Thursday, January 11, 2007


I'm a big fan of "This American Life." If you don't know it, you should. It's a Public Radio show out of WBEZ in Chicago. Just as its creators describe it, "This American Life" is "like movies for radio." I love the patient, deliberately thematic storytelling. And I love host Ira Glass' voice, and sense of humor.

I was asonished, then, when, last summer, I heard a promo for the show teasing a segment on a young man's friendship with Mister Rogers.

'That's my story,' I thought. Still, I eagerly tuned in.

The story begins in the mid-Seventies when Davy Rothbart's little brother writes to Mister Rogers. Both kids are astounded when Mister Rogers writes back two weeks later. They arrange to meet him later that summer in Nantucket. Twenty years later, Davy visits Mister Rogers in Pittsburgh.

"When you talk with him," Davy says, "he's utterly engaged. He asks a lot of questions, and he seems to actually care what you say. He let's his feelings come right to the surface. I've never been around someone who's both so vulnerable, and so fearless about showing you who he is."

Fast forward to this afternoon. Two weeks into the new year, I decide to jump starting the doc. So I Google Davy.

Ends up, Davey Rothbart is the founder of a small, Dave Eggers-style creative empire. He's the founder Found Magazine (which I've long known of), the author of "The Lone Surfer Of Kansas, Montana," and -- ends up -- a frequent contributor to "This American Life."

So I start to try to tack him down in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I call directory assistance, and call the number. Disconnected. I try his production company, 21 Balloons. No answer. Then I try Found.

"Hello, Found."

"Is Davy there?"

"Um, this is an antique shop. But we carry the magazine and the book."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm calling from MTV News in New York."

"MTV! Wow! Well, well, um... I think the people downstairs know his number. If you give me your number, I can call you back with his."

Two minutes later, she calls.

"The people downstairs didn't want to give me his number but they said they'd call him and give him yours."

Two minutes later, Davy Rothbarth calls.

"Only in the Midwest!" I answer, explaining the circuitous nature of our being connected. Then I tell him that my family rented the cottage next door to Mister Rogers, and that I heard his "This American Life" segment, and that I'd love to interview him for my documentary.

"Sure!" he says. "I got mad love for Mister Rogers."

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