Up in the Air on Fresh Air

I tend to have about 60-70 podcasts on my iPod these days waiting for me to listen to them. One of the happy accidents of this is that I often hear interviews about movies after I’ve actually seen a film (instead of during the promotional run up to the film). So this morning, as I was doing my morning run, I got to hear two interviews related to the new movie Up In The Air..

The first interview is with the author of the novel on which it’s based, Walter Kirn. Recorded in 2001, Kirn talks about the genesis of the novel and what he thinks about “air world”, the setting for the book. The second interview was with the director, Jason Reitman, who also directed Juno in 2007. He talks about his own experiences with air travel, getting George Clooney to do the film and the interviews with real people who have lost their jobs which frame and punctuate the movie.

Here is one of the trailers for the film:

13 Great Songs You Can Download For Free

I recently got a new iPod and the last few months I’ve been busy filling it up. One of my favorite sites for free (and legal) mp3 downloads is BetterPropaganda.com. I’ve found a surprisingly large number of songs on this site that I love. It certainly doesn’t have everything, but they have a lot of great tracks. Here are 13 songs I’ve downloaded from the site and highly recommend:

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There is no reward in heaven

I’ve had a variation of this conversation a few times. I meet someone and the topic of why I’m in Peoria comes up. I talk about the choices that my sisters and I have made to take care of my mother, to which the well meaning person I’m talking to says something like, “There will be a special reward for you in heaven.”

As an atheist, I’m really not sure how I should respond. Usually, I’m polite and nod and say nothing. Like I said, they mean well. It’s difficult to know what to say in that situation. I believe they are trying to say that I’m making a good choice by being here. They certainly don’t mean to say something awkward. Instead they wish to comfort me. They have no idea that I don’t share their belief in the afterlife or god.

I could respond by saying, “Well, I don’t believe there is a heaven. And even if there is one, I don’t believe in your god and therefore I won’t be in heaven to get my present. I’m choosing to do this because it’s the right thing to do.” However, I don’t say this because it would be a monumentally jerky thing to say given the circumstances. I think I’m already responding to it in the best way I can respond, by simply letting it slide. Still there is something about them saying it, and the underlying assumptions, that bothers me.

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No going back now

So yesterday, I went ahead and did it. I bought a motorcycle.

This is what my new bike looks like
This is what my new bike looks like

That is not my bike, but it’s pretty similar. I will get a picture up next week, once I get it home. It’s a 1994 Kawasaki Vulcan 500, a little bigger than I thought I would get, but it’s a very comfortable bike and doesn’t feel hard to maneuver. I think I can grow with this bike for some time. If I had gone with a Rebel or some similar 250, I think I would get annoyed with it after a few weeks.

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Where I used to live

When I was in college, I spent a year abroad in London. It was an amazing experience. It was there that I first fell in love with the theatre. In part, it was because I had access to some of the finest productions in the world. There were always great shows to go see somewhere in London. And the student discounts made it relatively cheap to see them too. My love affair was also stoked by some of the classes I had, one class specialized in Shakespeare and to this day I still remember some of the lectures, at least in broad strokes. But the main reason I fell in love was it was the first chance I got to do some theatre.

In that year, I acted in several plays, I directed one (a Pinter play no less), built sets, did lighting design and produced a play that went to the Edinburgh Fringe. It was such a great experience that, after I graduated from college, I returned for another six months, hooked up with many of the same people I had worked with before and helped produce a few more shows. When I left London, I wasn’t ready to go. I was sad, but I didn’t know at the time how to go about becoming a permanent resident there. I returned home and headed to Chicago, determined to make it in the theatre there.

About five years later, I had the opportunity to return to London. I was once again producing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe. This time it was an improv show. I arranged to stay in London a few days after the festival. I anticipated it being a great experience, but it was somehow hollow. It was great seeing some of my friends again, but walking the streets where I had once lived put me in a distinctly melancholy mood. It was like visiting a memory. It was a place I used to live and when I returned to the places I used to hang out, they were devoid of the people that made it special to me.

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Getting my first motorcycle

I’ve always wanted to ride motorcycles. It hasn’t been a burning passion, more like an interest that I never had time to indulge in. When I was a kid, one of my friends had a dirt bike. I only rode it once that I can remember, and it didn’t go well. I don’t think I got it out of first gear, and I’m pretty sure I stalled it a least once. So for the next 20+ years, I never attempted to get on a motorcycle again, thinking that while I liked them, I just wasn’t cut out for them. And if I hadn’t moved home, I may have left it at that.

When you drive around central Illinois in the summer, motorcycles are everywhere. Harleys seem to be the standard, but there are plenty of others as well, including big cruisers as well as gangs of 20 something Ninja riders screaming through downtown Peoria at night. For me, there seems to be a dearth of things to do around here, but I’m beginning to realize that if you live here, you need to make your own fun. Boating, dirt bikes and street bikes are all popular choices.

Last summer I started thinking about getting my license, but I didn’t get around to it. At the local community college, they offer a subsidized class to learn to ride. They even give you the actual test at the end of the class, so you can get your license without any further hoops to jump through. The problem is that the class is such a good deal that all the spots fill up many months in advance. If you don’t sign up for one by the beginning of May, odds are you might not get in one. My schedule is so hard to predict, that it was close to impossible to pick a weekend to take the class.

I kept thinking to myself, there must be a place where you can sign up for basic riding classes a week or two before. Sure, you will probably pay considerably more for private classes, but there has got to be a market for people like me who find themselves in the middle of the riding season and can’t get into the ones held at community colleges. Sure enough there are two such places in Chicago, Motorcycle Riding School and Ride Chicago. There may be more. I went with Motorcycle Riding School mainly because their class fit into my schedule (the whole thing takes place over a weekend) and because they had decent reviews on yelp.

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My Favorite Podcasts

By far, my favorite podcast is This American Life. If I were stranded on a desert island and could only receive one piece of media regularly, it would be TAL. If by chance you aren’t familiar with this show, it’s a weekly radio show by Chicago Public Radio. It’s kind of a documentary magazine format with different stories all revolving around a theme. The stories tend to be personal stories, sometimes told by the participants, sometimes a reporter will edit together different materials, mostly interviews. At times the stories are funny, at other times the stories can be deeply moving. They are almost always interesting.

Every week, the latest episode is available for download free of charge. Also, if you are online, you can listen to their entire back catalog of shows, going back years. Older shows can also be downloaded for 99 cents from itunes.

One of my favorite episodes of recent memory is episode 355, The Giant Pool of Money which was a great dissection of the sub prime mortgage mess, told through individual stories from every link in the chain from home buyers all the way up to Alan Greenspan. This show, made in conjunction with NPR News, spawned another one of my favorite podcasts called Planet Money.

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I’m really starting to despise winter

All week it's been freezing rain
All week it's been freezing rain

If you enjoy living in the northern part of the country where winters are long and cold, I do not suggest spending a winter in Arizona like I did. After a year in Arizona, I’ve been ruined for winter. This will be my second winter back in Illinois and I really hate it.

Part of me thinks it would be nice to live in Chicago again. It has a great theatre scene, but I’m not sure how I could stand the winters. Perhaps I need to be a snowbird, spending my winters in Arizona or Southern California and the rest of the year in a city like Chicago or New York.