In this week’s issue: some travel, a bank heist, and Chippendales.
Greetings From Somewhere
To regurgitate an earnest sentiment that occasionally floats around on Twitter these days, so cringeworthy yet so resonant that I can’t help but slump over whenever it crosses my timeline: I miss the world.
And boy, do I miss stepping onto a plane.
Greetings From Somewhere is something between a pleasurable listen, a guilty pleasure listen, and, occasionally, a straight-up hate-listen, depending on the moment. Created and hosted by Zach Mack, a journeyman producer who has worked at places like the Ringer and Vox Media, the podcast is simultaneously a travel show and a show about travel — in the sense that, even before the pandemic, it understood the very notion of tourism to require some amount of moral interrogation. And of course, now that we’re well into a pandemic, the need for such interrogation has only been intensified. In the past, thoughtful travelogues sought to question the privileges, impacts, and social dynamics of tourism; now they also have to reckon with the fact that pleasure-seeking abroad can result in deaths, both directly and otherwise.
Greetings From Somewhere comes in two flavors. The first is episodes that see Mack physically traveling (with appropriate precautions) to particular destinations, which up to this point have been limited to locales across the United States. Such entries include visits to places like Marfa and Disney World — both wonderlands of a sort — along with spaces that occupy the popular American imagination, such as Mount Rushmore. These episodes are straightforward documentaries, through and through, in which Mack tries to unpack and the appeal and nuances of specific places. He’s not always successful at articulating a profound idea or finding about these pretty well-trodden places, but the journey — even if vicarious — is often enjoyable anyway.
Mack’s efforts are significantly more interesting when it comes to the second flavor of Greetings From Somewhere: when it engineers conversations about travel. These installments are labeled “Detours.” One, for instance, explores the #vanlife phenomenon. Another particularly affecting Detour sees Mack trying to answer a listener’s question about the viability of train travel if you’re in a wheelchair.
Greetings From Somewhere gives me a considerable amount of pleasure, though it’s hard to get past the broader stickiness of traveling during a pandemic in the first place. As such, I still feel really weird about it, and I get the sense that the weirdness weighs heavily on Mack’s mind too. He doesn’t come off like a person who’s fully rationalized the complexities away, which I guess is a good thing, and certainly more than can be said for the generation of YouTube travel vloggers who continue to hit the road. (Or, you know, The Points Guy.)
Whether that’s enough on balance, I haven’t been able to decide just yet. I suppose we’re all just trying to make the best of an apocalypse.
On a fateful afternoon in the summer of 1980, five men stormed a bank in the city of Norco, just outside Los Angeles. Within a few hours, there would be a shootout, a car chase, and a standoff that resulted in three deaths and 11 injuries. It would later be identified as one of the key moments that helped drive the militarization of American law enforcement.
Based on the journalist Peter Houlahan’s 2019 book of the same name, Norco 80 takes a scalpel to these events, intent on dissecting the web of characters, dynamics, and broader political factors that clashed together in what the series bills as “the most violent bank heist in American history.” Guided by host Antonia Cereijido, the show flutters across time and space, rapidly shifting among different characters and narrative threads to weave together a dense picture. The takeaway is that a crime isn’t just a crime, but the outcome of complex societal forces.
The series is especially interested in contextualizing the heist, drawing lines that connect it to the culture of policing we know today. Its Rashomon-adjacent look at the shootout is really compelling. It presents a kaleidoscope of ideas, packaged in a way that maintains the propulsiveness you’d want from a crime yarn.
I’m plenty curious to see how the rest of the series plays out, and to suss out if its analytical gambit will pay off. There’s a trickiness to conducting a study of policing while simultaneously telling the story of bank heist, which produces a natural listener response of wanting a problem solved. Then again, maybe that’s the point.
• The Experiment, the new weekly production from The Atlantic and WNYC, will make its debut soon. It released a trailer this week.
• I’ve heard a few preview episodes of Welcome to Your Fantasy, a new series from Pineapple Street and Gimlet Media about the secret history of Chippendales, and I’m eager to dig into the whole meal. That will drop on February 10.
And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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