PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY: In the last 10 years, Bissinger had been seeing Zach, who lives with his mother in New Jersey, mostly on weekends. Enough of the weekend routine, he thought. They needed to bond. He needed to get as close to crawling inside Zach’s brain as possible. They needed, he decided, a great American road trip. “I love being on the road,” says Bissinger. “You’re in a car driving through New Mexico and Arizona, you’re spending a lot of time talking to each other whether you like it or not.”
In July 2007, they set out on what Bissinger admitted was the “worst possible path” for a two-week cross-country road trip. The itinerary was chosen for Zach, who wanted to see cities he remembers, while Bissinger loathes revisiting the past. Zach couldn’t wait to get to Odessa, Texas, the setting of Friday Night Lights, where he fondly recalls attending Permian Panther football games as a 5-year-old in pajamas and red cowboy boots. Bissinger, on the other hand, had to cancel scheduled appearances under threat of physical attack courtesy of townies who were bitter that he portrayed them as racists. (For a time, locals wore T-shirts emblazoned with “Buzz off, Bissinger.”) Buzz would just as soon not think about Hollywood, either, where he suffered a devastating professional failure when he didn’t cut the mustard as a screenwriter for NYPD Blue .
Bissinger didn’t need to get out of the car to drive into the dark heart of his shortcomings as both father and a son. “All of my life, I had yearned for conversation with my son,” writes Bissinger, who then takes the opportunity of long, flat heartland roads to launch a series of charm offensives on Zach, drilling him on his thoughts on life and sex. Together, they suffer the paradox of intimacy everywhere: Like a Chinese finger-trap, the harder Bissinger struggles to force a bonding breakthrough, the tighter they are bound to the distance between them. Everything is conflict, and it is tiring, and Bissinger feels old and sees mirrors and parallels everywhere. MORE