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The Theme Music for Our Lives
iPod, uPod we all Pod for iPod’s

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Oh My Cod!

Guilt Trips

By Chris Russell
Posted Tuesday, 27 September, 2005

Somewhere around the ’04 Boston Marathon I began to notice a strange phenomenon. You’d pull up behind someone and they’d have little wires coming out of their heads connected to what looked like small cigarette cases strapped to their biceps.

There would be a certain happy, oblivious rhythm to their stride. Their hips would be hinting at the slightest Ricky Martin shimmy. Their arms would be making strange twitching motions like a barely controlled air-drum solo. When you passed them, they wouldn’t notice you. They would be making small strangled noises in their throats, to themselves. They seemed happy. I was on the front lines of the iPOD invasion.

I’ve always been a big fan of acoustic distraction on my long solo runs. Don’t send hate mail. I know some of you feel running with head phones is dangerous. While I do hope everyone out there is careful, I have to disagree. I’ve never had any problems running and listening. I think boredom is way more dangerous. Maybe…if you go and get yourself killed wearing headphones the gene pool has been upgraded and evolution is benevolently at work for the rest of us…but I digress…

Like I was saying, I’ve always liked running with acoustic distraction. I had those big AM/FM headphones with the 12 inch antenna that looked like something you’d wear to land jets on an aircraft carrier. I remember the antenna used to get caught on low hanging branches and rip my hat off. Big icicles would form on them in the winter.

I had one of the first AM/FM cassette Walkmans. I would carry a handful of books-on-tape with me while marathon training. I even tried the CD Walkman, but it always skipped. My favorite was the small FM Walkman sports radio. It was light, I could clip it into my waist band and it wouldn’t bounce.

It was great, but it had flaws. The primary flaw was that you were at the mercy of the radio station’s choice of entertainment and only randomly would you hear something good interspersed with the same commercials over and over and over. Arrgh! Out in the burbs, where I live, reception is iffy. Someone up there has a sense of humor, because typically only the stations I hated had a strong enough signals to listen to.

On early Sunday mornings, when I did most of my long, marathon training runs, they would put on the programming that no one wanted to listen to. It was mostly awful public service talk shows. “Today I’m talking with Herb Blatt of the Save an Artichoke Foundation…” I’m an NPR geek, but I have my limits. Sometimes it was interesting, but not for running.

Eventually I’d sweat them to death. I don’t know what ‘sport’ they were designed for, but it didn’t involve being immersed in my toxic body fluids for hours on end. I found I could prolong their suffering by swaddling them in intricate plastic baggie arrangements, but eventually they would succumb. First the stereo would go and then they would start cutting in and out. I have a box full of sweat crippled sports radios.

Thus, I was leery about the iPod revolution. Did I really want to fork out $200+ for this thing I would surely kill? I held off for a long time, until recently. I wanted to ramp up my mileage for a qualifying campaign and I needed something to keep me company. I said to my wife, “I need an iPod.”
“You’ll just kill it.”
“I NEED an iPod.”
“It’s too much money.”
I did what any husband of 20 years would and, in a fit of pique, drove to N.H. the next day and bought one.

That weekend we were down at the Cape and I snuck out early for a 2.5 hour trot on the rail trail with my new friend. I left them sleeping so they wouldn’t see my secret. It was good. Somehow it was easier to run. Good songs would come on and I’d find myself picking up the pace a little with a jump and be-bop in my step.

Then it happened. I had it on shuffle and it shuffled to a Tony Robins book and froze. No sound. Dead. My worst fears were realized. I had sweated it to death in a new record of 2 hours and 15 minutes. The worst part was that it was gone now at the end of my run where I needed it most. I had to struggle back with no theme music and it was not good.

I came into the house and my wife, eyes like a hawk, said, “I see you bought yourself an iPod.”
“Yeah, and I think I killed it.”
“I told you you’d kill it.”
My kids were convinced that it had had a terminal reaction to Tony Robbins. They reasoned that they always felt like dying when I harangued them with positive affirmations and released my inner power in their direction. “I don’t want to master my emotions, Dad, I’m trying to watch T.V. Go unleash your personal power on the dog.”

Luckily I had the manual and was able to reboot it back to life. From then on I have switched to the popular arm band mount that seems to keep it out of the toxic cocktail that is me.

I have discovered that the iPod is cool. It is good. Ask any runner who has one and they will tell you that they love it. Somehow we are reduced to 13 year old girls when gushing over our techno toys. I had the following conversation this last weekend at the Fred Brown relay.
“Don’t you just love your iPod?”
“Ohmygawd, yes!!! I love it!”
“Like, when it plays the perfect song at the perfect moment and stuff?”
“Ohmygawd, that’s exactly what I was going to say!”
“And I have a special playlists for different length runs!”
“Me too! See? Look here; ‘Running 1’, ‘Running 2’ and ‘the ½’”
“Oooooo! I love it!”

Sheesh! We are devolving. As I write this I have my Mozart on so I can concentrate and tune out the people in the adjacent hotel room watching insipid reality T.V. This is part of the coolness of the iPod. You can create your own pod; your own space filled with your own happy music and it keeps the rest of the world at bay. The iPod brings with it insulation from the world when you need it.

Trapped between two obese people in the middle seat on the airplane with a screaming baby in front and a kicking toddler with a nervous disorder behind? No problem! Queue up the old J. Geils “Live Full House”, crank it up and it is all good.

Not only are the insulating properties outstanding but the iPod is a performance booster as well. The night after I got it I brought it to the weekly 3.6 M Westford race. I dialed in some old Nirvana and was gone like a grunge fueled rocket. Those angst ridden screams rode me to my best time of the season!

It’s great for biking too. How about a little Barber of Seville like in that movie Breaking Away?

The only race I haven’t worn it in since was a couple weeks ago at the Pisgah Mountain 23k trail race. I just didn’t think I had any appropriate music for that. What would be a good fit for 2 hours in the N.H. woods? Theme to Deliverance? Copeland’s New World Symphony? Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? (I ended up singing ‘Amazing Grace’ out loud in the high miles and it really freaked the other runners out)

Another cool thing is the propensity for epiphanies. You’ll be doing something banal somewhere and all of a sudden the music you are listening to will mesh perfectly with what is going on around you. For example, I was walking through the airport, just off a long, late flight and my iPod randomly shuffled to the beginning of Bolero. It was perfectly in rhythm with the march of the weary travelers and I was uplifted. I transcended the moment and saw the great ironies. Transported to some other mystical universe, I smiled. That’s the power of the tunes.

I keep forgetting to program it and have to listen to the first album in the stack because I don’t want to stop my run to monkey with it. I’m getting sick of the Alman Brothers. (I don’t have any Abba or AC/DC!) Although the 13 minute live version of ‘Whipping Post” is fairly appropriate towards the end of a 20 miler. It turns out you can listen to all of London Calling by the Clash and Alman Brothers Live at Fillmore East in exactly two hours and forty seven minutes.

Do you know how the iPod got invented? It happened late one night when Steve Jobs was furiously typing away, trying to hack the Microsoft Office site and broke a fingernail. He had a flash of inspiration and IM’ed one of his engineers that they should invent a mouse that also gave manicures. It being the 1990’s, they took him seriously and came up with the eMan sonic manicure mouse and ePed sonic pedicure mouse prototypes.

Then the internet bubble burst and no one had time to work on silly stuff anymore. The prototypes were tossed into a dusty box. Those same engineers were furious to discover that a bored Cal Poly intern had found them and converted one to play music. They were about to crush his idealism until a lost Marketing VP stumbled upon them and the rest is history.

Have I just created an urban legend? Hmmm….

Now if all this wasn’t proof enough that there is something powerful going on here, I’ll give you one more example. My wife, who always hated running, has now started to borrow my iPod and go to hit the treadmill and bike at the gym! It’s scary. This may be an alien invasion. Are we all becoming Pod People?

I don’t know, and I don’t own any Apple stock and they aren’t paying me any money, (if they want to give me money, that’s ok too), but I can state with a clear conscience that I love my iPod. When is someone going to convert the Doors Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine to digital?



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