What is a fanatic reactionary pedestrian? How does one get to be this way?
These questions form the central theme of Postcards From a Fanatic Reactionary Pedestrian, a sonic glimpse of a 3,000-mile journey along the side of the road.
Abner Serd is a self-proclaimed "fanatic reactionary pedestrian" living in Arizona, who sometimes brings a microphone along for the walk.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Abner Serd
Where do you live and what do you spend your time doing most days?
I live in a house. This is significant, because for most of a 12-year stretch, from 1987 till the end of '99, I lived out-of-doors. Now I live in a cabin on the edge of the woods, and I don't spend nearly enough time out-of-doors anymore.
When and how did your love for walking manifest?
I don't love walking. But I can see how you might have gotten that impression.
I don't love or hate breathing, either. Sometimes it's an exhilarating experience; sometimes it is extremely unpleasant. But mostly I don't think about it -- I just do it.
What pulled you into the world of audio/radio?
Well, there's something about a story told out loud, isn't there?
I don't know. It could have been all those old Bill Cosby records I listened to growing up. It could have been baseball games on the radio (baseball -- now that's a storytelling sport if there ever was one). It could have been books on tape – I continue to listen over and over again to Bang the Drum Slowly, as read by John Randolph Jones (Recorded Books, Inc.) And I once decided I was going to listen to every book ever narrated by Frank Muller. I didn't care what the book was. I just loved the sound and the rhythms of his voice.
In '91, I got a degree in Creative Lying from Prescott College. My senior project was a 12-part radio serial called The Hermit. Since then, I don't think I've written anything that wasn't meant to be read out loud. Including a number of scathing letters to my student loan company.
Can you explain a little bit about the audio work you were doing for the blind?
My mom knew somebody who worked for a radio reading service in Marshfield, Massachusetts. These are services whose volunteers read books, newspapers, and magazine articles over the air to the visually impaired and/or the print-handicapped. Anyway, it seemed like maybe a good way to break in to the radio field, so in about 1993 I put together a series of 60-second humor bits and pitched them to WTIC in Marshfield. They said okay, and I recorded about 50 of them, and that was that.
Five years later, I was back in Arizona, looking for a way to finance a 5,000-mile walk across the continent (and incidentally, still looking for a way to get discovered). And I pitched the upcoming journey as a weekly half-hour radio program to Sun Sounds, another radio reading service based in Phoenix. It wasn't like anything they'd ever done before, and probably they wouldn't ever do it again - but I like to think their listeners got at least a taste of what it was like Out There.
Your audio postcards are usually just a few minutes long, as are some of the other projects you've worked on, like the bird pieces. What do you think are the strengths of the short format vs. longer formats?
Oh geez... I have no idea. I'm not a real producer, I just play one on the radio.
The audio postcards are short because that's all I had to say about whatever it was I was talking about. But they were intended to be strung together into a half-hour program that covered a week's worth of walking. I tried retelling the first 23 weeks of the journey in The Annotated Postcards From Abner, Part One -- my hour-long Third Coast competition entry. It wasn't until I heard the winners that I realized my entry was way too long, and yet it wasn't long enough. I mean, it didn't do enough to convey the basic fact that you've come a long way, and you have a long way to go. It's 25 miles to Langtry, and you just ain't a-gonna get there today, but here's where you are right now. Here's what you see, and what you hear, and what you smell, and how you feel. You wanna know what Langtry is like, you wanna hear about The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, you're just gonna have to wait, because you ain't there yet. Driving is about destinations; walking is about in-betweens.
Where was I? Oh yeah. I guess I'd say that the format depends on the story you want to tell, and on the limits you have to work with in order to get it on the air. But then, I have yet to get paid for a single piece of audio work, so what do I know?
What are your audio plans for the near future?
I have a story or two yet to tell. I wish I had told them already, so I'd know how to tell them. Or how not to. Also, I plan on continuing to develop On Call, a short-format series about birds and bird songs. In the long term... I am loathe to leave Prescott, Arizona, which is a town without a public radio station. I s'pose I will have to make a choice someday. If I don't chuck it all and head for the mountains once again.
Do you have any long walks planned for 2002? If you could ask anyone in the world to join you, who would it be?
I have no walks planned. As to the second part... if this were a "desert island" question, I'd say, "Scott Simon. No, wait: Garrison Keillor. No, wait: gimme that cute redhead over there with the sparkling eyes and the sexy laugh."
But if I had ever been stranded on a desert island, my answer would likely be a lot different. I'd probably say, "Give me somebody useful, or don't give me anyone at all."
By the way, I don't mean to imply that Scott Simon et. al. are useless, I'm just saying... oh, crud. Have I just blown my chances at Weekend Edition?