April 6, 2007

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Stories of sudden fame, quick riches, and the downside of the dream job.


Host Ira Glass talks with some real-live NASA astronauts: Cady Coleman, Chris Cassidy, and Marsha Ivins. On average, NASA schedules just a couple of space missions a year. But it employs 95 astronauts. This means that only a tiny percentage of an astronaut's career is actually spent in space, and some never get there. Ira talks with these three astronauts about how they spend the vast majority of their time: on the ground, in an office, doing paperwork. (8 minutes)

Act One

I'm Not A Tv Star, But I Play One On Tv

This American Life contributor John Hodgman was unexpectedly chosen to be in a series of high-profile Apple Computer commercials (he plays a PC). He tells the story of what happens when celebrity hunts you down and finds you...on your living room couch, pushing 40, and a couple sizes larger than you want to be. John was recorded live during our "What I Learned from Television" tour, before a sold-out audience at Royce Hall in Los Angeles. (12 minutes)

Act Two

Show Me The Annuity

This American Life producer Alex Blumberg talks with Ed Ugel, who had a very unusual dream job: He bought jackpots from lottery winners. When you win the lottery, your prize is often paid out in yearly installments. And Ed would offer winners a lump sum in exchange for their yearly checks. He's talked with thousands of lottery winners, and the vast majority, he says, wish they'd never won. Ed wrote a book about his years in the "lump sum industry" called Money for Nothing: One Man's Journey through the Dark Side of Lottery Millions. (19 minutes)


“Work Song” by Vince Gueraldi
Act Three

The Homesick Explorer

This American Life contributor Sarah Vowell tells the story of a mapmaker named Charles Preuss who charted the Western Territories with two of American history's legendary explorers—John Charles Fremont and Kit Carson. The maps Preuss made were best sellers and helped open the Western frontier to settlement. But, as he wrote in the diary he kept while in the wilderness, he hated pretty much every minute of the expedition. Actor Dermot Mulroney reads excerpts from Preuss's diary. Sarah Vowell is the author, most recently, of Assassination Vacation. (8 minutes)

Act Four

Just One Thing Missing

Reporter Douglas McGray interviews a college student in California with good grades, an excellent work ethic, but no possible way to get a legal job. She's lived in the U.S. since she was little, but her parents are undocumented; and she is, too. Most of her friends and teachers don't even know. Douglas McGray is a fellow at the New America Foundation. (10 minutes)