Pod Is A Concept By Which We Measure Our Pain: Commuting and The Void

My life is a podcast.

And I’m listening to it at this very moment.

Somewhere, a couple of articulate, urbane individuals are dissecting and over-analyzing my every move, talking me into a state of diffuse abstraction, on and on, into their microphones, onto the internet, into my phone, out of my car’s speakers and back into my own ears as I sit, clutching the wheel.

Such is the infinitely recursive life of the Los Angeles commuter.

There is no beginning and there is no end.

To live as a commuter in LA is a cliche. To discuss the LA commute, a greater cliche. To know that discussing the LA commute is a cliche is, in itself, a cliche. To discuss the LA commute by joking about the cliche of knowing that discussing the LA commute is a cliche? A cliche.

To discuss the LA commute by referencing the SNL “Californians” sketch?

The greatest cliche of all.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, Interstate 405 begins in Irvine and ends in San Fernando but for the commuter, it is a mobius strip that leads you back to the start with the sense that you have not travelled anywhere at all.

A circular conversation.

A podcast.

In New York, there are moments when you feel yourself to be a true New Yorker: someone exposes themself to you on the subway; you eat a great slice of pizza or find yourself wishing harm on some slow-moving pedestrian.

LA offers few such moments. In fact, there is only one that really seals the deal, locks you into being an Angeleno in the same way that you are eventually locked into a coffin: the commute.

And it is a coffin, steel and immobile, while life goes on outside and no one can hear you scream.

You start out listening to the radio but that gets old quickly. Who is still listening to “Livin’ On a Prayer” and “Hotel California” with this regularity?

The answer is too frightening to contemplate, so you try The News.

Sure–you’ll be informed, know everything important going on in the world, be a useful member of society.

You quickly grow to hate The News.

It becomes the definition of irrelevance. What does any of it matter, when you’re trapped inside a coffin?

And NPR’s fey, morose tenor–is it just you or does every single NPR correspondent have some kind of lisp? It’s radio for Christ’s sake, would a listenable voice be too much to ask?

Back to FM radioland. “Woooahh we’re halfway theeere–”

Nope.

Back to silence.

Too much to bear.

You try NPR again.

Fey, morose.

Back to FM.

“Woahhh, we’re halfway there–” a key higher this time.

There is no beginning and there is no end. 

***

At first, podcasts are your friend.

You listen to comedy podcasts–a pleasing somatic sensation, hearing people laugh.

After a few months, you get the feeling you may be listening to the “wrong” comedy podcasts. You sense that listening to a podcast is not a solitary endeavor, though it is a completely solitary endeavor. But somehow, it joins you to a community.

Is it the right community? Is this comedy punching up, punching down, punching sideways?

You do internet research. The podcast now links you to the wider world, mentally, but physically you are still here, inside the coffin. You’d rather keep different company.

You move on.

There are so many options. Every whim and passing interest can be indulged. It feels like internet dating; you meet a few fun ones, but very few keepers.

You begin to measure time in podcasts.

There was the murder phase, the politics phase, the British phase, and, of course, the semi-famous-person-interviews-more-famous-person phase.

This becomes your most loathed phase, because you spent too much time there. Marc Maron invited you in and then, like a bad relationship, wasted years of your life. What good is it, hearing famous people discussing their lives and work, when your own best creative thoughts are experiencing a slow death by asphyxiation, entombed in this Honda Civic-shaped sarcophagus?

So relatable he’s unrelatable

Your capacity for weird thinking surprises you. Like a manic individual in the throes of grandiosity, you see cosmic significance everywhere–the crazy, reckless drivers you encounter, the lane cutters and tail-gaters, if only you could reach them, show them the nature of the world, the interconnected web of which we are all a part, would they really need to be in such a hurry? Would it be worth it? After all, there is no destination. On this journey we are all pilgrims hoping to get past the 10 freeway.

You transition quickly from Zen’d out passenger to Crazy Ex:

“I wish that guy had hit me! If I died in a fiery explosion, then he’d care!”

Such thoughts must quickly be counterbalanced.

Quick, a podcast!

The wheel turns–good, bad, dark, light–all the karmic incarnations are experienced during the LA commute, but the end result is not transcendence.

Or is it?

John Lennon said, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” You begin to summon up a strange spirituality around your car. Inside it, you feel no pain and all the world’s pain, at once.

There is no beginning and there is no end. 

You discover the most hallowed of all podcast genres, the Deep Dive, tuned perfectly to the wavelength of the obsessive mind.

What do you like? Movies? Music? Basketball? Here in Deep Dive land you can re-examine it, deconstruct it, strip it open, wear its skin for a while.

You listen to people younger than you reexamining events you lived through–Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Tupac and Biggie’s murders–and you feel as if you are learning about them for the first time. You learn about events that happened before you were born–Beatlemania, the Bubonic Plague–and feel that you absolutely, positively, understand them better than someone who was there.

But were you there? Maybe. Time is a flat circle.

There are like 15 True Detective podcasts. But you don’t even like True Detective.

There’s a podcast for that, too. 

Sometimes, you join in the conversation. How can you not? With an entire freeway’s worth of salient points building up in your mind?

You hit pause, offer your two cents to a conversation that doesn’t “technically” include you.

“Well, I actually have to disagree with you about Beatles For Sale being a second-tier album. In its own way, it’s as unique and forward-looking as Rubber Soul.”

You scour your world for hot takes. Some are so hot you dare not speak them aloud, not until you are locked inside your coffin, where no one can hear you opine.

You experience recurring flare-ups of Galaxy Brain, offering takes so hot they burn through all logic, leaving you back where you started.

There is no beginning and there is no end.

You take the 405 to the 101 to the 134 to the 10 to the 110 back to the 405.

You look at yourself in the rearview mirror and ask:

“What are youuuuuuuu doing heeeeere???”


The 4 Main Podcast Groups:

  • Hot Takes fka The News
  • Murder!
  • Deep Dives
  • Semi-famous person interviews famous person

A representative sample from my (and possibly your) podcast feed:

Deep Dives:

Beatles-specific:

Hot Takes fka The News:

(Waiting for the day when all TV shows become podcasts!)

Comedy stuff:

  1. (The venerable) Comedy Bang! Bang!
  2. Good One
  3. Let’s Talk About Sets

British stuff:

  1. The Infinite Monkeycage
  2. Off Menu

(Technically, these would be Deep Dive and Comedy, respectively, but all British stuff gets lumped in together. How do YOU like it, you imperialist bastards?! [Beatles excepted. They belong to the world. Peace and love!])

2 thoughts on “Pod Is A Concept By Which We Measure Our Pain: Commuting and The Void

  1. OMG I’m laughing so hard… the Commute Coffin is fo reelz! The psychosis that happens during LA commutes is too much for me, which is why I moved two miles from work and ditched the car. Walking does make your life feel less like a podcast, as long as you stay off your phone and appreciate the trees.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lucky! I actually sometimes enjoy the “me time” that the commute provides…I could just do with a little less of it each week. I may just need to go cold turkey on podcasts for a minute!

      Like

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