Transcript

395:

Middle of the Night
Transcript

Originally aired 11.27.2009

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/395

Prologue.

Ira Glass

When I was in my 20s, I worked as a temp typist on the overnight shift. And it was one of my favorite jobs I ever had. I showed up at work at midnight. Downtown was completely dark. Nobody on the streets at all. And I'd take the elevator to the, you know, 20th floor or whatever it was. And it would be all lit up and bustling with activity, dozens of people rushing around. Usually we were hustling out some kind of legal brief or exhibit for court the next day.

I loved being up when the rest of the world was asleep. And the next morning, when I would walk to the subway as the sun was coming up, I loved knowing that everybody else on the street was dragging themselves to their jobs and I was done for the day. It was like I was part of a secret society that's alive in the middle of the night.

Austin

OK. Everybody, go home. We're about to start this.

Ira Glass

It's a regular thing for Austin and his high school friends at night. The pile into a Honda Odyssey minivan. They remove the backseats and drive around the Northern California suburbs, fake-kidnapping their buddies. 15 of them.

Friend 1

Open the door! Open the door!

Friend 2

Did you get him?

Friend 3

Get in the back.

Friend 2

Everybody in?

Friend 1

Opa!

The fake kidnapping is all part of a tradition that they've made up. They call it "going out living" or "living a little." It's not the weekend. The whole point of this is do this on a boring Monday or Tuesday or Thursday night. A school night when other people aren't out having fun.

There's no destination. It's basically just glorified cruising. They drive around for hours, talking about whatever, singing along to the music. [SINGING]

They bring their minivan to the top of a hill and put it in neutral, and then they all rock back and forth inside the van in unison until finally it rolls down the hill.

Friend 3

Whoa!

Ira Glass

And then sometime after 1 AM, Ian, the driver, pulls out the soundtrack to the Disneyland ride Space Mountain. He's worked out a way to drive in sync with the soundtrack, to simulate the actual ride.

Austin

Yeah. We're in the car driving very slowly up this dark hill.

Ira Glass

This is Austin.

Austin

The headlights are very low. This kind of eerie music. Everyone's a little bit nervous, because you're about to do something-- probably the most dangerous thing we do.

Soundtrack

Launch control, LV. Go ahead. All video recorders off. Roger.

At this point he flips on his emergency lights and starts speeding up a little bit up the hill, turns the car around. Lets the car roll down the hill, accelerating all the way. His lights are turning on and off, on and off, on and off. Driving very, very quickly, at this point, around turns.

Ira Glass

So basically, you're going down a hill?

Austin

Yeah. We're going down a very steep, windy hill.

Ira Glass

It's remote enough, by the way, that in a year of doing this, they have never even seen another car.

None of this would be fun during the daytime, Austin says. At night, nobody sees you. You can do anything.

Austin

Late at night is kind of the whole fun of the event. People don't really pay attention to who's doing what at night.

[SINGING]

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass.

Today on our show, we spend an hour with the secret society that is up in the middle of the night. All the people doing things that they would never do during the daytime, and the people doing things that they might be during the day that just feel different when you do them at night. Moving products, and hauling across a war zone, and caring for sick kids, and just wandering the streets to get out of the house. Everything is different at night. We witness how in five acts. Stay with us.

Act One. Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana?

Chana Joffe

Eddie One-Way needs some pears.

Adam Davidson

His name is actually Edward Joseph. They call him "Eddie One-Way" because he wants prices to go one way-- down. He's a buyer, one of thousands of guys who show up here every night.

Chana Joffe

And they're buying for pretty much every grocery store, restaurant, corner market in the northeast. If you have ever bought a Golden Delicious apple or ate a salad in a restaurant between Philly and Boston, chances are it came through here.

And it is nothing like when you or I buy a salad at a restaurant. There are no posted prices. It us pure supply and demand.

Adam Davidson

And right now, demand-- that's Eddie One-Way, the buyer-- is looking for supply.

Eddie One

Let's see here, where's my salesman? Oh, Mr. Timmy?

Adam Davidson

Timmy is a salesman at one of the wholesalers here, to Rigo Brothers.

Eddie One

He's close by. I think he's in one of these refrigerators.

This place here is a stadium. I think you need GPS to get around here. It would help.

Chana Joffe

Eventually, Eddie One-Way finds Timmy, and they enter into a ritual that will happen thousands of times throughout the night. They try to negotiate a price.

Eddie thinks $15 for a box of pears seems fair. Timmy doesn't.

Timmy

No way.

Eddie One

We could do it--

Timmy

I told you 20 yesterday.

Eddie One

Yesterday's gone. Today's a new day.

Timmy

$20 yesterday, 18 today. That's it.

Eddie One

Stay close, Timmy.

Adam Davidson

Timmy offers Eddie a different kind of pear for $15, which to me looked exactly the same.

Eddie One

$15 on these, $18 on them.

Adam Davidson

But Eddie One-Way knows things about pears that I will never know, and he ignores that ridiculous offer.

Adam Davidson

Why do you want to pay $15? Why is 18--?

Eddie One

I'd like to pay 13, but I'm being generous.

Timmy

All right. That's it, brother. That's it, man. 18 is the right number. You know it's what they're worth.

Eddie One

The night's still young.

Adam Davidson

Eventually Eddie One-Way walks away. The night is still young. At this hour the sellers, guys like Timmy, feel like they are in control. They don't want to give anything away too cheap yet. There's lots more buyers still to come. But Eddie, the buyer, is hoping that if he comes back later in the night, Timmy won't have sold that much. He'll be desperate to get rid of his pears, and will accept a lower price. But Eddie's really taking a risk here.

Chana Joffe

I know. I actually saw this risk play out with carrots, and it was really stressful. Jeff Steinberg is a buyer like Eddie, and he was looking for this one particular kind of carrot. A fancy one. Loose California. And I followed him around, walking the aisles, one seller to another. And at first, everyone has the carrots, but Jeff is offended-- or at least acts offended-- by the high prices. And then an hour passes. And now nobody has Loose Californias anymore. Jeff can't find the carrots he needs at any price. So he's thinking he may have to settle for something inferior-- Loose Canadians.

Jeff Steinberg

Eugh.

Adam Davidson

Jeff asks a seller named Carlos how much for the Loose Canadians. Carlos tells him eight bucks a box.

Jeff Steinberg

I'll be right back, then.

Chana Joffe

What's he doing now?

Carlos

Going to look at something that he's going to come back and tell me he doesn't like.

Chana Joffe

What does it mean that he's not going to like it?

Carlos

Probably because they're not good enough for his customers. He's fairly picky, so you have to give the right people the right stuff.

Chana Joffe

And sure enough, Jeff comes out of the warehouse, shaking his head.

Jeff Steinberg

No good.

Chana Joffe

No good? And where are you going to look for carrots next?

Jeff Steinberg

That's a good question, because I've pretty much looked all over the place.

Chana Joffe

So it's 11:30 at night, and carrots are your problem at the moment.

Jeff Steinberg

At the moment. It's coming down to that hour where I'm probably going to have to pay what they wanted, what I don't want to pay.

Chana Joffe

Around midnight, it starts to get hectic. Buyers fill the streets. Sellers wave their arms and yell into faces and cell phones. There's a lot of sweating. And as the minutes pass, all these little stories emerge.

Midnight, the big story-- tomatoes. They're on fire. Yesterday they were selling for $15. Now they're $25. Everyone is buying.

Adam Davidson

Also breaking this hour-- leafy greens from California. They're huge, because as everyone says, they have weather out there. There's not enough leafy greens coming to satisfy the demand.

Chana Joffe

It's around this time that we meet Angela Poricelli. Angela is the only woman we see the entire night. She says she knows of only one other woman who works here alongside something like 7,000 men.

Her booth is decorated with pictures. She has a big cross. She brings in fresh flowers every week.

Adam Davidson

She offered me candy. And hanging out with her, we learned that it's not all business here in the middle of the night. We keep seeing her next door neighbor, Henry Polio, stopping by on all sorts of dubious missions. Right now he's looking for a fork.

Angela Poricelli

Hello.

Henry Polio

Do you have a fork?

Angela Poricelli

Yes, I do.

Henry Polio

She's the loveliest woman in the market. Believe me, she's the most wonderful person in the world. I know who her family is. Our family, grandfathers know grandfathers, fathers knew fathers. Wonderful woman.

Angela Poricelli

Thank you, Henry.

Henry Polio

All right.

Angela Poricelli

Bye.

Adam Davidson

When you buy a few hundred pounds of fruit or vegetables, there is so much you don't know. What's the quality? How long has it been on the truck? Is the price reasonable? And it's true-- sellers and buyers who don't know each other that well, they lie to each other all the time.

So with all this uncertainty, there is tremendous economic value in long-term, trusting relationships.

Chana Joffe

Hey Adam? You're overthinking it it's so much simpler than that.

I followed Henry from Angela's back to his booth.

Chana Joffe

You kind of have a crush on Angela?

Henry Polio

No, I do, since I'm a kid. But she always said no.

Chana Joffe

Really?

Henry Polio

Yeah. I want to take her upstairs and she don't to.

Chana Joffe

Have you ever asked her out?

Henry Polio

No, no, no.

Chana Joffe

Does she know that you're interested?

Henry Polio

Oh, she knows. I tell her.

Chana Joffe

You've worked next door to her for all these years and you're never been out with her?

Henry Polio

No! And I ain't going to.

Chana Joffe

Why?

Henry Polio

Because It's not the right thing to do. She's my sister.

Chana Joffe

She's not your sister.

Henry Polio

Well, she's close to it.

Chana Joffe

You're not with anybody.

Henry Polio

Who, me? Yeah, I got a wife.

Chana Joffe

Actually, I followed up. Henry doesn't have a wife. He did, but his marriage fell apart. And he blames the night shift for that. They never saw each other. He says all these guys here have wives they never see, kids never see.

So I go back to Angela's, and turns out she's also divorced. She raised two boys on her own. And she says, yeah. The night shift definitely gets in the way of life.

Angela Poricelli

I remember my father. There's a lot of things he couldn't make it. On Sundays, if there was a wedding, he couldn't go. Sundays, work. My graduation, too, was on a Friday, and he couldn't come.

Chana Joffe

Really?

Angela Poricelli

Yeah. But that's OK. I understood.

Chana Joffe

So Henry, he said you'll never go out with them because you think of him as a brother.

Angela Poricelli

Yes. I agree with him there. That I do. Plus, I'm engaged to someone right now. His name is Wayne. He's a Green Bay Packer fan.

Chana Joffe

Does he work in the market?

Angela Poricelli

No.

Adam Davidson

Does he work days?

Angela Poricelli

Days, yes.

Adam Davidson

How is it? It's hard to start a relationship.

Angela Poricelli

Very hard, very hard. It's just Friday and Saturday, really, that we see each other.

Chana Joffe

Can I check back in with you?

Henry Polio

Yeah, go ahead.

Chana Joffe

It's one o'clock in the morning, and I'm with Henry again. He's taking a quick break.

Henry Polio

I ordered lunch, I've got Guido here, and that makes tonight.

Chana Joffe

It's one o'clock in the morning and you just ordered lunch.

Henry Polio

Yes, yes. So everything is going smooth. Tomatoes are on fire.

Chana Joffe

Still?

Henry Polio

Yeah. We're sold out and they didn't come off the truck.

Adam Davidson

This is the point in the night where the market really changes. There are none of those people buying fancy stuff for high-end restaurants and specialty Manhattan stores. They're all gone. There's no more high-end guys like Jeff inspecting every carrot.

Chana Joffe

A whole new group of buyers enters the market now. And they're buying for not-so-fancy places-- bodegas and grocery stores in working class neighborhoods, pushcart vendors. They're not quite as concerned with getting the best possible quality. They want a good price.

Adam Davidson

It's in this second phase that the dynamic between sellers and buyers starts to shift. Remember early in the night, when Eddie One-Way had to go searching for someone to sell him pears? Over the next couple hours, it's the reverse. The sellers are looking for the buyers. And this, says a warehouse man named Thomas Kilgaren--

Chana Joffe

Nickname Killer--

Adam Davidson

Is the time to see who is a great salesman and who's not.

Thomas Kilgaren

There's some guys down here that couldn't sell life insurance to the Kennedys. Know what I mean? But there's some that are pretty good. If you could sell something that somebody doesn't want, that's a good salesman. I come down here looking for lettuce, you sell me lettuce-- any moron could do that. Sell me something that I don't want-- you know what? That's a salesman.

Chana Joffe

Selling something that no one wants? That is exactly what a guy named Mike Sack, Big Mike, is trying to do right now. We catch up with him toward the end of the night.

Adam Davidson

Earlier in the night, buyers were begging Big Mike to lower his prices, and he didn't. He refused. And it worked out pretty well for him. He sold a lot of Red Globe grapes and mangoes, and he made a killing in persimmons. But now that daylight's approaching, he's got piles and piles of oranges from Chile, and he's the one begging. He's pleading with one of his regular carports, a guy named Amerigo Perrera, to buy some of those oranges. Amerigo is pretty clear about his wishes.

Amerigo Perrera

No oranges.

Big Mike

You've got to give in, Amerigo, today. You've got to be nice.

Amerigo Perrera

What part of no oranges don't you understand?

Big Mike

I'll give you one pallet.

Amerigo Perrera

No! Stop playing.

Big Mike

Be nice today. Be nice in front of the camera. There's a lady present.

Amerigo Perrera

Shut up already.

Big Mike

Can I give you one for $18?

Amerigo Perrera

No, Mike, no.

Big Mike

Just be nice.

Amerigo Perrera

No.

Big Mike

Why?

Amerigo Perrera

I don't need it today.

Big Mike

One skid only.

Amerigo Perrera

Stop it, stop it, stop it. This stuff is being recorded, you understand?

Big Mike

Yeah, but they just want to see, you know, and I've give you one skid. Be nice for the microphone, Amerigo. Amerigo, one skid. How about a 56.

Amerigo Perrera

Why don't you stop playing around already? No.

Big Mike

How about a 56? Amerigo!

Amerigo Perrera

No!

Chana Joffe

At around 4 AM, all of the sellers in the market find themselves pretty much in the same situation as Big Mike. Tired and with too many oranges. Listen to Henry-- so tired.

Henry Polio

Oranges. Oranges are moving slow, so you know, you try to give everybody some oranges. Even if they don't want it, they're taking them. You know what I mean? Poor couple. This is, like, what time do you go to bed at night?

Chana Joffe

What time I go to bed? Probably like 11.

Henry Polio

So this is like your nine o'clock. You know? I hate the day.

Adam Davidson

Wait, you hate the day?

Henry Polio

Oh, I hate it.

Adam Davidson

What do you hate about the day?

Henry Polio

I don't know. The sun, everything. I get a headache. How are you, my friend? I just don't like the sun. I don't like it. I mean, I like it, but you know, like now, if the sun came up, I hate it. The morning, I ain't into. I like the dark.

Chana Joffe

At 5 AM, Henry heads home. He rakes some leaves in the front yard, and then heads to sleep just as the sun comes out.

Adam Davidson

And later that day, a fancy grocery store in Greenwich, Connecticut might have some very nice, but kind of pricey, tomatoes. A high-end restaurant in Manhattan may be offering the chef's tomato bisque.

Chana Joffe

But further out, in poorer neighborhoods in South Boston, Brooklyn, Queens, tomatoes will be very hard to come by. Oranges, though, will be very cheap. And there will be lots of them.

Ira Glass

Chana Joffe-Walt and Adam Davidson of Planet Money, which is a co-production of our radio show and NPR news. You can hear them three times a week speaking in language anybody can understand about the human drama that's part of all kinds of economic systems at their podcast at www.npr.org/money.

Act Two. It Was A Dark And Smoky Night.

Jenifer Hixson

I reached over and secretly undid my seatbelt. And when his foot hit the break at the red light, I flung open the door and I ran. I had no shoes on. I was crying. I had no wallet. But I was OK, because I had my cigarettes.

When you live with someone who has a temper, a very bad temper, a very, very bad temper, you learn to play around that. You learn, this time I'll play possum, and next time I'll just be real nice, or I'll say yes to everything, or you make yourself scarce, or you run. And this was one of the times when you just run.

And as I was running, I thought, this was a great place to jump out. Because there were big lawns and there were cul-de-sacs, and sometimes he would come after me, and drive, and yell stuff at me to get back in, get back in, and I was like, no. I'm out of here. This is great. And I went and hid behind a cabana and he left.

And I started to walk in this beautiful neighborhood. It was 10:30 at night. And there was no sound except for sprinklers. Ch, ch, ch, ch, brrrrr. Ch, ch, ch, ch, brrrr. And I was enjoying myself, and enjoying the absence of anger, and enjoying these few hours I knew I'd have of freedom. And just to perfect it, I thought, I'll have a smoke. And then it occurred to me, with horrifying speed, I don't have a light!

Just then, as if in answer, I see a figure up ahead. Who is that? It's not him, OK. They don't have a dog. Who is that? What are they doing out on this suburban street? And the person comes closer, and I can see it's a woman. And then I can see she has her hands in her face. Oh, she's crying.

And then she sees me, and she composes herself, and she gets closer, and I see she has no shoes on. And just as she passes me, she says, you got a cigarette? And I say, you got a light? And she says, damn, I hope so.

And then first she digs into our cutoffs in the front-- nothing. And then digs in the back, and then she has this vest on that has 50 million little pockets on it. She's checking and checking, and it's looking bad. She digs back in the front again-- deep, deep-- and she pulls out a pack of matches that have been laundered at least once. We open it up and there is one match inside.

OK. Oh my god. This takes on-- it's like Nassau. Now we've got to like, how are we going to do it? OK. And we hunker down. We crouch on the ground. And where's the wind coming from? We're stopping. I take out my cigarettes. Let's get the cigarettes ready. Oh, my brand, she says. And we both have our cigarettes at the ready.

She strikes once, nothing. She strikes again-- yes, fire! Puff, inhale. Mm, sweet kiss of that cigarette. And we sit there, and we're loving the nicotine, and we both need this right now.

Immediately we start to reminisce about our 30 second relationship. "I didn't think that was going to happen!" "Me neither!" "Oh, man, that was close!" "Oh, I'm so lucky I saw you!" "Yeah!'

Then she surprises me by saying, "What was the fight about?" And I say, "What are they all about?" And she said, "I know what you mean." She said, "Was it a bad one?" And I said, "You know, like medium." She said, "Oh."

And we start to trade stories about our lives. We're both from up north. We're both kind of newish to the neighborhood. This is in Florida. We both went to college. Not great colleges, but man, we graduated.

And I'm actually finding myself a little jealous of her, because she has this really cool job washing dogs. She had horses back home, and she really loved animals, and she wants to be a vet, and I'm like, man, you're halfway there! I'm a waitress at an ice cream parlor. So I don't know where I want to be, but I know it's not that.

And then it gets a little deeper, and we share some other stuff about what our lives are like. Things that I can't ever tell people at home. This girl-- I can tell her the really ugly stuff, and she still understands how it can still be pretty. She understands, like, how nice he's going to be when I get home, and how sweet that'll be.

We are chain smoking off each other. Oh, that's almost out, come on! And we go through this entire pack until it's gone, and then I say, "You know what? This is a little funny, but you're going to have to show me the way to get home. Because although I'm 23 years old, I don't have my driver's license yet, and I just jumped out right when I needed to." And she says, "Well, why don't you come back to my house and I'll give you a ride?" I say, "OK, great," and we start walking.

And we get to this-- lots of lights. And the roads are getting wider and wider, and there's more cars, and I see lots of stores. You know, laundromats, and dollar stores, and EmergiCenters.

Then we cross over U.S. 1, and she leads me to someplace, and I think, no! But yes. Carl's Efficiency Apartments. This girl lives there. And it's horrible, and it's lit up so bright, just to illuminate the horribleness of it. It's the kind of place where you drive your car right up, and the door's right there, and there's 50 million cigarette butts outside, and there's like doors one through seven, and you know behind every single door there's some horrible misery going on. There's someone crying or drunk or lonely or cruel. And I think, oh, God. She lives here. How awful.

We go to the door, door number four, and she very, very quietly keys in. As soon as the door opens, I hear the blare of television come out, and on the blue light of the television, the smoke of a hundred cigarettes in that little crack of light.

And I hear the man, and he says, "Where were you?" And she says," "Never mind, I'm back." And he says, "You all right?" And she says, "Yeah, I'm all right." And then she turns me and says, "You want a beer?" And he says, "Who the [BLEEP] is that?"

And she pulls me over, and he sees me, and he says, "Oh, hey." I'm not a threat.

Just then he takes a drag of his cigarette and I follow the cigarette down. And I'm surprised when I see, int he crook of his arm, a little boy, sleeping. A toddler. And I think, [GASP]. And just then, the girl reaches underneath the bed and takes out a carton, and she taps out the last pack of cigarettes in there. And on the way up, she kisses the little boy, and then she kisses the man. And the man says again, "You all right?" And she says, "Yeah. I'm just going to go out and smoke with her."

And so we go outside and sit amongst the cigarette butts and smoke. And I say, "Wow, that's your little boy?" And she says, "Yeah, isn't he beautiful?" And I say, "Yeah, he is. He is beautiful." "He's my light. He keeps me going," she says.

We finish our cigarettes. She finishes her beer. I don't have a beer, because I can't go home with beer on my breath. And she goes inside to get the keys.

She takes too long in there getting the keys, and I think something must be wrong. And she comes out and she says, "Look, I'm really sorry. But um, like we don't have any gas in the car, it's already on E, and he needs to get to work in the morning, and um, you know, I'm going to walk to work as it is. So what I did was, though, here, look, I drew out this map for you. And you really, you're like a mile and a half from home, and um, if you walk three streets over, you'll be back on that pretty street, and you just take that, and you'll be fine."

And she also has wrapped up in toilet paper seven cigarettes for me. A third of her pack, I note. And a new pack of matches.

And she tells me, "Goodbye!", and "That was great to meet you," and "How lucky," and "That was fun," and you know, "Let's be friends."

And I say, "Yeah, OK!" and I walk away. But I kind of know we're not going to be friends. I might not ever see her again. And I kind of know, I don't think she's ever going to be a vet.

And I cross, and I walk away. And maybe this would have seemed like a visit from my possible future and scary, but it kind of does the opposite. On the walk home I'm like, man. That was really grim over there.

And I'm going home now to my nice boyfriend, and he's going to be so extra happy to see me. And we have a one-bedroom apartment, and we have two trees, and there's a yard. And we have this jar in the kitchen where there's like loose money that we can use for anything. Like we would never, ever run out of gas. And I don't have a baby, you know? So I can leave whenever I want.

I smoked all seven cigarettes on the way home. And people who have never smoked cigarettes just think ick, disgusting and poison. But unless you've had them, and held them dear, you don't know how great they can be, and what friends and comfort and kinship they can bring.

It took me a long time to quit that the boyfriend, and then to quit smoking. And sometimes I still miss the smoking.

Ira Glass

Jenifer Hixson at The Moth. You can here more stories like this on The Moth's free weekly podcast at themoth.org. They also have a new weekly radio show, The Moth Radio Hour, that's on many public radio stations around the country.

Coming up, the time of night in Iraq when you can fool yourself into thinking that you're not in Iraq at all. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Three. The Early Bird Catches The Chicken.

Dave Hill

OK. It's about nine o'clock. Shaina's trying to set up the tent right now. I would totally help her, but I'm busy reporting. How's it going, Shaina?

Shaina Feinberg

Good. I think we put this into here, and then we can-- this is where I don't get-- how does this bend?

Dave Hill

Again, I would help, if I could, but I can't. I'm busy reporting. Can we interview you?

Man 1

What do you want to know about?

Dave Hill

Do you know how to set up tents?

Man 1

Yeah, actually I set that tent up.

Dave Hill

Do you know how to set up our tent?

Man 1

Yeah, I can set up your tent.

Dave Hill

That'd be awesome.

Man 2

The DJ will be shutting down about 11:30. At that time, most of the folks will sleep, and at roughly 4:30 in the morning, the DJ comes back, and we wake them up.

Woman 1

It becomes a family-friendly event. Especially in the summer, you'll see whole families out here. So you'll see a whole list of rules about, you know, no drinking, and certain behavior. There's lots of dance contests.

Dave Hill

It's 11:23. We're sitting here in the parking lot across from Chick-Fil-A, just to see it from afar, I guess. I'm going to sit closer to you, if you're comfortable with that.

Shaina Feinberg

Yeah, that's fine. I think we should describe what we see.

Dave Hill

Well, we're pretty much in like a regular strip mall parking lot. There's a Blockbuster. There's that that rib place that we ate earlier that I'm kind of regretting.

Shaina Feinberg

Yeah. And basically, there's a lot of tents up.

Dave Hill

Easily the most tents I've ever seen in a fast food restaurant parking lot in my lifetime.

It's weird with radio. You've got to fill in the blanks. The visuals.

We should we should go get some celery and break it, like old time radio.

Shaina Feinberg

So people will be like, what is that noise?

Dave Hill

Oh. I just broke my arm in two for no apparent reason.

Dave Hill

Hello? Hello? Hi. I'm Dave.

Ken Perkins

I'm Ken Perkins.

Ann

I'm Ann.

Ken Perkins

But I call her Hanusha.

Dave Hill

Hanusha?

Ann

Hanusha, in Ukrainian, is Ann.

Dave Hill

Oh, I like that.

Shaina Feinberg

How long have you guys been married?

Ken Perkins

We aren't married.

Ann

We were married to somebody else. But he died, and she died. I think he gave her mushrooms or something.

Ken Perkins

No!

Ann

Poison mushrooms.

Ken Perkins

No. My wife died of Alzheimer's just a little over a year ago. And then and her husband died two years ago.

Ann

Three.

Ken Perkins

She was lonesome, and I was lonesome, so we got our lonesomes together.

Shaina Feinberg

Was it love at first sight for you guys?

Ann

For me it was. But he didn't--

Ken Perkins

Not for me, not for me. I learned to love her. It took me a while.

Dave Hill

Why, why? This one, I'm going wild for this one, and I've only been been here like three minutes.

Ann

Are you married?

Dave Hill

Well, we're like, no. We're not married. How would you say, as long as we're on the topic, how do you think we're doing as a couple? Like just from vibes, just work off of vibes. Go with your gut.

Ann

You are a lovely couple.

Ken Perkins

I think you're charming

Dave Hill

Really? Just me charming, or together charming?

Ann

You should have beautiful children together.

Dave Hill

That's why we brought the tent. No, I'm just kidding. I'm going to play it slow.

Shaina Feinberg

Oh, we're not really a couple.

Dave Hill

Taco Bell?

Ken Perkins

That's my favorite.

Dave Hill

Taco Bell's your favorite? I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that.

What is your name?

Veggie Oil Man

John.

Dave Hill

No, not that name. The cool one.

Veggie Oil Man

Veggie Oil Man, Clearwater, Florida.

Dave Hill

That's a pretty long nickname. Veggie OIl Man, Clearwater--

Veggie Oil Man

Florida.

Dave Hill

What about such Vegman300?

Veggie Oil Man

U.S.A.

Dave Hill

Do you love Chick-Fil-A?

Veggie Oil Man

I kind of do Been to about 32 grand openings.

Dave Hill

32? Now, wouldn't the thing to do, rather than spend the money on all that travelling, is just save that money and put that money towards the chicken?

Veggie Oil Man

Travel's free. I got a Mercedes that runs on used cooking oil for free.

Dave Hill

You have a what?

Veggie Oil Man

I got a Mercedes, a diesel Mercedes. An '83 station wagon that runs on used cooking oil for free.

Dave Hill

That's what you drove here tonight in?

Veggie Oil Man

Yeah. That's what I go to the grand openings in.

Shaina Feinberg

Do you think anything crazy's going to happen in the middle of the night?

Veggie Oil Man

I don't know. This is a bad neighborhood.

Dave Hill

Is it?

Veggie Oil Man

Yeah. As long as you stay in the parking lot, you'd be OK. But I wouldn't go out walking around outside.

Dave Hill

Is there a lot of riffraff around here?

Veggie Oil Man

Yeah.

Dave Hill

Is there a lot of riffraff here?

Veggie Oil Man

They said the hood is right across the street a couple blocks.

Dave Hill

The hood?

Veggie Oil Man

Yeah.

Dave Hill

What do you mean, the hood?

Veggie Oil Man

You know. And across the street over the other way is the redneck trailer park.

Dave Hill

What what goes on over there?

Veggie Oil Man

I don't know, but we've seen a lot of people over there earlier today.

Dave Hill

Oh, you went over to the redneck trailer park?

Veggie Oil Man

No, we seen them when we got our food at the drive-through. They were hanging out over there drinking beer on the porch.

I'm going to sleep.

Shaina Feinberg

Hello? OK. What's your name?

Cole Naismith

My name's Cole Naismith.

Shaina Feinberg

And what time is it? Do you know what time it is?

Cole Naismith

It's probably about 1:15.

Shaina Feinberg

Is it like what you expected?

Cole Naismith

I didn't know what to expect. I looked around and I thought, there's definitely a type here. And you're probably going to ask follow up questions about what that means. Because I feel like-- I feel like I don't want to be the type.

Shaina Feinberg

What is the type?

Cole Naismith

I feel like most of the people that I've seen here seem to be a little bit twiddling their thumbs in life, not just for 24 hours? Something as ridiculous as sitting out in front of a Chick-Fil-A makes you ask questions about, am I wasting my life? I don't want to look around and seem like I'm judging others' actions. But it definitely has caused me to be introspective about my own.

Dave Hill

Oh hey. This is Dave. It's about 4:15 AM and there's not much action going on right now. Shaina's back in the tent. Not sure what she's doing. Probably thinking about me, I guess. Tension's been-- not a bad tension. Just excitement, I guess, between us. It's been pretty incredible.

Shaina Feinberg

It's now 4:15, and everybody is sleeping, for the most part. I think it's going pretty well. I like Dave. He's so nice. Wish I could figure out if he was straight or gay. I can't really figure it out. But if I figured out if he was straight or gay, then I would totally set him up with someone. Just have to figure out what his type is, you know?

Dave Hill

OK. Check this out.

Jason

Have you ever looked with love in your heart?

Dave Hill

This guy, it's like five in the morning. And this guy just came from out of nowhere and is screaming and preaching.

Jason

Have you ever stolen anything?

Man 3

Yes!

Jason

Well, the Bible says that all thieves will end up in hell.

Man 3

I'm going to hell.

Jason

Now folks, have you ever used God's name in a curse word? I want you to think about it like that. You don't curse Hitler's name. You don't curse bin Laden's name. But you use the name of God who gave you life and breath, who has allowed Chick-Fil-A to give away free meals, and you curse his name! Jesus Christ out on the cross! He paid--

Dave Hill

Excuse me--oh.

Jason

For your sins and my sins! Folks, did you know the Bible says that God sees hatred as murder? A lot of you right now hate me this morning for coming out here and sharing the gospel with you, therefore committed murder in your hearts!

Dave Hill

Excuse me.

Jason

All the sins of the world were placed upon Jesus Christ.

Dave Hill

Oh, excuse me. Can I interview you?

Jason

Sure.

Dave Hill

Um, what brings you to Chick-Fil-A?

Jason

To preach the gospel.

Dave Hill

How did you know to come now? Did you come because, were you just driving by?

Jason

No, because I knew there was a crowd.

Dave Hill

Oh, OK.

Jason

I'm Jason, by the way.

Dave Hill

Oh, hey. Oh, yeah, I saw the name tag. I'm Dave.

Jason

Nice to meet you, Dave.

Dave Hill

Is this your first Chick-Fil-A opening?

Jason

Yes. I woke them up for sure.

Dave Hill

Yeah. That was kind of funny.

Jason

I'm always a little loud.

Dave Hill

Do you do this sort of thing often? Like go to, doesn't have to be a fast food restaurant, but like in public, yelling?

Jason

Well, I try not to make it look like I'm yelling. I'm trying to preach.

Dave Hill

Well, not yelling. You're just making it so people can hear your voice in a loud way.

Jason

I woke up my wife this morning. I said, babe, I'm going to Chick-Fil-A, and I'll be back right before I've got to go to work.

Dave Hill

And she was like, all right. I'm going back to bed.

Jason

She's like, what? Yeah. Then she went back to bed.

Shaina Feinberg

OK. It is now 5:40 in the morning, and people are lined up to get their 52 coupons. And everyone is looking really, incredibly jazzed.

Man 4

When I say count, we're going to count down from five, all right? Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Eat more chicken!

Dave Hill

Hey Shaina, let's sing the song we wrote. Ready?

Shaina Feinberg

Yeah.

Dave Hill

All right. Here we go.

[SINGING]

Chick-Fil-A.

Shaina Feinberg

Chick-Fil-A.

Dave Hill

If you like chicken, go to--

Shaina Feinberg

Chick-Fil-A.

Dave Hill

Chick-Fil-A.

Shaina Feinberg

Chick-Fil-A.

Dave Hill

If you like chicken, why not--

Shaina Feinberg

Go to Chick-Fil-A!

Dave Hill

Waffle fries and lemonade. These are just a couple of the items that they have available at Chick-Fil-A. And at first that carrot and raisin salad is a little bit suspicious.

But you know what, I've tried it. And as it turns out--

Shaina Feinberg

Quite delicious.

Dave Hill

That's right. Chick-Fil-A, Chick-Fil-A...

[END SINGING]

Ira Glass

Dave Hill and Shaina Feinberg.

Act Four. Midnight Run.

Lindsay Freeland

It's a pretty amazing scene. I mean, especially when I'm like the front truck, and I can see this line of lights behind me, because we're so tightly compact within our convoy that we brighten up that whole night road. I always think of it that we're stringing through Iraq like Christmas tree lights. A bunch of white, big, bright lights snaking through the dark desert. And we usually are the biggest light out there, because not many local nationals like to drive at night.

Nancy Updike

You're saying local national, Iraqis?

Lindsay Freeland

Right. And sometimes they're out there. There are not too many of them. And if we do see them, they're usually a lot nearer their own types of Iraqi rest stops, which are like their kind of markets or whatever. So that's the side of the road. Or a fuel station, which can be a tanker truck with a hose hooked onto it with a little kid ready to fuel up to make money for the day, and markets along the back of it.

Nancy Updike

You'll just see these on the side of the road as you're driving?

Lindsay Freeland

Yeah, exactly. They're just out in the middle of the desert, sometimes in the middle of nowhere. They're usually to the side of the road. It's their version a Starbucks or whatnot.

Nancy Updike

In the email you sent to us, you said that the night convoys were part of an agreement between the U.S. military and the Iraqis. Explain that.

Lindsay Freeland

We conduct our operations at night. It's just our agreement so that we don't interrupt their life as much. Just because we are a really long and big convoy. So I mean, that is kind of a big deal, and that is kind of an interrupter, I guess you could say.

And they don't like us, and you can tell that. Because some traffic, if we're headed northbound, you know, they'll be going both ways in the southbound lane.

Nancy Updike

So basically, they would rather cram traffic going in two directions into one lane rather than try to share the lane that your convoy's in.

Lindsay Freeland

Right, exactly. They don't want to be near us. Because we have big cruiser weapons on our vehicles. We have bright lights. We try to be nice and try to turn off the left side or something, so we dim the lights for them.

Nancy Updike

So you're not kind of blinding other drivers.

Lindsay Freeland

Right, exactly. But usually they just don't like being near us, so they'll pull off the road completely and just turn their flashers on and wait for us to pass.

Nancy Updike

How many of these convoys have you done?

Lindsay Freeland

Probably 20 or 30. I mean, it can get pretty mundane. Now on eight hour missions, they're like a quickie, you know, really fast.

Nancy Updike

Because how long are the long ones?

Lindsay Freeland

The longest we've had is about 15 hours. It seems very, very long and drawn out, and your legs get pretty tired staying in that one position for a long time when you only have one stop throughout those 15 to 16 hours, you know.

But for the most part, we are pretty energy drink fulfilled, with a cooler next to our gunner's turret, and we just reach behind him, and grab our energy drinks. And I think I drink probably about three energy drinks in one convoy. Which is not good, you know. Not good for you. But it helps. Especially on the boring convoys, and the long, long drawn out convoys.

I mean, we always usually have at least one or two breakdowns of our third country national supply trucks. I think one convoy, our 15 hour convoy, what we had probably about seven or eight breakdowns. It was ridiculous.

Nancy Updike

Is there ever a time, when you're driving or you're stopped, that you almost forget where you are?

Lindsay Freeland

Oh yeah, for sure. Sometimes I feel like I'm driving in, you know, the desert of the U.S., like Arizona or something like that. You know, it looks like a normal highway within the States. Because A, it's dark, and B, it's just a normal paved road. Yeah, it's not as kept up as well as how the states keep it up, and half the road isn't even painted where the stripes are supposed to be, but for the most part, it reminds you of a normal highway.

And so sometimes I feel like I'm on a long roadtrip. Sometimes I feel like I'm driving a big freight truck, like if I was a truck driver back home, you know. It's usually a pretty quick feeling, because you can be brought back pretty fast.

There's tires everywhere. They line the road. I mean, I'm not even kidding when I say that. Most Iraqis, they run out their tires until they're completely destroyed to smithereens, and so they'll just leave those pieces on the side of the road. There's no type of cleanup crew to come clean up the trash on the road. There's no type of officer to come pick up the destroyed tire that's in the right lane.

So that's usually just what seems to bring me back to being in Iraq. And then, you know, sometimes I look down-- wait, I have my body armor on. I'm in still in Iraq.

Ira Glass

Specialist Lindsay Freeland of Alpha Company 141 with the Organ National Guard in Iraq, talking with Nancy Updike.

Act Five. Bump In The Night.

Jane Feltes

This night, a lot of adults wanted to go out, so my mom volunteered to babysit about seven of us kids altogether. And all the kids' bunks were upstairs in this old, old log cabin, and the staircase to get upstairs had no railing. It was just kind of, shoots out into the middle of the room.

And I remember we all got our pajamas on, and we all ran upstairs.

Jane's Mom

And I'm not exactly sure if you slipped or got bumped by the herd of children running up the stairs--

Jane Feltes

This is my mom.

Jane's Mom

But you were falling. And I managed to grab your ankle as your head smashed into the concrete floor. From about eight feet up.

And everybody, all the kids were just frozen on the stairs. And-- ugh, this is creepy.

So I had to do something. So I'm trying to comfort you, and then you'd be crying and crying-- I mean, like, screaming. And then you'd say, oh, I'm so sleepy. You'd get really calm and still, and kind of go limp a little bit. And then you'd start screaming again.

Jane's Dad

My part, embarrassingly, was I was drinking at Pine Stump Junction.

Jane Feltes

You remember the name of it?

Jane's Dad

Pine Stump Junction. Everybody knows that place.

Jane Feltes

So that's my dad. My mom somehow piled seven kids into a car that wasn't even hers, that was sitting in the driveway, and drove us all to the bar. And she didn't know how to get there, but an eight year old in the car did, so he instructed her. And my mom and my dad, and me and my brother-- we just drove to the nearest hospital, which was in Newberry, which was a really, really tiny town in the Upper Peninsula.

Jane's Dad

And you weren't quite unconscious, but you weren't conscious. And you weren't responsive or alert. And when we got down to Newberry, it was after hours in the clinic, and night was following, and the only guy there, physician, was some retired part-time guy. Older fellow.

So I had just started practicing dentistry, and the things that were just fresh in my mind from the medical school aspect of my education-- so it was very, very scary.

wait,

Jane Feltes

Wait, what kind of stuff?

Jane's Dad

Well, like when you're looking at a patient, and they're kind of alert, and they're kind of talking, and then one of their eyes dilates, and they start to slow down and slur a little bit, and then the other eye dilates, and they're gone.

Jane Feltes

And was it happening?

Jane's Dad

No.

Jane Feltes

Oh.

Jane's Dad

No, no. But I was checking every five minutes. And I would snap my fingers and see if you were-- just because you were just listless. You just were a little while lump.

Jane Feltes

So they told my dad that they weren't even going to call a radiologist until the morning to do X-rays. And they wanted to just keep me there, overnight, like, sitting there.

Jane's Dad

And I just-- I couldn't believe that I was hearing this. That he was going to make us wait until eight or nine o'clock the next morning before we even called the radiologist. This was up in the middle of BFE, and it was at night. And I thought, this is bad. Because she could be gone by morning. And I can't do nothing overnight.

So I called the nurse in, and your mother and I talked about it a little bit, and then we called him in and said, we're taking her.

Jane's Mom

And I remember thinking, we're going to be out in the middle of the UP now. Nowhere near a hospital. In a car with a sick little girl and another little boy. And we have something like a five and a half hour drive to get home.

Jane Feltes

Home, at the time, was Ann Arbor, Michigan, where my dad went to school and where they knew there was a trauma center where if, you know, worst case scenario was happening, something could be done about it.

And I remember very little from that night, but just coming to in little flashes in the first hospital, and in the car. And I remember everything looked like I was in that movie Tron. You know, it was all very, like, black, and the edges of everything kind of glowed bright neon colors. And I wasn't walking, and I wasn't really moving much, except to throw up.

Jane's Mom

The first leg of the trip was really-- actually scary to me. Because the UP in the middle of the night-- there's no lights. There's nobody there. It's desolate. And you kind of look for lights in houses. Kind of trying to get an idea of the time. You know, our car at the time didn't have a clock in it.

Jane Feltes

Oh really?

Jane's Mom

Oh yeah. Cars didn't use to have clocks on the dashboard, and I didn't use to wear a watch. So I didn't really even know what time it was. So you'd kind of watch the windows and see if there's people up. Of course there was no traffic. I don't think we stopped.

Jane's Dad

If we did, we stopped for fuel. That's kind of a long trip. So I know we had to have stopped for fuel. But we didn't really need-- anything. Didn't need anything. There was no need to stop.

Jane's Mom

It was still really scary. I remember wondering if you were going to be trapped, somehow. Like that same little girl would be trapped with a brain injury. I mean, you couldn't walk at that point because you were so dizzy. But of course, in my mind, I'm connecting that with you can't walk. You know? Things aren't going to work anymore.

And I don't think your dad and I talked about any of that on the way home.

Jane's Dad

I worried that there was an undiagnosed spinal injury, and that you would have to fight with a wheelchair your whole life. I worried that you'd have migraines and puke all your life. Which you do.

Jane Feltes

That's true. That was one of the main lasting effects of the accident. We got to the hospital, and they did a CT scan, and found that I had what's called a contrecoup lesion in my brain. And I wasn't really able to walk for a couple of weeks. And then I didn't get back to school regularly-- I think I was out for like a month.

So that first night driving home after the accident just led to hundreds and hundreds of nights like that, where I was up all night sick. I started getting really bad migraines. I would always get them, like, two, three, four in the morning. I would wake up and I'd see these sparkly lights kind of around the edge of my field of vision. Then there's a little bit of, like, TV v static that gets bigger and bigger over the course of an hour until I'm blind. And then it's like worst-- pain so bad that it makes you throw up.

Jane's Mom

And that whole thing is like a big cluster [BLEEP]. Because you'd come in the bedroom and bend over me and say, I'm seeing those lights, Mom, I'm seeing those lights.

I do remember, as a mom, in the middle of the night when you would wake me up about that, feeling like a good mom. Because I just got up. You know? And I just remember as a kid when I was sick, a lot of times people didn't have time for that.

Jane Feltes

What do you mean?

Jane's Mom

Here's a blanket. You know? Go get a puke bowl. And kind of being sick by myself. So I know I do remember feeling good that I wasn't going to be that kind of mom.

Jane Feltes

It was nice of them to get up with me like that. But after a while, it just started to seem pointless, because there wasn't really anything that they could do to make me feel better.

My mom says when you do get up to take care of kids in the middle of the night, it can feel like you're the only people awake in the whole world. And that was true the first night, when we drove through the Upper Peninsula. And it was true for all the nights my mom got up with me. And it's true now that I have to deal with it all by myself.

Ira Glass

Jane Feltes.

Our program was produced today by Robyn Semien with Alex Blumberg, Jane Feltes, Sara Koenig, Lisa Pollak, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Production help from Aaron Scott. Seth Lind is our production manager, Emily Condon our office manager. Our music consultant is Jessica Hopper.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia, who comes to me every week as I'm preparing the credits of the program and pleads with me--

Big Mike

nice today. Be nice for the microphone.

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