Tag Archives: Road trip

Talking to Strangers may be enjoyed best by having the author talk to you

True confession: I somehow got subscribed to Audible for a whole year before questioning the money that was being deducted from my bank account. When I figured it out, I had eleven credits to use. I’m too cheap to just let them go, so I scanned the available titles, downloaded eleven books in a half hour and cancelled the subscription.

To wring value out of my lax bookkeeping, I had to create a new habit in order to listen to my library of audio books. Because not listening to them would be almost as wasteful as not downloading them.

Talking to StrangersFortunately, a twenty-hour drive from Texas to Wisconsin was on the calendar. Thus, I found myself listening this past week to Malcolm Gadwell’s Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know.

Was it better than coronavirus coverage on National Public Radio? Infinitely. Was it better than listening to the same old songs on Sirius’ ’80s on 8? By far.

Those twenty hours didn’t exactly fly by (mostly because I’m too old to ignore the inevitable aches and pains that accumulate by sitting in one position for so long), but they did go quickly, and I learned a lot of useful facts along the way.

For example, do you think CIA spies must be very good at spotting liars? Well, they’re not.

Do you think suicide is the result of depression? Well, yes, but not only that.

Do you know why binge drinking is a major factor in campus rapes? You might have your suspicions, but Gadwell spells it out for you.

Then he ties all these conclusions about the challenges of talking to strangers in a professionally wrapped package that explains why encounters between white cops and black people have the potential for going terribly, terribly wrong.

Using sociological and psychological research, Gadwell challenges commonly held views all while telling a fascinating story. I already knew I liked his approach, having read his books The Tipping Point, Blink and David and Goliath. Even if you don’t agree with his conclusions, you’ll probably remember some of the research and facts he shares. His stories stick with you. (And I can’t emphasize too much: even if you don’t care about horrors brought to light by Black Lives Matters, you’ll understand the liars, alcoholics and suicide victims in your life a lot better.)

Hearing Gadwell make his points in his own voice elevates the experience even more. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you’ll also hear the voices of people he interviewed—scientists, criminologists, military psychologists. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments. You actually hear the contentious arrest of Sandra Bland by the side of the road in Texas. As Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. Plus, there’s a theme song! The audio book is so much more than any standard audio book.

If you have a curious mind and want to fill it with something other than noise, try Gadwell’s audio book. Whether you’re a stranger, or just strange enough to have a bunch of Audible credits to spend and a long drive ahead of you, you might agree with my suggestion.

Paul Bunyan put down roots in Cali, too

Where do you think Paul Bunyan is from?

I grew up in Minnesota, and I thought Paul was a member of my tribe. There’s a statue of him in Bemidji, only 60 miles north of where I learned the legends of the state in grade school.

But a drive through California will quickly dissuade you from believing Paul Bunyan belongs only to Minnesota.

Wait, who’s Paul Bunyan again?

If you’re not sure, you didn’t grow up near a forest harvested by loggers.

Paul Bunyan is a legendary lumberjack who eats miles-high piles of flapjacks and hangs with his trusty friend, Babe the Big Blue Ox. He wears suspenders over his red plaid shirt and carries an ax over his shoulder. He’s jolly about hard work, as any good Minnesotan ought to be.

But California has hardwood forests populated with hard-working loggers, too, and Californians also lays claim to the legend of Paul Bunyan.

Paul Bunyan Three Rivers

The sign below Paul says: Carved 1941-42 Single log, 2,000-year-old giant sequoia, 40 tons heavy before carved, 16’6″ high – 9’wide, Carroll Barnes, Sculptor

A statue of Paul carrying Babe, appropriately carved in wood, stands near the entrance to Sequoia National Park in Three Rivers, California. It’s no wonder Paul has forearms as thick as tree trunks if he’s logging giant sequoia.

Paul Bunyan Fort Bragg

This notation appears on a beach sign in Fort Bragg.

Paul Bunyan is celebrated annually in Fort Bragg, California, where the forest meets the Pacific Ocean. Hundreds of thousands of trees once covered the coast there.

paul-bunyan-salt-and-pepper.jpgAnd he and Babe are memorialized in wooden beams, wire and cement stucco in Klamath, California, near the Oregon border. Here Paul weighs 30,000 pounds and he’s 49-feet-2-inches tall; that’s some chest hair, huh? I chose a discreet angle on Babe, who is portrayed with all a bull’s parts intact. If you’d prefer your Bunyan & Babe in a more manageable size, you can buy salt and peppers shakers at the gift shop for only $12.95. Ain’t that cuter than a puppy licking a baby?

A little research reveals Paul was born in Maine, where I can only assume the forests are as evident as they are in northern Minnesota and the Pacific Northwest (he was such a big baby, it took five storks to deliver him).

So I guess he was only visiting when he was in Minnesota.