I Totally Changed The Nightly Show

Nightly Show Australian Map

A couple of month ago, I wrote this article for Spook Magazine about The Nightly Show. At the end of the piece, I pointed out that the map behind Larry had two light bulbs in what appeared to be random Australian locales:

The Nightly Show ends with Wilmore himself answering a Keep It 100 question, one he doesn’t get to see until he’s on camera. So let’s give him one of our own. Larry, we in Australia are delighted that our country features so prominently on your non-traditional flipped world map. But two flashing lights – which usually indicate the location of cities – seem to highlight two Western Australia parks: the Nuytsland Nature Reserve and the Karlamilyi National Park. Is this a deliberate and pointed reference that’s keeping with the remit of The Nightly Show’s stated agenda, highlighting places that are more closely aligned with Aboriginal culture than the lily-white likes of Sydney and Melbourne, or did you just stick little light bulbs in random spots?

It’s not out of the ordinary for shows made in other countries to stick light bulbs in random parts of the map, falsely assuming that Australia is as evenly populated as the USA or Europe. But given Wilmore’s show is all about keeping it real, I hoped to get some sort of explanation… either an admission that it was entirely random, or a revelation of some hitherto unknown meaning.

But we received no response. And then, a few weeks later, this happened:

Nightly Oz Map 2

They’d changed the set and tweaked the light bulbs and suddenly Australia had two new areas highlighted.

Look, I’m not saying I was completely and solely responsible for this, but I did actually contact The Nightly Show’s media reps to ask if I was, and they didn’t get back to me. So the lack of denial is all the tacit confirmation I need.

You’re welcome, Sydney and Mackay. But mostly Mackay. You finally got your due.

Travelling Light 3: Travelling Flat White

A few years ago, I decided to stop patronising (traditional) the Australian coffee chain Gloria Jean’s and start patronising (modern) them. This wasn’t because I felt their coffee was sub-standard – although, I did and it was – but because it was revealed that much the money made by Gloria Jean’s went to Mercy Ministries, a Christian pro-life charity, to the homophobic Australian Christian Lobby group, and to the pro-Creationism, anti-gay Hillsong Church, described by a former member as ‘toxic Christianity’.

So, naturally, I stopped going, despite so many of their shops being conveniently located inside Borders. Oh, you don’t remember Borders? Borders was a book chain noted more for its ubiquity than its atmosphere, but we all went to it anyway because it had put every other book store out of business. (That’s a bit of chicken-and-egg logic there, but we shan’t dwell.) Borders went out of business almost immediately after I boycotted Gloria Jean’s, and it’s very, very safe to assume that the two events are connected.

During the Borders going-out-of-business sale, the price tag on this chair helped illustrate exactly why they were going out of business.

But earlier today, I found myself reluctantly entering a Gloria Jean’s. There were, of course, mitigating circumstances: I was an hour early for a media screening, I’d not yet had a coffee, and I would not have another opportunity to have one until about 1pm. I’m one of those people who cannot function without a dose of caffeine, and who smugly informs everyone of this despite the fact that telling people about your coffee-drinking habits is a great way of informing them that you have nothing interesting to contribute to the conversation, or, possibly, humanity.

Gloria Jean’s was the only café open in any sort of reasonable radius, so I quietly slipped in, ordered a coffee, and worked on my laptop for an hour.

At about 10:15am, I wandered into the Hoyts next door to get in early for the film. The staff looked at me blankly; they’d not heard of any screening, so they directed me to the Cinema Paris – Hoyts’s arthouse cinema – around the corner. The staff there had not heard of the screening either, and we somehow reached the conclusion that the screening must be inside Fox Studios next door.

To clarify: I am new to Sydney. I’ve never been to the big Fox Studios lot, so I had no idea where to go. Also, it was pouring with rain. So as I ran from building to building, knocking on doors and trying to find my way around, I managed to get completely and thoroughly soaked to the bone.

A few security guards seemed to know which screening I was going to, whilst others had no idea where I could possibly be trying to get to. My old Ain’t It Cool News spy instincts kicked in, and I started looking around to see if I could spot Hugh Jackman filming The Wolverine, but to no avail. (I would later discover that I was beaten to it at the exact same moment by Prime Minister and future AICN-Downunder editor Julia Gillard.)

By now, I was aptly resembling that X-Men villain who is wet all the time (thanks for nothing, Google), and it was 10:40am and I’d missed the start of the film. Grumpily, I squelched out of the Fox Studios lot, hailed a cab, and headed in to the office.

Only during the cab ride did I realise that this whole situation seemed eerily familiar. A failed trip whose only real success had been the acquisition of a coffee from a place I have an intense dislike for? Oh god, I thought. I’ve done it again.

But unlike McDonald’s mediocre coffee, this trip had resulted in mediocre coffee and the funnelling of money to professional homophobes. So, to counter the $4.20 I paid for that medium flat white, I have now donated twice that amount to Australian Marriage Equality, a group working towards gay marriage in Australia. Initially, I was going to create a matching donation of $4.20 to make it a wash, but that seemed too passive. And that’s not the type of equality I wanted to support.

It’s not all bad. I’ll have another chance to see the film in a few weeks, I’m back in the office with a plunger and a deliberately-inaccurate idea of how many coffee grounds should used for one standard drink, and a pro-gay marriage group has ended the day with more of my money than an anti-gay marriage group. And I’ve written another blog about it.

I’m calling that a win.

Travelling Light 2: Travelling Hard

As a totally clichéd Melbourne coffee snob, I got pretty pissed off when Oprah Winfrey’s visit to Australia in 2010 featured the pronouncement that when hip Australians want to meet up for coffee, they pop down to McDonald’s.

This proclamation was made in Sydney. Had she said it in Melbourne, she’d have been met with a pretty violent round of scoffing and under-the-breath muttering as we tightened our black free-trade scarves and resumed reading our Nietzsche biography. Ah, Melbourne. The city that, according to a study from a few years ago that I vaguely remember but can’t be bothered researching for verification, was found to be the best place to get a coffee outside of Italy. (Thanks, in no small part, to our large Italian population. Grazie, guys!)

If there’s one thing we in Melbourne do, much to the eternal chagrin of the rest of the country thanks to the unerring sense of superiority with which we do it, it’s proper coffee. No McDonald’s drinkers are we.

This was one of the things that was going through my head as I drove away from my beloved Melbourne this Saturday past, recalling futile attempts during previous Sydney trips to find a good coffee in what will, for the next six months, be my home town. The trek I’d taken with two friends to find a decent café in Sydney’s CBD the year previous was now taught in schools alongside the Burke and Wills expedition for students who thought the Burke and Wills story ‘wasn’t depressing enough’.

If you saw my pre-trip post the other day, you’ll know I comically predicted my car would break down at the Victoria-New South Wales border. If only I’d made it that far. No, after my car repeatedly stalled, shut down, then started back up again, I realised I was in trouble.

I pulled off the Highway and into the town of Wangaratta. For those of you who don’t know much about Wangaratta, I am one of you, so don’t expect any illumination here. I drove down the main strip, searching for a mechanics. I spotted a car dealership, and began weighing the impracticalities of buying a new car and ditching the one I was in against joy I would experience as I dined out on the story for years to come.

Finding the only open-on-a-Saturday mechanic, I pulled in and explained the problem. My battery had run flat weeks earlier, and despite being advised to replace it outright, I’d chosen to charge it right back up again, which was clearly the stupid thing to do. ‘So yeah,’ I said, ‘I think it must be the battery.’ ‘Doesn’t sound like the battery,’ he said. ‘Oh. Are you sure?’ ‘Don’t know,’ he said, ‘I’ll take a look.’ ‘Check the battery first,’ I suggested.

It was going to be half an hour until he could take a look at it, so he suggested I wander around. ‘Not much to see around here, though,’ he said ruefully. ‘If you feel like a coffee, you could always pop over to the McDonald’s.’

I looked in the direction he’d nodded in, and saw the unmistakable monolith in the centre of the strip, surrounded by buildings that were steadfastly refusing to be Other Cafés.

‘Maybe,’ I said through gritted teeth. I was actually quite desperate for a coffee, and as the other local attractions – a K-Mart, a bridge, some grass – were closed, I steeled myself against my own instincts and headed towards it.

I took a seat from which I could see my car, and ordered the thing on the café menu that looked like it would come closest to tasting like coffee. I sent a few mournful texts, checked Twitter, and was eventually served with a beverage the colour of a Dickensian city planner’s favourite swatch.

I won’t dwell on the coffee, other than to say that it was neither as bad I was expecting, nor as good as their ads would have me believe. It was hot, it was caffeine, and it had been four hours since my last one.

Work hadn’t begun on my car, so I trekked around to look at the sites. Other fast food restaurants. Traffic lights. Some bitumen. A real estate agency. That might be good. I browsed the window, trying to ascertain what property prices were like in Wangaratta so I would have a better frame of reference for the shock I was apparently supposed to display whenever someone told me how much the house across the road from theirs went for.

The door opened, and the realtor instantly spotted me gazing with more interest than I’d intended at the ads. ‘Can I help you with anything?’ he asked. ‘My car broke down,’ I explained. ‘If they can’t fix it, I was thinking I might have to settle down.’ He laughed the laugh of someone who hadn’t really followed any of that, and I wandered away.

When I returned to the mechanic, he was peering into engine. ‘How is it?’ I asked. ‘The battery is fine,’ he said, and I silently applauded my own battery-charging skills. This was, after all, my most significant mechanical achievement since extracting an old Meccano piece from my foot twenty-three years previous.

The actual problem was twofold. Fold one: the carburettor was playing up and not letting enough petrol get through to the engine when I was running it at high speeds. Fold two: he was unable to fix it himself.

‘Is there any chance I’m getting to Sydney today?’ I asked. ‘Maybe. You can’t go above 70kmph, though, or the thing will stall again.’ ‘Then I’d better get going.’

I set off once again, and the stupidity of my decision to drive the whole way slowly dawned. Why had I thought this was a good idea? I should have flown! Who needs a car in Sydney? Had I seriously being considering buying a car and a house in Wangaratta? As I ambled along at an excruciating 70kmph, I realised that, at the rate I was going, it would be about 10:30pm before I got into Sydney. If I made it there at all.

After calling up my partner Kate and talking the situation over with her, we both decided that the best course of risk mitigation was for me to turn around and come home and then catch a flight up. After all, I was 252km from Melbourne and 624km from Sydney. It was simple, frustrating maths.

As I ambled back at a leisurely 70kmph, waving to all the cheerful motorists who were happily passing me at the 110kmph that the Hume Highway permitted, nay, insisted upon, I considered what my day had been aid of. My only plan for Saturday had been ‘get to Sydney’, and having wasted half the day, I was now driving in the opposite direction of it. I needed to find a point to it all.

Halfway back, I stopped on the Highway to save what turned out to be a blind rabbit that had wandered into the path of traffic. After ushering him back into the brush, I wondered if maybe this was a Quantum Leap situation, and Sam Beckett had leaped into my body to save the rabbit’s life because it would one day write Yellow Submarine and assassinate Robert Kennedy.

Even with my reasoning, that was a stretch.

There was no avoiding it. I’d driven the 262km from my front door to Wangaratta for one thing and one thing only: a coffee. From McDonald’s. The furthest I had ever travelled for a single beverage.

They had won.

Nevertheless, I eventually made it home, repacked my things, and, thanks to the combined efforts of Kate, my brother Ben and my friend Kirk (who greeted me at Sydney airport) , I made it my final destination. At 10:30pm.

And hey, it wasn’t all bad. The eventual flight was pretty great: I got an emergency exit row with excessive leg room, nobody was sitting next to me, and everyone in the vicinity was quiet enough for me to concentrate on my book. And the first coffee I had since arriving in Sydney was both damned good and not from any fast food restaurant, so I call that – when all is said and done – a win.

To Wangaratta and Back Again – Lee’s Podcast Playlist (in order): On the Media (25/5/2012), The Science Show (26/5/2012), Radiolab (21/5/2012), Boxcutters (#307), This American Life (#465), Download This Show (25/5/2012 and 1/6/2012), The Writer’s Almanac (30/5/20121/6/2012), Onion Radio News (22/5/20121/6/2012), Desert Island Discs (Spike Milligan, 1978 and Arthur C Clarke, 1977).

Travelling Light

Did you ever have that thing where you get some big news, but don’t have time to tell anyone? And that big news involves you moving to another city for six months in a week-and-a-half from the point at which you found out about it, so you spend all of your time tying up loose ends and getting ready, and still half of your family and friends don’t know?

I’m not actually asking you. That’s a pretty specific set of circumstances, and I’m only framing it as a rhetorical in order to segue gracefully into my own news. If such a thing has happened to you and you feel compelled to tell me about it, you may, if so compelled, post a comment below.

This coming Saturday I shall get into my car and drive from Melbourne to Sydney. Or, more accurately, drive from Melbourne to the NSW border, at which point my car will probably conk out on me.

Why am I going to Sydney? Well, I’m not actually 100% sure that I’m allowed to make the news public yet or not. (It’s not Bazura.) So I will play it safe and tell you simply that I’ve been offered a very cool gig that requires me to work in Sydney’s ABC building. (No, really, it’s not Bazura.) I’ll drip-feed you more info later, but for now I’ll just tell you that I’ll be working on a very popular and successful television program. (Told you it wasn’t Bazura.)

Apologies to all the people close to me who are finding out about this now on this blog. It’s very impersonal and distancing and an indictment on our current culture of blah blah blah, but I literally found out this time last week. I’ll be popping down every month to see if family, friends, my place, my stuff, and my fiancée are all still fine, and I’ll be back permanently around the end of November.

To people I don’t know but who read this anyway, well, you’re not going to be affected much at all. I’m told they have computers in Sydney, so this blog and my Twitter feed should continue to function without too much interference. Oh, except for the new job I have. Employment does tend to get in the way, doesn’t it?

See you all very, very soon… particularly those of you in the greater Sydney area with comfortable couches.