Preface: This summer I traveled to San Francisco on the California Zephyr in order to come of age. I recorded a podcast about my experience for This American Life. So far This American Life has yet to reimburse me for my expenses, which I find insulting and ridiculous. In retaliation, I’ve decided to post this open letter on every site that will publish it until I’m compensated for my work. Thank you.
Dear Ira Glass,
I’m going to cut straight to the chase because you strike me as the type of cat who respects honesty. I think you should give me a time slot on This American Life. Last year, you aired a segment where David Blaine’s dentist said that the magician’s teeth are worn down, the enamel gone, and the nerves exposed because he spent several years eating glass, and then David Blaine said that even though it’s now painful for him to eat or drink anything hot or cold, he still enjoys eating a nice wine glass from time to time. Either that was fake and stupid, or it was real and somehow stupider. Just because David Blaine is famous doesn’t mean he should be allowed on the radio. And if your editorial standards are so low as to allow that type of trash on your show, then you should be more than willing to give me twenty minutes.
This past spring I graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in political science, and I immediately realized that I hadn’t the slightest clue what I wanted to do with my life. Adulthood descended upon me like a great shadow, and I was unprepared to embrace the darkness. And so I decided to do what I was brought up by television to believe was appropriate for this type of situation. I decided to come of age. Coming-of-age stories are great because they abide by the basic structure that most stories follow: a period of stasis, a period of change and growth, and then a return to an altered state of stasis. For most coming-of-age stories the change/growth period takes place on a road trip or during an adventure of some kind, where the character finds themself and experiments with drugs and sex. And so as soon as I got my diploma, I immediately boarded the California Zephyr, an Amtrak train that goes from Chicago to San Francisco, and makes intermediate stops across the western United States.
My plan was simple: I would board the train, take a hit of acid, and then interview the elderly passengers about their lives. My hope was that these interviews would provide me with insight into what it means to be an adult, and what this crazy thing we call life is all about. Additionally, I thought that making pit stops in towns across the country would allow me to get to know the real America that politicians are always talking about, and allow me to experience new subsets of our culture. I thought it would also be prudent for me to find an attractive female passenger, who would join me on my adventure and help me explore my sexuality. Then when we arrived in San Francisco, I would be a new person, filled with insight and wisdom and dripping with sexuality. And I would become a famous rock musician and live in an apartment with my sexy, new, train girlfriend. And the whole thing would be captured on audio tape, ready for the air, in what would perhaps be the best segment to ever be broadcast on This American Life.
However, things did not go according to plan. The acid proved more distracting than initially anticipated. And I spent the first night aboard the train in my seat crying, terrified, and sweating profusely. On the bright side, the rest of the people in my row switched seats for the remainder of the journey, which gave me more room to spread out, but overall it was a negative experience, and I would not recommend taking acid on a train to others. The interviews were also a bit of a bust. It turns out that old people who spend their free time riding trains are boring as shit. I talked to this one old geezer for an hour and a half, and, basically, all he told me was that he went to college, he became a dentist, and then he retired. I asked him if any of his patients ever ate glass like David Blaine, and he said that glass is not something people should eat. I agreed. Then he told me that he has two sons, one’s an orthodontist, and one owns a bar in Fort Lauderdale. And that’s it. That took an hour and a half. He went on a fifteen minute tangent about a movie he saw with his wife in 1950 that starred either Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire, but he couldn’t remember which. But he assured me that he had a point, and it was that people don’t dance in movies anymore.
So I gave up on the interview idea. But I was determined to still make the most out of my trip. I was talking to an 80-year-old woman named Mildred, whose granddaughter had just died in the military a few days earlier, when my attention was captured by a beautiful vixen, who made a t-shirt and jeans look like a power suit. Suddenly, I regretted my attire, which was inspired by Alex Tuner in The Last Shadow Puppets tour, and wished I looked more like Alex Turner during the AM tour, as this girl looked like she’d be more interested in a greaser in a well-tailored suit than a West Coast 70’s rocker, which I had thought would be more appropriate for my new suave, sexy lifestyle. I told Mildred that I was late for the bus, and confidently, sidled up to my new love interest. Her name was Alice and she wanted me to leave her alone.
It turns out that asking a woman if she’d like to be your “love interest” isn’t a particularly effective seduction technique. However, due to the fact that she was the only other person on board under 30, I needed to make things work with her. And so I returned to my seat and began researching how to better attract women. This objective occupied the rest of my time on the train, and I forgot about my plan to visit America’s forgotten cities.
I googled “how to seduce a woman” and found a wikiHow article which I followed step by step.
Step One: Go Slow. This I already messed up when I asked her if she wanted to be my love interest. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to avoid sudden movements around her in the future.
Step Two: Dress Up. Check.
Step Three: Listen to Her. “Try to ask more questions than you answer. Simple ice-breaking questions are nice. Try things like ‘What do you do for living?’ and ‘Where did you grow up?’” This I decided to employ immediately. After walking up to her very slowly, I asked her questions and made sure to listen to her responses. She said that she was a student, but worked part-time at a bakery, and that she was from New York. Having exhausted the list of suggested questions, I walked away.
Step Four: Be Confident. This really should have preceded step three. Because when I asked her the questions from part three, I was staring directly at the floor and shaking excessively. As I walked away, an elderly woman came up to me and offered me a blanket because she thought I was about to faint.
Step Five: Use Body Language to Flirt. “Direct and confident body language can signal your interest. Try using cues to show a woman you’re attracted to her and interested in getting physical.” By the time I had arrived at this step, she had moved to the dining car, so I walked up to her table, pointed directly at my genitals, winked, and walked away. Several people stopped eating, and I am no longer allowed in the dining car.
Step Six: Try an Appropriate Pick-Up Line. I really liked the pick-up line suggested by the article so I walked up to her, again slowly, but with a subtle confidence, sat down next to her and proudly exclaimed, “Wow, this party is pretty lifeless, huh? As a nurse, I think I’m pronouncing this DOA.” She stared at me for several minutes, and I decided not to overplay my hand, so I slinked away confidently.
I’m not proud of what happened next. That night I was reading the beginning of part two of wikiHow’s guide for “How to Seduce Women,” Step One: Use Smell to Your Advantage. In the midst of my reading, Alice came to my car, sat down right next to me, and said, “Look, I don’t know what your game is, but I’m into it.” She then informed me that she found an unoccupied room in the sleeper car, and told me to meet her there in ten minutes. I immediately began hyperventilating and hid in the bathroom for the rest of night. The next morning, I got off the train and hitchhiked the rest of the way to San Francisco. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t do it.
So overall the trip was a dud. Although I was unable to complete the This American Life segment as I had originally intended, I still think you should reimburse me for all of my expenses, because I only took this trip to make your show better. In return, I am willing to send you a recording I made of me ranting for twenty minutes about how unpleasant my trip was, which I still think you should put on the air, considering that you broadcasted an entire segment about David Blaine eating fucking glass.
Thank you very much,