A Ball State student interning with an Indiana newspaper caught up with “Transformers” actor Shia LaBeouf after the car he was riding in broke down Thursday during his hitchhiking trip across the country.
Allison Coffin, a senior photojournalism major working for The Courier-Times of New Castle, said she spent hours on a “wild goose chase” pursuing social media reports of the star’s whereabouts before she and BSU alumna Katie Clontz, the paper’s managing editor, met LaBeouf at a local gas station.
"It was like the weirdest and most awesome experience of my life," Coffin said. "It was – oh my God – it was just so weird. This was just the highlight of everything."
LaBeouf, known for his unconventional behavior rejecting any typical A-list star status, has been hitchhiking his way across the country since May 8 in a project commissioned by the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and The Finnish Institute in London and covered by Vice.com.
He tweets his coordinates with the hashtag #TAKEMEANYWHERE, allowing fans to find him, pick him up and take him somewhere else. According to Vice, he plans to continue the campaign until June 23.
"I guess the person who had mostly recently picked him up had car trouble," Coffin said. "He was pretty much hiding from everyone, but we found him."
Coffin was writing a story in the newsroom on Thursday when Clontz got word through Facebook that the star was in town.
"We started laughing at her," Coffin said. "It just seemed too crazy. But she was like, 'No guys, really. I just heard he was at Walmart.'"
They tried there and then a hotel, but just missed him. The pair eventually gave up - but then got another tip and found LaBeouf crossing a street in the town of 18,000.
The actor, who appeared in the Disney Channel series “Even Stevens” and went on to star in all three “Transformers” films, "looked like a straight-up hobo,” Coffin said.
"[Clontz] didn't believe me at first, but I was like, 'I swear it's him,’” she said. "He had these really ugly yellow joggers on, with big tube socks pulled up over top of them. He really looked pretty nasty. You wouldn't have known it was Shia LaBeouf. You would have thought, 'That's another hobo.'"
LaBeouf went into a Marathon gas station, and Coffin and Clontz approached him. Though he was open to an interview at first, he shied away as a crowd began to gather - but not before taking a selfie with the people who had found him, using Coffin’s phone.
"We just lined up everybody real quick,” Coffin said. “He grabs my phone, takes a selfie, and just runs off. And that was my day as an intern yesterday. I still hardly believe that it happened, it was just so funny."
Coffin said she told one of her professors, journalism graphics instructor Ryan Sparrow, about it.
“‘This has just been the best day ever,'" Coffin told him. “He said back to me, 'That's just being a journalist. Sometimes you do stuff like that, you meet people.' And that just got me super excited about the rest of my life."