Community by Jim Bartlett,posted Mar 25 2013 12:07PM
When the Internet was first exploding back in the late 90s, it was fashionable to say that it would turn us into a world of loners, individuals hammering away at our computers, immersed in the virtual world, ignoring the real one. What the culural critics missed is the way the Internet creates communities united by shared interests in a way that nothing else could, and the way these communities can and do cross over into the real world.
In 2004, while I was out of radio entirely, I started writing a blog about music, mostly about the 70s. I did it mostly because I missed being on the air and thought that it might be a substitute. Eventually, I eventually began to incorporate stuff about radio, from my experiences as a broadcaster and a listener. I had no idea if anybody was reading it, but after a while, I discovered that people were. I'd write, they'd read and leave comments or ask questions, and a dialogue was born. Many of my readers had blogs of their own, which helped to expand the community and give it additional dimensions. Today, our community is remarkably vibrant and interesting. If I have a question about some obscure record from 1972, for example, I know who to ask, and I often find myself answering such questions for others.
It's hard to imagine how such a community might have developed without the Internet. Yet the cultural critics would say that this kind of friendship, conducted via blogs, e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, is no substitute for physical reality. It may surprise you to learn that I agree. Eventually, you find yourself wanting to look these friends in the eye, shake their hands, hear the sound of their voices, and drink beer with them. (Beer is another interest many in my community share, but your mileage may vary.) I've been able to meet in the real world several people I first met online. There are many more I'd like to meet, but they're spread quite literally across the world. Someday, I hope we'll manage to occupy the same physical space at the same time. If not, that'll be OK too.
That blog I created in 2004 still exists today, by the way, and I still update it whenever I can, so I hope you'll click over sometime. It's at http://jabartlett.wordpress.com.
Now that I'm the regular afternoon guy on Magic, one of the things I get to do is fill in for Pat on the morning show when he's away, as he will be next week. Morning radio is something I've done on and off over the years in various places. When I was in college, I worked regularly on Sunday mornings. I used to stop at Country Kitchen on the way to the station sometimes, where I would run into people who hadn't gone home yet from the night before. Once, a guy at the counter asked me if I knew where the after-bar party was. When I said, "Hey, I'm up for today," it seemed to take him a long time to process the idea, like I had told him I was from Mars. (To tell the truth, being up so early was a bit foreign to me at the time, too.)
For a year in the mid 80s, I was the regular morning guy on a top 40 station in Illinois. I lived less than five minutes from the station, so I could sleep relatively late--I set my alarm for 4:17AM, because 4:15 was just too early. My partner and I tried to be funny, but mostly I think we were probably just stupid. This was about the time "Miami Vice" was a big hit on TV and the Miami Sound Machine was scoring their first big hits. So we decided that the key to being cool was to be all about Miami. So for several days--or maybe a week, or maybe two--we were Miami Jim and Miami Mitch, and we read the forecast for Miami every morning.
See what I mean about stupid?
After getting up at 4:17 for a few months, it didn't feel any worse than getting up at any other, later hour. It did mean, however, that if I was out after 9:00 at night, I was howling at the moon. Ann used to kid me about being a remarkably cheap date back then--one beer and I'd be falling asleep. Similarly, "sleeping in" became getting up at 6AM. On vacation that year, we saw more than we'd ever seen on a vacation before because we weren't sleeping half the day away.
At another station in later years, I had a long drive to get to work, so when I was on the morning show, my alarm would go off at 3:15. On the list of the worst things in life, a 3:15 alarm is up near the top, particularly on cold winter mornings. So next week, I'll be setting it a little later. Maybe 4:17 or so. For a morning guy, that's sleeping in and livin' large.
One of the more enjoyable rituals of springtime is the announcement of headliners for Summerfest, Milwaukee's big lakefront music festival. The biggest so far is Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, playing on Friday, June 28th. Petty has played Summerfest nearly a dozen times over the years, and has said it's one of his favorite places to play. Once, his only American show of the whole summer was there. Also announced: New Kids on the Block with 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men on July 2, which is as big a deal for children of the 1990s as the Petty show is for kids of the 70s and 80s. All of the shows announced over the winter are big-ticket Marcus Amphitheater shows. (Big ticket, indeed: I'm not going to say exactly what my Tom Petty tickets cost, but I will need to keep my job for a while.) Once summer gets a little closer, they'll begin announcing acts that will appear on the grounds stages.
Performances on the grounds stages are the real fun of Summerfest--you can see as many as you can get to in a day for the price of a general admission ticket ($17 at the gate this year). Over the years, Ann and I have seen Ray Charles, Steve Winwood, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and many other less famous acts on the grounds stages. One of our favorite Summerfest days was when we spent several hours at one stage listening to a blues band and a zydeco player, neither of which we'd ever heard of before that day, who positively burned the place down.
The other thing you do at Summerfest is eat, everything from hot dogs and pizza to baklava and sauerbraten. And because this is Milwaukee, it all floats on an ocean of beer. Plus, there is no better people-watching venue in all of a Wisconsin summer. If you go, do NOT try to drive your car downtown and find a place to park. Catch a shuttle bus from State Fair Park or other outlying venues in Milwaukee County. It costs a few bucks for a round trip, but it's easily worth the lack of parking aggravation.
Yeah, I know Summerfest isn't for three months yet, but I'm ready. It runs June 26 through July 7 this year, and is closed on July 4. Summerfest.com has all the information you'll want right now, and will have more as summer approaches.
I have had a lot of jobs in my life. One of my favorites was teaching prep classes to students getting ready to take the ACT and SAT college entrance exams. For several years in the spring and fall, I got to travel around the country on an expense account, teaching in the evenings and either sightseeing or hanging out in the hotel by day.
Once, the company sent me to Belcourt, North Dakota, on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa reservation nine miles from the Canadian border. To get there, you fly to Grand Forks and rent a car for a 2-1/2 hour drive through a whole lot of nowhere. The night before, I stayed at the only motel in town, which was called--I am not making this up--the Sleepy Tepee. The next morning, I got up and met the guidance counselor who was helping organize the class. So many kids had registered that they didn't have a room big enough at the school, so they rented a hall. Said hall was attached to the back of a convenience store. It's like you walked into the PDQ, took a left at the potato-chip aisle, and there you were in a ballroom.
So it's 7:30 in the morning and we are setting up those big, long cafeteria tables from stacks against the wall. And I manage to drop one squarely on the arch of my right foot. I am pretty sure that I have done something serious to it, but since I'm the only person in a 500-mile radius who can teach the class, I have to hobble on. By the afternoon part of the all-day session, my foot had gotten so painful I had to lead the class sitting down.
After the class was over, I could have gone to the hospital in Belcourt, but decided instead to drive back to Grand Forks, where I had a hotel reservation and would be flying out in the morning. That was a mistake, because the injured foot was also my accelerator and brake foot. But I made it, and I decided to go to the hotel first, where the clerk greeted me not with "good evening sir" but "what in the world happened to you?" as I limped into the lobby. She told me where the hospital was, and so I drove over. Did I have to park in the very back of the parking lot and walk to the ER? Yes I did. The X-ray technician asked me if I'd injured the foot that evening. "Nope, 7:30 this morning," I said. "What did you do all day?" he asked. "Stood on it," said I.
They determined that I had a non-displaced fracture of my big toe, and they gave me some pain pills, which caused my head to lose radio contact with the rest of my body. I also got a pair of crutches. Although I didn't really need them, they were very useful at the airport the next day. If you have crutches, you get to ride from gate to gate in a cart, and you board the airplane first. It was so great that after my foot healed, I considered keeping the crutches just to use whenever I had to fly.
That adventure in North Dakota is one of those things that, even while it's happening, makes you think that it will be a great story to tell someday. And it has been.