A few rough spots this morning … a presidential news conference ending a half-hour before we go on the air has us refiguring how we’ll begin the show. A lot of what the news media do is analysis, which in our case means getting someone to come on after the speech and discuss the meaning, intent, etc. We have an editor standing by in Washington but decide not to use him. The press conference is pretty self-explanatory … we simply open with a clip from it, two minutes or so (a long time for a tape clip in radio, even on NPR) of the president defending his reasons for war.
When I listen to all our programs, I often think they don’t have enough of this kind of recording in them. Tape—well, there’s hardly any tape anymore, everything’s digital—but recordings are like artifacts. They are genuine; you don’t just hear their authenticity, you feel it. And even with very experienced politicians, the voice reveals a lot. I can hear when people are lying—not always, but often. I can hear when they tell the truth, too, and that’s just as important. Most often in public life, I hear voices that are neither lying nor telling the truth but talking in the border language between them—saying something that is artfully sort of true and believable but that also evades most of the complexities that make life real. I hear that a lot: a cool, neutral tone, the aural equivalent of the purposefully bland architecture of airports, shopping malls, and most of the offices I see.
In the days before the Day to Day debut, many colleagues and friends I’d run into wanted to know how the show was coming along. “Aren’t you excited?” they’d ask—a normal question. But the decision to base the show in L.A. (a Culver City official called yesterday to complain that we keep saying that; the office is actually in their territory, a separate civic enclave within greater Los Angeles) was completely wrenching for my wife and me.
We’ve lived separately and then together in Washington, D.C., for 30 years … family, friends, connections, and a home and neighborhood we loved. I’ve always liked California, Southern and Northern, and we’d even talked idly about coming out here. But the sudden demand to do so was a shock for both of us. We chose to sell the house, not wanting to live in indecision out here, and figuring that we can get back to the neighborhood if we want to some day. But that decision was very hard.
Sorting, packing, planning … utter hell, made worse by the fact that the move has also meant a big change for how Carolyn and I work together. She developed the NPR-National Geographic partnership that produces the “Radio Expeditions” series that has run very successfully for years on Morning Edition. I was the series’ primary correspondent. But my job at Day to Day means my giving up almost all those pieces. In January, we spent three weeks following salt caravans through the Sahara Desert (story link here): no bath for 10 days at a time, crummy food, a really crummy tent (I knew to bring our own tent and didn’t), no stopping for a rest anywhere, ever—and it was a wonderful assignment. After 10 years of working together, we are both pretty glum about working apart … even though her new office is only about 50 feet down the hall from mine here in Los Ang… make that Culver City.
That’s only part of it. When you move away from one place, you necessarily move in somewhere else. We’ve rented an apartment in Venice for 10 months, thinking we’ll find some place to really settle after we know the city better. So, this is a temporary residence, rather than a home. And it’s a mess … boxes everywhere. The little walkway beside the house is crammed with old boxes, and there are still more inside. We can’t find the base for our walk-around phone, the part that actually receives the calls … I mean, where could we possibly have put that crucial piece of equipment? I know I should just buy a phone for 10 bucks, but I’m too cheap. So, we finish long days here and go home and do more unpacking. It’s like an endless Christmas, but the all the wrapping paper is monocolor and everything inside it is secondhand.
Yesterday, I rushed home to meet the cable installer who was coming for the TV and broadband. This meant finally unwrapping the computer, cabling everything together, more boxes, more paper to dispose of … but at least I’d finally be able to get online. Then some cable box malfunctioned. The installer’s coming back today. I’m off to meet him again … right after my appointment at the bank to redo everything there. I got a raise to take this job. So far it doesn’t nearly cover the cost in aggravation.
But there is a porch or deck or something outside our bedroom, and at the right angle, I actually can see the ocean. Almost every afternoon, I do manage to get out there for a half-hour, and often longer. The surface of the water is foamy with surf for a 100 feet out from shore, and the currents beneath it are humming with power. Out there, all those the voices I hear all day at last fade away. I can’t find my phone … good, I don’t need any more calls right now.