Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Radio free Chicago

Matthew and I were driving northbound on Western Avenue. We had the radio tuned to a very left-dial college radio station. All of the sudden, George Carlin broke through to tell us an important story about smoking on airplanes, complete with F-words and no bleeps.

“What the hell? Is that George Carlin?” I shouted.

“Yeah, I think it is,” Matthew said, sounding confused.

George Carlin faded out for a moment to radio fuzz and then came back, explaining how old smoke detectors in aircrafts used to not work as well. We realized we were driving in and out of someone’s iPod radio transmitter. Cool!

The more surprising thing about the George Carlin rant was that the person who was actually intending to listen to airplane smoking stories must have been driving on the same road and in the same direction as us. Those little transmitters only have like a 15-foot radius or something. To me, the George Carlin incident translated into a challenge—find the car that matches the personality of someone who has intentionally downloaded George Carlin to their iPod. I loosened my seatbelt, raised up in my seat, and twisted frantically around in every direction.

“Matthew! Drive faster! I think you’re gonna lose the signal!”

“I can’t drive faster. There are cars in front of me.” (You can imagine my excited kinda shouting voice and Matthew’s always-calm-in-the-face-of-Christine voice.)

“Get closer to the cars! You’re OK! You’re not too close yet.”

Matthew ignored me and kept on at his regular pace, the lamentation of the efficacy of airplane smoke detectors fuzzing in and out.

I couldn’t spot the right-looking car for the story I already had in my mind about who would listen to this skit. To the right, young-ish couple that looks like they’re on a date. In front of them, middle-aged woman in sedan. In front of us, clean-cut looking guy in super-clean pick-up truck, might be kids in the cab with him. Behind us, two latino guys in a coupe. Could it be the person in front of the pick-up truck that I couldn’t see?

“Matthew, get in the right lane and pass that pick-up truck,” I commanded.

“Why?” No emotion in his voice.

“I’ve gotta see who it is to know if they’re the ones listening to George Carlin! Hurry! You’re not going fast enough!”

No response. He kept driving like a totally normal person, unconvinced about the imperative to find out who cared so much about exhaling smoke while holding open the airplane sink drain.

Fuzz, then back to the regular station.

“Oh! We’ll never know!” I whined. I got back into my seat but wouldn’t let go of the idea. “Do you think it was the couple on the date? Why would people on a date listen to George Carlin?”

“I don’t know sweetie.”

“Do you think it was the guy in the truck? He looked too clean-cut for all those swear words, but maybe, right?”

“Maybe so.”

“I wonder if it was the latino guys. Did they turn? Is that why we lost the signal?”

For a few days, the idea of who would listen to an old George Carlin skit on their iPod really perplexed me, and I still wondered why I couldn’t pick out their car. I expected irreverent but old and faded bumper stickers, like an old radio station that used to be edgy. I didn’t think there’d be a wind-sock on their antennae that said “GEORGE CARLIN LUVR,” but it seemed like there ought to be some sign.

I guess some messages just fade out in the background noise as you drive out of range.

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