I don’t know exactly why I want to do this, but it feels simple enough to try and might be nice to look back on with time. Today I took a 5-hour drive from Atlanta to Destin, Florida for work. On the way down I-85 and various state and US roads, I was listening to a playlist of podcast episodes I put together before starting off. Here’s what it was, if you’d like to imagine my journey…
I started off my trip with a show I look forward to each week that has a certain high energy that I thought I’d appreciate as a start to my journey. Wham Bam Pow always hits that sweet spot for me, and as they reviewed the sci-fi classic Starship Troopers, I realized what a surface appreciation I had for the film.
Continuing down I-85 towards Lagrange and eventually the Alabama border, the improv comedy show With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus came on as a fake fashion show called “Ooh Shit! That’s Fashion!” The two banter about all manner of fashion dos and don’ts, exploding what is normally parodied as an eccentric scene into amusing ridiculousness.
Nearing the end of my interstate travel and entering backroads, I used We Have Concerns to similarly pivot from comedy to science with a conversation about a reckless yet amazingly lucky child and a pondering on what makes people “Brock-like”.
In going full-on science, while I wound around backroads through Troy, Elba, and Opp, I caught up on The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. This week’s episode was recorded at a convention in New York City and featured many interesting space news items like talk about exoplanets and a take-down of fine-tuning arguments based on the anthropic principle.
Even more interesting than that, however, was the SGU premium content that followed. Normally these supporting-members-only segments are additional news items, but this time it was George Hrab expertly interviewing the rogues about their lives at the most recent TAM (The Amazing Meeting). It’s always a real treat to hear the SGU folks (including Cara Santa Maria, and Richard Saunders from Australia, as well) speak about their lives. I was very impressed by Hrab’s line of questioning that probed deeper into new topics than the listening audience had ever heard before. For a fan of the SGU, this was the perfect companion piece while driving through to Florida.
Returning to a bit of a lighter educational podcast, Sawbones carried me through the Eglin testing sites and the toll bridge over to the island. The married couple of hosts greatly expanded my knowledge of the history and origins of conjoined twins.
Finally, as I drove along the island to my hotel, I continued an episode of Spontaneanation, another improv comedy podcast (but without the science), that I had started a few days before. I’m new to this show, but not to its cast, so I’m catching up, and the episode I listened to was the first live performance they had ever done. This will be my companion as I drive to the field office for meetings this week, alongside surely more great shows.
On the way back from Destin, I arranged another selections of podcast episodes to keep me company, as well.
First up, as I drove along the shoreline and plunged into the mainland, was the very next Spontaneanation episode taking place at “An Urban Spelunkers Meeting“. This one had John Hodgman as a guest, who is as always delightful, and it featured an improvised story of a cave troll finding love…? Maybe? The coherence of the narrative isn’t always important. 😛
While finding my way through to Alabama, I switched gears to more informative, educational podcasts. First up was Planet Money, the economics podcast. The episode asked why we can’t bet on elections when we’re able to bet on so much else. It explored the papal origins of this kind of activity and its pros and cons.
Next up, while heading north towards I-65, I listened to Freakonomics and their recent episode on how to make smart TV ads. The host interviewed a particular Harvard professor who appears in commercials for life insurance offering compelling visuals and demonstrations of the importance of planning for one’s future.
Following a discussion of advertisement “design”, I moved to 99 Percent Invisible, a podcast about design in its many forms. First was a discussion of the history of concrete as a building material and tool of architecture. Today we mostly find it unappealing and ugly, but the hosts encourage the listener to expand their view longer in time and remember the context in which this type of building was created.
A second 99PI followed about the tyranny of homeowners associations and their iron grip on controlling American citizens’ lawns. It chronicles the amusing case of a man taken to jail because his lawn wasn’t pretty enough, mostly because grass wouldn’t grow there. Like other podcast episodes on this trip, the episode explores the history of the lawn and its dominating presence in our culture, as well.
After so much learning, and while driving along I-65 towards Montgomery, I chose a palate-cleanser, a variety show that’s different from most else I listen to. The Geologic podcast is hosted by George Hrab and features music, rants, musings, and lots of little segments from a humorous skeptical musician. In the episode I listened to, Hrab answers very interesting questions about proper dress and appreciating art, shares his love for a new book about the Wright Brothers, and wonders if musicians shouldn’t be millionaires. This podcast was broken up by lunch in Montgomery that was way too much good soul food. 🙂
Perhaps even more incomparable is Welcome to Night Vale, which I enjoyed next. Back on the road again, I was intrigued by the creepy tale of a mysterious well that appeared in town and seemed to create a chanting cult around it that captured the whole community, even the radio host Cecil. The message at the end about the surprising acceptance of the chanting cult was a fanciful and thought-provoking moment, which Night Vale specializes in.
On the last long leg of my journey, which was a long drive from the start of I-85, through to Georgia, and into Atlanta, most of my time was spent listening to my first episode of The Read. This is a podcast recommended to me by a friend that seems to focus on black popular culture or events happening that affect that community. Three main sections were general news about celebrities, answering questions from listeners, and each of the co-hosts “reads”, which were long rants about something that deserved to be yelled about. One of the reads was expressing sincere disappointment about an acutely insensitive joke about R. Kelly in a new show created by Amy Poehler, for example. I’m glad I listened to it, because I now have a view into a world I rarely experience, but I don’t think this particular one I’ll return to in the future.
…And with that, I was home! I still don’t know why I was so compelled to put all this down. I think it’s because when I put together these playlists, I’m effectively determining what I will experience for the next several hours. Driving long distances, to me, is a time where I have only my brain to contend with, since the driving part is pretty boring, but yet dangerous. My brain never stops, though, so audio entertainment is my only recourse and savior. I suppose I consider these trips to be somewhat extreme scenarios or outliers in my normal experience, so I wanted to remember them in the most obvious way, which is through what I was thinking about and absorbing at the time.
Thanks for reading!