring something. Eventually it'll make it to the show."
Garner does research beforehand, but the practical stuff comes on road trips with his wife and two kids. He'll have lists of places he wants to see and places he wants to eat, and he'll chat up people who run those places. When he thinks he has enough for an episode, he'll return with a film crew.
"Every show has three things," he said. "It's got history or culture; it's got food; and it's got outdoors. As soon as I can find those three things in a place, I'll start putting a script together for a show."
The Denton episode, which is scheduled to air at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on KERA/Channel 13, is more of a Denton County episode, Garner said. He visited Texas Motor Speedway and the Team Texas High Performance Driving School, and dropped by Babe's in Roanoke. But he also hit such Denton-specific locales as Recycled Books, Dan's Silverleaf (music is also a big part of The Daytripper), and Rooster's Roadhouse, where he dared to sample the Hell Burger.
"It has ghost chiles all over it," Garner said. "I think when you're eating the burger, it actually kind of tastes good, but within 20 seconds of putting the last bite down, your mouth turns into a burning inferno. It was quite miserable. My producer talked me into that and I'll never forgive him."
Garner, who has done episodes on Fort Worth and Mineral Wells in previous seasons, began this season with shows in the Houston-area town of Kemah, Stephenville, Dripping Springs and the West Texas town of Van Horn (which is more about Guadalupe Mountains National Park) as well as Denton and LaGrange.
A former attorney who liked to travel, Garner -- who studied film at UT Austin and was first in his class at Baylor's law school -- decided to pursue his true road-tripping passion. One of the things he tries to get across in his show is that Texas has a little bit of everything, aside from, as he puts it, snow-skiing and dog-sledding.
"A lot of people think they've got to travel to the coasts, or Colorado, or Mexico or Europe to see different things," he said. "That's not true at all. They've just got to get in their car and drive an hour."
Garner filmed a pilot for the show, which the Austin PBS station picked up. Other PBS stations around the state started showing an interest, and now it's on in a dozen markets. At first, the idea was a true day trip from Austin, but as the show grew, he expanded his scope to cover places as far apart as Marfa, Amarillo and Galveston.
He has a long list of places he'd like to do shows about, including Dallas, Granbury, the Rio Grande Valley and Big Bend. "A lot of people ask me, 'Hey, Chet, when are you going to run out of ideas?' or 'Is this the last season?' I'm pretty sure based on my current spreadsheet of where I want to go, I can do this show till I'm about 85 and not repeat anything."