Thursday, July 12, 2007


With plans to head out to a birthday party in Bethesda shortly following work yesterday, I left the office in an excited haste. However, realizing that my apartment had run out of toilet paper, I stopped at the CVS before the China Town metro to pick some up. As I dug around in my cavernous purse to pay for it, I discovered that my wallet was missing. After running through the days events, I reasoned that I hadn't even left the building and that it HAD to be at my desk. I called a friend still at the office who sits near my desk, and my assumptions were confirmed. After running back to the office to pick it up, I realized I would never had known it was missing if i hadn't stopped to get toilet paper. And with my bar essentials inside, ie my photo id, credit card and cash there was no chance of me getting into the party. Then it made me chuckle to myself to think that toilet paper saved my a$$.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rollin' on the River

If you're going to drink beer at 11 am--on a Sunday--then I think you should have to earn it.

And I say that waking up at 7 after a night of light partying, then trekking across town to the Waterfront and baking in the DC sun for a few hours counts as earning it. That's how I spent last Sunday along with Nicole, Becky, and Whitney, in kayaks on the Potomac.

The Potomac looks different when you're sitting a couple inches above its surface. I usually see it from the Yellow Line, looking out over the bridge that connects the Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza Metro stops. The water appears dirty. There's no impressive boat traffic, except for the fleet of paddle boats by the Jefferson Memorial. Most of the bridges are rather ugly. The river is a mere 15 seconds of my morning commute.

But when you're in a kayak, the river is a.) huge and b.) beautiful. Remember the scene in Dead Poets' Society where Robin Williams/John Keating makes the boys stand on top of the desk for a different perspective? If you paddle past Georgetown for a few minutes, it's possible to forget you're around the bend from a big city. As long as you can ignore the stream of commercial jets 100 feet overhead.

Being in that kayak was the most relaxing thing I've done since I moved to DC. This city doesn't seem to relax very often. I'm from the Midwest, and I go to college in the South. I appreciate the art of relaxation.

Ah, but back to the beer. After a couple of hours, we docked the kayaks, compared sunburns, and took a walk along the Waterfront. On hot, sunny mornings like last Sunday, those outdoor bars and their $6 beers hold an unfair advantage over anyone whose ID says they are 21. The fight was over before it started. We soon found ourselves sipping on $6 bottles. For goodness sake, there's a bar in Chapel Hill where $6 can conceivably buy 30 beers on a Tuesday or Thursday night.

But the beer tasted good, and when the guy on the stool next to mine started strumming a ukulele, I decided that it was worth the price.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Griffith Observatory

Last night, curled up in my seat on the Coach bus traveling down from Griffith Park along Santa Monica Blvd with five different kinds of chocolate covered tart desserts stuffed in my knapsack, I could think of only one word to describe the evening: satiating. I had spent the night at a special event at the Griffith Observatory, one of the must-see spots on my list of Los Angeles sites and places. I had found out about the event from two of my friends who are also working as science writers in the Los Angeles area. Originally intended as an opening event for PBS to launch a television press junket, the trip to Griffith Park had been opened up to local reporters and science writing types. My friends and I were intrigued not only by the lure of the Observatory but also by words that no intern can resist: free food.

This is not to say that interns are not highly evolved creatures with a sense of refinement and class, but certain situations (i.e. abject poverty and long hours) can easily reduce us to a more primitive state. Basic needs take over and suddenly we are driven by the instincts of our ancestors. Take an average day at NPR West for me for example.

Mornings begin before dawn when I creep about my cave-like apartment scavenging for clothing and the occasional piece of toast in the dark. By 5:45 I am at work, busily booking, adrenaline pumping through my system as I conduct research on Live Earth for Frangela. By 11:30 when it’s time for lunch, I cautiously scarf down my sandwich, carefully watching to make sure no one tries to steal my yogurt and banana. By late afternoon, with lunch gone, I am suddenly aware of every piece of edible food in the entire building. Someone unwraps a lifesaver three cubicles away, and I can sense it. The moment a half finished box of Wheat Thins is left on the counter, I can immediately smell the nutty, wheaty fragrance of the slightly stale crackers. Before the generous Wheat Thin donor has even finished writing “Please Take Some” in Sharpie on a paper towel, I am there, hands outstretched. I hate to conform to these stereotypic intern behavior patterns, but I honestly can’t resist my caveman instincts. The need for food—both powerful and blinding—consumes me and I can suddenly picture what it must have been like for primitive man, always hunting, always searching, never satisfied.

But last night, plentiful feasts abounded. The PBS and Wired Science event at the Observatory was catered by Wolfgang Puck, which meant enough chicken tostatadas and guacamole plantains to feed an entire cave of interns. And those were just the hor dourves. As the sun set and the dim lights of the buffet table illuminated the Observatory’s courtyard, I imagined what it must have been like to gather about a campfire after a long hunt and feast. It must have been here, their needs momentarily met, that my ancestors discovered the heavens and connected stories to its constellations.

Rising above us over the brightly lit, smog filled city of Los Angeles, the sky is full of…nothing. No stars. No moon. Merely a red reflective smear of pollution. But inside the Observatory’s planetarium, the sky is illuminated. As lights and shadows twinkle across the concave screen, a dramatic voice explains the stories of the heavens, the big dipper, Ptolemey’s theory of crystal spheres, Galileo’s observations of Jupiter’s moons, Hubble’s giant telescope, and the mystery of dark matter and dark energy. The panoramic show takes us from the big bang to the edges of our expanding universe and slowly back to the familiarity of the Milky Way and our tiny, precarious home.

Watching the giant universe swallow up our little planet is always a haunting, disorienting reminder of how delicate the balance of our lives on Earth are. And how rare, amid the race for food and bookings, are the moments when we can truly look heavenward, and be filled the same feeling of astonishment and satiation humans must have felt since the dawn of the zodiac and the first storytellers. On the bus ride home from the Observatory, looking out across the glowing din of the city, I squinted and turned the LA skyline into a sea of starry light.

Monday, July 9, 2007

West Coast Skinny III

Last week was full of fireworks and powerful moments for the West Coast interns. Although July 4th landed in the middle of the week, we were all kept busy covering stories, doing bookings, and finding our own voices.

A few highlights:

This week, Ellie met the young men and women who will be the voices in her piece on the transpac race. Standing on the docks of Long Beach, Ellie captured the sounds of the lapping water, boats, etc. along the dock and spoke with the team members of one of the youngest and most well-trained groups of transpac sailors. Although Ellie has gone out to cover stories for newspapers before, this was her first venture into the world of sound and radio. I went along as Ellie's producer, and I think both of us had a heightened sense of awareness about the sounds that enveloped us on the docks. Ellie's fourth of July was equally scintillating. She went out on a boat with her aunt and uncle and had a great view of the fireworks as they were launched from the Queen Mary, which is stationed in downtown Long Beach.

Over at News & Notes things are hectic, but that’s just the pace Kenya likes. For Kenya, there’s never a dull moment. This week she booked, scheduled and interviewed guests for shows on the controversial racial dissension around the Jena 6 trials in Louisiana, the promising Call Me Mister program in South Carolina which helps put more black male teachers in elementary classrooms, a not-so-surprising yet still dismal study on student’s performance in minority segregated schools, and possible closure of the last black theater in California. The most gratifying moment was when Kenya’s piece on Disparities Among Black and White Children With Autism aired. It was her piece from start to finish. “I was reading about Holly Pete Robinson’s ordeal with her autistic child and how much they were spending on the treatments and I wondered, how many people can really afford that,” Kenya says. The question led to research, the research led to her pitch, the pitch led to her sourcing guests, the sourcing led to awesome interviews and the interviews made for a fantastic, informative and emotional story. “One of our best lately,” says her senior supervising producer. After listening to the piece air, Kenya realized YES-- this is what it's all about...this is why I am here. A great NPR moment for Kenya indeed.

Meanwhile, at Day to Day, Bernie and I have struggled to schedule interviews in a process that one producer likened to "nailing jello to a wall." While I pursued Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, Bernie worked to find a man who survived Katrina and moved to Texas, only to be flooded out yet again. As Bernie searched for the hurricane victim, I researched the impact of global warming for several stories. I looked into the cap and trade system Arnold Schwarzenegger is endorsing and gathered materials for an interview Day to Day will be having with the "governator" later this week. At the same time, I started looking at how the Netherlands and other coastal mega-cities are bracing for rising sea levels. I booked reporters in Indiana, Ohio, and New Mexico for a conversation this morning on defecting senators and I'm hoping to book Cameron Crowe for an interview to air on Friday, his birthday and mine. Last week, in honor of the 4th of July, I got to chat with a man who has written the definitive book on competitive eating (listen to Alex Cohen's interview with him here). Alex's piece on green weddings is up now too--thanks Allison for some great tips on going green!

Life here is such an adrenaline rush that sometimes it's easy to lose track of the small moments of triumph when a story airs, an interview lines up, you get the perfect clip, and the jello sticks to the wall. However, as all of us find our stride at NPR West, we've had a little more luck and a little more of a chance to find our perfect moments. Look for more West Coast adventure updates next week!