Grace asked me if I wanted to try it on the long drive from her Ohio college. It is about a 5-hour trip, so I said, “Sure.” She said that she had heard good things, but was as naive about it as I was.
Grace was referring to an old podcast called “Serial.” To be more specific, she was referencing the first season of that show, which was streamed in 2015. “Serial” hit the podcast world like a storm. It remains the most downloaded podcast ever produced. Naturally, we were years late to jump on the bandwagon. It is common for me to find a great show or program years after the rest of the world has extolled its virtues.
Season One of “Serial” chronicles the case against Adnan Syed. He was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. When the crime happened he was only 17 and an honor student at a tough Baltimore high school.
The podcast is skillfully narrated by Sarah Koenig, who spent thousands of hours researching the case. She has the gift of pulling you in one direction, then dragging you from that comfort zone. One moment you are convinced that Adnan is innocent, then you are not so sure, then you think he is guilty. This cycle repeats throughout the series. Clearly, Sarah is a master of the plot twist; her skill is more impressive as she is doing this sleight of hand with a real case that has a known outcome. I won’t spoil the story for you any further.
We listened to the first 5 episodes on our trip, the 5th one ending as we pulled into the driveway. Gracie said, “Dad, we can finish the series when we go on walks.” This sounded like a great idea. When Grace is home we often go on long walks together.
Like many things in the Kuna household, we scheduled walk times. Then, we would download a given episode on our iPhones, insert our earbuds, and head off on our hike. Inevitably, we would hit glitches and have to re-synchronize our listening along the way. We knew when we were off when one person was laughing or gasping, and the other walker had no idea why.
These have been a different kind of walks for me. The majority of the time, I’m a solo walker, but when I walk with someone, we converse. I wasn’t sure about sharing a walk while isolating in an earbud cacoon. In some ways, this seemed even too introverted for me. In reality, it is similar to watching a TV show with someone. You are connected with them but differently. We interact during our walks, and we talk about the show afterward. I would never want to give up regular walks, but I do enjoy the added pleasure of these enhanced hikes. It feels like you are going to the movies. You have to plan the event, and you must leave the house. When you return home you reprocess the experience.
Grace and I like to take different routes when we walk. One day we may go downtown, the next day, we may venture into the forest preserves, and on another trip, we may meander to my friend Tom’s home.
When we finished the series, Gracie asked me if I wanted to continue our walk and listens. “Sure,” I said. She picked another 2015 podcast, “Limetown.” We just started this fictional series, which is more akin to a radio show from the past rather than an investigative documentary. I love old radio shows that stretch my imagination, so I’m all in.
We are now accompanied by Will. He has decided to join our “Walk and Listen” experience. We listened to the first episode of “Limetownm” which chronicles the disappearance of over 300 scientists from a utopian communal village. During this inaugural walk, we traveled into the forest preserves, then through a couple of neighborhoods. Our altered path due to Will’s need to be back home for a ZOOM meeting of his research lab group.
I have been enjoying this new activity, and I mention it here to highlight the fact that there are new things that you can do during the pandemic. Sometimes you can creatively come up with a brilliant new idea, or (as in this case) you can do a little remodel on a tried and true one. COVID is creating barriers, but the only thing that is imprisoning us is ourselves.
Early in 2020, many felt that the pandemic would last for a few months. We now know that this was folly. I would urge each of you to expand your horizons in safe ways. “Walk and Listens” may not be your thing, but use our idea as a springboard for your own.