In the snapshot above, circa 1976, my family is packed in our Chevy Impala, ready to make the return drive from a dude ranch in Colorado back home to Illinois. You can't really tell from the darkened photo but the three of us in the backseat are completely miserable and the key is not yet in the ignition. Oh the agony of 1001 miles in a car with undependable air conditioning, shocks that didn't absorb, and a radio that my father refused to switch on. Time slowed to the point that my Barbie dolls married and divorced several times on the journey.
From my usual perch in the middle of the backseat, I would prop my chin on the upholstered vinyl bench in front of me and gaze into what seemed to be a different world. My parents sat chatting over cigarettes and coffee, petting my baby sister who dozed charmingly between them, her legs curled under her tiny bottom like a newborn giraffe. The front seat was Geneva, Switzerland, comfortable and plush, no strife, no unrest.
Meanwhile, the backseat was Beirut. We three older kids engaged in open warfare over boundaries of cubic space. We subdivided the floor, the seats, even the atmosphere. One could provoke an attack simply by wiggling a hand in another's no-fly zone.
When our sieges turned bloody and disrupted the peace in Geneva, my father would twist around, his arm swinging backward like a hairy runaway garden hose. "Behave!" he'd order, swatting at us while keeping the steering wheel straight and his eyes on the road. He played tennis every Thursday night and his backhand was pretty solid, so we knew to disperse quickly. We'd instantly drop to the floor or shimmy into the ledge under the rear window.
His strong-arm governing would produce a momentary ceasefire because we three suddenly shared a common enemy. We would giggle together at his stern barking. For about thirty minutes, Beirut was no longer a war-torn wasteland as we resumed reading our favorite comics through the cloud of second-hand smoke that wafted over from Geneva. Until someone passed gas... .
Nowadays, there is no excuse for family discord. Thanks to car seats, satellite radio, audio books, podcasts, in-car game systems, and no end of post-modern gadgets, the traveling family can reach their destination without intervention from U.N. peacekeeping troops.
To help you maintain your sanity while traveling, here are some of my favorite podcasts that I've enjoyed recently. If you are a fan of podcasts, please tell me your favorites in the comments section. I'd so appreciate your recommendation!
And for those of you who don't know how to listen to a podcast, watch Ira and Mary (below) for a quick and easy explanation:
MY FAVORITE FIVE PODCASTS FROM THIS SUMMER
HOW I BUILT THIS
I’ve listened to every episode of How I Built This, a podcast hosted by Guy Raz, the man with the friendliest voice on the airwaves. Raz interviews the founders of many businesses you know and and digs up all the gory details of the early days. Each business's birth is unique but you will notice a pattern emerge -- in every episode you will hear the founder describe a moment when any normal human being would give up. And that’s when the true entrepreneur doubles down. I especially loved the episode about Sara Blakely, founder of Spank.
I’ve listened to this series at least three times. Be ready for an addicting podcast about the most colorful character you’ll ever come across in fact or fiction. John B. McLemore is a foul-mouthed rabble-rousing redneck. He is also a polymath, a planter of hedgerow mazes, a clockmaker, an alchemist, a philanthropist, and in the end, a madman. His story is told by a wimpy New York reporter whom McLemore lures to Woodstock, Alabama, aka S*&% Town, to investigate a murder. Soon to be a film!
Sandra is a superbly-produced fictional series with a plucky heroine named Helen, her loveable loser of an ex, Donny, and everyone’s favorite A.I., Sandra (voiced brilliantly by Kristen Wiig.) It’s super entertaining, very insightful about modern technology and privacy, and funnier than anything else I’ve heard on the radio. I can’t wait for season 2!
THIS AMERICAN LIFE
This episode, #617 from This American Life, has three stories, all dealing with loneliness. I especially found the middle chapter compelling. A wife has just learned a shattering truth about her husband and we listen in as the husband, wife, and a therapist talk through the heartbreak. The marriage counselor, whom host Ira Glass dubs the LeBron James of therapy, figures out the dynamics of this couple’s problem with lightening speed. And then even more quickly, she narrows in on a solution. And she’s right.
This one, a fascinating story of a 28-year-old woman fighting an aggressive cancer while also attempting to save her ovaries, will captivate those who enjoy medical science and science fiction. Shout out to Kim, my podcast dealer, who told me I’d love this one. She always sends me the best stuff.