Marc Alessandria decided to give up his life as a mechanical engineer and embark on a journey that has brought him to Johnson City, for now.
About three months into his second Johnson City residency, some people have realized Marc Alessandria is someone who may have a hard time going unnoticed.
Many of Alessandria’s most recent acquaintances agree he has a loud and friendly personality.
When prompted, Alessandria may flash his business card, which depicts a wolf atop Stonehenge howling at the moon amid a lightning storm.
On the back of his imaginative card, he describes himself as a “dice thrower, positive thinker and occasional laughter elicitor.”
“I kind of consider myself an intense person,” said Alessandria, who is originally from Florida but lived in Johnson City briefly when he was 6.
His external appearance matches his boisterous personality, and many elaborate stories about his life experiences are told when one is in his presence.
Many of those stories come from a long haul that took him more than 20,000 miles across America on his Honda Shadow last year.
As a former mechanical engineer in Connecticut, he has frequently manipulated numbers to create a sense of structure, but he said the open road showed him he is free to arrange his life the way he wants.
“Around this time last year, I quit a career as a mechanical engineer to live off my motorcycle for about seven months,” said Alessandria, who also was the DJ of a college heavy metal radio show.
His adventure on the road helped him make sense of his innate desires.
“When I was working my job, I felt like my life had been on train tracks,” he said. “It was like, ‘OK, you’re born, you go to school, you go to college to get a degree and then you just grind until you’re dead.’ ”
Alessandria, who is 29 years old, said he talked about living on his motorcycle to friends for a while and it became reality once he held himself accountable for the decision that rejuvenated his life.
“I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to do this,’ ” he said. “I had to take a hard look at myself and a lot of people let an initial fear scare them of the whole. When you do something, there is a scariness to it up front but beyond that it is usually a really rewarding experience. A lot of people never get past that because they let the fear of the unknown cast a shadow over the whole thing. When you’re uncomfortable, that’s when growth happens.”
Still, Alessandria kept a lucky coin handy to help him make decisions living on the road.
While he was traveling from Portland, Ore., to Las Vegas, the coin helped Alessandria make the decision that landed him in the middle of the Burning Man festival, which is held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
“Burning Man is crazy because it is literally there, then not,” he said. “The first night I walk out there ... there were laser beams, lights and flames shooting up in the air. In the middle of a desert, the flames illuminate everything. There, everything is, the wilder it is the better it is.”
Another story Alessandria likes to tell begins one afternoon in California while scouting for a place to sleep for the night.
There he met Chip, a man in his early 20s who had been living on the road for four years. Chip invited Alessandria to sleep outside on the ground without a tent.
“He taught me some tricks to sleeping outside,” Alessandria said. “We each laid down on our own tarp and sleeping bag, smoked cigarettes and talked about life and all kinds of stuff.”
Alessandria said the man had many skills he could utilize to make money while living a nomadic lifestyle.
“He told me the first year you travel is like the most amazing thing and then after a while it sort of becomes your life,” Alessandria said. “I agree to that because when I first start doing it I thought ‘Man, this is so cool’ then you get used to it being cool and being someplace new and trying to figure things out.”
Although no longer on the road, flipping coins still helps him make decisions daily. He said he is awaiting a new lucky coin to make its way to him since misplacing his other one, but pocket change will do for now.
Alessandria said he considers earning wages and an education as a means of modern survival, but thinks there is more to life than working for paychecks and conforming to society’s view of normalcy.
“There’s nothing wrong with working a job and doing all of those things, but there should be something else beyond that,” he said.
The motorcycle ride through much of America was also a chance for Alessandria to see where he would like to hang his proverbial boots permanently, because the East Tennessee mountains may not be enough to keep him here for long.
“I’ve always loved Tennessee,” Alessandria said. “The first night I was in town I went down to Mecca Lounge because I saw some young folks outside smoking, which is always a good indicator. ... I met a lot of people. It was a good time.”
Alessandria said of all the places he traveled while on the road, he has chosen one of them as a potential place to nestle into in the future.
“I really want to live in Austin, Texas,” he said. “But, I don’t know. Things change.”
While in Johnson City, Alessandria is completing a certification to teach math, which is an option that can utilize his engineering background and allow him to enjoy what he does for a living.
“I love math, but more importantly I love understanding,” Alessandria said. “I love the pleasure from that and the confidence it gives you.”
He also hopes to inspire his future students, friends, family and, really, everyone, to be positive, creative and build their lives around what makes them happy.
For more stories and photos from Alessandria’s motorcycle adventure across America, visit his blog at questforfire.tumblr.com.