In the fall, after finishing a summer fellowship at this newspaper, I began a pandemic-induced leave of absence from college. I dreamed of a normal gap year, in which I’d learn about America on a road trip with my best friend.
We planned a low-contact strategy. I had a job producing a radio show, the Indie News Hour, on WOMR 92.1 FM. I recorded interviews on the shoulders of many two-lane highways, editing out the growls of many muffler-less pickup trucks.
Traveling was a chance to talk, through my mask, with a lot of people deeply devoted to the places and communities they’ve chosen. The distances showed me sometimes overwhelming variations in landscapes and lives. But calling in to the Independent’s reporters every week to hear about septic-system regulations, town meetings, and disparities in dental care kept me grounded. Thank you, readers and writers, for letting a drifter like me keep peering in from afar.
Sept. 11: Peninsula Park, Portland
While the planning for the today’s episode of the Indie News Hour took place at Kings Valley Gardens, the farm where I was blueberry picking for the month, the actual interviews were recorded in my car in Portland. After a stop at the local urgent care because a sharp piece of falling ash landed on my cornea, I had fled the farm for the city. The sky was a deep orange and the air quality index read “hazardous” from the forest fires that raged across the state that month. Saskia Maxwell Keller offered me a bit of escapism: our interview that week centered on the legend of “Fail Gail,” the implacable road tester of the South Yarmouth RMV.
Sept. 18: Kings Valley Gardens, Monmouth, Ore.
Upon my return to the farm and the tent where I lay my head, I got comfortable in my new studio: the top floor of a barn, where I recorded beneath hundreds of elephant onions hanging overhead. It was a place to escape the new — hacking at invasive blackberry species, learning to use a composting toilet, and fending off a shocking number of slugs — and immerse myself in the old by interviewing K.C. Myers about the slow progress of the Cloverleaf in Truro.
Oct. 30: Downieville, Calif.
The village of Downieville, pop. under 300, sits at the confluence of the Downie and Yuba rivers in the northern Sierra Nevada. That’s where we took up residence just in time for a planned power outage due to high winds. For a week, we ate dinner in the dark and took calls in the community center, a low-ceilinged room in the center of town, the only place where wi-fi was available. Rush Limbaugh rang out from an unmasked table across the room as I submitted the Oct. 30 episode of the News Hour on the subject of Outer Cape soup kitchens and the restoration of the Upper Pamet River.
Nov. 20: San Diego
After the first snow in the mountains, we headed south to San Diego. The interviews I did there — with Paul Benson on the lack of accessibility of local asymptomatic testing and Howard Karren on the mid-pandemic state of the Provincetown art scene — required answering the Zoom with video disabled to hide my swimsuit.
Nov. 26: Los Angeles
The Thanksgiving episode of the show, in which I spoke to Ed Miller about the Nantucket Inky’s purchase from Gannett, formerly GateHouse, by a group of independent buyers, was recorded in a friend’s bedroom in Los Angeles, while my travel partners finalized our holiday plans in the kitchen. The next day we had Stovetop stuffing and rotisserie chicken on folding chairs in the back yard.
Dec. 18: Ft. Worth
The road trip back east included stops at national parks to rival the Cape Cod National Seashore. There was one 16-hour day on unplowed, icy roads. And also a chance encounter with my only celebrity crush, Jesse Eisenberg, in Santa Fe. Texas was my stopping point, for visiting family at a six-foot distance while staying in what, come to find out, the fine people of the Outer Cape call an Accessory Dwelling Unit. In Ft. Worth, I interviewed reporter Dylan Sloan about a change to Wellfleet’s ADU bylaw meant to increase year-round affordable housing stock. I also rode my Aunt Zoë’s horse, Blue.
In 2021, you can listen to the Indie News Hour on Fridays, except the first one of each month, at 9 a.m. on WOMR 92.1 FM or streaming any time from the station’s podcasts page, womr.org/listen/podcasts.