RW183 - So You Grew Up In Anchorage

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to a Facebook group called ”You Know You Grew Up In Anchorage If…” that John mistakenly called So You Grew Up In Anchorage.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

How the Coronavirus pandemic affects podcasting (RW183)

Quarantine for Dan is still the same. He is doing the same thing. He is privileged that he can do the work that he needs to do from mostly anywhere and without too much trouble. Things have slowed down a little bit on the sponsor side, but most of it is just pushed out till later in the year. It was interesting to see the reaction in the podcasting community, both for podcasters, listeners, and advertisers: At first it was fairly encouraging and it was assumed that people will have much more time now and will be listening more, replacing the idle chatter that you might get in an office with podcasts while be all alone in their homes.

Maybe that is true in some cases, but what is happening more is that the people who were filling their commute time with podcasts now no longer have that commute time. Instead they are not listening to the podcast. They might still be downloading them, but they are not listening to them in the same way that they were because now they can do other things. Dan actually thinks those other things in a lot of cases for people are YouTube. What makes a podcast wonderful is that you can listen to it while you are doing other things like driving or mowing the yard, cooking, working out, on a walk, or whatever!

You can listen to a YouTube video, but a lot of YouTube stuff you want to see. There are a lot of people who have two hours in their car driving to and from their job and they are not saying: ”Well, normally I would be driving and listening to the shows, I am just going to listen to them now at my desk!”, but instead they are just not listening to them and they are doing other things. Maybe they are being with their family or if they are alone they are watching TV or watching YouTube or doing something else.

Dan subscribes to a couple of newsletters that talk about that type of thing. Every single podcast hosting company has a completely different story. One company will say: We are up 53% since the coronavirus thing and people are listening like crazy, while someone has seen a 40% drop in their downloads. There is zero consistency at all and there seems to be zero consistency in what the predictions are for it, too. So many companies, even companies that you would think wouldn't really be affected by whether or not there are lockdowns or not, are just being fiscally conservative and moving out to Q3, Q4 and things like that. Dan is not really sure why they have that reaction.

The entire podcast economy is still 80% in shadow, how listenership is determined and who has access to that information and how that gets translated into business. In the early days of podcasting, when they were just selling ads for themselves, it was pretty clear cut. You would reach out to a sponsor or they would reach out to you and you would say: ”We have this many downloads. How about this much money?” - ”Fine!” Then all those intermediaries got involved and the money was half and then half again and then half again.

In the music business it is the same. You don't know how many albums your favorite band sold. They will tell you when the record goes gold or platinum and they talk about sales in those moments, but you can't as a pedestrian, as a regular person, access how many records your favorite band has sold and you can't know how many of those records were bought by the label on opening day just to put the record in the charts in the payola years. All that is made illegal now, but it is still so shady!

Part of it is that so much of media is built around the idea that people want to know that a thing is popular before they listen to it and they don't want to listen to something that other people don't already like and so gaming the optics to make a thing seem popular seem like a big deal. We do know what the opening week receipts for films are. They talk about that very candidly. It seems just an industry-wide thing that is grandfathered in from the dawn of time. At the end of that first week you know how many tickets were sold and that really matters if your film is on the charts, but in the music business they will talk about first week sales, second week sales because they are talking about the charts, but after that first couple of weeks it just fades into total invisibility.

That is where the business people are collecting money, so they want to make it hard to audit. John has four podcasts and when people talk about the numbers of downloads and the number of people listening, it feels like those numbers have stabilized in the sense that John hears the same numbers from multiple sources, but it didn't used to be. Somebody would say the show got 50.000 downloads and the next person would say your show got 35.000 downloads. Where are these numbers coming from? Neither one of them sound reliable.

People who enjoy being in their car (RW183)

To John it seems like people aren't listening to the shows like they used to when they commuted. That was their sanctum sanctorum time and as much as they hated their commute, they had figured out a way to populate that time with one of their favorite things. John is grateful that people aren't commuting. In the end it is a net positive, unless: There are so many people that don't really enjoy their home, generally because there are other people there that they don't like or for some other reason their home is a stressful environment.

There are also an awful lot of people who don't enjoy their work. They don't like the work and they don't like the people that they work with, so it is a stressful environment. There got to be a subclass of people, and given how many people there are in the world that don't really feel relaxed in their home and don't like their work, that has to be a measurable group of people that feel like being in their car is their favorite place in the day.

They get in their car and for however long, for the hour it takes them to get to work, nobody is yelling at them and they can listen to their music or their podcasts or whatever, they are on their own, and they are in a safe, groovy place that they like. For the subclass of people who prefer to be in their cars and hate every other aspect of their life, John really hopes that there is a return to some kind of opportunity for them to get back in their car.

Dan is not interested in driving. He would never get in a car again if he didn’t have to. John does like long drives. Running errands in a car he doesn’t like it at all, which is what his mom and dad and sister all love. If you gave them a list of 15 things and they were spread out all over town, they just love driving around in their cars with the stereo on and just doing stuff being busy. When they were working on John’s mom's house, she would go to the hardware store sometimes five times in a day because they forgot to get that and needed to go back to the hardware store. John had been to the hardware store today!

But to get in a car and drive for eight straight hours across a wide open American landscape, if you gave John any valid excuse to do it, like you need him to go to Missoula to pick up a little box with special coins in it, he would get in the car immediately after the show is over and start driving to Missoula because he just love that. Get the car up to speed, get it out on the open road and just watch the yellow dotted line just whizzing under your tires. Dan has done a lot of cross country drives and he is fine with it. When he lived in North Carolina he loved the opportunity to visit family in Florida, which is a 10 hour drive, and it was nothing, he wouldn't even stop. Would he want to do that instead of getting there without it? No!

Dan seeing an interesting vehicle (RW183)

A couple of weeks ago Dan was driving and one of the most amazing vehicles that he had ever seen was driving behind me. When he pulled up to the light the woman driving the vehicle pulled up next to him and Dan was going to try to get some pictures of this. He brought the phone up and immediately the woman driving the car looked over to him and smiled. She was a cool lady in her mid/late 30s with sandy blonde hair, sunglasses on. She had a wakeboard in the back and the vehicle was so cool and she said Dan could take all the pictures he wanted.

Dan took some pictures and send them to John who got very close to identifying exactly what the vehicle was. The only thing John got wrong was the year and not by much. It is called an International Scout II, one of the great classic little Jeeps. There are people in the world that use the word Jeep to mean any little capable 4x4 truck, but this is effectively what it is: The International Harvester company made a little competitor to the Jeep, and it was made sort of unchanged for like 20 years.

The lady told Dan what it was, an International Harvester Scout from 1978. They can be like a pickup truck because the back part of it can pop off, so there was no roof on the thing. The back is open like a truck and the windshield folds down forwards, so you don’t even have a windshield if you don't want it! John is not sure in the 1978 whether the windshield still folds down, it was more of a 1960s thing. That removable hardtop is a the thing that the Chevy Blazer was able to do for many years. In the late 1970s a lot of the trucks like the Blazer and the Bronco could take the back off, but you couldn't take the whole top off.

The doors and the metal frame of the window remained for a while, there was a roll bar, and then they just put a roof over the driver that was not removable. The trucks where you can take the whole top off were Blazers up until about 1976/77 and Broncos until 1978 and these little Scouts and Jeeps. Modern Jeeps you take the top off and the doors still have frames. Things aren't as cool as they used to be!

Facebook groups for John’s different shows (RW183)

John doesn’t go on Facebook that much, but he does go there now because there are finally a couple of places to go. One of them is the Gary's Van group. John doesn’t want to meddle with them very much, but he wants to see what people are saying because the whole point of it was that there be interesting conversations there. There is an Omnibus Facebook group that is very active that John keeps tabs on a little bit. It feels voyeuristic, so he doesn’t go there religiously. There is a Friendly Fire group that is very active.

There are different Facebook groups for each of the different shows, however Roderick on the Line and Road Work are in one group because they have more in common than Friendly Fire and Omnibus have in common. Road Work listeners and Roderick on the Line listeners are shyer to get together. Once they do get together they forge close bonds, but there are a lot of people listening to this show that would rather not be invited to a group event. These shows are personal, this one and Roderick on the Line.

If Merlin had been more oriented toward publicity and promotion and allowing a fan group to exist, John is not sure where a Roderick on the Line fan group would have thrived starting in 2011 or whenever the show started, because Facebook wasn't that place yet, and reddit wasn't. By the time Gary's Van came along, a little bit of that moment had passed in terms of people really, really wanting to talk about episodes. A lot of the Gary’s Van people are Road Work listeners and there is an awful lot of crossover.

Friendly Fire and Omnibus are both tailored for a wider audience. There are plenty of people that listen to Friendly Fire who don't even like John, they hate him even. They are fans of Ben and Adam’s Star Trek show and they ended up over there and they like the premise, but they just wish John would stop talking and let Adam and Ben make dick and fart jokes, which is what they are there for.

Roderick on the Line and Road Work have a fan community that is uniquely what it is. The meet-up before the Western State Hurricanes show came from Gary's Van and that was a large and varied group of people. They don't seem like they are Facebook people. Maybe they are reluctantly on Facebook so that they can get access to the show, it is hard to say. Their Patreon supporters and bonus content consumers is a very intense, tight-knit group who like talking to each other and have a lot to talk about. That is why they are so excited about the potential dinner they were going to do.

Facebook group about Anchorage (RW183)

The group on Facebook that is the most active is called So you grew up in Anchorage (actually: You Know You Grew Up In Anchorage). Any post will have 500 comments and 89% of the group is Boomers and old Generation-Xers, saying: ”Who remembers when the Montgomery Ward on Northern Lights had a nickel-powered rocket ship out front that you could ride and a guy in a clown outfit would give you a lollipop?” and then there are 500 comments like: ”I remember! That guy's name was Morris Minkelstein and that Montgomery Ward is where I got my first pair of dungarees!”

Probably 20% of the comments all say exactly the same thing. If somebody asks a question like: ”Where was the Montgomery Ward?”, you will get 250 people all saying: ”on Northern Lights!”, ”on Northern Lights!”, because they all post before they read the other comments. They are Facebook boomers and every time they see something they think that person is asking them that question directly, like this is a personal website for them, and so in a lot of ways it is awful, like those emails you used to get from your dad or your granddad that had all those 8-bit graphics in it and the corniest jokes in the world about how getting old is isn't for sissies or whatever.

John got one of those the other day and couldn't believe it. It felt like it had been circulating in the geyser of the Internet for 20 years or something and it finally landed in John’s inbox. He almost saved it because he thought maybe it was a super-clever joke, but it just seemed like one of those emails with joke after joke after joke that felt like a thread almost. John hopes someone one day does an oral history of those dad emails.

The other day John was on this Anchorage website because he likes that stuff, like: ”Whatever happened to that building?”, or: ”Oh wow! Manny’s Taco Wagon! That guy was great!”, or there was a guy that stood downtown on a street corner and waved at every car that was a fixture for a long time.

Out at the Eklutna Indian Reservation, up on the bluff above the highway, guys from the reservation had brought couches and chairs out and set them up on the bluff. They weren't benches, but upholstered couches that sat out there all year, all through the winter, covered with snow. There would sometimes be 8-10 guys sitting up there on these couches watching the traffic go by, and if you waved at them or honked, they would wave. It was at a time when there was a lot less traffic on the roads and you could drive by and you would be the only car they had seen in a minute or 30 seconds, but they would wave every time.

They became almost a geological fixture. You could give directions to somebody like: ”When you see the guys on the couches, take the next exit!” Stuff like that doesn't exist anymore that you would forget about if it weren't for a Facebook page called So you grew up in Anchorage where everybody is posting that stuff.

Yesterday somebody posted a picture of a poster that John actually had in his room, taken by an Anchorage photographer named Myron Rosenberg in Anchorage. In the 1970s and 1980s posters were a big art form or home decorating form and there were lot of posters in the world. Anchorage had a lot of its own local posters that were local pride. Dan didn’t have posters on his wall of Philadelphia things, but he had posters of guys in the Eagles and Van Halen and the picture of Christie Brinkley with the Ferrari from National Lampoon's Vacation (probably this one). He never had the Kelly LeBrock one from Weird Science (this one?), but in retrospect he should have.

Alaska had so much that was unique to it. In the 1970s it was still far enough away. They had their own beer Prins Brow (?) and it was its own culture. There were a couple of different photographers that every year would take a picture of Anchorage from a different airborne perspective. They would go up in a small plane and find a great shot of Anchorage. You could see the mountains in the background, you could see all the latest buildings that had been built and you could see where your house was on this big panorama. They would sell these posters and everyone would have one. Every year you would get a new poster of the city of Anchorage.

Hot air balloons in Anchorage, insurance taking away all the cool things (RW183)

This picture that was posted on So you grew up in Anchorage was a picture of a bunch of hot air balloons all inflating midwinter fur rendezvous time, all starting to inflate, happening on the football field of John’s high school. You can't see the high school in the picture, but you can see his mom's office right behind it at Alyeska Pipeline that was right next door to his high school, the next building over. It is snow covered ground and these balloons are just these fantastic rainbow hot air balloons in every color.

John was shocked at the memory because when he was a kid in Anchorage hot air balloons were in the sky all the time, all year long, even when it was freezing cold in the winter. You would look up and see 15 hot air balloons in the far distance or right over your head. In the summer they were up all the time, too. Hot air ballooning was a sport and a tourist attraction, a fixture on the landscape. One night at maybe 8pm they were sitting in their dining room and heard the telltale sound of a hot air balloon, the propane burner, and it got louder and louder, and they ran outside to see what was going on.

They lived right next to a lake, and there was a hot air balloon that was coming down in the lake. It dropped down and they were hitting the gas and the basket touched the lake water with the burner full on and somehow they got enough lift that they could lift off. At the time John thought it was a narrowly averted crash, but later he wondered whether or not it was a stunt. It was a small lake and you can't steer a hot air balloon. He couldn't have set out to do it! They dropped down, touched the basket on the lake, and then they flew off!

Looking at these pictures John was suddenly struck by the insanity of it because you could not possibly launch 15 hot air balloons around the city of Seattle and just have them float around and maybe they are going to float into the ocean, maybe they are going to float into a building or into the airport traffic. They are just floating! Anchorage is a city surrounded by water and mountains. Their only steering is: If it looks like you are going to float out over the ocean, you dump gas and just go down as fast as you can. Down to earth is your only maneuver. If you are blowing into the mountains: Go down to earth! But then they stopped. There were balloons everywhere in the sky, and then there was a day where they were never there again.

It was a great poster that did hang on John’s bedroom wall and the person who posted it said in their little caption: ”Why don't we ever see balloons anymore? We used to see them all the time!” and 500 people commented: ”Insurance. Insurance. Insurance. Insurance. It's because of insurance. The insurance. It is the insurance!” Over and over, hilarious. Of course it was the insurance! That is why you don't have cool trucks anymore where you can take the roof off, because insurance! Insurance has taken all the dangerous cool things out of life and replaced them with uncool stuff. When there was enough sentimentality built up about the good old days when there was cool stuff, people tried to reintroduce cool-ish thing, but insurance made sure that the cool thing was not that cool.

If you took the Plymouth Prowler and you took off the 15 mile impact bumpers, it might even be a cool-looking car. It is a horrible car, even without the bumpers. but if you take the bumpers off it is a cooler looking car and looks like an H.R. Geiger version of an old hot rod. It becomes a little bit Alien vs Predator, or the alien in Aliens.

John is not against insurance, but he wants to live in a world where there are balloons in the sky on a hot summer night or on a cold winter's day. How can he separate that desire from the weird Boomer sentimentality about things? He doesn’t want to be somebody that doesn't get with the times and spends any time at all thinking about how great things used to be, but there aren’t balloons in the sky, and for someone to have never seen that, never look up and see beautiful rainbow balloons fly by, it seems like a small and unnecessary indignity.

Insurance is protecting whom? What is going to happen? What are those balloons going to do? How many hot air balloon crashes were there? Three people died? Five people took their lives into their own hands and climbed into an unstearable balloon? The balloon came down on some power lines and knocked out power for a while? They probably got in the way of airplanes, but even that! A balloon would get down out of the sky if it went anywhere near a big airport, and a little Cessna can fly around a freaking balloon. They move so slowly!

Why don’t billionaires have a dirigible? (RW183)

John always wonders why Elon Musk doesn't have a dirigible. It can’t be because of the hydrogen gas because he has access to inert gas that is probably lighter even than hydrogen with an atomic number of 1/2. If you were a billionaire and were just looking for dumb things to do? Bill Gates doesn't have a dirigible because Bill Gates is a conservative guy. He drives around in a Subaru Outback, he is not flashy, he doesn't want to be a showy, rich guy. But there are so many showy, rich guys who are like: ”Check me out! I live in an undersea lair and I am stealing nuclear submarines from all the world powers!”

Why wouldn't one of those Ding-Dong billionaires…? The young kid who started Snapchat decided he was going to buy up all the available real estate in Venice, California and make Venice an unlivable place. Until recently Venice had always been a scummy little hippie town, but now it is the most expensive real estate in California because this kid bought up all the stupid little two-story balloon warehouses and turned them into Snapchat offices. Why does that kid not have a dirigible, a giant one like the old U.S. Navy ones with two different gondolas and eight engines. You could just cruise the world, or just park that thing off of Catalina Island!

What an inspiration you would be to people around the world! ”Here is what a billionaire looks like! Like a crazy person!” A billionaire by definition is a crazy person. The day your assets go over $1 billion you long passed the threshold of being a crazy person. Why don't crazy people have more imagination? Why do they buy basketball teams? Why do they do such unimaginative things?

Dan knows a handful of people who have become exceptionally wealthy and who have tens of millions of dollars, and they all don't know what to do with the money. They don't spend it or donate it, they are not contributing it to people in need, but they continue to live in the same little house that they are in, not because they say it is enough for them and they would rather do some humanitarian things or philanthropy, but they just don't know what to do.

Dan would do so many amazing things if he had just a tiny little fraction of that money. First of all you would never hear from him again. He would never be on social media or podcasts ever again because he would be too busy doing things in the world.

John knew a guy in San Francisco, one of the guys who invented Quora and was doing other stuff, too. He had all this money and he bought a McLaren, but he lived in a one bedroom tech guy apartment with no art on the walls. He lived there because he a utilitarian mind and didn't need more, so he just had this one better apartment and a McLaren that he never drove because he wasn't really a very good driver or interested in driving, but he bought a McLaren because it was a car he had a poster of when he was a kid or something.

If Dan had for example $300 million dollars, he would have such a long list that they don't have enough time to go over this now. The first thing he would do is literally that no one would ever see or hear from him again. He would be out of America because he can't buy enough land here. Dan loves Telluride in Colorado (he has switched his way to pronounce Colorado for John’s sake and because he needs an affectation, they talk about it for a while).

John’s accent, dialect, and writing voice (RW183)

John does not have an accent and speaks flawless unaccented English. Pacific Northwest American English is the most accent-less of all spoken English (see discussion in RL154). As English has travelled away from the received pronunciation world of the Queen it has traveled the furthest when it reached the Pacific Northwest. Obviously they speak English in Australia and New Zealand, which are much further away, but they were colonies for much longer and psychologically it has travelled the furthest and has been away from the mother tongue the longest, both in time and distance, when it arrived in Seattle and ultimately in Alaska, where it has been honed to its diamond-like perfection.

John speaks uses a lot of dialect, he has a lot of found objects in his language. He doesn’t do a lot of intentional language games and goofs, he plays with language a lot, but he doesn’t say ”Colorado” to be difficult, but that is just how he says it. A lot of that is influenced by the fact that his mom had a very strong Western Ohio accent and lexicon from the depression era, real country, but not southern country, but Midwestern farm talk.

John’s dad’s parents were Victorians and had a crazy Jazz-age way of speaking. Their parents were born before the civil war! There was an additional lexicon with references, language jokes and language play, the mid-Atlantic clipped way of speaking, that John is very close to in terms of generations. His dad spoke a lot of that stuff and made fun of it, too. He was doing it often ironically, but John and most people weren't aware of the source material and it was unclear what comment he was making on the Coney Island washboard. John took all of that, both the original source material and the ironic commentary on it and assimilated it into the way he spoke.

Alaska had such a huge diversity of Americans. Sarah Palin talks the Fargo way and the people who immigrated to that part of Alaska were all farmers from Minnesota and ultimately from Norway who came directly to Alaska and started a very honest colony there. That is their native way of speaking! A lot of them are third or fourth generation Alaskans and they speak with that weird Norway/Minnesota voice. Tons and tons of people came up during the oil years from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. John’s uncle and his group of people were Ivy League people who had come to Alaska to start a new country, basically.

All of that language was in play all the time. Anchorage was like the Mos Eisley Cantina and everywhere you went people were talking every which way. There were very smart and educated people there and there were really uneducated people. Everybody had money and was firing on all cylinders. Even within the native Alaskans, there were five completely different language traditions where the languages didn't really bear any resemblance to each other. Native Alaskans don't all speak in the same language family. There are an awful lot of different peoples there.

At a certain point John abandoned the idea that he had to really follow any one path. The only thing he did believe in was grammar. He learned grammar well enough that he started to make grammar jokes in the way he spoke and a lot of those grammar jokes became habits and became unconscious, so they were no longer a grammar joke, but just sounded like bad grammar or invented grammar. John wasn't inventing it because he didn't know what the grammar was, but he had gone through this whole process of language play that then became habitual and had started to make him sound like an eccentric.

He would use the wrong vowel sound, he would put the accent on the wrong syllable, he would incorporate words from different languages, but either mispronounced or hyper-pronounced. All that stuff started as a game at some point, and then it became an eccentric way of speaking. John can't even remember some of the origin stories of pronunciations. He calls it Eugene, Oregon, originally probably to infuriate somebody, which was the point of a lot of language games because people are so self-serious about language and grammar.

John grew up in an era where kids learn grammar and the first thing they want to do is correct the people around them. Kids incompletely learn grammar and so it is one of the funny, charming things that kids do, where they say: ”You said that wrong!” and then it turns out that the kid is wrong because the kid learned one rule but didn't learn the 15 other rules. John loves to antagonize people like that or infuriate them, to catch them. This sounds twice as insufferable that you would be laying mouse traps for people, hoping that they were going to jump in and correct you, and then it turns out. John didn't do that for very long, it was a very 7th grade thing.

During that period of laying mousetraps for people John just realized sometimes the wrong way is more elegant or sounds more fun. It doesn't sound better, but more fun. Why wouldn't you call Eugene, Oregon? The people that get mad and say: ”It is Eugene!”, to pretend not to understand them and say: ”That is what I said!”, that is just so fun and John got habituated in playing that way and now he can't tell anymore how many words are… because he is not dyslexic, but he has made fun of words for so long that he doesn't even know what he is doing half the time.

Also, as a young kid when you learn words from books you sometimes put an extra syllable in. John heard a woman say ”particuly” and doesn’t even know how to say it because he has always said ”particularly” and maybe either one is the right one, he doesn’t even know. He will often put an extra vowel in words like that and that comes from from learning language from reading where you ghost over a word like that and you are sure there is another T and I in there somewhere. Particularly is a word that John is pronouncing incorrectly, but if you had asked him at the beginning this show if he was pronouncing that correctly, he wouldn't be able to tell you.

He also does a weird hyper-diction thing where he pronounces every syllable. He slurs plenty, but there are words that he hyper-doesn't-slur. It might have to do with song-writing and songs-singing because you can do whatever you want with pronunciation in a song, connecting language to song and realizing that speaking is singing and singing your speech in a way. John doesn’t speak-sing in his songs, but it goes the other way and when he write words he will think of them how they will sound read aloud.

John worked a long time on making his written voice and his speaking voice the same. When he first started writing his written voice was alien to him and he didn’t like it. He would write a long essay in his late teens, early twenties, and the mannerisms of his writing were just excruciating and wince-worthy. It wasn't the way he talked! It took him a long time to get those two voices to be the same and some of that process was that he started to speak in a way that was a little writerly or conscious of what this would be like if it were written.

At the same time he was trying to take all the strange mannerisms out of his writing and made it sound like he was speaking. He is pretty close to it, but he doesn’t write enough these days and can’t say that he has a clear writer's voice anymore, but when he does write something it is really hyper in his voice, which makes it feel a little unnatural. Whatever he writes now, it is always comedic. He is not writing grant-applications or something!

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