Tag Archives: NPR

In which I mark a belated anniversary

Yesterday, I got a new phone. Which is good, because the old one was rebelling like a Russian Bolshevik1. It’s newest trick was randomly calling people in my address book. That and not receiving and/or sending most text messages. But it was doing that for a while.

So this morning in the shower while contemplating the life and death of a phone, I realized with a great stab of despair that with this old phone would die my personalized message from Carl Kassell on my voicemail! For shame! I must email Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me and see if he will record a copy for me, I thought to myself.

Thinking about “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” made me remember that it was almost a year ago to the day that I started my internship with them. It feels so long ago that I boarded a plane in a mild panic and moved to Chicago, which turned out to be the greatest city in America/maybe anywhere.

I thought about that plane ride, with only my laptop and my diet coke and my anxiety for company, and how I blogged on the plane ride over there. When suddenly it hit me…

I MISSED IT!

I missed my blog’s birthday! I celebrated the dog’s birthday on Saturday, and in all the excitement of that, I totally forgot that Looking for Chicago/Boston turned the big 1 on Sunday! What a terrible blogger to forget my own blog’s birthday. As a childless single young woman, this blog is basically the longest relationship I have ever had. Forgetting its birthday could be cause for a breakup.

Fortunately, my blog is not the vengeful type. So we are going to be celebrating the big anniversary sometime in the upcoming week with a GIVEAWAY2!  Are you excited? You should be. It will probably involve books, and maybe cookies. And when it arrives, you should enter!

Stay tuned.

  1. See, that history degree wasn’t a total waste.
  2. A giveaway, you say? What sort of giveaway3?
  3. A super mega awesome foxy hot giveaway.
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in which I bid NPR a fond farewell

You all are familiar with the beloved children’s classic Goodnight Moon, I trust.

Today, I would like to submit to you a derivative manuscript based on that story.

I call it “Goodbye NPR.”

Goodbye NPR, by Mackenzi Lee 

In the great big news room, there was a telephone, and big headphones, and a picture of Carl Kasell, not jumping over the moon. And there were three NPR producers sitting on swivel chairs.

Goodbye room…..

Goodbye big headphones…..

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Goodbye editing bluff the listener tape…..

Goodbye tea……

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Goodbye creepily life-like portrait of Carl Kasell in my cubicle…..

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Goodbye cheapest sodas within a five mile radius….

Goodbye conference calls with the Subway Fugitive….

Goodbye sandwich Mondays…..

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Goodbye NPR producers…..

Goodbye every magazine I could ever want…..

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Goodbye creepy stairway….

Goodbye WBEZ building…..

Goodbye Navy Pier……

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Goodbye NPR.

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in which I brag about my awesome cookies.

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In case you’ve ever doubted my awesomeness, or the awesomeness of the legendary Van Engelenhoven cookies, today they were featured on the “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” blog. Since this is my last week at “Wait, Wait,” I made them in an attempt to leave a good taste – literally and figuratively – in the mouths of my coworkers. You can read their thoughts here. These Salt Lake City renowned cookies are now NPR approved!

Making cookies away from my mother’s kitchen is always an adventure. This was no exception. But they seemed to be a hit with the staff. So I didn’t mention that I could taste everything that was wrong with them.

Also, you can like Van Engelenhoven Cookies on facebook!

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in which Carl Kasell gives me one final hug

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Today was the first in a series of goodbyes that are going to be playing out across my last weeks in Chicago.

Which reminds me – goodbyes SUCK!

Tonight was the last live show I will have with “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me.” Next week, the final week of my internship, the show is going on the road to Portland, Maine, and I am staying in Chicago so that I can do normal, ordinary, non-nerdy things1 in the last weekend before I leave Chicago.

So tonight I did a lot of lasts.

I took my last cab with Peter and Eva to the Chase Bank Auditorium. I ate my last delicious catered meal in the greenroom with the panelists2. I had my last diet coke and cupcake in the control room while waiting for the show to start. I spent my last “Who’s Carl This Time?” giggling while Mike and Ian made fun of everyone on stage3.

Last time hearing Peter make an Angry Birds joke when his iPad didn’t work.

Last time hearing “This. Is NPR.”

Last time sneaking out the back during the Q&A.

Last time leaving the Chase Bank auditorium through the terrifying revolving doors.

And yeah, I loved all those things, and I will miss all of those things. But there was one goodbye tonight that, above all, made me want to shrivel up and melt into a puddle of tears.

Tonight, I said goodbye to Carl.

Carl Kasell, NPR legend, is easily one of the kindest and sweetest men I have ever met. He is everything you would hope he would be after listening to his stalwart, resonate tones on the radio for years. He has an air of perpetual sophisticationbut never fails to see the humor in every situation. From the first time I met him, when I was lost and alone and he greeted me with a kiss on the cheek like we were old friends, Carl has never been anything but kind to me. Through these ten weeks of script read thrus and post-show drinks and half-hour voice mail message recordings,  Carl and I bonded.

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Today, Carl and I had our last studio session together. I donned the big headphones and Carl positioned himself smartly in front of the microphone. One. Last. Time.

Tonight after the show, we said a very tender goodbye that included a quick succession of big hugs, an invitation to come back and see him anytime, and a kiss from Carl.

Then, we took a picture.

Remember how the first time I met Carl, I shyly asked him for a picture together? It looked like this:

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I’m not photogenic on the best of days, and this picture is that day in Bethesda captured in a frame. Kind of awkward, and my expression clearly conveys my thoughts, which went something like this: “I am a little girl in a big city with a bunch of people I don’t know trying to do a job I am totally not qualified to do and I am totally shell shocked and in three different time zones but this is oh my gosh this is Carl Kasell I AM TOUCHING CARL KASELL AND TRYING TO NOT LOOK AS FREAKING EXCITED ABOUT THAT AS I AM!!!”

Awkward, I think is the word.

Tonight, our picture together looked like this:

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And that is the best part about my summer in a frame.

Carl – thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you for living up to all my expectations of your awesome.

Until we meet again.

  1. In other words, I’m going to a Harry Potter convention.
  2. I also met Paula Pell, the second half of Scott Adsit on 30 Rock. It has been a very Hornberger summer for me.
  3. We’re equal opportunity mockers.
  4. And trust me, it’s hard to maintain this level of dignity while doing impressions of Kristen Stewart in limerick form.
  5. Still disoriented every time.
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in which I discuss the finer points of interning

Before we being, let me start with a disclaimer: this post is in no way intended to come off as ungrateful or entitled, and I apologize if that tone comes through. I realize that I am in an incredibly fortuitous situation, and, to quote Charlotte Bronte, “I hold myself supremely blessed – blessed beyond all language can express.”

But let’s be serious. Internships are hard.

Not hard because the work is necessarily challenging. I wouldn’t call reading news stories and watching YouTube all day particularly hard work. In fact, I’d call it down right enjoyable. And the whole idea of an internship is wonderful. It is a chance to try out a career the way you’d try on jeans at the mall.

But I say it again: internships are hard.

Working for NPR is the second internship I have had; I previously interned for Utah State University Press. Both experiences have been invaluable. I have learned a lot, met some infinitely lovely people, and overall been incredibly pleased with my experience, and yet at each office, I have found myself in the same awkward position of feeling placed in the corporate friendzone.

Internships are hard because you have an expiration date. And, just like it is hard to get invested in a relationship when you know something is inevitably going to split you up, it is really hard to settle into a job where you know you are going to be leaving in three months. And it’s not just the fact that you will be leaving that is off putting. It is also the fact that you are part of an infinite cycle of interns.

In any office, interns are a rotating cast. I can only assume that everyone knows not to get attached to the interns, because, much like my favorite British nanny, they’ll be gone before the winds change. As much as I appreciate the care and attention that is given to me each time I meet a panelist or a producer, or someone at WBEZ, each time, there is a nagging in the back of my head, reminding me that they roll out the welcome wagon for everyone. Every three months, they prepare to go through the shaking of the hands, the changing of the emails, the new face at the corner desk. They tell themselves, all I’ve got to do is remember this girl’s name for three months. Then we can move on to the next one.

And it’s not that I think I deserve any sort of praise or adoration above what former interns have received. But I certainly would like to think myself something worth remembering. It is hard knowing that you are destined to be forgotten.

On occasion, stories from the tenures of former “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” interns get tossed around the office. They are generally nondescript and unenlightening, things such as “Remember that one intern we had who always fell asleep?” or “Remember that one intern we had who was neurotic about keeping things clean?” Which left me with generally no clues as to how I was expected to behave. Was I talking more than other interns did? Sending more emails? Not sending enough? I hoped for some sort of guidance from above, preferably in the form of a story about how I was better than everyone else who had come before me.

Then, a few weeks ago, my predecessor sent thank you notes to everyone in the office. They were well received. Very well received. Everyone took a moment of “Aww”ing to fondly look back on her, share their favorite memories of her, and comment on her wisdom, and what a great job she had done, and the smart life choices she had made since her departure. They all seemed very invested in not just what she was doing, but what she had done.

And I couldn’t help but feel a little overshadowed1.

I wonder what they will say about me after I’m gone. I don’t think I have been very memorable. Perhaps memorable only in my follies.

Like most humans, I have become obsessed with the legacy I will leave behind me, and my current preoccupation is the legacy I will leave at NPR. In a few months, when there is a new intern at my desk, will the producers tell them things about me? Will they say, “Remember that one intern who was sarcastic to the point that we thought she was an idiot2?” or “Remember that one intern who always filled Peter’s water cup really full?” or “Remember that intern who spontaneously dyed her hair pink?”

But most likely it’s going to be, “Who was that one intern we had – the one who almost never said anything?3

Being an intern is like looking at a jigsaw puzzle that is already complete, and still trying to cram yourself in, even though you know you might not fit properly.

It is about walking a fine line between being recognized for the good work you do while simultaneously not overstepping your welcome. It is doing work that you often don’t feel qualified or necessarily equipped to do, and trying to pretend you are much less panicked about this than you actually are. It is knowing that there have been other interns before you, and there will be others after you, and many of them will be infinitely better at this than you are. It is trying to get invested in a job that you know you are about to leave, and knowing that in a few months, they might not even remember your name, but doing your best anyways.

But mostly, interning is about awesome. Every day, it really just gets more awesome. I get to surround myself with people who are cleverer and funnier and wiser than I am, and work with them on things that really matter, things that are heard by millions of people. I learn things every day about the creative process, and collaboration, and working under deadlines. I am so grateful for the people I work with, and the chance I’ve had with NPR4.

  1. If interns were colors, I would be beige and she would be flaming red.
  2. I am often so dedicated to my sarcasm that I come off as being stupid. Leaving me a legacy of, “Remember that one intern we had who owned a shirt that said ‘to be or not to be’ but didn’t know Hamlet was from Denmark?” Because that happened.
  3. Because I’m not a naturally chatty person, particularly around people who I think are awesomer than me. I generally stay quiet, because I now that when I open my mouth, something stupid will probably come out. I have no idea how my chattiness, or lack there of, compares to other interns, but I sometimes feel myself to be rather bland and quiet.
  4. Hopefully ending on a positive note didn’t make me sound too grumpy or spoiled. Because seriously, I love NPR. I love “Wait, Wait,” and I loved University Press. I just find myself in a point in my life where I seek permanence. I am tired of drifting. I want to find something stable that I can hold on to – job, apartment, friends – something that does not come with a sell-by date. And I think that feeling has subconsciously seeped into my work and reflected there.
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in which i catch you up on my weekend

When I lived  in England, and blogged about it, I was quite good at writing about all the variety of activities I engaged in, ranging from the extraordinary to the mundane.

Sometimes in Chicago, I forget to do that. I get caught up in being a pretentious smart ass who takes existentially fraught free throws at a variety of subjects because, well, this I my blog, so I can.

But this week, I did do some awesome things, and then neglected to share them with my blog because they usually caused me to get home late or be tired afterwards.

So let’s do a quick roundup of things I’ve been doing this week. In pictures! Because that’s way too many words, and many of you, such as Nevada, have confessed that you really aren’t just good at reading. Besides, I would really like to finish my “Downton Abbey” episode and I can do that a lot easier if I’m not writing so much.

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1. Saw an amazing, amazing, amazing play called “Death and Harry Houdini,” in which a guy escaped from a tank of water after being locked in upside down. It was the most stressful three minutes of my life. But the play was brilliant. This is a picture of the lobby, which was almost as awesome as the show itself. Since pictures weren’t allowed during the show.

2. Three friends from the YSA came and saw our show taped! It was really awesome.

3. I went and saw “Frankenstein.” Again. Man, I love the Music Box.

4. Attended the Printer’s Row Ball, which is this sort of quasi literary festival held at an old print shop. It was basically a room full of hipster nerds giving out poetry magazines and books and playing music and I got to print my very own page of poetry.

5. Went to the Eastland memorial. Timely, after the show I saw about it.

6. Walked the Southport Street fair. Heard a great Mumford and Sons cover band, ate some good food, and watched some ridiculous antics that involved water balloons and slingshots.

7. Ate this sandwich. Bacon cheeseburger with grilled cheese sandwiches instead of bun. Promptly had a heart attack. But at least I died happy.

8. Oh yeah. And this happened.

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in which i race against the clock

My friends, may you all someday be so lucky as to receive an envelope that looks like this.

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Because that envelope contains a voicemail message from Carl Kassel. I know, because I personally mailed out a slew of them today.

May you also be so lucky as to never find yourself riding in a cab with a bacon sundae. Because that also happened today.

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My Monday intern quest was picking up the item for today’s Sandwich Monday, a Wait Wait blog segment where the staff weekly partakes of the most disgusting foods they can find, and then passes judgment upon them. Today we decided to go off course and instead of a sandwich, we at the Burger King Bacon Sundae. Which is a real thing. And it is exactly what it sounds like. Since we reported it on the show last week, we felt we owed it to our loyal followers to take a bullet and actually try the thing. That and we just really love bacon.

Today’s cab ride to get the bacon sundae was much more successful than the last time I was in a cab, though when we arrived at the address, the cab driver definitely gave me a judgmental look that clearly said, Did I really just drive you to a Burger King? To which I shot back a look that clearly said, Shut up, it’s for NPR.

There aren’t many Burger Kings near the Pier, and fewer that serve the bacon sundae, so it was kind of a trip. I ended up into an area I had never been before, facing down a freestanding Burger King complete with drive through and parking lot, which is weird for a city like Chicago. When I walked inside the restaurant and looked around, I immediately realized I was breaking the cardinal rule of traveling that I learned during my year in Europe: If there are no white people or women around, you should not be here. In this Burger King, I was most certainly a minority.

But I had not just paid an excessive amount of money to come across town and be judged by a cab driver for nothing, so I walked confidently up to the counter to order the bacon sundae.

The following conversation unfolded:

Me: Hi, can I get a bacon sundae please?
Burger King Employee1: A what?
Me: A bacon sundae.
BKE: You actually want a bacon sundae?
Me: Yes.
BKE: *judges me*
Me: [internally] Shut up, it’s for NPR.
BKE: [turns to coworkers and shouts in Spanish2] Does anyone know how to make a bacon sundae?

I have to imagine that the bacon sundae is not one of this location’s more popular menu items.

After a slew of judgmental looks from the workers and patrons alike, I received my bacon sundae. It looked like a normal sundae, except that it had a dorsal fin of bacon jutting out of the top and a suspicious sprinkling of crispy pork along the rim. I left the restaurant, trying to be cool about the fact that I had just ordered a bacon sundae, then hailed a cab3 and installed the now sweating bacon sundae on the seat beside me.

Friends, 90 degree heat plus humidity is not conducive to the traveling bacon sundae. I was barely out the door of Burger King before it started to collapse upon itself like a dying star. To make matters worse, the cab ride was neither air conditioned or quick. We must have hit every stoplight between the sketchy Burger King and the Pier, and with each, the bacon sundae came a little closer to becoming vanilla bacon soup4. The vertical strip of bacon that once protruded majestically from the top of the ice cream spiral began to nose dive downward like the Titanic.

As the bacon sundae perspired beside me, I started to sweat too. As much as I was repulsed by the bacon sundae, I could not bear the thought of letting down the Sandwich Monday readers. The safe delivery of this bacon sundae was my quest, and much like Don Quixote of old, I refused to leave a quest unfinished, the weak unprotected, a bacon sundae unfrozen. This bacon sundae was somebody’s impossible dream, and I was damn well going to make sure that impossible dream was dreamed. I was prepared to give my life to see this bacon sundae made it to the office. In fact, I’m fairly certain that if we had been in an accident, I would have thrown myself in front of that bacon sundae to protect it.

In the end, I did everything I could to keep the bacon sundae alive short of grabbing the sinking strip with a harrowing cry of, “I’ll never let go, Bacon!” and yet I still ended up power walking up the Pier carrying a cup full of melty shame.

But the staff was not deterred. We let the bacon sundae chill in the freezer for a while, then broke it out and passed it around before passing judgment. The reactions ranged from totally repulsed to pleasantly indifferent. Though I am opposed to both Burger King and bacon sundaes, I tasted it, simply because I felt a strange connection to it after our mad dash together across the city.

The taste made me glad that I had not given my life for that bacon sundae. That would have been a total waste.

More opinions on the Bacon Sundae by the “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” staff

  1. I want to call her a waitress, but the things that fast food employees do can hardly be described as ‘waiting’ in any sense of the word.
  2. Which fortunately, I occasionally understand.
  3. Successfully! Hailed my first cab! And after spending all the time waiting for my bacon sundae sweating about how on earth I was ever going to get a cab in this area of town. Though I must admit, while standing on the corner waving my arm in the air, the image from “A Study in Pink” rose unbidden in my mind. I still suspect all cab drivers are serial killers, though out of the six cab rides I’ve had in this city, I’ve made it alive out of every one. Which makes me think that Jim Moriarty’s criminal web has not yet reached Chicago…..come on Sherlock fans. Anyone?
  4. Which it occurs to me sounds  infinitely more delicious than bacon sundae.
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in which i give what sound like made-up directions, and take the wrong stairs.

If I was to describe to you my walk to work, you would probably think that I was giving you directions to the setting of a children’s fantasy novel, or laying out an absurd practical joke of which you were about to fall victim.

The location of the WBEZ office, which headquarters both NPR in Chicago (which I work for) and one of Chicago’s premier public radio stations, is in an incredibly bizarre location for such a professional establishment. It is located near the end of Navy Pier, also known as Chicago’s best tourist trap, where the thrills are cheap, and the food is not1.

If I were giving you directions to get to the WBEZ office, it would include real instructions such as “As you walk along the pier, go past the House of Mirrors, past the pirate ship, turn left at The Billy Goats Tavern, and if you hit the lighthouse, you’ve gone too far.”

Really. It’s the most unlikely place for a public radio station to be located2.

Once inside, the WBEZ building is not a particularly complex one. But I’ve never been good with directions. Today, I won a small victory when I managed to find the mail room all by myself after only being shown where it was twice, and discovered a new secret door out onto the roof terrace3.

So I was feeling rather confident when I decided to try a new set of stairs down from the third floor. I was also feeling rather good about these stairs because I took them yesterday when our staff went in mass together down to catch a cab to the Chase Bank Auditorium, where we do our weekly live shows.

But, as you may have guessed from the fact that I am writing about it, and I only write about things with a good story attached, the stairs I ended up on were not the same stairs as I took yesterday.

On these stairs, there was a sign on the door saying, “WARNING4  NO REENTRANCE.” Which I thought was odd, but progressed anyways. Only to find that these really weren’t stairs, it was instead a really short ramp thing, next to three stairs that clearly did not lead to another floor, and then another ominous white door with a little window, like something out of mental institution. Just as I realized I had made a grave error, I heard the no reentrance door shut behind me, and lock. Trapped.

Cautiously, unsure what I would find on the other side but mostly panicking that it was also locked, I ventured down the ramp and towards the white door. On the other side, I found what looked like the inside of a conference center, with tall ceilings and carpets that brought to mind the print of my bedroom curtains in England5. The whole room was very nice and spanking clean and had velvet ropes over the doors, clearly signifying that this was not somewhere I was supposed to be.

I wandered the halls for a while, clinging to exit signs when I saw them and praying not to run into security guards. The whole place was eerily still, and I felt myself subconsciously begin to tiptoe.

Eventually I found my way out. I still am not entirely sure where I ended up, other than I finally came out in the seating area of a very expensive restaurant6.  I breathed a sigh of relief, and fled back on to the main thoroughfare, vowing to never again to stray from the path that I knew well.

  1. Seriously, everything on the McDonald’s dollar menu costs two.
  2. It’s also just a few buildings down from a Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, and yesterday I watched a man vigorously try to get his son to eat there instead of McDonald’s. The son was seven, and totally not buying it.
  3. Which overlooks the lake and oh my lanta it is a view that a landlocked kid from Utah will never grow tired of.
  4. Always a bad way for a sign to start
  5. For those of you who didn’t follow my adventures in England, these curtains were barftastic.
  6. But is there really any other kind on the Pier?
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in which i pretend i am a radio legend, and meet a comedy icon.

In the last two weeks, I have learned that there is an abundance of perks to working in the media. First of all, people send you free stuff. Mostly books. Sometimes CDs. But mostly books. Which is really all you need in life.

But seriously, the “Wait Wait” office gets a lot of books. The table in the middle of our cubicle cluster has started to buckle beneath the weight as they slowly pile up1. We also have subscriptions to lots of magazines, including Glamour and People2, which everyone covertly reads when they think no one is looking. Everyone except Carl, because he’s way too classy for that.

Also, we received a box of free vodka this week. For unknown reasons.

Another perk of the job is that when my bosses get free tickets to see the Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger in “30 Rock”) improv show, and they can’t use them, I get them. Even though it means taking the train at 10:30 at night to the stop right next to Wrigley Field right when a baseball game lets out so that I am practically trampled trying to swim upstream against a sea of half-crazed, drunk baseball fanatics, it’s worth it.

I’m fairly certain the theatre the show was held in is an over 21 venue, and the whole way I was sweating that I would be revealed as the spring chick that I am. But since I was with someone who conveniently works at the theatre, I was not carded. The guy at the door looked at my ticket, then looked at me, then looked at the girl I was with, who he knew, then back to me. Then said, and I quote, “Eh. I trust you.” First mistake dude3.

The show itself was biazzare and hilarious. It was strange and awesome to see Adsit in real life, with a beard, and not being crazy Hornberger, but instead a totally different type of crazy. The show was awesome…though weirdly dark for an improv comedy show4.

And, in that moment of sitting in a seedy comedy club at midnight surrounded by youthful, energetic, metropolitan people, I felt like I could possibly be a young Tina Fey.

Then today, I thought instead that I could perhaps be a young Terry Gross.

I did my first interviews today5. And, while sitting in a studio, soundproof and so still that the silence seemed to hum, with a huge, legit-looking microphone and giant headphones6 before me, I found myself overcome by a childish, yet irresistible desire.

And so I looked around to be certain I was not overheard7, then leaned in to the microphone and covertly whispered, “From NPR news in Washington, I’m Mackenzi Lee.”

It was  one of those weirdly giddy moments of pretend snuck inside of real life, and it momentarily made me think that perhaps a career in broadcasting was ahead of me.

Of course, the whole experience became infinitely more exciting when Carl Kasell entered the studio to record voicemail messages with me8.    

Another perk of my job is that I work in an office where twenty minute conversations about sexually-depraved penguins are totally okay. and the phrase “Lady Hitler” becomes commonplace.

Seriously. I love this.

  1. Prompting executive producer to say dreamily to no one in particular, “Remember how our last intern was so anal about keeping things clean around here?” *moment of silence.* “….hey Mackenzi…”
  2. Both of which I am pretending to be a lot less excited about than I actually am.
  3. On an unrelated note, tonight after the live show, Carl offered to help sneak me into a bar by telling them I was his mother. It should be noted that Carl is pushing seventy.
  4. Just the way I like it.
  5. The fact that the interview was with a man who spells his name with a question mark, about a paper he published discussing the infectious spread of Beiber fever is irrelevant.
  6. Damn, I love giant headphones.
  7. As though anyone could hear me while I was in a soundproof studio. That is rather the point, is it not?
  8. Not for me, unfortunately.
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in which i ride in a cab. more exciting than it sounds.

Today, at approximately 12:24 p.m., I was asked the following question;

“Mackenzi, would you like to go on a quest?”

Since I had spent most of the day working myself into a stupor by watching forty-minute videos of John Irving discuss the complexities of sexual identity in his fourteen novels, I immediately answered yes1.

The quest in question involved the Just for Laughs festival, which is going on this week in Chicago. I know very little about this, except that it involves Conan, a lot of comedians, and that the producers of Wait, Wait’s sister show, “How to Do Everything,” were going to be interviewing some of the writers for it. My quest was to go to Hotel Sax, where the event was headquartered, and pick up their press passes.

The details of the quest were all rather vague. No one in the office knew exactly where Hotel Sax was, or how I should get there, or even if I would be given the passes without valid NPR ID once I did. However, the question of transportation was solved when one of the producers off-handedly mentioned, “Just take a cab and expense it.”

Friends, is there any phrase more seductive and empowering than, “You can expense that”? And yet, I paused.

In my mind, riding in a cab is a telling sign that one is a professional adult. I can count on one hand the times I have ridden in a cab that was not going either to or from the airport. When I see people hailing cabs on the street, or riding alone in cabs, texting aloofly in the backseat, my first thought is always, “Wow, they must be grown up and professional.” And, not wanting to grow up too fast, I hesitated.

But, after Google maps confirmed my suspicion that I no longer live in a city where I can walk absolutely anywhere I please, I decided a short taxi ride was preferable to fighting with the subway. I squared my shoulders, marched out onto the Pier, and proceeded to find a cab.

The whole walk down the Pier, I was sweating that I was going to have to do more than just ride in a cab, I was going to have to hail a cab, which I have never done and would frankly have stressed me out to the point of institutionalization. Thankfully, there is a whole army of cabs waiting at the end of the Pier to sucker in tourists who do not know there is a subway stop a block away, and I enlisted a driver to take me to my desired location.

Though I am inherently distrustful of cab drivers thanks to a certain TV show that will remain nameless, once I was in the backseat and we were cruising, my over-active nerves quieted, and I started chatting with the driver. When he said something about what a nice day it was, I found myself uttering the phrase, “Yes, it’s sonice to get out of the office for a while!” I immediately gagged on my own pretentious counterfeit persona of young businesswoman who takes cabs all the time. So nice to get out of the office? What sort of B-list rom com did I drag that one from? Somebody call Reese Witherspoon to voice me over, and Ryan Gosling to meet my eyes across a crowded room.

But the cab driver didn’t say anything, and I didn’t mention that said office I was getting out of involved me watching lots of youtube and having conversations about the sexual exploits of penguins2.

We arrived at the Hotel Sax, at which point I moved to pay the fare. At which point I realized that I have literally no idea how to pay for a cab in America. What followed was a brief exchange stretched to a small infinity by the awkwardness of it3, and ended in me fleeing the cab, professional businesswoman who rides in cabs all the time image shattered and lying in pieces at my feet, and staggering up to the fourth floor of the hotel, where Team CoCo is headquartered4.

The TBS floor looked like so shockingly like a movie set of a posh TV headquarters that I almost thought it was a joke. There was a white-leather circular couch with this futuristic coffee table in the center. It was surrounded by a wall made out of TV5. There was a bar with hanging glasses and this weird neon wall behind it. And there was the TBS logo on every surface, as if they’d been working here for years and not just arrived last week. All the place needed was some low lighting, techno music, and dancing girls in cages and it’d be ready for a close up.  For a moment, I felt weirdly like I had arrived. Arrived in that weird world of professional, cab-riding people that I want to be a part of. That I can sort of kind of pretend to be a part of.

And then this whole story gets less exciting. I picked up the press passes. A cab driver6 was coerced into returning me to Navy Pier. And this time I was smart enough to pay with my card, and pretend to text aloofly in the back seat the whole way.

However, on the ride back to the Pier, I started to notice something rather neat, and promptly added it to the list of things I love about Chicago. Having spent virtually no time driving around the city, I had never realized the effect the L train has on the whole car experience. The L train runs on iron rails above so many of the streets that even normal roads have a dark, shadowed feeling about them as though the city exists in perpetual evening. The echoing crash of the trains from above coupled with the magnified purr of the car engines makes you feel like you are about to need epic theme music and a machine gun. It’s very Gotham-esque7.

And that is the story of me pretending to be a working woman in a white-collar job who knows how to take a cab. I may not be the best intern NPR has ever had, but I’m certainly the most falsely professional8.

  1. I would have answered yes anyways, because I am always down for a good quest.
  2. True story, but for the record, we weren’t just recreationally discussing this. It’s a news story. Really.
  3. Being unsure as to whether or not tip had already been factored into the fare, I handed the driver a ten dollar bill for a four dollar ride, then asked for a receipt. So I could expense it, ya know. He was obviously unaccustomed to customers expecting change, because his eyes lit up like a fireworks display. I immediately realized my error – even a cabber as inexperienced as I knows that a more than 50% tip is overkill. In the words of the great philosopher Stephen Sondheim, “I may not be smart, but I ain’t dumb.” And so, what followed was that miserable infinity where I tried to ask for change without asking for it, and he tried to dissuade me from asking for change.
  4. Before any of you get ideas that this story is going to be more exciting than it really is, let me just say this now; didn’t meet Conan.
  5. Not to be confused with a wall covered in TVs.
  6. That I did not have to hail.
  7. As much as I tried to pass that one off as a reference to some artistic movement (Oh Henri, that Chinese vase you bought at auction is sooo Gotham-esque), I definitely meant Batman.
  8. In other news, I now have a TBS lanyard and nothing to do with it. Maybe I will put together an epic Chicago-themed prize pack to give away at the end of the summer.
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