Rocket ’14 moves to “Love Town” in a Tesla

By APRIL QIAN

YouTube has long been known as a platform for user-created video content. Nearly 15 years after the website launched, a recent survey by toymaker Lego found that one-third of kids between 8 and 12 aspire to be either a vlogger or a YouTuber. I’m fairly certain this desire to be seen and heard isn’t just limited to kids. We all have that one friend from high school who started their own food blogging or make-up channel, and let’s be honest — who doesn’t secretly want to be a YouTube star? 

For Rocket ’14, one of the two co-owners of the freshly minted YouTube channel “Love Town,” storytelling (or more appropriately, outing details of his personal life) is nothing new. 

In 2012, he gave a speech as the first student speaker at TEDxMiddlebury on his summer traveling the country using the Amtrak system, and later spoke at Moth-Up, Middlebury’s version of the nationwide storytelling platform The Moth, on the same subject. 

In 2013, he started a column in The Campus called “Dining, Dating, and Dashing,” whose content is exactly what it sounds like. The biweekly column’s goals were threefold: Rocket dated, ate free food and chronicled his experiences and musings for all to see in the pages of the paper. Each article chronicles a date with a different person at a different restaurant in the Middlebury area, which he persuaded in advance to provide free meals for him and his date. It seems like a pretty sweet deal, especially if you’re looking at it from Rocket’s perspective. As he writes in the inaugural article, “I get a date, the girl gets a story, we both get fed, the restaurant gets publicity and hopefully we all get a good laugh.” 

A little over a year after graduating, in October of 2015, he changed his name legally from Ryan Kim to “Rocket, no last name.” 

Coming from Love Town means I want to live a life in pursuit of love… not a romantic or sexual love; it’s a love to live.”

— Rocket

“It just popped into my head,” said the 27-year-old self-described conceptual artist. What started out as something of “a secret stage name” eventually became a part of his identity. “If we as adults are required to take responsibility or ownership of all of our actions, then it is my right to own the actor,” he said. We choose the clothes we wear, the food we eat, with whom we spend our time, Rocket pondered — so why can’t we choose our own name? Legally changing his name to Rocket, then, seemed to be both a statement of his identity and an assertion of his autonomy. 

Three weeks ago, “Love Town” released its first video, titled “Welcome to Love Town!” In the video, Rocket, sporting all black clothing, a slightly overgrown mohawk and gold-rimmed lens-less aviator glasses, introduces himself and the channel’s co-owner and producer Marshall Hodge, who he identified as “my adopted brother.” They sit side-by-side, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders in front of a gorgeous mountain range speckled with autumnal patches of green and orange. Right behind them is their black Tesla Model X, parked on the lawn with its wings up, batmobile-style. 

“We’re living in Rex, this Tesla behind us,” Rocket said, “just out on the road, adventuring and just figuring things out as we go.” According to the channel’s description, the two are “on a journey of discovering the most authentic, dopest version of ourselves and overcoming any obstacles along the way: personal fears, expectations from others, cultural norms, etc.” 

Bringing his background as an Economics major to the table, Rocket did some number-crunching to explain the rationale behind this recent lifestyle change. Previously, he had been commuting into Los Angeles and paying over $500 per month in gas, in addition to rent, utilities and other living expenses that plague the electronic checkbooks of many a working millennial. When he analyzed the costs of living in a car, monthly payments on a Tesla turned out to be cheaper than what he had been paying in rent and gas. “Well,” he said, “if I’m willing to live in a vehicle, I could have a pretty sweet vehicle to live in.” It actually seems quite practical, once you can get behind the idea of living in a sedan. 

From a more conceptual standpoint, “Love Town” for Rocket is also a personal project that grew out of his “rabid curiosity” about the full range of human existence and experience. Love Town is a metaphorical place, according to Rocket. “Coming from Love Town means I want to live a life in pursuit of love,” he said. “And it’s not a romantic or sexual love; it’s a love to live.” 

SARAH FAGAN & APRIL QIAN/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS

His goal is “not to be celebrities or heroes,” as he said in an interview, nor is it to be an influencer, a term he rejects because of its reputation as a provider of simple entertainment. “Entertainment is cheap,” he said, “and it can go anywhere.” 

Rather, he’s exploring what he calls “radical candor,” an effort at authenticity in a world of perceived fewer human connections. This is all part of his path to becoming a “real and dope person.” What is a “real and dope person,” you ask? According to Rocket, “a real person listens to the song of their soul” and “goes the distance for people they care about.” 

For Hodge, who serves the roles of content producer, video editor and (adopted) younger brother, “Love Town” is about “pushing past this bitch named fear.” Before joining “Love Town,” Hodge was a video editor at Yes Theory, an adventure-travel YouTube channel that makes videos like “Asking Strangers to go Skydiving on the Spot!!” and “SAYING YES TO EVERYTHING FOR 24 HOURS (ended up in a dress in Mexico).” He admits that, even in a Tesla, life on the road can take some getting used to. “The shower part’s a little tricky sometimes,” he said in a video. “We can go a few days, sometimes a week before showering; it’s a tradeoff of this lifestyle, honestly; like if you wanted to have another lifestyle where you could shower everyday you’d have to get an apartment or something.” 

The channel’s only three weeks old, but has already amassed a following of 16.2K subscribers at the time of this article, with videos that range from 10K to 283K views. In a video released last week, titled “I Lost My Virginity in a Tesla,” Marshall documents his first sexual encounter (“everything but the sex”) with a woman Rocket had matched with on Tinder. Another video recounts their 7000-mile road trip from California through Vermont and back and in a third viewers are invited to follow along Marshall’s “First Date Ever.” 

Internet fame aside, however, “we don’t want to place any of our personal value on what this view count is or what this subscribe count is, ’cause it doesn’t fundamentally affect any of our inherent worthiness,” Rocket said. “The only thing we can do is to be as real of a person and as dope of a person as you can. That’s it.” 

Here’s to becoming “real and dope” people. 

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