The Conversation

Thirty years ago, I had a very strange daily commute. Mostly because it didn’t take place during the day.

Long story, not interesting, only lasted a year. But it was quiet and dark and boring, that drive downtown and back in the middle of the night. I’d become used to listening to talk shows in the car as opposed to music on commutes; these were either standard fare, differing subjects, or else interview shows (or sports radio, which I also dipped into).

It was just the kind of listening I liked. I enjoyed learning new things, I found out about new books and movies, and it generally kept me occupied and interested, if even more oblivious about popular music.

But at 3am, there wasn’t much on I wanted to hear. I had a solution, too. I took my little boom box, with dual audio cassette players, and recorded radio shows as they aired while I was working in the evening. When I drove down to the city in the wee hours, I played the cassettes of the prior night’s shows.

I can just hear you. Hey, Chuck, you invented the podcast! Ha. But yes. I did.


Sometimes I think of all the perfectly ordinary things we do with very fancy stuff now. It’s not unusual to see people looking at their phones in the grocery store; I never think that they’re doing exactly what I am, which is checking my shopping list.

I understand that people have preferences, but an e-book is still a book, just words to be read. It comes in handy when your bookshelves overflow and your eyes weaken, but reading is hardly new.

And podcasts are just radio, mostly talk radio. They’re a little throwback to when people mostly listened to their entertainment, and didn’t watch it. Walking around my neighborhood, listening to stuff, I’m always reminded of doing essentially the same thing when I was a kid and had a transistor radio. And then a Walkman in the 1970s. Same same.

Again, personal preference. Some people prefer to read rather than listen, for example. I can’t listen to podcasts and just sit around, in fact; I only use them for long periods of driving or doing chores around the house. It’s as if my ears won’t work unless I’m in motion.

I’ve never been interested in audio books, but I can understand that appeal, too. I just don’t want to be read to; I want to listen to conversations, discussions about ideas, big and small. About books and theater and movies and TV and sports and politics. Just about stuff.

People don’t share podcasts, apparently. Just as well; this is one less recommendation in a world of them, all supposedly necessary and urgent. Watch this, read that. So no listen to this, and I’m grateful, although I have no idea which friends like to listen to podcasts and which don’t.

I tried to start a podcast myself, a few years ago, thinking I knew so many people with interesting lives and stories. I figured I could help them tell those stories.

It turned out I didn’t know so many, and most of the ones I did weren’t interested in being on a podcast. I ran out of guests fast, but I had fun and I tried something.

And I was on one yesterday, a podcast called Story Babble, hosted by a couple of writers (they wear other hats) who are interested in the human experience around storytelling. How to craft a story, how to tell one, how to think about one. This kind of podcast.

It was a fun conversation. One of the hosts is Brian Nissen, whom I met in college in Arizona. Brian has impressive credits as a screenwriter, voice actor, and video producer (there’s some impressive parenting, too, with impressive kids and a very impressive spouse to show you that Brian has all sorts of chops).

I mentioned during the recording (I have no idea how much will stay in the produced show; the conversation ran about an hour or so, and surely there’s plenty to edit) that after watching all of those Marvel films, I’d begun to associate Captain America with Brian. Not that he resembles Chris Evans; I just found myself admiring Cap’s lack of moral ambiguity, his old-fashioned quiet insistence that some things were just wrong and some right. I always thought Brian had those qualities, although I might have embarrassed him by mentioning it. And now I have to make fun of him for the rest of my life.

But I had a good time, and I noticed, as I had on my recent trip to Texas, that I change when I start talking. I see people all the time, and have conversations, but usually no longer than a minute or two. Even at home, I get out of the habit of longer discussions, but it seems to only take a little exposure for me to become a motor mouth.

This is what bothers me about general personality descriptions, particularly when it comes to extroversion and introversion. I see people who seem eager to find a box to fit inside, and I sort of understand the comfort that might bring.

As I’ve been asking for years now, though, if you take an extrovert and put him in solitary confinement for 20 years, is he still extroverted? I think we’re more complicated creatures than we give ourselves credit for, at least in this regard. I’ve always been a very social person. I’ve also worked alone, at home, for the past 30 years. It’s a different kind of social now, but it surprises me how quickly I seem to snap back into it.

I’ll link to the podcast when it’s up, which I assume will be within the week. You should listen anyway. Shoot. Just made a podcast recommendation. I hate when I do that.

From 1981: I’m in the middle row with the beard. Brian is at my feet. WHERE HE BELONGS.

From 1981: I’m in the middle row with the beard. Brian is at my feet. WHERE HE BELONGS.

Chuck SigarsComment