By Bixyl Shuftan
At Relay events this season, among those appearing at multiple events are one particular couple: Journey Texan and Deanna Lancaster-Texan. Journey in particular is noted for his unique, and comical, avatar at most of the events. I recently met up with them for an interview, the three of us at the American Cancer Society sim. They gave me a copy of a popcorn-munching chair, "Nothing like a little casual snack while we chat." Denna laughed, "Glad the Roos are always passing these chairs out."
My first question was "what brought you to Relay For Life, and how you contribute to the mission of the American Cancer Society?" Journey invited Denna to go first, who answered, "I started to Relay when I was in high school with our Rotary Interact Club. When I was older, my mom somehow got tied up in a neighborhood event closer to my home. I got a call voluntelling me that I would be coming home to run the computer because she and her friend were the Luminaria chairs for this new event.
"Eventually I became the co-chair of that event and went to an event at the state level. There they mentioned Relay for Life here in Second Life. Being the tech geek that I am I wanted to check it out. My first foray into SL was shall we say, eye opening. That avatar is lost to Linden Labs along with my email address for where I was living at the time. A few years later I tried again and actually made it to some events and the Relay.
"At that point in time I had only known people who were survivors and had lost my grandmother to cancer. Eventually, in 2013 I heard those words everyone fears, that there had been cancer living in my body. I relay to celebrate those of us who have beaten our beasts, remember those we've lost and fight back for those who are still fighting and so others don't have to receive the same diagnosis we have received or so their treatments will be nothing more than the common cold.
"For me, I am a thyroid cancer survivor, so I bring to Relay my personal experience of having gone through that diagnosis and treatment. As for how I contribute to the relay mission, I am the Host Manager for the SL Christmas Expo and Renaissance Festival. I am a Producer for Relay Rap. I served as the Luminaria Chair in 2017. I am a member of Stars and Shadows but help out several smaller teams when I can. I've been in and out of world throughout the years but when I am in, I do make Relay one of my priorities."
Journey would say, "I began Relaying in 2018 with my then-partner, Ertina Loopen. I was curious to see how Relay events were organized behind the scene, so I went with her to one of her team meetings to witness that, then later joined them as a member. After Tina passed away from breast cancer in 2020, I founded the Ertina Loopen Memorial Foundation as my own Relay team in tribute to Tina. Each August, the Foundation hosts a long walk in tribute to her to encourage people to walk with or in memory of someone who they care about.
"This year, I’m even dabbling in DFS and TFF farming systems to see if I can contribute the proceeds of all my sales from 'Journey’s Farm' to the ACS during both the Relay and general fund seasons. Separate from my own team, I have also assisted with the October Strides events since 2020, the SL Renaissance Festival, and the SL Christmas Expo, primarily as a merchant liaison for those last two mega events. I also like to attend or participate in other team’s events to show support for them."
Of how they both met, Denna would say, "I think the first time we met was at an event that the then Shadows had. It was a multi-team event where teams could 'buy' a food truck and sell whatever there to raise money for their team. It was animal themed. Journey came with his tiny food truck and signs and all sorts of craziness." Journey smiled, "That’s right. And she held some team events featuring live singers of Broadway musicals and there were a couple of other events as well. I loved them to bits." Denna stated, "We also worked together on Out Shop, the Renaissance Festival and Expo." Journey grinned, "Yes! First time really got to sit near her to check her out."
Denna went on, "He piqued my interest, but I shied away because I didn't think he was moved on past Tina. We attended each other's events as we both liked to support the 'One Team' efforts, something we both believe in. And eventually, this past Ren Fest, he asked me to save him a dance at the Gala. The rest, as they say, is history." "Basically, she was just coming to scope me out," Journey commented, chuckling. That got a swat from Denna, "Because he was doing NOOOO scoping of his own." Journey laughed, " Okay, Guilty as charged! (chuckles and blushes). I’m pretty sure I was 'outed' by her turning on the SL viewer cross hairs to see where I was looking." Deena snickered, "Nah, that takes the fun out of the chase. So yeah, we finally told each other how we felt about each other while dancing at that Gala, in two parts. I needed a nap desperately after all those late hours and he had a memorial in real-life to head to, but neither of us took a long break because we were too excited to see where things were going to lead."
After a moment to make sure they spoke what they wanted, I brought up, "To bring up some chuckles, Journey, you're here in your human avie. Often you're seen in a Yoda avatar with Groucho glasses, which I think you call your 'Joda.' How did that get started?" Journey answered, "Yes, that's true. My Yoda-looking character was originally meant to be a Christmas elf who would assist Santa Claus at the 2020 SL Christmas Expo. I volunteered to work as Santa, but during shifts when I wasn’t Santa, I still wanted to help other Santas, so I created an 'elf' starting with the original Star Wars character. But from there, I dressed him up with a Groucho Marx nose and glasses to look a little less like and to have a funny look and personality of his own.
"But now that I’m participating more with Deanna, having a human form helps with things like dancing together and just being a couple in general. I would be hugely remiss if I didn’t give Deanna a ton of credit for putting up with Joda and sharing time with him. (smiles warmly and pats Deanna affectionately on the arm). She's a good sport." Deanna chuckled, "Joda is an excellent gardener and baby-sitter/uncle, so I give him a bit of a break."
I asked Deanna if she had a humorous avatar. She answered, "I do have a cat that travels with JoCat from time to time and there is an elf that appears at the Expo." "JoCat is my Dinky self, "Journey informed. Deanna continued, "Though because of my role, I have to stay myself and I have an alt that helps with some things Expo related that is Joda's elf friend." Journey grinned, "Yes. She's HOT!"
I then asked about the responses to Joda. Journey told me, "He ended up being so well recognized by people and popular that I brought him back again the next year, and to other events. Eventually, people got to know and recognize 'Joda' as I call him—a name combination of 'Journey' and 'Yoda'—more than they recognized me in my human form. So Joda really took on a life of his own as he began appearing at more events." Deanna added, "I know there are some people who look forward to getting selfies with him on the Relay Track and at events. He's kind of like a little mascot in some ways." Journey brought up, "I think somebody blurted out to Deanna one day that they spotted Joda on the track and got to take a selfie with them. it was like the highlight of their day." He grinned, "Well, maybe hour."
Deanna commented, "Last year Journey tried to hit as many events as he could and was Joda at most of them, plus he's a friendly guy, so yeah, people look for him." "Mostly friendly," Journey mused, "I cast a wary eye on anyone who is over on the 'dark side' however. They might think resistance is futile. But they will learn in the end."
Of what teams they're on, Deanna stated, "If you look on the dashboard, I am a member of Stars and Shadows, but I help out where I can." Journey would say, "For me, starting the Ertina Loopen Memorial Foundation team was highly personal. It was borne out of a relationship I had with Tina and is dedicated to the memory of her as a single, specific person. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to be a part of that kind of team, so I’ve been going it alone. But in the broader sense, and the 'one team' ethos, we are, as we strive to participate and help with the other multi-team and mega events."
I asked them if the thought of starting their own team ever came up. Journey commented, "You know, if Joda had his own account, I can think of a couple of other teams he might have been on. But since he doesn't, he's stuck with me." " It really hasn't," Deanna told me, "He has Tina's team and I've told him I'd help him however he needed." "No, I don't think we've ever discussed that." "We've tossed events around but never a new team." "I can't foresee leaving my team, especially since I founded it and am the only person in it. It means a lot to me to keep it and I don't expect others to join. Which is why there's the beauty of still being a 'freelancer' if you will, so I can help others out too."
I then asked if they found larger teams or smaller ones easier to work with. Journey answered, "Both have their advantages and disadvantages. It just depends on the specific work that I’m tasked with doing. For work on bigger events, I can focus on one or a couple of micro-areas of a much larger process done in collaboration with others. For my own smaller team events, I get to—have to—do everything, just at a much smaller scale." Deanna responded, "It seems the smaller teams are the ones who work together more often on multi-team events. I would say that a lot depends on the type of event, the people you are working with, and there's an aspect of how the funds are going to be split or raised." Journey added, "That's true. I would say that, for me, joining with other small teams can be a very satisfying challenge. I particularly like threesomes because it is a small enough team to be more easily organized and managed during the time we work together."
Deanna went on, "There's also the fact that there are several teams that we've already developed a working rapport with, smaller teams, and it's easy to go into new planning experiences with them. We already have some ideas about what works and what doesn't work, what's been tried, what hasn't been tried, what we may have wanted to try before and ran out of time for and might want to try again, etc." Journey commented, "That's very true too. Some of the larger teams really have made it their mission to help elevate the smaller teams. I know I have really appreciated that for myself and my team." Deanna went, "Yes. We're all here for a common goal, so whenever we can get together and build team, spread the word, and make money, we should take those opportunities and run." "So true," Journey responded, "Working with other teams helps to extend our capabilities and reach. We may not have endless bags of cash to throw at Relay coffers ourselves, but we don’t mind helping to get lots of other people to throw their bags at other team kiosks. Because we’re all “one team” after all. Right?
Thinking of "Baby Yoda" from "The Maladorian," I asked if they were planning anything in the near future like a "Baby Joda?" Deanna laughed, "Well, we have a Baby Lily at home and a baby A and baby B coming in about two and a half weeks." *rubs my large belly hidden behind the popcorn bowl* Journey was surprised, "Where did THAT come from?" Deanna laughed, "If you don't know, we have a little, well, big problem." After some more chuckles, Journey told me, "By the way, Deanna makes Zooby things, you know. Who knows, there might be Zooby RFL clothes next year."
I asked what else they did when not Relaying. Deanna told me, "I enjoy listening to live music. Journey is a farmer." "Yes," Journey told me, "This year, I’m dabbling in DFS and TFF farming systems to see if I can contribute the proceeds of all my sales from 'Journey’s Farm' to the ACS during both the Relay and general fund seasons. But I am in no way an accomplished farmer. That much I can tell you!" When I asked if a DFS-related event was possible in the future, Journey told me, "Well they DO have a Relay team. And TFF even started one a few weeks back also." Deanna told me, "I still think we had something with the tractor racing and other activities we had discussed." "We did," Journey responded, "Some silly events. ... I like events that are atypical from the norm of constantly music and dancing. I know they sometimes draw a good crowd and donations, but they are a dime a dozen and get tiring. I like to explore and try new things, so some of the other, lets say 'more imaginative' events really suit me better. Sorry. No offense to the DJs and live singers. But I can play my radio at home. The tribute bands are a fun change to the music experience, however. I do enjoy the laser light shows and pyrotechnics along with the performance."
After that was a couple minutes of chatter, then we decided it was time to head out, "Thank you for all you do, and for you time." "Thank you, Bixyl. I know you're very busy with Relay too. Thanks for all YOU do too!"
Journey and Deanna can continue to be seen at various Relay events. At the Moon Dance on April 6, he was in a Xenomorph (Alien) avatar cracking jokes about his acidic saliva and willing to walk with anyone wanting to explore.