Transcript

161:

Million Bubbles
Transcript

Originally aired 06.02.2000

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/161

Prologue.

Ira Glass

A while back, I was in a taxi. The driver was a man named Ali Youssef. He has this pretty music playing on the tape deck, though the tape was a little on the warbly side. So at some point I asked him, what is the music? What is that? And he said, well, that's the music from his country, which, if I remember right, was Somalia. We talked for a while. And then he says to me, that's my wife. I say, really? And he says, yeah. She's still back in Africa. She's a singer at weddings, and like that. And he was here, and she was there. And he would drive around all day in his taxi, listening to her sing, hour after hour, on the road, thinking about her, missing her.

I picture him out there on the road right now, his tape playing, just one of the many people on the road right now. So much of the life of this country happens in cars. So much of it. Imagine for a moment that you could look down on all the streets and avenues and windy country roads and highways from above somehow, highway cloverleafs in a vast meadow spread before you. Each little car below its own little self-contained world, each one like its own little world when you go inside. In one, a high school sophomore tries to convince her boyfriend, Tony, and his friend, Milo, to buy tickets to the prom.

Girl

Tony, pay for prom.

Tony

I'll get some money.

Ira Glass

Tony says he's broke, though he's about to spend over $100 on the paint job for the car.

Girl

I want to go to prom. I got a dress, too. I got three.

Tony

You do.

Ira Glass

Tony turns to his friend.

Tony

Because I'd like to take her out.

Girl

No! Tony, you're going to regret this for this rest of his life if he doesn't.

Milo

Yeah, you would?

Girl

Yeah.

Milo

Trust me, because I'm regretting the date up to here.

Ira Glass

Meanwhile, in a four-door white 1991 Honda Accord, Lauren Burn is speeding through San Francisco. It's part of her job. Her trunk's all smashed, tied down with rope. She's been rear-ended twice. The car floor is cluttered with empty Mountain Dew bottles and discarded packs of cigarettes. On the door of the car, a sign's attached, "Lickety-Split Messengers."

Lauren Burn

Whoa, red light. Every car's relationship to me is definitely they don't like me. They hate me because I think they're really scared and paranoid about, like, driving with no hands, talking on my radio, and next, at the same time, trying to write something down, trying to look for an address. And I look at it as a big video game. You have so much time to pick something up and drop something off in this time. And then you have all these obstacles in between, kind of like Paperboy, like the old video game. You know what I'm saying? Yeah, I've hit a few fire hydrants and a few people and a few different cars. And you get points taken off for that, I must say. Dude, I totally am going the wrong way.

Ira Glass

In a year-old Chrysler 300M, Doris Kelly drives from a long day at work downtown, towards church, playing the CD that she plays every night after work on the way home, one her pastor recommended, one they play in church, called Spirit Songs.

[WORSHIP MUSIC]

Doris Kelly

People don't have peace. People don't have any joy. And they need that. And you see that driving on the expressways and driving on the streets. And people, you know, they're cutting in and out in front of you all the time, and honking horns and yelling at you, cursing and stuff. And if you listen to this kind of tape, you're calm, you're relaxed. You stop. You let people in. To me, it's equal to a martini that someone would go home and have a martini, relax.

Man

You look like you need a drink, she said. He sat with his head in his hands, in a pale bleached oak armchair beneath a pastel seascape framed in ash.

Ira Glass

In a navy blue Toyota Celica, Marlene Harris listens to one of the books on tape that she's in the middle of, a science fiction novel called Darwin's Radio. She loves books on tape.

Man

The secondary mucus plug seems to be in position. There was no trauma, no bleeding. The separation was textbook, if anybody has bothered to write a textbook about this sort of thing. The hospital did a quick biopsy. It's definitely a first-stage Shiva rejection.

Marlene Harris

I'm wonder how this is going to come out. I'm thinking that the government's wrong and that Kaye Lang is right, and that her baby's going to be born alive. I do not think it's going to cause massive diseases. But I have a feeling they may start a colony, the mothers and fathers of these children.

Man

Let's hope. We'll do more tests in a few months.

Marlene Harris

I'm partly in another world, not the parts that need to be driving a car. But I get very involved in the stories. I often listen to very involved things. I'm in the middle of a 20-book historical fiction series that takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, and takes place in the British navy. And I'm about to start book 14. And I talk about going out for a walk with Jack and Steven, who are the two main characters of this series, because by the time it's over I will have spent something like 300 hours with these guys.

Ira Glass

If you're on the road right now in your car, listening to the radio, take a look inside the cars around you, each one its own little bubble, its own tiny subculture on wheels, glass and steel worlds rolling down the street alongside each other. Today on our radio program, we take you inside those other cars on the road. From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Today on our show, we have lots of tape recorded inside moving vehicles, plus original stories by Nick Hornby and David Sedaris. We have parents and kids. We have longtime buddies drinking beer and cruising the neighborhood on a Sunday morning. We have drivers who save people, and drivers who do not want to be saved. The entire American road system is laid out before us, and let's start right in Chicago, on Chicago Avenue, where the Number 66 bus runs.

Bubble One. The Number 66 Bus.

Linnel Peterson

Come on, boo, come on. How you doing? Come along, now.

Woman

Hello.

Linnel Peterson

See, you made me miss my light.

Woman

I'm sorry.

Linnel Peterson

But that's OK.

Woman

[UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE].

Linnel Peterson

We want to make sure we OK, though.

Ira Glass

Let's stay here for a while. Linnel Peterson is 40, outgoing. The route she drives, Chicago Avenue, heads from the point where the City of Chicago touches Lake Michigan on the eastern edge of the city out to the western-most edge of the city, a route that is six miles in each direction, so long and slow to drive that in an eight-hour shift she only drives it back and forth four times. She's been a bus driver for six years.

Linnel Peterson

When I was little, I didn't think you could back a bus up. There was a lot of things. I didn't really think about a bus. OK.

What's weird is when you're in your car, and you pull up to a bus stop, and you're getting ready to open the door, and you realize you're in your car. I'm serious. Or like, you know, somebody's running across the street, and you're starting to slow down because, mentally, you've got to pick 'em-- and I was like, OK. Ooh, big truck. He has flammables. I mean, he was flying, right behind us.

Hi, Mommy.

Woman

Hi baby!

Linnel Peterson

How you doin?

Woman

All right. And you?

Linnel Peterson

Good. That's my mommy. That's my mother, right there.

Woman

What's happening?

Linnel Peterson

Nothing.

Woman

[INAUDIBLE]?

Linnel Peterson

Yes, ma'am.

Woman

[INAUDIBLE].

Linnel Peterson

OK. Bye, Mommy. There are times that I've picked her up, and people get on the bus, and I'm like, that's my mommy, everybody. And they're laughing at me, because I still call her Mommy and I'm 40.

Central Park, this is where I grew up at. Two blocks from here. My mom still lives down there. Watch your step. Have a good one. Two, exactly two blocks from here. And this is why I say, this is our bus route, going to school and-- because I went to Orr. And anything that we did, right here in this vicinity. Lydell.

The grammar school I went to is a block down there. That's one of the neatest about being in a neighborhood. There are times when I see people who went to school with me, and they'll get on the bus. And I was like, I know you. Didn't you graduate from Orr? Or something like that. Like I'm saying, that's like a 23-year-ago thing. Central is next. Have a good one, baby.

Woman

You, too. You too, darling.

Linnel Peterson

Thank you, baby. Watch your step. It used to be real nice where we grew up at. And it's like really drug-infested now. When we first moved over there, it was like a lot of Polish people that lived in the area. And that was about 30 years ago, when we first moved there, because I was about 10. Now it's only blacks. You might find a few.

OK, when we was in high school-- Hey, babe, step on out. Every so often, like when I pass Kostner, we used to stand outside and wait for the bus. And it would be so many of us, and we were kind of rowdy. The bus driver would kind of pass us up. It would be so funny. Not all the time, but-- Thank you, baby.

So what happens is, when I get in that area, I kind of just start laughing. People are looking at me, like what's wrong with her? But people will usually ask me, you must be a nut to drive Chicago every day, because it's like a high-traffic area. But then, I think it's the fact that this is where I grew up at and I feel comfortable in it.

Ira Glass

Linnel Peterson. She says on her days off, she tries to keep away from her route, Chicago Avenue, even though she lives right nearby.

Linnel Peterson

I even avoid coming on the street, just the whole street. Because when I used to, I used to come on Chicago and I would be like, oh, there's a bus. Oh, he's out of place. So you just remember so much from the stuff that happens when you drive out here. Four lanes.

[MUSIC - "BABY ARE YENG" BY NANCY JACOBS & HER SISTER]

Bubble Two. Emerald Green Peugeot.

Ira Glass

Across the ocean in England, cars are driving along the wrong side of the road, one of them an emerald green four-door car that we would call a Peugeot, but that they would call a Puh-joh. It's driven by Nick Hornby.

Nick Hornby

So it's a lovely, sunny, crisp London Sunday morning, and I'm in the car with my son, Danny. Danny's six and autistic. And he loves the car. It really is a bubble to him, and nobody can burst it. When he's strapped into the backseat, he's safe. No other kids can get in his face, like they do out in the world where people fly at him like asteroids towards a spacecraft. And nobody will make him eat food he doesn't want to eat, and the side window is a videotape that never needs changing.

He like to know where he's going, though, so he's memorized all the significant routes. This is a kid who only occasionally remembers that the sequence beginning ready and steady is completed by the word "go," but somehow-- and these somehows constitute the enduring mystery of autism-- he's managed to construct a mental street map of the entire London metropolitan area.

The route to school is OK, because he likes school. The route to grandma's house is OK, too, not only because he likes grandma, but because she lives 50-odd miles from London, so he gets to stay in the car longer. The route that's not OK is the route to the park. The park's too close to home, which means that the journey's over before it's properly begun. And someone, a bad person, his dad, will make him get out of the car. But it's a lovely, sunny, crisp Sunday morning. We're going to the park.

He starts to yell at the top of Delancey street in Camden when we don't turn left into Albany Street. That left turn he sees as his last chance. School was ruled out 10 minutes ago when we didn't turn into Liverpool Road after crossing Holloway Road at Drayton Park. See, Albany Street takes you onto Houston Road, and Houston Road leads eventually to the motorway and grandma's house. But from Delancey Street, we go straight across into Regent's Park Road on our way to Primrose Hill. Doesn't that sound nice, Primrose Hill? Not to Danny it doesn't.

The yells get louder when we stop, and reach a sweat-inducing pitch when I open his door. Come on, Dan, I say, in my best fun voice. We're going to the park, the swings, the seesaw. He just turns the yellometer up to 11. I try to lead him out by the hand, but he snatches it away and grabs hold of something, the seat belt, anything that will anchor him inside. So we're fighting, the car and I, for custody of this small boy. The car has one end of Danny, and I have the other. The three of us are like a warring family in a TV soap.

I end up dragging my son out by his ankles. A couple look at us as they walk past. They don't say anything, but one day I'm sure someone's going to report me and I'll be arrested. There's a certain irony to this. I learned to drive at the age of 41, entirely because of Danny. I didn't really want to learn, and I have a mild phobia about driving. But public transport, which had served me well all my adult London life, was becoming less and less fun.

Danny loves going on trains and buses, of course, but sometimes he didn't want to get off when I wanted to get off, and sometimes he wanted to get off before our stop, and sometimes he decided that he didn't want to wear any trousers on the top deck of the number 19. And though I won all these battles of will, because I'm bigger than him, I wasn't always in the mood to fight them in public.

They can be Pyrrhic victories anyway, these fights with autistic kids. Danny's best friend and classmate, Toby, once kicked up such a fuss about having his haircut at the hairdresser's that he had to be held down by his mom and his nanny, at which point a woman ran over and started pummeling them both with her fists. Sometimes I silently dare someone to say or do something, just so I can tell them why I'm having to be so cruel, and hopefully make them feel terrible in the process.

So anyway, I took driving lessons for 18 months, and slowly, slowly overcame my fear. And nothing, I felt, after every awful, jabbering, fear-filled 60-minute lesson, could've demonstrated more dramatically how much I love my son. I passed my test first time, and I bought a little four-door Peugeot that I thought he'd love, so I could drive him places like the park. And is he grateful? Is he? Hell. He's holding onto his seat belt for dear life and screaming while I try to pull him backwards onto the pavement.

Eventually, he can hold on no longer, and I lift him out and put him down. And after a brief pause during which he recovers his composure and stops yelling, he roars off towards the park gates, because another thing Danny's forgotten until this very second is that he loves the park. He loves the swings and the seesaw, and spinning round and round on the grass until he's dizzy.

And it's a lovely, sunny, crisp Sunday morning. And hey, there's an empty swing. And literally within 10 seconds, he's full of smiles and happy anticipation. And there's no trace whatsoever in his face of the ankle-pulling trauma to which he was so recently and cruelly subjected.

And I want to find the couple who may or may not have had a disapproving look on their faces when they saw me committee awful acts of violence, and show them just how joyful he is now. But of course they're not around, which is maybe just as well, because in a while I'm going to have to find a way to get him out of this swing.

Ira Glass

Nick Hornby is the author of High Fidelity and About a Boy.

Bubble Three. Leased Volvo Sedan.

Ira Glass

Back on this side of the Atlantic again, though not very far inland, on Cape Cod. In a green Volvo sedan, Jay Allison drives his daughter, Lily, to ice skating lessons. She's 12, which means-- surprise!-- in the car they do not agree about what radio station to play.

Lily

Are we going to be late?

Jay Allison

Uh, probably.

Lily

Leigh's going to kill me. She hates me already.

Jay Allison

Why does she hate you?

Lily

I don't know. Because we're always late.

Jay Allison

We're not always late.

Lily

We usually are.

Jay Allison

Oh, man.

Lily

Well, you never let me listen. It's not fair.

Jay Allison

I always let you listen.

Lily

Oh my god, are you serious?

Jay Allison

No, seriously. I've lost so many brain cells in this car thanks to you.

Lily

Oh, really?

Jay Allison

See, there go a few.

Lily

There go a couple more.

Jay Allison

Really.

Lily

Really?

Jay Allison

It's hurting me. It's going into my brain and--

Lily

It's going into your brain and hurting you?

Jay Allison

Yes. Ow.

Lily

This is Santana. Shouldn't you be gaining?

Jay Allison

All right, I feel-- Gaining strength from Carlos?

Lily

Yep. I love [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Jay Allison

OK, make it stop. Make it go away. No, no, no.

Lily

That's OK.

Jay Allison

Kill it.

Lily

Kill it.

Jay Allison

Thank you.

Lily

I've always felt so bad with the Rose, like all those other stations, the good stations.

Jay Allison

What about them?

Lily

What's so bad about them?

Jay Allison

There's no intelligent life on them.

Lily

Oh, geez.

Jay Allison

I'm going to short-circuit your radio so it will only play public radio.

Lily

That's sad. I don't know what I'd do. I'd buy a new radio.

Jay Allison

There are lots of good shows on public radio.

Lily

OK, whatever.

Jay Allison

What. Ever.

Lily

That was cool, Dad. Do that again.

Jay Allison

Thank you, Lil.

Lily

[UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Jay Allison

What, do we get to talk for a few minutes, and then we have to-- It's like you're going to the surface for oxygen?

Lily

"Say My Name."

[MUSIC - "SAY MY NAME" BY DESTINY'S CHILD]

Jay Allison

OK, make it stop it. It just hurt me.

Lily

I'll find a good one.

[MUSIC - "MARIA, MARIA" BY CARLOS SANTANA]

Here, more Santana. Are you gaining cells?

Jay Allison

Santana, Santana's gone over to the dark side a little bit.

[MUSIC - "SHOW ME THE MEANING OF BEING LONELY" BY THE BACKSTREET BOYS]

Lily

They did a remix.

Jay Allison

A remix? They didn't like the first one?

Lily

It wasn't popular enough. It was number one for, like, two days.

Jay Allison

What was?

Lily

This song. It's like another Backstreet Boys song. And did you know that Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys is engaged?

Jay Allison

Did I know that? Of course I knew that.

Lily

Really?

Jay Allison

Oh, sure. His birthday's coming up, isn't it? Kevin's?

Lily

Oh my god. You're so weird.

Jay Allison

[SINGING] I want to love you, baby.

Lily

Oh, god. Please stop, please. Just let me hear this once song, and then you can--

Jay Allison

Yeah, no, I love this song.

Lily

Aren't you embarrassed?

Jay Allison

[SINGING] Everybody sing with me.

Lily

Dad, stop. Stop it, Dad.

Jay Allison

What? So maybe the secret is I should start liking your music.

Lily

No, that would be really bad.

Jay Allison

Yes.

Lily

No, I'll just keep it off. It's OK.

Jay Allison

Seriously, we're going to listen to public radio in a minute. Are you ready? Here we go.

Lily

Dad.

Jay Allison

Here we go, listen. Listen and learn, sweetheart.

Steven Stark

You're listening to NPR's Weekend Edition.

Lily

I know.

Jay Allison

Now, don't you feel better?

Steven Stark

The Grammy Awards are Wednesday night.

Jay Allison

Hey, look, the Grammys.

Lily

Oh, yeah.

Steven Stark

And if the conventional wisdom is correct, it will be a big night for the oldest and youngest in rock.

Npr Correspondent

Weekend Edition Popular Culture commentator, Steven Stark. For you all, the night will feature 52-year-old Carlos Santana, who could walk away with--

Jay Allison

Hey, there he is again.

Lily

He's nominated for, like, so many.

Npr Correspondent

And Album of the Year for Supernatural. Equally symbolic will be the New Artist award, where insiders expect Christina Aguilera and, yes, Britney Spears to fight it out for top honors. One shouldn't be too hard on the current teen pop idol.

Lily

Yeah, Dad.

Npr Correspondent

At least she didn't have to make talk on Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?

Jay Allison

Here's our exit.

Lily

You missed it?

Jay Allison

No, here it is.

Lily

Oh. Almost there. Come on.

Jay Allison

All right, here we are.

Lily

There's Pam.

Jay Allison

So are you going to put your skates on in there?

Lily

Yep.

Jay Allison

I guess I'll just come in with you, because of the parent meeting. I'm going to bring the tape recorder, and I'm going to dance and sing.

Lily

No, leave it here.

Jay Allison

For the team? I just want to do a little number for them tonight.

Lily

No, you're going to leave it here.

Jay Allison

I have a Christina Aguilera impression I want to do.

Lily

No, no.

[MUSIC - "SATISFACTION" BY CAT POWER]

Ira Glass

Coming up, David Sedaris with a special message for young people about what happens when you get high and get into a car with your own mother. And adventures on the way to Hubcap City. That's in a minute, from Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Three More Bubbles.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. It's often said that this country was rebuilt in the 20th century to accommodate automobiles. Because of cars, we have the suburbs, the malls, the highway system, much of the physical and commercial structure of this country. And so, if cars are so important, today's program is made up entirely of stories that happen in cars.

Outside Washington, DC, a couple times a week, in an '88 Mercury Grand Marquis that he inherited from his mother, Senator Conrad Burns of Montana picks up random passengers from Virginia, drives them into the city during his rush hour commute. Having people in the car means that he can drive in the fast lanes that are set aside for cars that are full. He told me that the conversations also let him know what issues are on people's minds.

Conrad Burns

Politicians, I think, have a big problem. They've never learned the lesson that you can't hear with your mouth open. You know, it's interesting what people talk about, especially-- But they'll always notice, sometimes they notice the Montana plates and they'll say, well, you're from Montana? And I said, yeah, I'm native. They ask what I do. And sometimes I sort of just don't answer or I give them some sort of a nondescript answer.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait. Is the nondescript answer-- Do you just say, I work in the government, something like that?

Conrad Burns

I work on the Hill. I tell them I'm one of the ants on the Hill.

Ira Glass

More or less accurate.

Conrad Burns

I would say.

Ira Glass

In a taxicab in New york City, Jeff Perkins tape-records his passengers on a little cassette machine, just to pass the time. He's collected hundreds of hours of tape.

Jeff Perkins

Well, I'm trying to kind of focus on a particular subject which I'd like to ask you about.

Woman

OK.

Jeff Perkins

And the subject is the subject of dreaming. And I'd like to know if you dream vividly, or do you remember your dreams?

Woman

Sometimes I do remember them. Actually, when I was in my early 20s, I was having a recurrent dream of my family being edible. I had dreamt once that my mother was a Fig Newton and that I was dating Mr. Nabisco. And I also recall dreaming that my father's feet were made of roast beef, and that he would sit in his usual chair and slice off pieces of his roast beef feet to feed us with.

Ira Glass

On the other side of the country, where dreams come true, Los Angeles. Cars scoot along the 405 and the 10. When Rob Levine first came out west, he got his first Hollywood job in one of those cars, a mid-1980s BMW 5 series, big heavy car. He as the driver for a movie producer named Edgar Sherick, who was the head of ABC back in the '60s, went on to produce lots of films. Heartbreak Kid, The Stepford Wives, Mrs. Soffel, Woody Allen's first movie, Take the Money and Run. Driver, in this world, can be a job where you train to be a movie producer yourself, which Rob Levine wanted. So he not only took care of the car, he read every script, sat in on meetings, learned everything.

Rob Levine

Part of the idea was that I would shadow him. I was expected to know everything he was reading. I was expected to know who he was calling and why. And he would ask me routinely, why am I calling this person? And not just to test me, because he honestly would slip his mind, and I would have to know.

Ira Glass

Wait. He would say, dial the phone for me, why am I calling?

Rob Levine

Yeah, why am I calling this person? And I would have to sort of, because you want to ask him about this project or that project. So if you didn't know, it was, you're in big trouble.

Ira Glass

Were you a little scared of him?

Rob Levine

Oh yeah. Oh yeah, completely. I mean, he was a sort of larger-than-life figure. At that point, he smoked big Cuban cigars, which we'd have to get for him. It was sort of contraband, and we had to get them from Cuba.

Ira Glass

That was part of your job?

Rob Levine

Oh yeah. Yeah, we had to get them from South Africa, which is like a double no-no.

Ira Glass

Wait. So because this is during the embargo?

Rob Levine

It's during Apartheid, yeah. So not only are you getting contraband cigars, you're getting them through a country that you didn't want to be doing business with. Sometimes we would get them through Canada, too.

Bubble Four. 1991 Silver Toyota Camry.

Ira Glass

Which brings us to this story. Some people do their socializing in the car, just cruising around, running errands with friends, seeing who's out. In a 1991 Toyota Camry, Ernest Castle, a college student, tools around with his friend, Clarence, in the south Chicago suburb where they both grew up, where they both still live with their parents, Hazel Crest.

Ernest Castle

Sittin' up in here, early Sunday morning. Damn, it must be about 8 o'clock in the morning.

Clarence

Yeah, it's something like that. [INAUDIBLE] 3:30, he's done, mostly.

Ernest Castle

This is about as close as it gets on a Sunday. Kind of one of them slow Sundays, on the way to ABC--

Clarence

Auto Parts.

Ernest Castle

Yeah, Auto Parts. You know what I'm saying? To go get a hubcap.

Clarence

Oh, now you're going to Hubcap City. That's right across the street--

Ernest Castle

My friend, Clarence, OK, my boy. What clicks between me and Clarence is we're from the same exact place. We're from the same block. We grew up about 600 steps away from each other. We're brothers.

Ernest Castle

Damn, look at this cat. They gotta be some Mexicans, man.

Clarence

It was. It was. Some kings or something, just with the low-profile tires. Them's about 13s or 12s, so you know he's riding low. The car was, like, about two inches off the ground. And it was just flicking away, painted rims. it was a Neon, but he did the Neon justice, though. He did it justice. I'm going to give him the credit on that one.

Ernest Castle

Clarence and I, we're definitely trying to do two different things. He's definitely the street-savvy, basically hustler. And me? I'm trying to do my thing in other ways. You know what I'm saying? I'm going to school, right? So that basically keeps us apart for most of the week. But when we come together on the weekend, it all comes together basically in the car. We got the radio. We got the tapes. A couple of beers, a couple of drinks. That's basically the quality of life for us, man.

Clarence

Ooh, that's a nice-ass Chevy. You see that Chevy with the gold rims over there?

Ernest Castle

Oh, man.

Clarence

Gold flicks.

Ernest Castle

Damn.

Clarence

Now, that's a black man driving that probably. You know what I'm saying? Everybody representing in their own way. Without a doubt. That's how different this [BLEEP] is. You see what I'm saying? Our Mexican people like they're [BLEEP] low. You know what I'm saying? Brothers like their [BLEEP] high. Mexicans get, like, smaller rims. Brothers get rims that are too damn big for their car. You know what I'm saying? For real. You know what I'm saying?

Ernest Castle

OK, we're rolling along and run into some childhood buddies here. Now, these guys, they're known in the neighborhood. They're known in the neighborhood. You mostly see them all in a group, at least I do. And we roll up on them, and thery see the microphone, and basically everything comes out.

Man

[BLEEP] the police. [BLEEP] the DEA. You know, they [BLEEP] with me for no rhyme or reason, you know? I'm tired of this bull [BLEEP].

Ernest Castle

Now, these guys, they've had their run-ins with the law. They've got their little histories, juvenile cases, whatever, what have you. But these guys, let's just say they tend to exaggerate a little bit.

Man 1

What Marshall was talking about, he was talking about how they was-- Man, he went on into a tangent about getting beat down by the police. But he made it sound like every time he stepped outside the house--

Man 2

Exactly. I think people that got too wrapped up into the movies, into the tapes they play, and they feel, because of the people on the tapes and in the movies get harassed by the police, that they are really getting harassed. They're not getting harassed, man. Police just came around the corner. Man, we should go around there and see what their business is, yo.

Man 1

Hey, whatever.

Man 2

Oh, they're real. Let's be on some investigative reporter type [BLEEP].

Ernest Castle

And so me and Clarence, we decide to conduct our own little case study here.

Ernest Castle

Right now we are busting the U-turn, trying to see if the police is really gonna go and hassle them like they said they was. This whole conversation was about police harassment, profiling, this and that, which is definitely, definitely, definitely real. But we about to see.

Clarence

The police roll right by 'em.

Ernest Castle

Zoom.

Clarence

Right by 'em.

Ernest Castle

Zoom.

Clarence

No confrontations, no nothing.

Ernest Castle

Zoom. And this car parked on the wrong side of the street at that, to draw attention.

Clarence

And the police roll right by 'em.

Ernest Castle

Zoom.

Clarence

There he is.

Ernest Castle

There's the policeman right there.

Clarence

I don't know how to call it, man. You know what I'm saying? When the microphone turn on, people got a lot of stuff to say, and a lot to talk about. But once it turn off, the mother [BLEEP] go back to their everyday, dull-ass life. He want to portray some sort of lifestyle, like he's being, I don't know, railroaded into the life that he's living.

I just feel that he's not doing what he feels he's capable of doing. And that's all of us out here. I'll be damned, we livin' in the suburbs. You know what I'm saying? I mean, me, myself, and the situation I'm in, is because of the life I have lived since I was a kid, coming up. I really wasn't on my P's and Q's. You know what I'm saying? I've been messing up for a nice long amount of time now, to keep it real. That's just how it is. You know what I'm saying?

Ernest Castle

For the average mainstream person, middle class and up, they're looking at Clarence, and they're like, oh lord, here comes another wild off-the-hook street thug, ready to do whatever he has to do, wreak havoc, kill, shoot, whatever. But that's not the case at all. The way I see it, it's just like the movie, Slackers. Here's the guy who, he has goals, but he's a procrastinator. He'll sit on his butt until the last minute, and try to do something. He's a slacker. Everybody knows what a slacker is.

He just does the little things that he has to to keep a little bit of money in his pocket. And we're all slackers. I mean, I can't even say anything because I'm a slacker myself. But from his perspective, where he's coming from, to be a slacker, you're a hustler in the same breath.

Clarence

It's a ditch, man. Oh, shit. See, that's professional driving right there. You've got to know the limitations and the proper mechanical, um-- Ah, the hell with it. It was a nice turn. It was a very nice turn, on my part. I pat myself on the back.

Ernest Castle

We're passing by this junkyard, right? And I see this "Now Hiring" sign posted up on this 13-foot iron gate. Huge sign, with crimson-embroidered letters, "Now Hiring." I look up at Clarence. And I know he's not going to go for this, but I gotta mention it 'cause that's me. And I'm like, you know, how about the "Now Hiring" sign, figuring this is his opportunity to finally get a job with a tax return that'll keep him from a fair amount of trouble, let's just say.

Ernest Castle

They all be hiring.

[LAUGHTER]

Clarence

You're going to try to call it out for me. Get a job.

Ernest Castle

Now, see, I ain't say nothin' about you. See, that's you. That's you over there.

Clarence

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Castle

Look at that big man across the fence, man.

Clarence

I see it, though.

Ernest Castle

Now hiring.

Clarence

I understand that. I understand that, you know what I'm saying?

Ernest Castle

Basically, I think where the fork in the road took place between my life and Clarence's life, it's as simple as he went to public school and I went to a Catholic school outside of my city. Sealed me away up in there, got me in all of these activities. I had no time, basically, in my schedule to get in the streets until the weekend. By the weekend, everybody did their dirt in the week already.

Meanwhile, with Clarence, when we were in high school, basically everything opened up. You got your gangs, your different street factions, and it was shiny, like a brand-new golden apple. It was just the street ambrosia. You live forever. I mean, who wouldn't have wanted to be a part of it? I wanted to be a part of it. Neither of us were brains, so I guess he chose an easier route, an easier road.

And in the same predicament, to walk a mile in Clarence's shoes, I'd have took it, without a doubt, without a doubt, without a doubt.

Ernest Castle

All right, we here at Hubcap City. This is a big junkyard, basically.

Clarence

Is that a Buick or some [BLEEP]. It's got new tires on it so it must run.

Ernest Castle

That's what they want you to believe.

Clarence

Probably so. Probably so.

Ernest Castle

At any go it is, let's see if I can't get a damn hubcap.

[MUSIC - "PASSENGER SIDE" BY WILCO]

Bubble Five.

Ira Glass

Some of the most important moments of people's lives happen in cars, though sometimes we are not aware that these are the most important moments in our lives as they're happening. David Sedaris tells this story.

David Sedaris

It wasn't anything I'd planned on, but at the age of 22, after dropping out of my second college and traveling back and forth across the country a few times, I found myself back in Raleigh, North Carolina, living in my parents' basement. After I'd spent six months waking at noon, getting high, and listening to the same Joni Mitchell record over and over again, my father called me into his den and told me to get out. He was sitting very formally in a big comfortable chair behind his desk. And I felt as though he was firing me from the job of being his son.

I'd seen this coming, and it honestly didn't bother me all that much. The way I saw it, being kicked out of the house was just what I needed if I was ever going to get back on my feet. Fine, I said. I'll go, but one day you'll be sorry. I had no idea what I meant by that. It just seemed like the sort of thing a person should say when they were told to leave.

My sister, Lisa, had an apartment over by the university, and said I could come stay with her as long as I didn't bring my Joni Mitchell record. My mother offered to drive me over. And after a few bong hits, I took her up on it. It was a 15-minute ride across town, and on the way my mother and I listened to the rebroadcast of a radio call-in show, in which people phoned the host to describe the various birds gathered around their backyard feeders.

Normally, the show came on in the morning, and it seemed strange to listen to it at night. The birds in question had gone to bed hours ago, and probably had no idea they were still being talked about. I thought about this and wondered if anyone back at the house was talking about me. To the best of my knowledge, no one had ever tried to describe my voice or the shape of my head. And it depressed me that I went unnoticed while people were willing to drop everything for a cardinal.

My mother pulled up in front of my sister's apartment. And when I opened the car door, she started to cry, which worried me because she normally didn't do things like that. It wasn't one of those, I'm going to miss you things, but something deeper and sadder than that. I wouldn't know it until months later, but my father had kicked me out of the house not because I was a bum, but because I was gay. Our little talk was supposed to be one of those defining moments that shape a person's adult life, but he'd been so uncomfortable with the most important word that he'd left it out completely, saying only, I think we both know why I'm doing this. I'd assumed it was because of the drugs, and had left it at that. I guess I could've nailed him down. I just hadn't seen the point.

My mother assumed that I knew the truth, and it tore her up. Here was another defining moment, and again I missed it completely. She cried until it sounded as if she were choking. I'm sorry, she said. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I figured that within a few weeks, I'd have a job and some crummy little apartment. It didn't seem insurmountable, but my mother's tears made me worry that finding these things might be a little harder than I thought.

Did she honestly think I was that much of a loser? Really, I said. I'll be fine. The car light was on, and I wondered what the passing drivers thought as they watched my mother sob. What kind of people did they think we were? Did they think she was one of those crybaby moms who fell apart every time someone chipped a coffee cup? Did they assume I'd said something to hurt her? Did they see us as just another crying mother and her stoned gay son, sitting in a station wagon and listening to a call-in show about birds? Or did they imagine, for just one moment, that we might be special?

Ira Glass

Dave Sedaris' latest book is called Me Talk Pretty One Day.

[MUSIC - "I WANT A LAVENDAR CADILLAC" BY MAURICE KING AND HIS WOLVERINES]

Bubble Six. Yellow Aaa Pickup Truck.

Ira Glass

There are people out on the road with no other purpose but to help others, as if the streets and highways are like the open sea, dangerous and unpredictable, thousands of motorists stranded at any given moment, needing saviors. And there's a little yellow pickup truck, AAA insignia on the door, tool cases in the back.

Kelly Keggers

370.

Man

Yes, 370. Good morning.

Kelly Keggers

Good morning. Did you say you had a service call holding?

Man

Yeah, we have a T3 on Prospect. Do you want me to send that over?

Kelly Keggers

Yeah, 10-4. Prospect, where the [BLEEP] is that?

Ira Glass

Kelly Keggers wears dark blue pants and a button-down AAA service shirt. The dispatch computer on her dashboard lists AAA members in trouble.

Kelly Keggers

Well, all I do all day is go out and help people. It's like community service. People call when they're in need, if their car doesn't start, or if they've got a flat tire, or they run out of gas or something. If their car's not working, they call. It's all day.

And everytime I show up, people are like all, oh my god, you're here. It's like I'm all doing them a favor or something. It's a good deed job. Early in the morning, though, it's, like, jump-starts, but pretty much people lock their keys in their car. They're getting ready for work, and they're freaking out and-- Oh, here comes my member. What's happening with your car? It won't start?

Woman

Battery's dead. I keep switching the lights on because it--

Kelly Keggers

Her horn did-- like, you know, lights are on the blinker of your car, like if you put the blinker up or down? A lot of people complain about the new Hondas. They turn the blinker on during the day, they're coming home from, blah, blah, blah, whatever, and they leave their lights on all night long. And there's no buzzer or anything to tell them that their frickin' lights are on.

So she's all pissed off about that. And she was worried about her battery, but it's a brand-new car. It's a 1999. Oh, wait. Let me get these calls.

Man

I have three more service calls. Two of them are kind of a ways away, I think. We have this 6 at Third and Cargo. Three at Gillman, and Raymond and Redland.

Kelly Keggers

OK, I can do all three of those. That's cool. Go ahead and send them my way.

Man

10-4. Copy that.

Kelly Keggers

I love driving around without a boss in the car with me. I don't like to work with-- I'm not really much of a team player, I guess.

Man

On West 7th?

Kelly Keggers

I don't like to work with people that much. I just like to work by myself and do my own thing. I just get things done faster and better that way. I guess I can just concentrate by myself. I mean, I like helping people, though. I get a kick out of it. It's kind of a good feeling.

Man

We've got a cancel on our Hazelwood and Rosewood. The member found her keys.

Kelly Keggers

Cops wave at me when I drive by. Buses stop and let me go by them. It's weird. All city workers are always like, hey, how's it going? Oh, AAA. Hi. You know, waving. And people flag me down a lot when I'm driving. Or if they need a jump-start or whatever, they jump in front of your car with jumper cables. I'm going 40. They fly in front of the truck. You're like, [BRAKING SOUNDS], oh crap. But, no, they treat me really good. They're really nice. I don't get treated like a punk kid, like I usually do.

I jump-started some guy's car on 21st, oh no, it was 22nd street, and there's a big, huge hill. And it was a stick shift, and I told him to keep his foot on the brake. And he didn't, of course. And he was an older guy. And I mean, right as soon as his car started, he took his foot off the brake to get out of the car, and it stalled because it was a stick shift and all that. And it went sailing down the street. And it slammed into a tree and totalled his car. It almost ran me over. I jumped out of the way. I pulled a total, like, Dukes of Hazard.

And of course we had to call a tow truck for that. But it wasn't my fault. It was his fault. I advised him not to take his foot off the brake, and blah, blah, blah. But he was old and he was a little grumpy. He's like, I know what to do. His wife started screaming at him. It was really upsetting. I sat with him for a while. He was shaken up. He was scared. He was still in the car. I mean, he tried to get out but he couldn't.

Yeah, that was my big excitement for one day. But everything else is pretty normal. I mean, you get babies locked in cars and stuff. People are freaking out. I try and get there really fast if there's a baby in the car. So I always do that as a priority.

It's cool when you pull into a shopping center, a big parking lot, because you'll always get two or three calls. People will flag you down. And usually they have AAA. And you write them up.

Man

[UNINTELLIGIBLE] again. [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE].

Kelly Keggers

This parking lot is humongous. Hello. See, you're waiting out front.

Man

Well, yeah. Got them locked them inside. You know, on the supervisor side.

Kelly Keggers

OK, the supervisor side, all right. I'm totally addicted to that getting paid for job performance. Because that way it doesn't make me resentful of the people I work with if they're not pulling their weight. I just figure, they did 10 calls today, and I did, like, 32 calls. I know that I'm getting paid for all the calls I'm doing. I can't deal with getting pissed off at people I work with. But I like all the guys I work with. They're nice guys. There's one or two other girls that work there.

But those guys are cool. And plus, you talk to them. We're all talking about our jobs. And it gives me ideas about-- I like to change jobs a lot. I like to be a total jack of all trades and bounce around. I can only stand a job for, like, a year or two. Like, my next job, I'm going to be a truck driver. I'm going to drive the big rigs. That's my dream, just drive across country completely alone, get my dog and truck, and that's it, just listen to music and just drive.

This way, right? Third row? One, two-- he's all running. Poor guy.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Blue Chevigny and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Susan Burton, and Julie Snyder. Contributing editors Potoff, Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, Alix Spiegel, Nancy Updike, and consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Mary Wiltenburg. Music help from Mr. John Connors. People in cars are recorded by Kerry Campbell, Bob Carlson, Elizabeth Meister, Blue Chevigny, Alex Blumberg, Kenneth Mason, and Piers Wisbey at the BBC. Jay Allison's story with his daughter, Lily, was part of his Life Stories series, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

To buy a cassette of this or any of our programs, call us here at WBEZ Chicago, 312-832-3380. Or you know you can listen to most of our programs for free on the internet, at our website, www.thislife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who begins every single broadcast of our program with this checklist:

Ernest Castle

We got the radio, we got the tapes, a couple of beers, a couple of drinks.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.