Friday, June 15, 2007

A Happy Medium

Every afternoon from 3:30-4, I sort mail. A categorically "intern" task, it's tedious, but I find ways to work deliberately and make it purposeful. "These three copies of the same press release sent to 3 ex-producers of my program are not garbage," I tell myself. "They're an opportunity to recycle!" And into the eco-friendly blue bin they go.

So it continues. Extra books and CDs are placed on the "free stuff" shelf, newspapers and magazines are stacked near the meeting table. Sometimes we'll get a really creative package from a listener, like a paperback novel about a female mannequin with superpowers who fights crime. This envelope included a personal fan letter and a photo album of the hand-carved wooden action figure in stunt poses.) Opening mail, though an under-glorified task, has become a simple pleasure of my day.

I sort through e-mail as well, sometimes, if reporter wants feedback on a story. Most e-mails are requests for tape or share a personal experience regarding a story. Some, however, are quick, vicious tirades about how NPR is nothing but a brood of sexist pigs or lefist man-haters. The contrasting sentiments where striking.

After reading a furious digression on the back of an empty, sealed envelope accusing NPR of radical anti-feminism, I asked my producer what he thought of the varied responses: liberals accusing us of being too conservative, conservatives condemning us as liberals.

He responded simply, "That's how we know we're doing our job."

Aww, yeah.

Becky Martinez
Weekend Edition Saturday

What to do When the opening act is better than headliner?

Next week, the 20th, Talkdemonic will be opening for The National and Shapes and Sizes. This concert lineup speaks directly to the tried and true fact of life that The National, the most accessible of these bands has garnered the fan support to headline around the country, while the most talented, Talkdemonic, probably will play to about 50 people, one of which will be me. I fronted the cash, the lions share will no doubt become the gas money for The National. Hey, it's a Wednesday night so I know there can't be that much going on, so I implore?/encourage everyone to check out these bands' myspace pages(if you google the bands, usually the myspace page is the third link) and join me at the 9:30 club(you know you wanna check out this much talked about venue) On a different note, did anyone make it to the Feist show last night?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

(No) Thanks, NYC

In the last month, I graduated college, moved to Washington, D.C., signed the lease on my first rental, and started a full-time, nine-to-five internship at NPR. But what I really want to talk about now is pants.

All throughout high school I liked to wear light-colored pants. Specifically, the dark-tan, flat front khaki variety, worn somewhat low, but I was amenable to all manner of light-colored pants. It seemed to me a socially acceptable, and, if presented correctly, slightly classy sartorial decision.

Perhaps you have not been to New York and looked at peoples' pants. Well, I have. I just went to school there for four years. In New York City, they do not wear light-colored pants. I don't understand it, but it is an observable phenomenon. Dudes who publicly wear pants which are white, off-white, beige, sand-colored, tan, even light brown generally fall into one of two categories:

1. Tourist

I wore my khaki pants proudly for about a month during freshman year of college until I realized that the unofficial uniform regulation segregates bearers of such pants within the aforementioned bipartite classification. Reluctantly, my decisions in pants slowly became darker and less khaki-like throughout subsequent years. I even bought myself a pair of those jeans with that vertical striated hatching which people in New York seem to own in place of light-colored pants. And I was not lame again, at least with regard to textile considerations.

Well, here in the District, it’s OK to wear light-colored pants again. This is good, and normal. New York's collective insistence on ostracizing light-colored pants is really yet another aberration characteristic of the city least aware of its provincialism. In all other places in the United States, including here in DC, all manner of guys wear several styles of light-colored pants, and somewhat commonly at that. People deem them publicly presentable, and perhaps moderately stylish.

My problem is: I don't anymore.

In fact, four years of anti-khaki conditioning has driven me to the opinion that khaki and, in fact, all light-colored pants make men look funny. I can no longer help but think that light-colored pants, and by extension their owners, are a little, you know, lame. Which is really a shame, because it's pretty hot in DC during the summer, and I could sure use another pair of pants which fits a business-casual dress code. But I no longer own khaki pants, nor will I purchase them. My tastes and preferences congealed some time ago on this matter, and I fear that this will be impossible to change.

Shame on you, New York City, for banishing perfectly good vestments from your collective wardrobe. Dear Washington D.C., why do your residents dress so ugly?

What a freaking tragedy.

Patrick Jarenwattananon
Music Intern

Introducing Steve Mendoza's Music Column...

The White Stripes are set to releases their sixth album on the 19th of this month titled “Icky Thump.” The White Stripes have migrated to the Warner Brothers mega label for this release, a first for them. Blackbird Studio, in Nashville was the designated recording site, also a departure in that it is by White Stripes standards, a very modern studio. One thing that hasn’t changed is the recording medium; reel-to-reel was employed once again for its natural warmth as opposed to the sterility of digital. The difference in sound is most likely unrecognizable to most of us but it’s the thought that counts. But I say if you’re going go to a major label and a professional studio, then why not go all the way and offer yourself up to the Pro Tools gods as well. But, let’s move on to the album and judge the Stripes by what they create, not how, where, or for whom.

I think the major divide of the fanfare on this album can be gauged by what you thought of their last release, “Get Behind Me Satan.” I thought the album was really groundbreaking for The White Stripes in their musical development. Others felt that this was more of a valiant, yet unfulfilled artistic endeavor. Those of you who agree with this previous statement will find what you have been longing for in “Icky Thump.”

The title track has mass appeal. It’s filled with what we have become accustomed to: a screeching Jack White and a steady thumping on the drums courtesy of Meg White. Anchored with a nice bluesy riff Jack throws some sand in our (Americans) eyes over immigration with the lines, “Well, Americans/What, nothin' better to do, Why don't you kick yourself out/You're an immigrant too.” Next he explains that “you can’t be a pimp and a prostitute too.” These lines roll off his tongue in a way that I can help but think he’s pointing right at us. But hey, that’s a function of both music and art.

Then the album moves to the track “You don’t know what love is,” which reeked of the dirty Nashville gutter it roiled in outside of Blackbird Studio before being hosed off by White, though he was unable to remove the stench. I would perhaps offer Fabreeze, but if the credibility of The White Stripes couldn’t save this song then I’m afraid nothing can. Then the album picks itself up, slowly at first and then “Conquest” breaks in on the back of a horn section and the album seems to have forgotten about its quick stumble. The album seems to continue to reach up and up, and as it reaches some sort of Blues-ed out folk rock plateau, it ends. The tracks “Rag and Bone” and “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” are a couple of the gems to be found.

If you were already a White Stripes fan, you will find reasons in this album to continue on your merry way, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. The White Stripes have fused together the juices that gave us “Get Behind Me Satan” with the disregard that made them so original back in the day. It seems that they went back and re-tooled their style of old with the lyrical maturity Jack has gained through the four albums in-between. Oh yeah, you can check out “Icky Thump” for free before it’s released at

Steve Mendoza

A Good Start

Sometimes it’s hard to tap into the great wealth of universal brilliance floating around us and yank out a piece for yourself the second you need it. I felt that way during our weekly meeting last Wednesday. The production staff brought forth story ideas (interesting, meaningful ones about peace with Iran and how many words can be written with a single #2 pencil), but mine seemed less than engaging. A slow start: them’s the breaks when you’re an intern, right?

Well, my producer suggested I tap into my young blood to come up with an interview for the show, hinting that more music might be a welcome addition. I checked the 9:30 Club lineup and saw that Feist would be in town this week. I ran it by the chief, and he told me to run with it. It took days to track down her manager and several more to get her to settle an interview, but we settled on this Wednesday. In the meantime, I pulled together as much information as I could about Feist, broad and deep bios and travel-accounts and soulful music discussion pieces.

The day of, my producer and host gave me the green light to tag along on the interview, where I would take notes. After a lengthy wait in a dressing room, Feist came in and gave us 30 attentive minutes of friendly eloquence. The host really seemed to enjoy her company and, to my relief, had truly enjoyed her most recent album as well. On a less job-focused note, she was really nice and down-to-earth, and meeting her was terribly cool. So, slow on not, I guess I’m off to a good start.

Becky Martinez
Weekend Edition Saturday

Good Dinner, Great Company

As my father sipped on his third blueberry mojito, I leaned in to catch a whiff of cold, crushed mint leaves, mixed with the tantalizing fruit. Placing his glass on the table, with his other hand he pulled a small newspaper clipping from the inner pocket of his sport coat.

“I cut this out for you, but don’t read it now.”

Naturally I took a glance at the headline, which read: In an attack, it’s best to fight.

“You know, it’s just me being your dad.”

I playfully rolled my eyes and told him not to worry. D.C. is a safe place. “Besides,” I joked, “you and Mom reeeally would have freaked out if I was spending the summer in New York.”

We clinked our glasses and moved onto other topics: movies, work, architecture, museums, the dogs. Still, even as I sunk my spoon into a dessert of mandarin crème and chocolate, I couldn’t help but think how terrific my father is and how lucky I am that he continues to worry constantly about my “safety.” Still, he knows how to let me do my own thing.

Over dinner I assured him that I’m getting around fine in the city. I like it. No, I love it, and I’m constantly exploring with anyone who’s willing to join. There’s always an afternoon at the Corcoran or the Portrait Gallery, shopping in Georgetown, or dancing at the Black Cat. But for as much fun as I’ve had here, nothing beats dinner with my dad, and it’s not just because he’s paying.

I think we all go through a point in our adolescence when it seems like our parents get the most joy out of embarrassing us. My dad would take my brother and me to the pool in the summer, and when we jumped off the diving boards he’d follow with what looked to always be a semi-decent dive that quickly (purposefully) turned into a massive belly flop. While most kids laughed, my face flared red with humiliation.

“You’re so embarrassing!” I’d yell.

But he’d just laugh and tell me that’s what dads are supposed to do.

Somehow, and thankfully, I got over the burn of embarrassment, and I’ve realized how badass a belly flop can actually be. Besides embracing what a goofball he is, I’ve also learned that he’s a really smart guy and fun to talk to.

After dinner, we grabbed a cab to dodge the rainy downtown streets and continued to chat until the driver pulled up to the curb of my residence hall. We hugged goodbye and made plans for the next time he’d be in town. It was strange to think that tomorrow he’d be flying home to Kansas City and I’d still be in D.C., but I also knew that I’d love running up to my own little crash pad for the rest of the summer.

“Happy Father’s Day,” I said from the sidewalk.

He smiled, and before closing the door replied, “Call me when you get to your room so I know you got there safely.”

“I will.” And I did.

Sarah Handelman

NPR is more than just great reporting...

From a story on NPR's All Things Considered, April 13, 2006. This video was shot for a piece on the many Diet Coke and Mentos experiments. We just had to do it ourselves. NPR science reporter David Ketsenbaum is the brave soul in the video.

What happens when you put a handful of Mentos candy into a bottle of diet soda? As many fans of Web video have found out, the results are pretty explosive.

(Excerpt from YouTube)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Los Angeles Zen

Today, I bought an avocado.

Sure, it sounds like a small feat, but as I stand in the midst of an open air market, at the corner of third and Arizona, thousands of miles away from home, three hours behind all of my family, friends, and the majority of NPR employees, this avocado means a lot.

At the moment, it is the only thing upon which I seem to have a firm grip.

Things I do not quite yet have a firm grip on:

-this time zone
-the equipment that's supposed to make teleconferencing easy?
-Los Angeles street maps
-the art of eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich while searching on Lexis Nexis and using the telephone system's call waiting feature simultaneously

In all honesty, life in the Los Angeles office (NPR West) is fairly laid back. Life in my cubicle however, is not. Today was my third day of work, which means that I am beginning to get the hang of conducting research, but I haven't yet discovered how to open my desk drawers to put things away. Instead, I have a dozen or so very organized piles of paper on the top of my desk. I haven't yet learned where hanging files are kept, but I did discover a large supply of post-it notes. These were perfect for covering the rest of the empty space on my desk. And the edges of my computer.

Needless to say, getting away from my cubicle (which now resembles a post-it note covered porcupine) and finding Santa Monica's farmers market was a relief. I could stand there in the California sunshine, smelling roasted pistachios and the last of this season's Rainier cherries, listening to white peach salesmen advertising their wares ("Fresh! Sweet! Come on, aren't you thirsty? Hungry? Try one!"), holding my perfect avocado in the palm of my hand. For a moment, letting go of the demands written on my post-it notes, forgetting my grocery lists and electricity bills, and staving off my homesickness for all things East Coast. The avocado is such a deep shade of green, it glows purple in the sunlight. Tonight, I will go home and have farm fresh guacamole, I think. And suddenly I realize that for the next ten weeks, Los Angeles will be home.

Standing in the sunlit, 75 degree farmers market, that doesn't seem like such a bad forecast.

Haley Bridger
Day to Day; Science Desk
NPR West

Was this too whimsical?

I’m looking up to my right at the window view I have of great migrating clouds and thinking 17th-century Dutch paintings with sailboats in them, epic movie panoramic scenes, Castle In the Sky. The clouds are much lower in England. They’re currently in the vague forms of turtle heads, wide-open snake maws (or is it those chompers from Pac Man?).

The light and dark create a depth so striking they look like those deftly rendered nimbuses (or is it nimbi?) of paintings galore. Is it strange to think it’s strange that I find the natural world in its beauty to resemble an artificial depiction? Not really, in my opinion, considering how much time people tend to partition in their days and nights to observing the natural world around them. When you go to a gallery it’s to look at these kinds of scenes. When you’re walking to work it’s often eyes downcast, ears vibrating to pumping bass and strumming guitar (for some of us sitar, I’m sure), hands fumbling with your bag and mind thinking about your errands for the day.

I turn to my right again and the approaching cloud (pretty good speed today; don’t have to strain to see movement) is mammoth-like now. It’s a big fat gorgeous blob of dust, water, and who else knows – Delightful. How do these things hold their shape, anyway? Sometimes I feel a little silly staring at things so much, especially when I’m in public, but then again, how many of these people are going to notice me/care/even recognize me in two minutes? Probably not many. In the twenty-four hours that I get each day I would like to say that I know how the clouds were behaving that day.

In times of rush, I take the instant-yet-fleeting-nirvana approach to sightseeing – a quick but compelled glance around me gives me a feeling of awe and inspiration as I continue on my path – right now, to the Brown Bag meeting I’m probably going to be late for.

Was this too whimsical for you? I’ll probably write something terse and sarcastic soon.

Allison Chang

Regarding Notebooks

My little white reporter’s notebook is half- full after a week here. I’ve got notes and ideas and contacts crammed up against doodles of cartoon characters and directions for getting from here to there. The notebook is a handy news-making tool to be sure, but I never understood the importance of that little book until the other day, when I went to a press conference at the National Archive.

I had no reason to be there, I was just shadowing an editor for the experience. He collected the sounds of the small press room as camera men set up their cameras and photographers took their pictures. Everyone was doing something except for me, because I had forgotten my notebook.

It is true that I would have just doodled pictures, but I would have been spared the awkwardness of looking like a useless intern, when I could have looked like a useless intern doing something. As a fresh face at NPR, I don’t really have any clue what I’m supposed to be doing in any given situation. The beauty of the reporter’s notebook is that it allows you to look busy and professional in any given situation and no one has to know what you’re actually writing down. So while you’re drawing pictures of Optimus Prime, everyone in the press room will think you a young, hip, high-powered, jet-setting, serious, news reporter.

Now I take my notebook with me everywhere, regardless of whether I think I’ll need it or not. I pull it out on the metro sometimes. I walk around DC with it in hand. It’s a confidence booster, and makes me look like I know what I’m doing, even if I am just a useless intern with nothing to do.

Benjamin Frisch
Arts and Information Desk

Mission Possible: Bike to work

After a few trips to work on the Metro, I decided I didn’t want to spend every weekday morning contorting my body to squeeze into the Orange Line train, bracing myself on seats, overhead handles and some lady’s shoulder blade. If I was going to work up a sweat on my way to work, I might as well do it on my bike, and Tuesday, June 12 was the day I decided I would ride for the first time.

My previous experience with bike commuting is not extensive. Three days a week throughout the past school year, I rode to a job about 2 miles from my house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The ride was a soothing blend of lazy suburban streets, a quiet bike path, and a handful of traffic lights. It rarely took me more than ten minutes.

Not exactly the kind of commute I was going to encounter from Arlington to DC, certainly, but I was determined to try riding to work this summer, so I did my homework. I spent thirty minutes studying the DOT map of bike paths in the city. I rode to the NPR offices from my house in Arlington near the Court House Metro on a Sunday afternoon so I could ride with certainty (read: moderate instead of severe perplexity) on Tuesday morning. On Monday, I brought a change of clothes to wear after my shower in the lower level locker room. I went to CVS and bought extra soap and shampoo to keep at the office.

Monday night, I set my alarm for 6:15 a.m. so that I could grab a bite to eat before I left for the office at 7. I figured that the early departure time would a.) allow me time to recover if I got lost on the way, which I had deemed inevitable and b.) put me on the street before the peak of rush hour, when I feared I would become merely a moving target for the cars speeding into the city. After the third alarm, I rolled out of bed, donned my rarely-used spandex shorts, and grabbed a quick breakfast.

One of my roommates, usually the only person in the house awake at 7 a.m., looked at me with his eyebrows raised as I jostled my bike through the front door; after all, I was dressed as if I was about to attend an aerobics class in the mid-1980s.

“Good luck with that,” he said, knotting his tie.

Always the optimist, I replied, “If you hear about a cyclist being hit by a truck on his way into the city, at least you’ll know who it is.”

With a bulky duffel bag over my shoulder, I departed on my grand adventure. And immediately sat at a traffic light for five minutes so I could get across Lee Highway. Then carried my bike down thirty stairs so I could get to the Custis Trail. The open road, at last!

The ride itself was…remarkably uneventful. I stopped along the way to photograph the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument from the Virginia side of the Potomac (as an area resident for only ten days, I have not yet outgrown tourist status). I cruised along roads sparsely populated with early commuters, rarely even encountering a red light. I didn’t lose my sense of direction a single time. It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride—much more so than my morning trips on the Metro. Good trails, good views, good exercise—and to top it off, I even saved $1.55.

By Mike Winters, Digital Media


Good day, NPR interns! I can only preface this by saying that this is our time, our summer, our blog. If you want to write about the guy in the tuxedo on the corner in front of Starbucks who plays death metal on his acoustic guitar, so be it. If you find an amazing Moroccan restaurant that serves the best tajine in town, by all means, scream it to the world! If you are frustrated, ecstatic or tired...we want to know.

This blog is meant to give a behind-the-scenes look at what we -- the oh-so-necessary interns-- feel and experience in and out of the NPR realm. We already have lots of interest and I hope everyone finds a comfortable space in our blog.

Cheers, and let the blogging commence!

Alejandra Garcia
Blog Editor