When I began packing to make my trip, I decided I wanted to make my primary eqipment as low-tech as possible. I did have to reactivate my cell phone and, as a photographer, bring my camer along. But after that, I decided against bringing my computer – although I did bring the flash drive containing my book – and I didn’t even bring my iPod along, deciding instead to bring along a small short wave radio in its place.
It seems like an antiquated concept these days, but I’m one of those weird people who still listens to and loves radio. More so than even the TV, radio was a big part of my life growing up. Every day, I started my routine listening to Larry Norton on 97 Rock, and am probably one of the few people in Buffalo who can clearly recall his days with Mark Stout. On many nights, Rick Jeaneret would lead me to dreamworld, colorfully calling Sabres games with the excitement and energy of an overcaffeinated cheetah. I would also listen to the smart, thoughtful takes on culture, events, and random happenings in the day’s news as presented by Janet Snyder and Nicholas Picholas (which the latter swears is his real name). In Chicago, with the AM dial on my main radio having apparently been mysteriously broken into by a small alien, I would turn my father’s old handheld radio into Blackhawks games and listen over headphones whenever they played a game that I wanted to hear, while I also tuned into shows like 8:48 on NPR and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR.
Radio is still a huge part of my life, and on a recent Christmas, I was delightfully surprised to be gifted with a small – almost pocket-sized – short wave radio. Since I have access to another very good main radio, though, my short wave has been relegated to secondhand duty. Here on the road, though, its been the only radio I have, and so its been getting a lot of use as of late. Its also been useful beyond anything I needed.
I sat on the Megabus and fiddled with the stations, frequently hoping to find something interesting to listen to, and get some information about the local weather in the area. Hell, I also kept tuning in to try to find out what area I was passing through. I discovered the rural farmers of Illinois have a radio network dedicated to news stories which would affect them specifically. At various spots during the trip, I found radio networks in Kankakee, Bloomington, Peoria, and Springfield as the bus drifted along Route 66. The radio was the most important thing I had at the time because with it, I could keep track of where I was, what the weather was doing, and what kind of time the bus was making. But perhaps more importantly, it allowed me to make a more personalized connection to where i was than an iPod ever could. Radio has dics jockeys, after all, who all have unique personalities and are therefore able to connect with the listeners.
There were times during the trip when I would find a station I liked and listen to it until the end of its transmition range, when my short wave would slowly fade it away as it picked up another, stronger, more localized signal. This is how I knew the bus was making progress. I kept listening and flipping through stations eagerly, trying to find some clear signal that the bus was close to where I was going. Finally, I found my location from one of the more unlikely and annoying sources available on the radio – a car sales advertisement – as the voice over made an autioneer’s fast-talking pitch at the St. Louis area. After the whole of the trip spent staring across the summits of anthills on the Great Plains, I knew the bus was definitely close.
Just over 40 miles outside of St. Louis, I was still getting clear channels from Springfield when I spotted a billboard on the road which advertised another St. Louis radio station called The Arch. This was my cue to begin flipping through more stations, and I began finding stations in St. Louis coming through clearer before the bus ran into the nastiest torrential downpour I’ve ever seen. I started to worry about having to actually walk off the bus in that shit, but the weather fortunately started clearing up, and the blue of the sky began poking increasingly larger holes into the cloud blanket which has cast itself over Illinois for most of the trip.
The rain’s letup allowed for the creation of a scene scene straight out of a cheesy movie. The terrain got a big more rugged and the bus began navigating the valley of a couple of hills which, although small, were still large enough to block off my view even though I was sitting on the top deck. When the hill receded, though, I saw a small cluster of buildings in the distance against the fire-yellow evening sky. And just to their left, in silhouette, was the unmistakable form of the famous St. Louis Arch. I set my radio aside for the rest of the trip, took out my camera, and started trying to get good pictures.
It was, to say the least, difficult from a moving bus, even though I was at the front of the top deck.