Transcript

273:

Put Your Heart In It
Transcript

Originally aired 09.24.2004

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/273

Prologue.

Ira Glass

A couple weeks ago I got into an argument with a 13 year old about algebra. "Why should I bother learning algebra?" He asked me. "Have you ever used algebra as an adult?" You know, every possible thing you could say as an adult in this situation, you've heard adults say. And you know how stupid they sound. When you're a kid, you're expected to be a renaissance man. You're supposed to be interested in math and science. You're supposed to read literature, you write poetry, maybe you play an instrument. You're athletic, you play sports, you learn a foreign language.

And you're supposed to be enthusiastic. You're actually graded on effort. You get a grade for the effort, not just for the work. And somehow, in America especially I think, this idea that you're supposed to put your heart into everything. Any test that you're given, you're supposed to show a can do spirit. You're supposed to show enthusiasm no matter what the task.

It's been transferred to all sorts of things in adult life where it really, probably doesn't belong. Kenneth for example got a job as a greeter at a create your own stir-fry chain restaurant.

Kenneth

As a host, I just stayed at the door, and I greeted people as they came in, and the manager is supposed to seat them. Say someone walks in the door. I'm like, Hi, how are you doing? And they'd say hello. And then I'd say, And they'd say two. Then I would turn to the person standing next to me and say, two people for dinner. So I think I could do it very, very well. Hi, how many? Three? All right, she'll be right back over to seat you. And that was it. I mean pretty much a five year old could handle that. Say hi to people and repeat the number that they say to you.

So the owner always had a problem because he said I wasn't enthusiastic enough in my job. I needed to smile wider. And his exact words were I had no sense of urgency. And I didn't realize what was so urgent about getting people to sit down and have stir-fry that they make themselves.

Every time that he would run the floor, which he was not very good at, you could really see how people would get scared when they walked in the door. As soon as the people would come, he would jump in front of me, literally jump in front of me and go, hi, how are you doing?

And then every now and then customers, as they were going to the table would even look back at me and shoot me a glance like, what's up with dude? Is everything OK? And then he would always turn around and be like, see that's how you're supposed to do it. And I used to just shrug my shoulders at him, like, yeah, don't worry about it.

Coming from me it woulnd't have been genuine. I don't really want to be giving anybody food. But I make money doing it. And I want to have a phone, and light and water. So that's why I do it. But it's not something that I really love or care about.

Ira Glass

Going through the motions has a bad name in our culture, phoning it in, walking through it, putting on. But there are so many situations where that is the only path of dignity. Today on our radio program, three stories of people deciding whether to take that path. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass.

Act One of our show today, Farm Eye for the Farm Guy. In that act, a Pennsylvania farmer needs somebody to throw his heart and soul into his vegetable patch. And we step in to help. Act Two, Diary of a Long Shot, a candidate in this fall's elections keeps an amazingly frank audio diary in which he says a few things that you wonder if politicians ever actually feel. And puts everything he has on the line for an unlikely cause. Act Three, Contrails of My Tears. In that act, we believe we have discovered a human phenomenon never before documented involving airplanes and Reese Witherspoon. Stay with us.

Act One. Farm Eye For The Farm Guy.

Ira Glass

Act One, Farm Eye for a Farm Guy. Things aren't going so well on Hilary's farm. He bought 75 acres in Western Pennsylvania five years ago, put all his money into it, moved from the city, had a dream. To grow his own food, make little money, never wear a tie again. In five years, he has not only not turned a profit, he's not even close. His back hurts all the time. He did something to his thumb. He gets headaches from all the muscle strains. His best customer is his chiropractor. And he's thinking of quitting.

Hilary Hoffman

I vacillate between wanting to give it up and wanting to continue. And even sometimes while I'm out there working I'm like, this is so great. I get to watch the sky and see the whether. And then I work for a few hours at it and see how much more I have to do. And it's like, this is too hard.

Ira Glass

He's a soft spoken kind of guy. A little shy, wears a big beard. When I press him for details about what's going wrong on the farm, he gets vague. Not like somebody trying to hide the facts exactly, more like somebody who hasn't been keeping track of the facts too closely in the first place. Fortunately, his wife Sun Yung is right there and is happy to give particulars, like about the lettuce harvest, which Hilary actually saw as a success.

Sun Yung

We worked so hard until after midnight. We had harvested at night so it wouldn't get wilted. And we washed it one by one. And we put it in the bag and everything. And we had to get up at 7:00 AM to get ready. And we went to the market. And we made like $15.

Hilary Hoffman

Wasn't it $16?

Ira Glass

Wasn't it $16? Hilary asks.

Sun Yung

No, and I was thinking I worked so many hours, so hard. And while everybody's sleeping, I was working. And it was only $15. And the table fee was $7 $8 or something like that. And I felt really bad.

Ira Glass

Sun Yung and Hilary are in a whole Green Acres situation with each other. He wants the country. She's trained as a clothing designer, sells her work in a boutique on Madison Avenue in New York City. She's applying for fashion jobs in cities around the country. She helped Hilary grow vegetables for two years, but then she hurt her back so badly bending over that she was stuck in bed for a month. And that was it for her. Farming was never her dream anyway.

She grew up in Seoul, South Korea, which she describes as being like Manhattan, but bigger. When she imagined what their farming homesteading life would be like, she remembered this TV show that was popular back in Korea when she was a little girl.

Sun Yung

I was picturing Little House On The Prairie, but that was no way.

Ira Glass

And so when you moved in, was there indoor plumbing? Was there electricity?

Sun Yung

Electricity was there. And plumbing was there. But one winter our kitchen plumbing was frozen and there was no water for a while. And he fixed it. And after that the water smelled like really [BLEEP]. And it still smells not good. It's more than a year now. We have hot water, but cold water smells really bad, like really.

Hilary Hoffman

It's not that bad, but it is-- all right, it's a little bad.

Ira Glass

We're standing in the unkempt front yard by their house, which I would describe as midway between messy and squalid. Half the windows are boarded up. Shingles are falling down. It's so badly heated that during the winter, the cat bowl of water in the kitchen has frozen. And they're the kind of back-to-the-landers who not only believe in conserving the Earth's resources and composting, but in the bathroom there's a note telling you not to use the toilet but to use a big, plastic bucket with sawdust that sits there neatly across from it as a replacement. Sun Yung says this is not how a person should farm.

Sun Yung

But he's not a real morning person. So he can't do anything in the morning. So he can start around noon. Sometimes he would just stay up until 3:00 AM, 4:00 AM. He's doing his photography work on the computer.

Hilary Hoffman

I don't know about the stying up until 4:00. I've only done that a few times. But yeah, in the mornings I need to warm up before I can start doing a lot of activity I'd say. But then some people will work from 7:00 to 5:00 or 6:00 or whatever. And then they'll have quiet time in the evening. But I just have my quiet time in the morning is how I figure it, anyway.

Ira Glass

We heard about Hilary from somebody who met him at a conference on sustainable farming. Hilary was there getting tips, going to seminars. He's at a point now where his savings are running down and he's thinking that he either has to make a big change in how he farms or get out. And hearing about his situation, we thought you know what this guy needs is a makeover. Like on "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy" or "Trading Spaces" or "The Swan" Or "Extreme Makeover" or "Extreme Makeover Home Edition." He needs a makeover, a farming makeover.

Here, we thought, are two areas where America excels. Two areas where America can compete with any nation on Earth, agriculture and makeover programs. And we at This American Life are proud to be the ones to bring these two great traditions together. We would bring in an expert for a farm makeover.

George Devault

Hi there.

Ira Glass

Ira.

George Devault

Ira, nice to meet you.

Hilary Hoffman

Hi, I'm Hilary Hoffman.

George Devault

Hi Hilary. How are you?

Ira Glass

The farm expert we brought in for the makeover is George DeVault, a wiry, sunburned man in a farmer's cap and aviator glasses.

George Devault

I want see everything.

Ira Glass

You want to see everything?

George Devault

All the machinery, all the buildings. Kick the tires. I'm serious.

Ira Glass

So what do you hope to get from George today?

Hilary Hoffman

Well if had some secret plant that was easy to grow and easy to harvest. And everybody wanted it. And here's how you do it without having to bend down all the time. That would work. Or maybe he'll say, if you don't think you can do this kind of hard work then you better find something else to do. Sun Yung is nodding.

Ira Glass

Do you want George to say something to talk him out of farming today?

Sun Yung

We'll of course, yeah, yeah.

Hilary Hoffman

So the truth comes out. She wants me to quit.

Ira Glass

George owns a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania that grows organic vegetables and flowers. He's also a writer and editor at Rodale Press. He's put out a half dozen books and tons of articles about this kind of organic farming. He gives lots of tours of his own farm to people who are thinking about getting into agriculture. Hilary shows him around.

Hilary Hoffman

Here's some grapevines. It's all a very small farm, very small. The first year, I managed to grow a lot of stuff. The second year, the deer found it and just totally ate everything.

George Devault

Vegetables mostly?

Hilary Hoffman

Even my cover crops just were all gone.

George Devault

They did that to my potatoes last year, about a quarter acre of potatoes we did not have fenced. Ate them right off of the ground. I couldn't believe it.

Ira Glass

This is pretty much George's technique with Hilary. No matter what kind of calamity Hilary describes, George reassures him that it's happened to him too and lots of other farmers besides. He looks on the bright side. Standing in front of a strawberry patch infested with weeds, weeds are standing over a foot high in every direction. It's bad enough even I can tell it's bad. George declares--

George Devault

I mean you can see the strawberries. It's not hopeless.

Ira Glass

In front of a patch of vegetables that he confides later he found surprisingly small, George proclaims--

George Devault

I'm seeing some very nice, healthy happy potato plants about to blossom.

Ira Glass

When he spots a broken down structure the size of a small shed, white, wooden window frames for walls and ceiling, concrete floor, George is all can-do American optimism. Hilary is Soviet Russia circa 1973, the Brezhnev era.

George Devault

I see a greenhouse here.

Hilary Hoffman

Do you?

George Devault

Oh yeah. Do you even have a sink in it?

Hilary Hoffman

Yeah but there's no water.

George Devault

Well, that's why plastic pipe was invented. You have a well somewhere.

Hilary Hoffman

I can't use the well for watering.

George Devault

Well with the roof on here and the bigger roof on the big barn over here, you could collect an awful lot of rain water.

Hilary Hoffman

I can't afford the containers for it.

George Devault

OK.

Ira Glass

Geoge offered lots of advice that Hilary had no interest in. To fix the greenhouse of course so he'd have a place to start his seedlings. To stop mulching in this labor-intensive way that Hilary had learned back as a gardener, way too time consuming for fields of crops, George said. To build something called a hoop house, where Hilary could grow more months of the year. Hilary needed to triple his production just to start to become economically viable, George said. And George suggested that he trade his 68 horsepower tractor in for something smaller, that he'd use the extra money for things that the farm needed more urgently. And George thought that Hilary might fix up the 100 year old barn.

Hilary Hoffman

Now this barn is pretty ratty.

George Devault

OK, so?

Hilary Hoffman

I just haven't cleaned it up yet.

George Devault

Why not?

Hilary Hoffman

Lazy.

George Devault

You said it. I didn't. Get your butt in gear.

Hilary Hoffman

I think so.

George Devault

You've been here, what, five years now? Are you are you happy with your progress?

Hilary Hoffman

No.

George Devault

OK.

Ira Glass

George, there was something that Hilary's wife was talking about it earlier. She was saying that he gets up too late in the day to be a farmer. Does it matter what time you get up?

George Devault

Yeah it does. Sure it matters what time you get up. What time do you get up farmer?

Hilary Hoffman

Depends on the day. 8:00, 10:00.

George Devault

What?

Hilary Hoffman

But then I work till dark. I mean I'm out here doing that. Don't you come in at 7:00, 8:00 and take a couple hours to relax?

George Devault

Hell no.

Hilary Hoffman

Well I want to.

George Devault

Well some days you can't.

Hilary Hoffman

Well that's true.

George Devault

You might as well forget the greenhouses then because it can't get up and ventilate it before the sun gets hot, you're going to cook everything.

Hilary Hoffman

Oh well I can get up and do that.

George Devault

Oh OK, all right.

Hilary Hoffman

Well I guess there's some truth-- I'm just not a morning person. I have to exercise before I can start working and do anything. I have two herniated discs from many years ago.

George Devault

Ouch.

Hilary Hoffman

But it still affects me.

Ira Glass

George explains that some tasks you just have to do in the cool morning hours. If you pick delicate produce in the middle of the afternoon under the sun, it'll go limp the minute you pick it. It'll be junk. We sit down on chairs under a tree in front of the house. George has a friend who tried what Hilary is trying, left a regular job to take up farming. Tried to make a go of it. Said this guy totally put his heart into it, was working his crops all the time, sun up till way past sundown.

George Devault

I mean there suddenly ceased to be a family life. He tried to get his two kids to help him out there is as much as they could. They were 9 and 11. And there were limits to how much they could or would or should do. And he sunk a ton of money into it and basically lost it all.

Ira Glass

And what wasn't coming together?

George Devault

He was producing a lot of stuff. His crop mix could have been better, more diverse. He wasn't charging enough for things, didn't have maybe enough customers to make it work. Production and weather threw some curves at him. It was a lot of things combined.

I mean when you look at the numbers involved in agriculture today, it is really grim what's going on. Say there are 60,000 farms in the state. At least 30,000 of them have annual sales of less than $5,000. Not just net but gross. Less than $5,000 in sales a year. Yet that's half the farms in the state. The numbers are grim. Don't feel bad. We feel like I drove out here and rained on your parade.

Hilary Hoffman

No, I wasn't having a parade.

George Devault

Oh, OK.

Hilary Hoffman

I had this great bit hot air balloon. I was hoping you would fill it up and make it rise.

Ira Glass

In the end, this is what Hilary's up against. One of the open secrets about farming in this country is just how few farmers actually make their full livings from farming. In Pennsylvania, it's only 8,000 out of 60,000 farms. Nearly half the farmers in the state say their primary occupation is something besides framing. And that's true of the country as a whole. Out of 2 million farms in America, 1.5 million lost money in 2002, the most recent year we have agricultural census data for.

If Hilary truly buckled down, tripled production next year, did everything right, kept expanding production, in a few years, George says, he might expect total profits of $10,000 to $15,000 a year. Which Hilary says would be enough. They're living pretty cheaply, And which would actually put him into an elite in agriculture. Only 300,000 of the 2 million farms in America make $15,000 a year or more in net profits. But if he's going to do that, Hilary would have to rethink everything, be working all the time.

Hilary Hoffman

Well that's it. I quit. I quit. You've convinced me.

George Devault

Well. I didn't come here to talk you out of the farming but--

Hilary Hoffman

I don't think I can physically do that much work to make that much money. Just doesn't seem possible.

George Devault

I'm working part time three or four jobs plus farming. There are very few farmers I know who do absolutely nothing but farm.

Hilary Hoffman

I mean I just wanted to live in the country. And I thought I could do it by growing vegetables. And I really like it out here in the country.

George Devault

Yeah, and you have a great spot here.

Hilary Hoffman

Even when it gets cold I like it.

Ira Glass

This is what it comes down to for Hilary. He was never dying to be a farmer. He just wanted to live closer to nature, live more simply.

Hilary Hoffman

My dream was to be able to just watch the sky all day.

Ira Glass

But you don't have to actually run a farm as a business to have that.

Hilary Hoffman

Well you have to make some kind of income. But I think there must be an easier way really. I think it is too much work for me. And I will probably spend time looking at another way to make a living out in the country.

George Devault

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you picked a tough road to hoe pal.

Hilary Hoffman

Yeah I know. I knew it was. And I thought I could do it. But now I'm just not so sure.

George Devault

Well.

Ira Glass

Later, when we get George away from the farm, away from Hilary, he's pretty blunt about what he thinks Hillary should do.

George Devault

Sell the place, yeah. I mean more than anything he wants to live in the country. That's great. So quit kidding yourself about the idea of making a living from the farm. He'll still have a garden. I'm sure of that.

Ira Glass

At the end of the day, the person who was happiest to watch how everything unfolded, as you might imagine, was Sun Yung. After all, George was saying the same things to Hilary that she's been saying.

Sun Yung

I really liked his idea. If you want to do something, commit yourself until you can't do it anymore. Or sick and tired of it or until you die. Or don't do it. But if you want to try, try really hard. And I thought that Hilary with the farming was like that. So I told him that I don't think you really want to be a farmer. I told him maybe thousands of times.

Ira Glass

Indecision is a powerful force, more powerful than reason sometimes. And the next day, despite everything that had been said during George's visit, Hilary had declared himself completely undecided about whether he should quit agriculture. He'd actually gotten up early that morning to pick strawberries, thinking that maybe, just maybe, the farm life might still be right for him.

In the months since that day, Sun Yung got a job offer in the Bronx. And she said yes. She's planning on moving away from the farm in November, which will leave Hilary alone to figure out his next move. Find a job near the farm to support himself, or just leave the farm. Just last week he started shopping around for a camera, which would allow him to get back to the line of work he was in before he moved to the farm in the first place, taking pictures for newspapers.

Ira Glass

What do you think is going to happen?

Sun Yung

Well I don't think anything is going to happen within a year or two, maybe longer. But eventually, he's going to live with me where my job is.

Ira Glass

And what do you think's going to happen?

Hilary Hoffman

I think she's going to move back.

Ira Glass

To the farm?

Hilary Hoffman

Yes. It'll be really nice and fixed up, no air leaks in the winter. And warm and spacious, the opposite of what it is now.

Sun Yung

How? How would you like to do it?

Hilary Hoffman

Magic.

Sun Yung

Yeah, that sounds good.

Ira Glass

As for the dream of farming, the one that gets so many city people to buy farms of their own, George took time away from his own pea harvest to visit Hilary and to give advice. Partly because in some basic, neighborly way, he wants to get the word out that this kind of farming can be done. He knows lots of people who are doing it happily. You just have to be careful not to get too romantic about it. The dream of farming is like anything else, he says. Like the dream of owning your own business or writing for a living. Or acting, or making a movie, or getting married. You need the romantic vision to get you started. But the reality, it's always more complicated.

Coming up, in just 11 years he can run for President. You can get in on the ground floor right now. Here are the audio diaries of his very first race this fall at age 24. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. Diary Of A Longshot.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program of course we choose some theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, Put Your Heart Into It. We've arrived at Act Two, which is about somebody in the opposite situation of Hilary, the farmer in the first half of our show. This act is about somebody who is not holding back, not waiting. He has thrown himself completely into an unlikely and difficult cause.

Sam Brooks is 24, grew up in Washington, DC and wanted to be a politician. And so a year ago, he decided to run for one of the top jobs in the city, a job that usually goes to a much more experienced politician, at large city councilman. These are the city councilmen who don't just represent one neighborhood in the city. Their constituency is the entire city. DC is mostly black. Sam Brooks is white.

But he felt sort of outraged at one of the guys serving as at large councilman, a man who had been in the job since Sam was 10, a man named Harold Brazil. Brazil had a reputation for being out of touch. The Washington Post called him disengaged and a disappointment. Washington City Paper called him "Number one in the city for legislative wishy-washyness, non-sequiturs and other buffoonery."

So Sam Brooks entered the race. He started walking door to door in every neighborhood in the city, hundreds of miles. His other opponent, besides the incumbent, was Kwame Brown, who was well known partly because his dad was a big civil rights leader in DC. Sam Brooks kept an audio diary of everything that happened, the fundraising, the ups, the downs. Here it is.

Sam Brooks

It is about 5:15 on Tuesday, January 27. I feel like we've done everything we can to raise money this quarter. We have one more fundraiser on Thursday night. I think we basically hit our number. And maybe people will look at our number and say well, it's what you get when you're a rich white kid and you grow up in Georgetown.

I think something like over 85% of my money has come from three zip codes in DC, 20007, 20008 and 20016. And for anybody that has been in DC for a while, you know what that is. That's just rich, white. There's no way around it. I mean it just doesn't look good. Our answer I think is OK. When you're a first time candidate and you grew up in one neighborhood, you raise your money from that neighborhood. If I had grown up in Ivy City Northeast, most of my money would come from there. I grew up in Georgetown, so most of my money will come from there. And hopefully that answer flies.

The question for voters this September is going to be real simple. If you think that this city is going in the right direction, then this room isn't for you. And certainly I'm not the candidate for you. You've got a candidate in Harold Brazil whose campaign slogan "Keep the Momentum Going."

I look at this city, and I think most of the people in this room look at this city. They look at our schools, 13 kids, now 14 kids have been murdered this year. They look at scandal after scandal in terms of the government wasting taxpayer dollars. we need a fresh start. And that's what this campaign offers you. So thank you and now keep drinking and keep talking. Thank you.

It is 5:34 on Thursday afternoon. Woke up today hoping that there'd be a story in the Washington City paper. There was. Said that Sam Brooks had raised an impressive amount of money. And that was exciting. But the story was not that. The story is that council member Jim Graham might run, who's a white, gay member of the council. And who from Ward 1 might challenge Harold citywide. Jim Graham effectively kills my candidacy if he gets in the race.

So this has been certainly the biggest day of the campaign so far. And the most stressful day of my life. The problem is that his resume from before being on the council is impressive. And people really respect him. And I really respect the man. He's director of Whitman-Walker. He was a clerk for Jimmy Carter well before that. And in between the two, he had just done an incredible amount of things. So the questions have been all day are, am I going to stay in the race? What's my message now?

I mean the message is now just totally different, literally. Jim Graham gets in the race, this whole message of hard work, doing whatever it takes with a fresh approach to tackle these big issues, all of a sudden that's not the message. Because Jim Graham works hard. It's funny. You feel like your message is also why you're running. So you'd think that with Jim Graham in the race, my message no longer has any real rationale, this message of hard work.

But he's only going to announce an exploratory committee, so there's some question we might be able to bump him out of the race. That's the hope. He knows that if I'm in the race raising money, continuing to get support, it's going to be really tough for him to win. Because basically when you're a white member of the council, particularly in Jim's case when you're gay, you basically need all of the white vote behind you. You can't have another white candidate in the race and expect to win. And Jim has to know that if I'm in the race continuing to fight, I'm going to get at least 5,000 votes. And so that might just kill Jim and his chances.

Rally Announcer

So I want to welcome a friend to the stage, someone who's fighting the front lines of youth politics by being a young person, showing our generation does count. So please a round of applause--

Sam Brooks

We're at a rally in downtown DC organized by Mobilizing America's Youth. Hardly anyone is here. And it's pretty much a joke to try to deliver a speech when 15 people are watching.

Sam Brooks

You know I think for far too long we've pushed away from an idealism that this country and this city would be well served by.

It is 7:36 on Wednesday, February 25. Just a combination of things really led to a rough few days. Of course the Jim Graham thing continues to hurt. And I had an email from somebody that almost dropped out of having a big fundraiser for me because of Jim Graham. I convinced her to continue to have it. But I don't get the sense she's even probably going to vote for me.

And then there's also the fact that this has just been a terrible month for fundraising. I have raised I think no more than $1,500. So I'll get another $800 from my dad. Get him to max out. So that gets us less than $2,500. And so that's disappointing. And people will look at this and be disappointed. And so I'm trying to spin this. But I'm not getting-- people I don't think are liking my spin of the money.

And then my Blackberry wasn't working. And I ended up having to buy a new one. And then I get home, charge the Blackberry. I'm taking it the five feet from the charger to the computer to sync it up and I dropped it and broke it. And I didn't have insurance on it. Pretty much felt like I was making a bunch of 24 year old mistakes.

It's Monday, 11:54. And a lot of people have been telling me that Jim Graham could give me a deal to get out of the race. Could either offer to endorse me in a race in Ward 1. One, assuming he wins and gives up that seat. Or get me a job or all these things. But the argument has been made to me that maybe it makes sense to do it. I had been worried and it's just-- I do it out of self interest. And my friend Brian's point is the self interested thing to do is to stay in the race.

And I'm staying in a race that I'm not likely to win. Very unlikely to win. Very, very unlikely to win. And if I take the deal, I have a chance to win in Ward 1. The self serving thing is to stay in the race and basically stay in just to self-promote all over the city, which is one way of looking at what I'm doing. I don't know. I don't totally agree with that but it's resonating with me for some reason right now.

You know a guy like Jim Graham has a lifetime of incredible service to the city and to his community. I think that's just makes him want to get in the race. He just feels like he'd be better, and more qualified and more deserving. And it's hard to argue with that to be honest. He is more deserving. That's the honest truth. Jim Graham is more deserving. I mean if I'm watching this as a voter, watching another 24 year old with the same qualifications, watching this race if it happened it Philadelphia, I'd probably vote for John Graham. I'd probably want Jim Graham to win. Or think he should win.

God I'd love to stay in the race. I would love to stay in the race. I just don't know if I'm going to be able to withstand the pressure to get out. And I don't know whether I'm going to have it in my heart to keep it going.

It is 6:32 on Wednesday, May 5. And if it's possible to have more of an emotional roller coaster in the past 24 four hours, then I'd be really surprised.

Kojo Nnamdi

From WAMU at American University in Washington welcome to the Kojo Nnamdi Show. It's the DC Politics Hour. On this edition of the DC Politics Hour, Ward 1 council member Jim Graham will join us to explain why he decided against running for the at large seat on the council that Harold Brazil now occupies. Council member Brazil will tell us how he feels about that. How long does it take to say, gleeful, overjoyed, triumphant?

But Kwame Brown and Sam Brooks will be along to say, wait a minute. Hold the glee. Forget the joy. There will be no triumph for Harold Brazil in this race. Council member Jim Graham joins us in the studio now. He is the council member representing Ward 1. Jim Graham, welcome.

Jim Graham

Thank you very much Kojo.

Kojo Nnamdi

Always a pleasure to see you. Enquiring minds want to know, why Jim, why?

Jim Graham

Well in fact at 10 o'clock on Tuesday night there was no doubt in my mind that I was running. We had a press conference scheduled. We had assembled supporters. We were going. And so it took me a little time myself to reorient to the ultimate decision not to run. I think what it came down to was the fact that it was-- I'm going to use a word I used to use when I was a kid. What I was looking at coming down the road was really going to be icky.

I mean I represent the most diverse ward in the District of Columbia. And thus I'm especially sensitive to the issues of race and ethnicity. And in the final analysis when I looked at this, even though I know I had African American support. I have no crystal ball to say I would definitely win. I thought I would win. And I know I had African American votes. But it would have been a divisive campaign. And I think the incumbent would have been very likely to have made hay on that issue.

Sam Brooks

This might be the day it turned around. I mean it's incredible. This time three nights ago, my campaign was over. And the only thing I was thinking about was my next job, my next move. It wasn't if I was going to drop out, it was when. And the next day Jim Graham end his bid. Right now it's Harold Brazil, Kwame Brown and Sam Brooks are the only candidates in the race. And all of a sudden Sam Brooks's prospects went from about 0% of winning to a legitimate, though certainly what would have to be a historic victory, no longer a total impossibility.

Kojo Nnamdi

Jim Graham, thank you for joining us. But as we said, there are other candidates in the at large city council race. And one of them is Sam Brooks. He joins us now by telephone. Sam Brooks, welcome.

Sam Brooks

Kojo, thank you for having me.

Kojo Nnamdi

Another young candidate. Are you also saying that it's time for a change? Time for some youth on the District of Columbia's city council? Is that your main message?

Sam Brooks

Oh absolutely. I mean I think I hope to bring a new generation of leadership to the city. I think it's time and certainly this seat and this incumbent, his time has come and gone I think.

Woman 1

How do you get past the age question because you're only 23 years old. Some people will say that you're not politically mature. And that in fact there needs to be a little bit more growing.

Sam Brooks

Jeanette it's a great question. It's a question I don't shy away from for a second. I'd correct you, I'm 24.

Subject

24, OK. You just had a birthday.

Sam Brooks

Every year counts here. But it's a question I don't shy away from. I also don't shy away from--

Today when we went on probably the biggest radio show in the city, which I'd been trying to get on for eight months. My interview, which I thought went terribly because I was so nervous-- I was literally shaking on the telephone-- went pretty well. It went well. I mean if I was happy with how it sounded.

Kojo Nnamdi

Race was one of the reasons that Jim Graham said he was dropping out of the race. Is that something that you have considered? After all, Brazil is African American. You're white.

Sam Brooks

Yeah, it is something I've considered. I mean I didn't hear a lot of people talk about that until this week. And certainly as I've walked through every neighborhood in this city in the last 550 miles that I've walked, I don't hear a lot of Washingtonians talk about the color the skin they want this member of the council to be in this seat. They want somebody that's going to fix their schools. And that they want somebody that is committed to the issues that are important to them. And I don't think at the end of the day, it's an issue that going to play very prominently.

And it was the first time literally in eight months that I felt like I belonged in the race. I mean I really felt like this was an endeavor in which I could be successful.

[PARADE SOUNDS]

Summer has been going well. I mean since Jim got out of the race it's been a lot of fun to be running for this office. They haven't all been good days, but there have been a lot of good days. The Fourth of July parade was a lot of fun. Felt like I was a real candidate running for office that I had a chance of winning, which was fun.

So what we're doing now is doing a lot of candidate forums at night, trying to get in front of any group of people I can every night.

Man 1

Sam Brooks, some people might say, you're just too young and inexperienced and we can't entrust such a responsibility to somebody who is so unseasoned. What would your response be?

Sam Brooks

I'll tell you, for everybody that tells me it's too young, there are nine people that say I am so excited you're running. There are a lot of people who are very excited. Councilman Brazil has this idea that the only person qualified for this job is the person that's already there.

I've always had good luck in debates. I've looked forward to debating Harold Brazil since I filed papers to declare my candidacy on August 1 of '03.

Man 1

Mr. Brazil, are you too old to serve on the city council?

Brazil

I'm old enough to be on city council and I'm not too old to have the experience and leadership on the council. To know the store, to know how it works.

Sam Brooks

It's at once exciting to do well in these debates and to really feel like I'm winning and like I'm the strongest candidate in the field. But the same time I get in the car and go home and realize, really only 20 or 30 people that didn't have an idea about where they were going to vote were showing up at the debates.

During the debates there's what essentially amounts to straw polls of the community groups. And we're just getting killed in the straw polls. But they're just not representative of ordinary voters. They're representative of the campaign's ability to turn out people that will vote for them. So if you're Harold Brazil, that means busing in literally busloads of senior citizens. Kwame Brown uses a network that his dad has developed over what's almost two dozen years of activism in DC. And I'm working on a network that's existed for really a couple of months. And it's really not even a very good network.

Brazil

--with some experience and leadership on the council. No time for on the job training baby.

Sam Brooks

There's this weird thing that happens that some people are turned off by because when you're 24 years old, you're not supposed to be running for office, particularly citywide. And so to even have the idea that I could do that is almost bizarrely just really self centered. To think that I'm so great that I can do it. I'm a lot of times almost embarrassed by it just because I always worry it almost does come across as being just really an incredible ego. And some people I think, or at least I worry that some people are turned off by that.

But having said all that, this is what I really feel in my gut I should be doing. It's what every instinct I have tells me. It's just a faith that we can be doing better than we're doing. And the faith that I could be somebody that could bring about the changes that would let us do better than we're doing.

Ira Glass

Sam Brooks. His primary election was two weeks ago. The results, Kwame Brown came in first with 54% of the vote. The incumbent Harold Brazil got 32% of the vote. Sam Brooks, 13%. His new ambition, he hopes to get a job working for a city councilman this fall. His diaries were produced for radio by Teal Krech.

[MUSIC - "YOU'RE STILL A YOUNG MAN" BY TOWER OF POWER]

Act Three. Contrails Of My Tears.

Brett Martin

A couple of years ago, I was on a flight from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The movie was Sweet Home Alabama, which you'll remember is about a southern girl played by Reese Witherspoon who moves to New York, joins the fashion industry and then is forced to return home and come to terms with her white trash roots. At the end, there's a wedding scene when the character has to explain to her big city husband to be that she's leaving him for her earthy, down home high school sweetheart.

Reese Witherspoon As Melanie Smooter

You see, the truth is I gave my heart away a long time ago, my whole heart. And I never really got it back. And I don't even know what else to say but I'm sorry, I can't marry you.

Brett Martin

Into the stunned silence that follows walks Candice Bergen as the jilted fiance's dragon lady of a mother, who coincidentally also happens to be the mayor of New York. After a volley of insults, Witherspoon decks Bergen. And it is at this moment, somewhere between when Witherspoon drawled, "Nobody talks to my mama like that." And her father, Earl Smooter raised his face to the heavens and declared "Praise the Lord. The south has risen again," that something began to happen to me.

My face got hot and constricted. A softball rose in my throat that required a surprisingly loud snore to choke back. My breathing grew rapid. In short, I lost it and started to cry.

I should say that Sweet Home Alabama is not a very good movie. It's actually a pretty terrible movie. I have no particular attachment to Reese Witherspoon, and I'm not from the South. Also, this was the fourth time I'd seen it. See, my name is Brett. And I cry at movies on airplanes. Not sometimes, always. And not some movies, all movies. Don't believe me? Here's a by no means complete list-- Bend It Like Beckham, 101 Dalmatians, What a Girl Wants, Daredevil.

Let me be clear. I'm not afraid of flying. I like flying. And I'm not a crier, at least not on land. Like many men I know, even sensitive ones who know that having a cry can be healthy and good, I passed some invisible line in adolescence when I simply stopped doing it. There have been many times in life that I probably should have cried, actually tried to cry and wasn't able to. Because, of course, I didn't happen to be a 30,000 feet.

Needless to say, this can be embarrassing. I once confessed my problem to a friend, and he thought for a long moment before saying, "I'm sorry to hear that. Does it make your mascara run?" Earlier this year, I was flying from Denver to New York and found myself seated next to a big, burly guy with a cowboy shirt a Western belt buckle. Before takeoff we talked about football or college basketball or something. Then they announced the movie. It was Under the Tuscan Sun. I glanced at my macho new buddy. Thought about watching Diane Lane experience love and loss while rediscovering her inner strength at a farmhouse in the Italian countryside. And read the Sky Mall catalog instead.

For a long time, I thought I was alone in this. Then a few months ago I was at a party and overheard another guest describe how he fell to pieces watching an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond on a flight to California. I started asking around and found I wasn't completely alone. Greg is 32 year old guy in jeans and a Mets hat who just finished writing a book about college sports.

Greg

I think it might have been only movie available, Dirty Dancing II: Havana Nights. The parents watch them dance. And they see how special this relationship is. And at that moment they've gone from angry parents to accepting of Javier. I mean I got choked up.

Brett Martin

As my fellow weepers will tell you, even not watching the movie is no guarantee of safety. Here's my friend Lindsey.

Lindsey

So I was on a flight, I believe California to New York. The specifics don't really stand out. But I do remember that it required a $2 deposit for earphones or something. And I wasn't ready to pay the $2 or I didn't have $2. And I decided I'd read my book. But the movie is playing. And I see it, and I can't take my eyes off of it. So I end up watching the entire duration of the movie without sound. And at various points throughout it I started welling up, thinking, wow I can't believe I'm crying at a movie. I can't hear the sound too. And it's Freaky Friday.

Brett Martin

Or take Stephen, an avid film festival goer and a professional movie critic who can discourse at length on the differences between early and late period Kurosawa. His plane hadn't even taken off.

Stephen

And they were just running this loop of commercials and in-flight programming and stuff. They hadn't started the movie. It was very early on. And there was this Amex commercial. A man traveling through Europe, and I think it was nighttime. I want to say it was raining or something. And this kind of haggard traveler, this businessmen, is walking briskly through the street. And then they close up on a wallet, clearly his, that he had left behind unknowingly. And then you see cut to the hotel where he's checking in. And the woman asks for a credit card. Then he pats himself down and realizes he doesn't have it. He goes into a state of panic. I think that's when I started choking up.

And then he gets American Express on the phone. They explain that it'll be OK. He'll have a credit card in the morning. And then I start to relax a little bit. And then he says, wait I'm not going to be in this city tomorrow. I have to travel. And then I started choking up again. And then they said, oh, we'll have it waiting for you in that city. And then I just started crying after that. I was so happy for him and relieved. And it was a pretty tense situation there for about 15 or 20 seconds.

Brett Martin

This is one of the strange features of our problem. We're less likely to cry at the sad parts of a movie, or financial services industry commercial, than at the happy ones, the parts where everything turns out all right. For instance, in the movie Larger Than Life, which I saw somewhere over the Atlantic a few years ago, it wasn't the moment when Bill Murray is separated from the elephant that his dead, circus clown father has left him as a means to change his life as a down on his luck motivational speaker that had me reaching for the tissues. It was when they were reunited.

In fact, the first time this happened to me was during one of the happy scenes I'd ever seen. It was in Big Night, Stanley Tucci's movie about paternal love and Italian food. Midway through the movie, Tucci's character and his brother stage a feast in their New Jersey restaurant. And at one point bring out a whole roast pig. The camera pans across the faces of the guests just amazed by this unbelievable bounty being wheeled into the room. And the lump began to rise in my throat. I found myself brimming over with joy with the sense that somewhere in the darkness miles below, just like on screen, people were laughing, communing, sharing a meal. It was impossibly beautiful, and there was just nothing to do but cry.

I've never heard of anyone crying inappropriately on trains, or on buses, or in boats or cars. What is it about airplanes?

Lindsey

I remember getting off the plane thinking I should really actually be embarrassed by the fact that I just cried during Freaky Friday, and I didn't even hear the sound to it. But I wasn't It's like, what happens in the air, stays in the air, I guess.

Brett Martin

The people I talked to offered a lot of excuses. It's the recirculated air, your eyes are dry, you're often tired and leaving people behind. And of course, there's the obvious conclusion. We're all scared to death. But I've been on hundreds of planes, including quite a few tiny ones. One sea plane that landed on water, and one blimp. I've taken the controls of a plane. I've jumped out of a plane. I've searched my soul and honest to god, I find no fear of flying. And all the frequent criers I interviewed felt the same.

No, something else happens up there in that weird, hanging state between where you're going and where you've left. Where there's no phone calls to take, nowhere to go, nothing to do. Some strange, overhead compartment of the heart opens up. And critical judgment grabs its flotational seat cushion and follows a lighted pathway to the big yellow slide.

Our friend Greg says this actually makes the ride better. Think about it. You're stuck in a seat for five, or 10 or 5 hours. And how would you rather pass the time? Sitting there being a critic? Or just simply giving in?

Greg

I mean I wouldn't have watched Havana Nights in the waiting area, waiting to get the plane on Earth. No, not a chance. But once you step on the plane, I'm open to and accepting the movie. And then once you do that, it's going to leave you jelly. It turned me into jelly.

Brett Martin

My own theory goes something like this. My father once told me that the reason squirrels get hit by cars is that evolutionarily, nothing in their little hard wired brains is capable of understanding a large object hurtling toward them at 70 miles per hour. Well even though I fly all the time, nothing in my little hard wired brain is capable of understanding, I mean really understanding, stepping onto a metal tube, hanging in space for a while and then stepping off 6,000 miles away in a place with different weather, different stars, different time.

It puts you into a kind of sterile, infantalizing, travel purgatory. Your'e strapped in, given a blanket, a little sippy cup and tiny silverware. Forced to do whatever you're told and borne away at speeds you can't conceive without seeing where you're going. We all deal with this dislocation differently. Many times I've thought, why can't I just have air rage? Why can't I be the guy drinking 14 mini-bottles of Amaretto, surfing down the aisle on the dinner cart, groping stewardesses and cursing? But then, I do a lot of yelling and screaming down here on the ground, even a little groping.

What I don't do is cry, not over breakups or reunions or triumphs or deaths. Or leaving home, or coming back, or any of life's other bumps and transformations. And maybe that's the key to my air, what, sorrow? Maybe I cry the tears I should be shedding on Earth. And all you people who don't cry on airplanes, you're probably the ones I see sobbing on the subway, or on street corners or at funerals. You probably get it all out at home. Well boo hoo. Do us all a favor and keep it in the air, you babies.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Brett Martin in New York. Our program was produced today by Jane Feltes and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Diane Cook, Wendy Dorr, Sarah Koenig, and Lisa. Pollack Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Elizabeth Meister runs our website. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Amy O'Leary.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

[FUNDING CREDITS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our program by Torey Malatia, who wants to replace our program with Howard Stern's.

Sam Brooks

He just feels like he'd be better, and more qualified, and more deserving.

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

P R I. Public Radio International.