Fathers and sons: Going the distance

Harrison “The Blur” Walter hits the creek crossing at the 2018 Colorado cross-country championships. | Photo: Hal Walter

Kicking off his interview with John Cleese last week, Marc Maron talked briefly about being invited to play guitar alongside Slash and Jimmy Vivino while hosting a benefit show for The Blues Foundation and The Americana Music Association.

Maron plays, but not at that level, and noted afterward: “The thing I always seem to learn over and over when I am around real musicians is they have committed their lives to a magical art. I am always amazed and excited at how consistently they nail songs and take you on that journey.”

Hey, I can dig it. Now me, I’m a professional rumormonger, which is to say that I get money to mong rumors, mostly by writing, occasionally by cartooning. And after more than a few decades of practice, practice, practice, which has yet to get me to Carnegie Hall, I can mong a quick rumor with keyboard or pen at the drop of a hat full of cash.

And a very small hat it usually is, too. More of a cap, actually. The sort one might find on a pint of Jameson or a bottle of Advil.

But podcasting? It feels like typing with boxing gloves, or drawing with a banana.

So, yeah, I get it when Maron — who is a podcaster, among other things — says of his hobbyist guitar-playing: “I can show up, and I can play, but I’m gonna clunk up something … that is not my craft, that is not my art, that is not my form. …”

Which is the long way around to saying that yes, we have another episode of the distinctly unprofessional and gratuitously hobbyist Radio Free Dogpatch on tap. It is quite literally an amateur hour, and you might need the Jameson and Advil to get through it.

In this one I chat at some length (and some distance) with my old comrade Hal Walter about his son Harrison, who just wrapped his first year with the high school cross-country team.

It was an up-and-down season for the 14-year-old, and he didn’t qualify as a varsity athlete for the state championship meet, held last Saturday in Bibleburg. But as an autistic athlete it seems he was eligible to race an event for special-needs kids.

Now, Hal prefers to keep Harrison in the mainstream whenever it’s possible and practical. But Harrison had been talking all season about going to states, and while he hadn’t made the varsity cut, he did have a strong finish to the regular season.

This left his dad with a tough call to make. Give it a listen.

• Technical notes: This episode was recorded with a Shure SM58 microphone and a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface plugged into a a late-2009 iMac, using Ecamm’s Call Recorder for FaceTime, which apparently will not survive Apple’s transition to macOS Mojave. I edited the audio using Apple’s GarageBand. The background music is “Matador’s Entry” from ZapSplat, and the race-day audio was stripped from a couple video clips forwarded by Hal Walter.

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10 Responses to “Fathers and sons: Going the distance”

  1. JD Dallager Says:

    Harrison looks like he was flyin’! Big “Congrats” and “Good On Ya!” from here. 🙂

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I saw a short video clip of Harrison lighting it up in the finishing straight. His running style at that moment reminded me a bit of his mom, who has an effortless way of ramping it up that always confirmed for me that I was a cyclist, not a runner.

  2. Pat O'Brien Says:

    That was interesting. Hal’s patience and deep thinking about these challenges that Harrison faces every day is inspiring. And he is right about one thing, if the base miles are there, climbing that big hill is mostly in your head not your legs. The podcast was well done. Is it equal to your rumor mongering and best humor in writing? Not yet, but it’s quickly heading that way. Libby, please back me up here, you belong on NPR dude. Panelist on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me is my suggestion. Maybe I will send the podcast to Peter Sagal. He just wrote and published a book on running. Here is the NPR piece about it.

    https://www.npr.org/2018/11/02/663188878/not-his-job-wait-wait-host-peter-sagal-writes-a-book-about-running

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks, Pat. Yeah, Hal is very much engaged in Harrison’s upbringing. He’s definitely not phoning it in.

      And it will be interesting to see how the kid progresses. Hal thinks most of his adult running buddies would have second thoughts about racing Harrison when he’s got both feet on the ground and his head in the game.

      As for the podcastery, I don’t have any illusions. Or many, anyway. I’m interested in the medium, but every time I step away for a while something about the hardware or software changes, sometimes dramatically.

      GarbageBand remains about the same, which is to say less than intuitive. It bit me a few times during the editing process.

      But I had a couple technical issues I couldn’t blame on GB. The last time Hal and I chatted for posterity, we used Skype, but he’s dumped that, and so we used FaceTime instead.

      As I understand it (not very well), Skype is the tool of choice for podcasters because it gives the audio a little bit of a wash and brushup. As Jason Snell describes it: “Skype massages audio before it reaches you, leveling and boosting audio and removing background noise and echoes. Its servers merge audio streams together so that multi-person conversations can happen even on on low-bandwidth connections.”

      But the FaceTime audio? Um, not so much. Hal has some oddball satellite hookup, and the upload speeds here in ’Burque are particularly wretched, and the FT audio went a little wonky as we recorded our conversation. This wouldn’t have been a problem, but the backup recording setup I thought I had dialed in went completely sideways. So there I was in post-production, trying to sand the rough edges off the wonky audio and hoping for the best.

      When I get that deep in the weeds with unfamiliar tools, the content suffers. If we had to think about every physical move we have to make in order to run, our running would not be a thing of beauty (or velocity). It would look forced, overly planned and unlovely.

      If I can get some of the nuts and bolts tightened down, maybe I can make something of this. So I’m striving for a weekly podcast — though probably not of the hourlong variety — until I learn my lesson.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        Other than some volume variations in the first few minutes, it sounded good. I have noticed when using Facetime with our niece and husband who live in Daytona Beach, that occasionally the audio goes half-duplex for no reason that I can figure out. We both have fairly good, 100 MBPS, internet speeds. I blame it on their hardware for now, because it doesn’t happen on any of our other Facetime connections. All this tech shit is making my thinking wonky, but 30 miles on the Double Cross should bring me back to somewhat normal mental health.

        • Pat O'Brien Says:

          Just ran the speedtest app. I got 119 mbps down and 11.5 up with an 18 millisecond ping time. I use Cox cable as my ISP, and have the basic high speed service which costs $85 a month. I just had to replace the modem since occasionally the the connection goes over 300 mpbs which the old (4 year) modem couldn’t handle. DSL speeds here are 25 mbps at best. Cox has a monopoly on high speed service here and wrings it for all the $ they can.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        A hunnerd MBPS? Ho, ho, etc. You know what we have to work with here? I just checked with speedtest.net and we posted an download speed of (wait for it) 11.25 MBPS and upload of 0.78 MBPS. You can practically see each pixel as it appears.

        I gotta get a nice long ride in tomorrow too. My brain hurts.

    • Libby Says:

      Just seeing this now as I am ready to comment having listened on Nov.5th.
      Yes, PBS, NPR, local or national. Also, as I suggested previously, they would be opportunities to narrate for any number of indie doc filmmakers who can’t hire Streep, Coyote, et al. Plus, there are audiobooks and other voiceover work. You also have an excellent voice for narrating audiobooks and voiceovers for very young right through older children. Your writing, editing, cartooning skills are in service to crafting stories. You already know how to write and tell a story. You would be a great and sympathetic fit for a number of genres.

  3. Libby Says:

    Great story and podcast. I listened Monday Nov. 5th. The length of the podcast let the story breathe and allow for Hal to unspool the story and you to ask the pertinent questions and comment as well. It’s great that the race is finally on the record, as it should be.
    I’m enjoying the podcasts, including this longer form. I hope you will do more long form podcasts when the subject or material demands.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks, Libby. I’m very much a novice, but I’m enjoying this hobbyist approach.

      I feel as though I’m working in slow motion when assembling a podcast, much more so than when doing a two-minute video for Adventure Cyclist. It doesn’t help that I’m bouncing around among a couple-three different Macs, microphones and recorders (hardware and software) to see what works best for me.

      Right now the ATR2100-USB/Zoom H5 recorder seems to grab my voice pretty well, and I’m not distracted by the Mac when I speak at this setup.

      The 2009 iMac I did the early podcasts on is probably bound for the recycler. It continues to act out in ways nobody seems able to resolve, especially me, and it’s just too much of a pain in the ass to work on.

      Pretty much all your home fixit projects with this beastie are labeled “Involved,” Difficult,” or Holy fucking shit!” So I’ll edit the podcasts on a 2014 MacBook Pro.

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