Tad Pierson had a dream — one that involved a Cadillac and the roads of America.
Pierson has traveled the world, but it was a chance meeting with a French couple in Indonesia that led him to his dream job.
The couple said they would love to tour America in classic Cadillac just like in the movies.
Pierson, who had always had a love of travel and classic cars, knew he had hit on an idea.
Pierson, a McPherson native, was at The Well Monday night to speak as a part of the “What Dreams May Come” lecture series sponsored by the McPherson Museum.
“I have lived my life making mistakes and wandering into a dream,” he said.
Pierson began his business, America Dream Safari, more than 23 years ago with a 1950 Buick Roadmaster and an Airstream trailer. His grandfather had bought the Buick new in 1950. When he died, Pierson inherited the car. He said the Buick smelled of tobacco and leather, just like his grandfather.
Pierson remembers spending the holidays looking at old shoeboxes of black and white family photos — most of which included cars.
“I think I developed a romance for travel at an early age,” he said.
He began those travels at an early age. He dropped out of college and traveled to Africa in his early 20s.
He eventually would return to school to obtain a degree in English as a second language, which he used to work abroad. He worked in Saudi Arabia and toured the Middle East and Jerusalem.
It was 1989 when Pierson returned to the U.S. to pursue his dream of operating the American Dream Safari.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “It took 25 days to make the tour route, but at the end, I thought it was successful.”
Pierson ran his tours primarily in the American Southwest in the beginning. He spent a time running tours in a mid-1950s wheat truck in the Kansas Flinthills.
But fate would take a hand again in his life. A tour customer called him one day to order a tour for himself and his girlfriend. The customer was a reporter for the Washington Post, and the girlfriend wrote for Esquire. That summer stories were published in both publications on the Safari. In one paragraph, the Esquire reporter mentioned he wanted to start blues tours in Memphis.
Pierson's phone began to ring off the hook, never mind he had never been to Memphis before.
Pierson seized on the opportunity to move his operation to Memphis and began giving blues and Elvis tours in a restored Cadillac.
“I do believe in God,” he sad. “If there is a God in heaven you get lucky sometimes. God lends you had.”
Page 2 of 2 - Pierson calls his work Anthro Tourism. He said his goal is to engage his customers in a new culture and provide opportunities for exchange with local individuals and business. The money spent by those tour takers goes back into the community and supports the culture, he said.
Pierson is still living and operating his tour company in Memphis. His tour business recently was mentioned in an article on the Memphis area that was published in Smithsonian magazine.
Pierson has met many characters in his business — Elvis Costello, Kate Moss and a Chilean miner who could sing like Elvis.
But he says he continues his work because he likes meeting the average people like the 60-year-old grandmothers who have been Elvis fans all of their lives and are passionate about Memphis and its music.
“I like to work hard for them. I like to make dreams come true and bring them closer to the fire,” he said.
When you own your own business, Pierson said, you don't get the same rewards as those who are employed by others.
“I am a preacher without a pulpit, a professor without an institution,” he said. “I don't work for rewards you might get at a regular job. I work for cowboy paydays. They are the things beyond the paycheck you get on Friday afternoon. It is when the universe pays you back. It brightens your step and makes you feel good.”