I started my career in radio at the now-defunct Savvy Traveler, a weekly, hour-long radio show distributed by Public Radio International to 190 public radio stations.
When I started there as an assistant producer, the show was long on practical advice and “how-to” style features. In the middle, it became very ponderous — full of long travelogues and lots of listener stories.
I became the producer and editor in 2003 until the show was canceled in 2004, and I tried to balance the show between practical advice, news-you-use, arm-chair traveling and the occasional ponderous feature.
I’m very grateful for the travel opportunities the show afforded me. It opened up in me a now-almost-insatiable adventurous streak and a strong desire to see the world and go places that most people haven’t even heard of, let alone can find on a map (a quick jaunt to Badakhshan, anyone?).
Here are just a few of my favorite pieces from the Savvy Traveler, listed in chronological order.
The Stans, parts 1 and 2 (2000).
My first long-form story for radio, “The Stans” is, to this day, the piece I’m best known for. It’s the two-part story of a group of happy-go-lucky, unassuming, mostly American tourists in one of the least-tourist friendly places on the planet. But, they have a mission: to step foot in every single country with the suffix “-stan,” in less than three weeks.
LAX 9/13/2001 (2001).
My September 11th story. It still holds up if you ask me (though that line, “Still, things are different…” maybe not so much) and is, if nothing else, a relic of the zeitgeist just after the attack.
LAX09132001.mp3 / 4:37 / 64 Kbps / 2.2 mb
The Afrosippi Picnic (2001).
One of the greatest parties in one of the greatest locations in the United States. It’s a shame it’s over now. RIP Otha Turner (1906? – 2003). RIP Bernice Turner Pratcher (1956-2003).
TheAfrosippiPicnic.mp3 / 13:09 / 64 Kbps / 6.1 mb
Crossing Over, with Ruben Martinez (2001).
An illegal immigration travelogue with the author Ruben Martinez. It’s a little bit Jack Kerouac, a little bit Tom Joad, a little bit tragic and a little bit comic, too. It’s like life.
CrossingOver.mp3 / 10:48 / 64 Kbps / 5 mb
Family Baggage, Lost and Found (2001).
In the fall of 2001, I accompanied my mom on a trip to her ancestral home — our ancestral home, I suppose — in central Mississippi. Rediscovering old lands and lies, trying to make sense of a distant and forgotten past. Figuring out that it’s not so much what’s happened that matters. What it is.
FamilyBaggage.mp3 / 19:19 / 64 Kbps / 8.9 mb
The Salton Sea (2002).
Located southwest of Palm Springs, the Salton Sea is one of my favorite places in California (I did more stories about this crazy area on the first episode of Pacific Drift). Click the title link to see a great slideshow by photographer Chris Landis.
TheSaltonSea.mp3 / 8:12 / 64 Kbps / 3.8 mb
How was Africa? (2003).
Existential angst fueled by full-time media consumption leads to unabashed unappreciation of the wild kingdom. Or, can seeing a few animals in their natural setting really snap you back into the moment?
HowWasAfrica.mp3 / 12:52 / 64 Kbps / 5.9 mb
Mojave Road (2004).
My favorite story I ever did for the Savvy Traveler and maybe even my favorite story I’ve ever done. This has also appeared on Radio Lab and on Desert Air, a Hearing Voices special I hosted. If you were to listen to just one story on this page, make it this one.
MojaveRoad.mp3 / 15:17 / 64 Kbps / 7.1 mb
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