Thursday, June 3, 2010

This American Life, Busses, Road Trips, and the Transitional State

This weekend I traveled to a different part of New York by bus since I'm (happily) car-less right now (go public transit!). This morning, I had to wake up at 4:30am because I had to work at 6:30am and found myself listening to This American Life, a radio show that interviews different people about their experiences on any given topic, as a way to wake me up before a nine hour shift. It wasn't like there was anyone on Facebook chat to talk to or anyone I could text.

This particular broadcast focused around road trips, which was fitting since I had just been on a road trip of my own only the day before. The first guy they interviewed was Dishwasher Pete, a man who traveled across the country via greyhound bus, washing dishes as he went as a way to support himself. He published a book about it, Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States, and was also the author of a zine.

This American Life gave Dishwasher Pete some equipment and sent him out to prove a theory he had: That people on greyhound busses were in some type of transitional state where they were deep in thought and in the middle of a grandiose story/journey.

I couldn't agree with him more. I don't really mind long bus rides (I was on a bus for a total of 10 hours this weekend). I love thinking of where I'm going, where I've been, and I love watching the scenery as it rolls by. I've had some pretty scary bus experiences, where I've sat next to some pretty terrifying individuals--ones who told excessively violent stories, for example. But I've sat next to some nice passengers too. I've seen passengers bring kids on busses. I've seen them bring pets. And we're all stuck together for x amount of hours, watching the scenery fly by.

When Dishwasher Pete took a tape recorder on the bus with him, he couldn't really talk to any passengers that were in transition. Some didn't trust him, because of his radio equipment, and he couldn't really find anyone in a transitional state. He grew to dislike the bus, after having spent so much time on it.

I remember a particularly long bus trip that my friend Charlie and I were on about two years ago. We would be dying to get off the bus, and then we'd get off the bus at a rest stop, and all we would want to do was get back on the bus. We joked that the bus was basically like what growing up in New Jersey was like-- You'd want to get the hell out, and then you'd get out, and you'd feel like there was nothing to do except go back.

But all joking aside, I think what This American Life was getting at is that busses and road trips can be seen as these end-all be-all experiences where people's lives will be in transition and they will actually come out of them transformed.

The thing is, though, that every time I've been on a bus, I've thought of all these great things I was going to do when I get off the bus. And I don't really do them. Maybe it's easy to be in an transitional state when you're moving, but once your feet hit the ground after you step out of the vehicle, even if you're hundreds of miles away from home, 9/10 times your life hasn't changed that much.

The broadcasted episode was really great, and if you want you can get it here or subscribe to their podcast on itunes.

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