*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Scott Simon's Family: 'In Praise Of Adoption'
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Scott Simon, the host of NPR's WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY, has
written a new book about his experiences adopting two children from
China and how his daughters have changed his life.
He and his wife, Caroline, first tried to have children in what Scott
describes as the traditional, Abraham-begat-Sarah manner, as well as
through in vitro fertilization. The latest innovations in fertility
treatment are pretty amazing, but it's adoption that Scott describes as
His oldest daughter, Elise, is now seven. He and Caroline adopted their
younger daughter, Lina(ph), three years after Elise. In Scott's book, he
also writes about the experiences of friends and colleagues who have
adopted children or who are themselves adopted. In addition to hosting
WEEKEND EDITION, Scott spent years reporting for NPR from war zones. His
new book is called "Baby We Were Meant For Each Other: In Praise of
Scott Simon, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
SCOTT SIMON: Thanks very much.
GROSS: Because you write so well, I thought we would start with a
reading from your book. So would you do a short reading for us?
SIMON: Sure. Well, this is the part when we, our oldest daughter was put
into our arms, our oldest daughter Elise, who had the Chinese name Fung
Jao Mae(ph). And we were at the adoption center in Central Nanching(ph),
which is in southern China.
SIMON: (Reading) Grinning bureaucrats received us and showed us to a
staircase. They took us down a flight and into a room. We saw smiling,
middle-aged women in white smocks holding babies, cooing, singing, and
hefting them in their arms. We shucked raindrops from our shoes and
coats. We checked cameras and cell phones. We looked at the women in the
smocks and then realized they held our children in their arms.
We saw Elise. She was five months older than in the picture we had but
still recognizably the little girl in the thumbnail portrait: pouty
little mouth; tiny, endearing, little, downy, baby-duck's head; fuzzy
patch of hair and amazed eyebrows; crying, steaming, red-faced and
bundled into a small, puffy, pink coat. We blinked back tears and
cleared our throats.
And I go on to explain that we brought her back to our hotel room, and
she cried. She was inconsolable, despite my wife's best efforts to coo
and comfort her and my clownish efforts to try and amuse her.
And finally, our trip coordinator, whoâd been through this many times
before, said, well, you know, you should all go downstairs and get
something to eat.
I don't remember what we ate, not much of whatever it was. I had a glass
of wine, my wife had a beer, and we toasted our daughter. The drinks
flashed through us like tap water. We ate and talked and tried to amuse,
divert and win over our daughter with songs, food and funny voices,
leaving her sullen and unmoved, all the while asking ourselves: What
have we done? What were we thinking? We ripped a baby away from the only
place she's ever known to bring her someplace on the other side of the
world that might as well be the moon. What kind of people are we?
Then Caroline and I realized that in the space of an afternoon, our
lives had suddenly developed a few new and indisputable truths: that my
wife and I loved each other even more than we had a few hours ago; that
we loved no one on earth more than this new, small, squalling, hungry,
thirsty and occasionally ornery human being that was now ours. Our baby
had opened new chambers in our hearts. And we realized our daughter
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Scott Simon, reading from his new memoir, "Baby We Were Meant for
Each Other: In Praise of Adoption."
So how long did it take until you felt your daughter didn't see you as
SIMON: Oh, two or three days. It got a little better every day. I mean,
we weren't the enemy. We were feeding her, we were holding her. We
bathed her. She just didn't become happy about it for another couple of
And, you know, looking back on it, the transition is very quick. It was,
of course, she immediately became our child, and our identity with her
deepened every day and deepens every day even now. And I'd say that
happens with our daughters, too, but the initial reaction is there's no
Hallmark card moment when your little girl is put into your arms under
the circumstances because the only world they've known is behind them,
and the idea of another change just when they were getting comfortable
in a world they knew, in an orphanage, the idea of change is obviously
And it takes a few days but, you know, only a few days, 72 hours. It's
nothing in a lifetime.
GROSS: How could you tell during those first couple of days? What was
the difference between just ordinary baby crying and baby being torn
away from the only home they've ever known, given to strangers crying?
SIMON: Well, I should underscore that since I'd never been a parent
before, I'm sure my perception is purely amateurish, and a lot of it
just might be sheer projection on my part.
But she was utterly inconsolable, and of course, she didn't know us. I
mean, we smelled funny, we looked funny, we were out of a different
world. I think my best efforts to kind of amuse her, well, they fall
flat with a lot of people, don't they?
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: But they certainly fell flat with her in the first few hours. And
I don't mean to project too much, but I come back to the fact that she'd
already â Elise was then 11 months old. When we got Lina, she was seven
months old. By the time we got them, they had already seen an awful lot
They had already been â a term I don't like because it seems harsh but
they'd already been abandoned by scared young mothers, I think something
they're not totally unaware of under the circumstances. They had
connected perhaps with other people in an orphanage, however imperfect
the care there can be.
And suddenly, you have a couple of adults who are all over them. You
know, they move, they squall, it's - are you all right, are you all
right? They're not used to that kind of total attention.
GROSS: You seem to have had two slightly different reactions when you
adopted your daughters. For the oldest, it was this immediate sense of
that her, she's ours. With your youngest, the first reaction was: Is
this the right one? She doesn't look like the photograph.
SIMON: When we got our second daughter, Lina, which is short for
Paulina, we had gotten a little photograph, as we had for Elise. And we
didn't go to an orphanage center, adoption center this time. They said â
I think it was 4:00, we'll knock on your hotel room door and bring your
baby to you.
And I said to my wife: My gosh, talk about room service. And they
knocked on our door, and they came into our suite, and they set this
little baby down on the kind of conference table there, and she did not
look like the little girl in the picture.
And my wife and I were, on the one hand, delighted and ecstatic, and on
the other hand, it didn't look like the little girl in the picture. Now,
we couldn't have cared less, but what we didn't want was them coming
back in a couple of hours and say, oh, you know, there's been some
terrible mistake. You got the baby that was meant for the
Shmoolavitz(ph) family, and they got yours. Let's make a switch right
now. Because as soon as they brought that baby into the suite, we were
falling in love with her.
And I will never forget that our little girl, Elise, our oldest
daughter, who herself had been cast aside in life, she just reached out
with her little hand, with a kind of tenderness, you know, you usually
don't see in five-year-olds, and she just reached out to her sister, and
she said: It doesn't matter.
And I have never loved a human being or a human moment more.
GROSS: My guest is Scott Simon, the host of NPR's WEEKEND EDITION
Saturday. His new book is called "Baby We Were Meant For Each Other: In
Praise of Adoption." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Scott Simon. He's the host of NPR's WEEKEND EDITION
SATURDAY, and now he's written a new memoir about adopting two children
with his wife, two children from China, and the book is called "Baby We
Were Meant For Each Other."
In adopting two daughters from China, you are very aware of the politics
in China that lead to so many female children, so many baby girls, being
available for adoption. And I'd like you to...
SIMON: A far smaller percentage are available for adoption than are
abandoned. If you - you know, if you take the figure of 15 million
orphaned and abandoned children in China, of which this would be a guess
but I think a pretty good one that 14,750,000 are little girls, a couple
thousand are adopted every year, itâs a scintilla of the babies who
could be adopted, obviously.
GROSS: What stories did you hear about how women abandon their babies in
such a way that they can hope that the babies will be taken care of?
SIMON: Well, for one thing, it's illegal to bear a second child, which
would obviously be the case with some mothers. It's also illegal to
abandon a child.
So we were told that what commonly happens is a scared young mother will
take a train or otherwise get to a location thatâs scores or even a
couple hundred miles away from where they actually live, so they won't
be identified, and they will wrap their baby in a blanket, put her in a
basket and put her in some very public place where she knows that that
baby will be found and taken to an adoption center, perhaps first a
police station, then an adoption center.
And typically, the young mother waits across the street or hides behind
a tree to make certain that her baby is picked up. And I just cannot
imagine the anxiety, and I think torture is the proper word, that a
young mother must feel looking at her child across the street, traffic
whizzing by, wondering, hoping, praying that she'll be picked up.
GROSS: Scott, how old were each of your daughters when you adopted them?
SIMON: Elise was 11 months old when she came into our life, and Lina was
GROSS: So you've tried to imagine what their lives were like in the
orphanages before you adopted your daughters. And you write that you
think your daughters were probably well-fed but not always well-
attended-to. What effect do you think that had on them emotionally and
on their ability, you know, to cope with, to cope with things in
SIMON: Well, you know, it's not just my projection. I think we have the
benefit of a lot of professional opinion on this at this particular
point. The youngsters in orphanages are not fed when they're hungry.
They're not necessarily â they don't hike a blanket up around their
shoulders again when they're necessarily cold. And obviously, a lot of
these institutions are unheated and have incomplete heating.
What happens is because of the volume in which theyâre working, it has
to be done according to a schedule. So kids cry out, and there are not
people that then run out to pick them up and love them and coo in their
faces and cuddle them the way we think ought to be done with babies, the
way I think they think in China even ought to be done with babies. The
volume is just too great.
And I think what happens is that orphanage kids â and I think, by the
way, they develop great strengths, too - but I think that they begin to
feel a little bit, you know, they lose a little bit of that â lose a
little bit of their childhood that way in that they feel kind of
unnaturally responsible for their own survival at a very early age.
And I think a little bit of their childlike innocence is lost that way,
and they become just a little bit hardened, accustomed to having to look
out for themselves and put themselves across.
Now, I also want to say that I think the people that we saw in the two
orphanages, that we saw are overworked and undoubtedly trying to do the
best that they can, but it's the best that they can and I think not the
kind of lives we would want for any of our children.
GROSS: Now, you were in your early 50s when you adopted.
SIMON: I think I was 50.
GROSS: Fifty, okay. So what are some of the pros and cons of becoming a
father relatively late in life?
SIMON: You know, the only con that I can think of is that I'm just aware
of the fact that I'm not going to be around for a lot.
But you know, as I say that, I have just delivered the eulogy at Dan
Schorr's funeral, my dear old friend, and he was even older when he
became a father, and he was told the same thing, and he lived to the age
of almost 94. And his kids are in their 40s. And he was around for a
So that's the only con I can think of. I think I am a much better father
than I would have been when I was younger, and I think everybody who
knows me would probably agree.
Now, you can never tell how the presence of a child in your life will
rally you and focus your mind and change your thinking because I, you
know, observe that even now. But I don't really think of that as a
I'll tell you something that it does affect, and it's not just â I mean,
let's put it this way: children, any daughters of mine will have a lot
bigger impediments in life by being my daughters than my age presents.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: I mean, they're my daughters, of course they'll have some
problems anyway. But I don't think my age is part of it. I do think when
it came to having a second daughter, it sharpened my mind this way.
And look, I was an only child myself, although I had a sister who died
at an early age. But I think something that my wife and I confronted
was, as any parent should, is that you understand, I think especially
when you adopt, that as parents, you're not going to be around forever.
And it's certainly something that I feel keenly.
And among the many other reasons why I think we wanted a second child to
sort of put the right amount of gravity on everybody in the family, it
was certainly on my mind that at some point, I'm going to disappear. I'm
going to leave the scene. Even my wife, as young as she is, isn't going
to be around forever.
And there's a lot to be said for having a running mate. For all our talk
about friends and family and a loving circle, there's a lot to be said
for having a sibling, to having a running mate, someone to join you in
life, who shares those formative experiences, who shares, for that
matter, the same set of parents, and someone that is profoundly attached
to you in the way that siblings are.
GROSS: In your book, you write that your daughters are taking classes,
learning Mandarin, and also...
SIMON: They haven't been this summer, but yes.
GROSS: Okay, and they're learning how to cook certain Chinese dishes.
They're observing certain Chinese holidays, probably in a class with
other children who, like them, are adopted from China?
SIMON: Yes, although I think the kid who speaks Mandarin best is
Saul(ph), and he's not adopted from anywhere.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: His family has adopted a child from China, and Saul is learning
Mandarin, too, and excellent at it, I gather.
GROSS: Why did you want to send them to this school?
SIMON: Well, you know, this is a...
GROSS: It's extracurricular, I know that, yeah.
SIMON: Yeah, it's â it's been in hiatus this summer, and we'll reassess
it. You know, we want our little girls to grow up with some
consciousness, obviously, of their Chinese heritage, and we want to make
this available to them.
Now, I think they will go through different periods of their lives when
at some point their Chinese ancestry and heritage is going to be very
important to them. At other points, and I think we're at that point
right now, it's not particularly important to them.
We don't want to get hung up about it one way or another. We want to
make it available to them. You know, you have to confront the fact that
your children, the children you've adopted are not just cultural
vessels. They're living, breathing human beings who at some point will
sort all of this out for themselves and not all at once. They're going
to grow up and make the decisions that they want to.
You know, Caroline and I went through a period where she wanted all of
our babysitters to be Chinese. And as a result, we weren't getting out
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: And I said to her at one point, you know, we were scouting a
three-state area for Chinese babysitters. I said to her at one point:
Darling, I think we should stop racially profiling our babysitters.
But we did get a great babysitter, a wonderful woman named Dun-Dun(ph),
who was from China. And it was worth all of the time and the effort
because Elise said to Dun-Dun, said what about your brothers and
sisters? And she said: I donât have any brothers or sisters. And she
said, you know, you're very lucky to have a sister because in China, we
don't have brothers and sisters. And Elise said: Well, if you ask your
parents, maybe they'll get you a sister.
And, you know, suddenly all the gymnastics we went through â I think
Elise absorbed something from Dun-Dun that was much more telling than if
we'd said it to her.
GROSS: So heritage is important to you. You want your daughters to know
their Chinese heritage.
SIMON: Our daughters know they're Chinese. You know, we want to make
that available to them.
GROSS: Right. But you also want them to know your family's heritage and
your wife's family's heritage. How important was heritage, family
heritage to you when you were growing up?
SIMON: Well, you know, I can't â I'm the product of a mixed marriage,
and that in a funny way was my heritage. I was aware of part of me being
Jewish. I was aware of part of me being Irish Catholic.
When my parents got married, that was considered a mixed marriage. I
mean, in the 1950s, this was a reasonably controversial thing to do. And
lots of people in both sides of the family weren't happy about it.
And so I think I became aware of the fact that I was growing up in an
ethnically and religiously mixed household. And in a funny way, that
mixture became my heritage.
You know, and I find in life, one of the things I treasure is that
mixture of heritages as your own identity. It's why I love great cities
like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London. It's why I fell in love
with Sarajevo and its mixed background and heritage. And I think it's
one of the things that I hope our daughters are absorbing by being in a
French family, an American family, Chinese heritage, Jewish influence,
Chicago influence, all of that. I mean, they are culturally a mixed bag.
And I find that attractive, and I think that's just the way we're living
these days. And I find I think they're going to be more comfortable in
the world that way.
They'll make their own decisions about this because I think in the end â
you know, the whole idea of getting your identity mixed up or dictated
by your ethnicity seems to me not an attractive thing.
And I have covered too many ethnic conflicts in too many parts of the
world to think that deriving your identity from your ethnicity is a
healthy or moral thing.
GROSS: Scott Simon, it's great to talk with you. Congratulations on the
book. Thank you so much for being with us on FRESH AIR.
SIMON: My pleasure, Terry.
GROSS: Scott Simon is the host of NPR's WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY. His
new book is called "Baby We Were Meant For Each Other: In Praise of
Adoption." You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Pay The Cab Fare ... And Meet The Author, Too
(Soundbite of music)
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross. It's not unusual to get in a cab and
find a paperback novel on the seat next to the driver. What makes Jack
Clark's cab different is that he's both the driver and the author.
Clark is a 30-year-old Chicago cab driver who's written three books. The
Washington Post called his mystery novel âNobody's Angelâ a gem that
doesn't contain a wasted word or a false note.
Itâs told in the voice of a Chicago cabbie named Eddie Miles and is as
much about the life of taxi drivers as it is about the two serial
murderers on the loose in the Windy City. Clark originally published the
book himself under the title âRelita's Angelâ and sold it for five bucks
a copy from his cab. Itâs now published by Hard Case Crime.
Jack Clark wrote for the weekly paper the Chicago Reader years ago, but
left journalism for the world of fiction writing and picking up fares.
His story caught the eye of FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies, who once
drove a cab in Philadelphia.
Mr. JACK CLARK (Author): On Clark Street, a well-dressed black woman
waved, then approached the cab. Are you for hire, she asked? Come on, I
said, and I reached back and opened the door.
What is wrong with you cab drivers, huh? Six cabs just passed me by.
Lady, I started - do I look like a criminal? Lady, I tried again - now
you answer my question. Do I look like a criminal? Lady, if you looked
like a criminal I wouldnât have picked you up. Now would you mind
telling me where youâre going? I'm going to the IC station, she said, I
live in the suburbs. I'm not a criminal. I've never been a criminal. I
do not associate with criminals. I have a good job. I pay my taxes. I go
to church. But you cab drivers, all you can see is the color of my skin.
Lady, why you giving me a hard time? I'm the guy who stopped.
DAVE DAVIES: Well, Jack Clark, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. CLARK: Well, itâs nice to be here.
DAVIES: What do you like about driving a cab?
Mr. CLARK: Well, I love driving. You know, at night itâs just kind of,
you know, you just float around. Things happen. Itâs, you know, itâs
very relaxing if you donât let the traffic get you and if the people don
t get you and if youâre not tired and, you know, itâs like playing jazz,
I think a little bit.
DAVIES: Howâs it like playing jazz?
Mr. CLARK: Well, because you donât know where youâre going until you,
you know, you follow some path and then you get somewhere you didnât
know you were going to go.
DAVIES: And what hours do you typically drive?
Mr. CLARK: Late afternoon to early morning. You know, four to four,
something like that. The bars close here at four in the morning in
Chicago, so thatâs kind of the end of the night business.
DAVIES: You know, driving a cab is in some ways a unique job, in that
youâre the only one in the workplace and every transaction is an
encounter with a stranger, somebody who could be friendly or could be
mean or could be abusive or even a criminal. And I wonder if you have to
carry yourself in a certain way, maybe kind of adopt a persona that's a
little different than the Jack Clark we would know if we just saw you at
Mr. CLARK: Oh, sure. You become a cab driver. You know, you become a
little tougher, a little, you know, hey buddy, blah, blah, blah, or you
can't do that in here or, you know, but youâre always looking at people
to see who they are. But, you know, 99 percent of â 99.9 percent of
people are great. I've had a lot of great conversations with people in
the cab and, you know, I'm generally just want to get their money at the
end of the ride and get them out of the cab so I can get another load
because I only have limited time. You know, I only drive a cab a couple
of days a week so I got to make the money.
DAVIES: And how did you learn to kind of adopt a cab driverâs persona?
Mr. CLARK: Oh, I think I did that right from the beginning, just so I
could pretend to know what I was doing. You know, because you get in and
you donât know what youâre doing and itâs just, you know, I think itâs â
I was telling a waitress recently, a new waitress that she should do
that. You know, just pretend youâre an old waitress, nobody will know
DAVIES: Do you worry, as you get older, that, I donât know, you won't
have quite the reflexes and reactions that you did as a young driver?
Mr. CLARK: Oh, yeah, I certainly, especially with, you know, they put
bullet-proof shields in here I would say about 10 years ago. Itâs, you
know, itâs a half-opened shield. But before that there was a lot more
attacks on cab drivers â a lot more guys jumping over the backseat at
you and that kind of stuff. And itâs a young manâs game. But I couldnât
foresee much of a future if they didnât have the bullet-proofs;
although, I was against them when they put them in, but it has really
calmed all that down.
DAVIES: What were some of the things that happened to you before they
put them in?
Mr. CLARK: Oh, you know, just people robbing - trying to rob. I only got
robbed once but I've had several guys attempt, you know, to rob me. I
had a guy jump over the backseat and grab me from behind and try to, you
know, but I just jerked the cab forward and he kind of bounced back and
I bounced him around a little bit. And that was a lot easier to do
before antilock breaks came in. You can't stop the cabs as quick as you
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CLARK: You used to be able to just boom, you know, and they'd go â
and then you hit the gas and you can't really do that anymore unless
your antilocks are broken.
DAVIES: So you'd use the cab in effect, as a weapon to kind of throw him
around the cab?
Mr. CLARK: Right. And Eddie does that in the book, in one of the
climatic scenes in the book, he uses the cab as - thatâs how he gets
control of this guy who is trying to rob him and is probably going to
DAVIES: Right. Itâs a big moment in the book.
Mr. CLARK: Yeah.
Mr. CLARK: And itâs a realistic scene because it used to, yeah, if you
knew what you were doing you could just bounce a guy back and forth like
a ping pong ball and he couldnât do anything and heâd beg you to let him
out of the cab, you know.
DAVIES: Thereâs a lot of discussion in the book about what fares you
pick up and which ones you pass by, where you go and where you donât go.
And in effect, cabbies for their own safety become profilers, right?
Mr. CLARK: Oh, yeah. Weâll, you have to figure out who somebody is. I
mean, but thatâs, you know, half the time somebody gets in a cab, if you
know what youâre doing you know where they're going before they tell
you. They're going to the Cubs game, you can tell how they dress.
They're going to a bar in Lincoln Park, you can tell how they dress. You
know, they're going home from a - you know, I mean, itâs just - they're
going, you know, they're going to a gay bar, you know, they got the
leather thing on. It used to be that transvestites would, you know,
these women that were 6â4 with shoulders about as wide as a beer truck
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CLARK: Then they'd get in the cab and it was Diversey & Clark and
you'd say Cheeks, because that was where all the transvestites hung out,
at this little bar called Cheeks.
DAVIES: Do you think having to evaluate people all the time like that
kind of gave you observational skills that informed your writing?
Mr. CLARK: You know, I donât know. I mean, I can maybe describe some of
those things better. But, you know, I'm really only looking at the
surface there. But I think driving a cab just helped me as a writer just
because the different ways to get places. There's a million ways to get
places. You know, you donât have to go the conventional way. You can use
a lot of shortcuts and I think thatâs really helped in my writing.
DAVIES: I remember one rule that I learned from one of the veteran
cabbies after a woman - I'd taken her to a bar. And then she said she
didnât have any money, so she was going to go inside to get it and she
just assumed I wouldnât follow her in because I was a white kid and it
was an African-American neighborhood. But I went in and she didnât have
any money. And the thing that I remember the veteran cabbies told me
after that experience was, never pick up a woman without - who isn't
carrying a purse. Bad news.
Mr. CLARK: Oh, well, there's a lot of them that donât carry a purse. But
I tell you, never get out of the cab, thatâs one of my rules for
anything. You know, the cab is your little weapon. Itâs your security
place and $10, just I'm not going into any bar. I had a guy run out of
the cab one day on a $2 fare and run into a corner bar and it was like,
well, good-bye, you know, I'm not going into a bar for $2.
And we had a guy â we had a cab driver here killed a couple years ago in
a fare dispute where he got out of the cab to fight with the guy and he
left the engine running. So thatâs rule two: if you do get out the cab,
take the keys with you. And thatâs if youâre pulling somebody out of the
back seat, turn the engine off and take the keys with you. But he got
right â the passenger ended up getting back in the cab and ran him over.
I think he ran him over like three times and then he claimed it was an
accident. But he went to jail.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Jack Clark. He is a cab driver and novelist.
His book is called âNobodyâs Angel.
Weâll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: If youâre just joining us, we're speaking with Jack Clark. He
drives a cab and writes in the city of Chicago, and he has a book out
now called âNobodyâs Angel.â
Were you a writer who became a cab driver or a cab driver who became a
Mr. CLARK: No, I was a writer first. My first published story was in â75
and like I said, I didnât start driving until either â77 or â78. I
actually quit a staff job at the Chicago Reader and went to Flash Cab.
DAVIES: Chicago Reader is a weekly, right?
Mr. CLARK: Weekly alternate paper.
DAVIES: Mm-hmm. Did you think of yourself as a writer coming up or did
you train for something else?
Mr. CLARK: No, I never went â I toke one course at Columbia College.
What happened to me is my dad gave me a copy of âThe Man With the Golden
Arm,â Nelson Algrenâs novel, when I was 16 years old, and I just loved
the book. And I think before I was finished with the first page I wanted
to be a writer. Thatâs how much I liked the book.
But I never really went to college. I took this story and journalism
course at Columbia College here that was a great course and I sold two
stories out of the â I was going to take fiction courses at Columbia. I
think I was 23 years old at the time and all the fiction courses were
filled up by the time I got there, so I took the story and journalism
course. And so thatâs how I kind of accidentally got into journalism
because two of the stories I wrote for class I sold, or my teacher
pretty much sold, one to the Reader, one to Chicago magazine, so that
got me into journalism. But I'm glad to be back out here in fiction.
DAVIES: Mm-hmm. So you left and why did you go to drive a cab rather
than sell insurance or take a computer course or something?
Mr. CLARK: Well, I never wanted to do anything that I had to use my real
brain at, you know, as a full-time job. I just wanted to â mostly,
actually, I was a furniture mover when I went to Flash Cab â I mean,
when I went to the Reader I was moving furniture and driving trucks and
then, and thatâs what I did, I drove over the road for about 15 years,
from like about â73 to â70 to â89 or something like that, so...
DAVIES: So when you say over the road, you mean driving a truck?
Mr. CLARK: Yeah, I was a furniture mover for Allied Van Lines. I drove,
you know, 48 states and just moving people around the country. And so
thatâs - I did that a lot. And then that was a summertime job. And then
a cab I would do in the winter when the trucks slowed down. And then in
the â90s, I guess, I started doing the cab more as a steady source of
DAVIES: Now, you know, when you were a driver, as a driver, youâre
somebody who certainly had skills and ambitions that probably a lot of
drivers donât. I mean, do you feel different from a lot of the other
drivers that you know out there?
Mr. CLARK: Oh, no. I think, you know, nobody wants to be a cab driver.
You know, they say you can never organize the cab drivers, and the
reasons you can never organize the cab drivers is nobody ever thinks
they're going to do it for long, because itâs all just somewhere on the
way somewhere else. You know, they're - a lot of guys are going through
school. A lot of these foreign drivers are well-educated and they can't
get a job in their field once they get over here. And then you start
driving a cab and if you work hard you can make some decent money. So,
but no, I think thereâs a lot of cab drivers that are â I've certainly
met a lot of cab drivers that want to write, you know.
DAVIES: Right. And then there are the legends of the old-timers who did
do it as a real profession back when, you know, when cabbies wore
uniforms and people in neighborhoods took cabs a lot more.
Mr. CLARK: Yeah. You know, even then I knew guys that â I used say in
the book, the guy who says - itâs a story I put in â Ace is an old
veteran cab driver in the book and I put this story in his mouth that I
heard from a veteran cab driver at Flash. And it was like he was talking
about when they were going to pull his license and he paid off a bunch
of money so that, you know, which you used to be able to do here to, you
know, to the inspector so he wouldnât lose his license. And now he's
wondering, you know, what he would've done with his life if he hadn't
done that. You know, he maybe would've done something with his life, he
says, all I've been doing is driving around in circles.
DAVIES: But he has stayed with it, right?
Mr. CLARK: But he stayed with it, yeah. There were a lot of, you know,
my friend, I have a friend who is a folk singer, Ed Holstein, and he
said to me, he said our parents just wanted jobs; we all want to be
artists. And I think thereâs a lot of truth to that. You know, my dad
was a Depression kid, he was in World War II, he just wanted a job. He
wanted to come back and have a job. And then, you know, as you get money
and the middle-class, youâre a middle-class kid, you want to be an
artist and stuff like that. So, I think the older drivers were of that
World War II generation, they just wanted a job and stability.
Mr. CLARK: They didnât want to remember the Depression or the war.
DAVIES: Now the book, âNobodyâs Angel,â you wrote this in the 1990âs and
is it true you sold it in the cab?
Mr. CLARK: Yeah, I wrote the first draft of this book about 1990 and
then I kept trying to sell it and I got a lot of good rejection letters,
which do no good at all. And I was rewriting it all the time, because
somebody would say this or somebody would say that or I'd get my hopes
up that something could happen with it.
And then I just got sick of it, so I decided if I self-published it I
could just get it out of my system and I wouldnât have to keep rewriting
the stupid thing. So thatâs what I did and I found a place out in
Nebraska, Morris Publishing, which did a great job for about $1.86 a
copy. And itâs a really nice looking book, âRelita's Angel,â and it was
just 500 copies, so, you know, I sold them for five bucks a piece and I
got my money back and I made a little money on it.
And right after I started selling the book in the cab, my sister, whoâs
a professor out in Massachusetts, was at a party and some woman finds
out - sheâs from Chicago and she says, oh, my son just bought this most
wonderful book from a cab driver in Chicago. And my sister says, could I
see it? She goes upstairs and brings the book down and, of course, itâs
my book, and my sister opens it and turns to the acknowledgment page
where her name is, you know. So that was like immediately like, that was
in a week or two after I started selling the book it ended up in a, you
know, a thousand miles away in Massachusetts.
DAVIES: What does the pitch sound like when I'm in your cab and youâre
selling your book?
Mr. CLARK: Oh, no. I never pitched the book to anybody. I had a little
baskets of the book up on a dashboard and if you â and then I had one
hanging from a hook, so it was facing you, so you could see the cover.
And if people asked about it I would tell them. But I never offered to
sell it to them unless they asked, can I buy it? You know, nobody gets
in the cab to have somebody try to sell them a T-shirt or a book or a,
yeah, I would never do that.
DAVIES: Itâs interesting that you drive at night. I mean, the first time
I drove a cab I drove at night and it just, it got kind of creepy, and
so I kind of stuck to days.
Mr. CLARK: Well, see, I did the exact opposite. My first three days in
the cab were daytime and the traffic was so horrible and I just couldnât
take it, so I thought, I'd rather get shot in the head.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CLARK: And, you know, that was really my thought - I donât care, I
canât do this anymore. And nights are so much better than days. I was on
days just recently, a couple years back I was trying days again and itâs
just, people are boring. They're not happy. They're going to work and
itâs your fault. You know, I'm at work, too. Give me a break. But you
can't get them to talk. They're just grumpy. You know, at night people
are having fun. They're leaving work or they're having a drink or
they're going out to dinner or, you know, they're much more relaxed.
Daytime â and the traffic is so horrible during the day.
And the people at daytime, they know their way around more. They take
this route to work. They know the shortcuts. You can't go down the side
streets. And you cut through allies, there's three cars cutting through
the same alley because itâs a shortcut to somewhere. Nighttime, you
donât have that problem.
DAVIES: When people get in the cab do you try and strike up
conversations? Do you let them take...
Mr. CLARK: Oh, yeah.
Mr. CLARK: Yeah, the great thing about the cab, it drives me crazy, all
these guys that are on the phone. And I donât know if they do that in
Philly, but in Chicago half the cab drivers are on the phone and they're
just missing the best part of the job, I think, is you meet all these
people, you talk to people, you find out stuff, you know, you hear about
different countries, different cities, you know. You know, on the
average night you'll get, Iâll get maybe 30 fares in the cab. Thatâs a
lot of people in and out of your cab.
They're great stories. You know, I've had a lot of fun with people. I've
learned a lot of stuff in the cab. Donât ask me what any of it is but,
DAVIES: That never gets old, huh?
Mr. CLARK: No, I, no. No, people are great. People are great. Thatâs the
DAVIES: Well, Jack Clark, thanks so much for speaking with us. Itâs been
Mr. CLARK: Oh, well, thanks. Thanks. Nice talking to you.
GROSS: Jack Clark spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Clarkâs
latest book is called âNobodyâs Angel.â You can read an excerpt on our
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Hurricane Katrina: As Seen On TV, Five Years Later
TERRY GROSS, host:
This week marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrinaâs landfall.
TV critic David Bianculli says that television was all over the story
then and is all over it again now.
DAVID BIANCULLI: Whatever approach you'd like to see in a fifth
anniversary update of Hurricane Katrina's impact on the Gulf region, TV
provides it this week. A pure look back, with retrospective clips and
reflection? Check. Fresh reporting, digging up new angles and important
stories? Check. A detailed update, focusing not only on what happened
then, but what has happened since? Check. All you have to do is know
where you go, so here's a road map.
Tonight at 9:00 Eastern Time on the National Geographic Channel, a two-
hour special called âWitness: Katrinaâ covers the August 2005 disaster
from ground level. It collects images and recordings not from TV
reporters on assignment, but from Gulf residents in their homes â
holding camcorders, or making phone calls, as the massive storm surge
comes closer and closer.
Here are two such samples. First, from a woman filming as her house
becomes a virtual island, then from another woman apologetically calling
911 for help a little too late. In both instances, whatâs so haunting is
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of National Geographic Channelâs âWitness: Katrinaâ)
Unidentified Woman #1: We are totally flooded. This is the bedroom. The
bed is floating away, all the pillows, the cedar chest, everything
(Soundbite of water)
Unidentified Woman #1: I'm gonna walk over here to the window. I can't
go outside anymore to take video, but if you can see out there, it is
like we are in the middle of a river. We are totally surrounded by
water. Weâve lost everything.
(Soundbite of motorboat)
Unidentified Woman #2: 911, whatâs your emergency?
IDA: Hey, baby. We were stupid. We're down on the beach. I'm in a solid
house. We're on the third floor. We're not sure what we should do. If we
should try to swim...
Unidentified Woman #2: The only thing I could tell you to do is pretty
much do what you got to do because we can't get nobody to you right now.
Unidentified Woman #2: And weâll get somebody out there as soon as we
IDA: All right. Well, if worse comes to worse, my name Ida.
Unidentified Woman #2: Mm-hmm.
IDA: And tell my family I love them.
BIANCULLI: On the other end of the spectrum, there's the raw emotion in
this Wednesday's edition of the PBS series âFrontline.â Called âLaw and
Disorder,â it devotes itself to one specific incident amid all that
chaos: the shooting of a young man and the severe beating endured by the
man's brother when he went in search of medical help. Both the shooting
and the beating, this investigative report concludes, were done by New
Orleans police. At the end of the program, the surviving brother bursts
into tears when discussing the cop who beat him. But he's crying not
from rage, but from compassion.
(Soundbite of PBS series, âLaw and Disorderâ)
Unidentified Man: I forgive that police officer. I forgive him with all
my heart, because if I donât, God ainât going to forgiven me when I do
something wrong. I forgive him. I forgive him. And I'm trying to deal
with this every day.
(Soundbite of crying)
Unidentified Man: Itâs hard, man. Feel like something just â itâs gone,
that I had in my heart is gone. I ainât going to get it. I canât see him
no more. Can't do the things we normally do. You know, I miss my
(Soundbite of crying)
Unidentified Man: I miss him.
BIANCULLI: Then, for recaps and reflections of the TV coverage itself,
there was NBC's âDatelineâ special, which ran last night. Brian
Williams, whose reports from New Orleans were some of the most
impressive, discussed his memories of covering the flooded city streets
quite candidly, in a session taped shortly after the disaster itself.
(Soundbite of NBCâs, âDatelineâ)
Mr. BRIAN WILLIAMS (Journalist, NBC News): We made a decision the French
Quarter was no longer safe. Things were getting too dicey and we pulled
out to the suburb of Metairie, Louisiana.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. WILLIAMS: And good evening from Metairie, Louisiana.
I'll be candid: We heard CNN pulled out. That had some influence on our
decision. We had no weapons. We don't work that way. That has to
separate us as journalists. But it wasn't safe. So here we are driving
through town in our rental car â state troopers had to cover us by
aiming at the men in the street, just to tell them, don't think of doing
a smash and grab and killing this guy for the car.
BIANCULLI: Five years later, that really brings you back. Nothing does
it quite so much, though, as the footage itself â of the flooding, the
people on rooftops holding signs for help, the bloated dead bodies
floating in canals, and even streets. The outrage that it happened here,
in the United States, remains fresh.
And in Spike Lee's new HBO documentary on the disaster and its
aftermath, a follow-up to his earlier special, he includes several
pieces of TV news that still sting. One is the infamous - doing a heck
of a job, Brownie, remark by then-President George Bush. The other is
CNN reporter Soledad O'Brien's interview with that very Brownie â
Michael Brown, then the head of the FEMA government response agency â
whose response to O'Brien, five days after tragedy struck, leaves her
Ms. SOLEDAD OâBRIEN (Journalist, CNN): FEMA's been on the ground for
four days, going into the fifth day. Why no massive air drop of food and
water? In Banda Aceh, in Indonesia, they got a food drop two days after
the tsunami struck.
Mr. MICHAEL BROWN (Former FEMA director): We're feeding those people in
the convention center. We have fed over 150,000 people as of last night.
That is happening. I think what youâre witnessing is that...
Ms. OâBRIEN: But I guess the point is, as of last of last night. Sir,
Mr. BROWN: Soledad. Soledad.
Ms. OâBRIEN: I have to stop you here.
Mr. BROWN: What we're hearing is that we're hearing peopleâs
frustration. There are people that are beginning to manifest themselves
out of the community that we didnât know that were there.
Ms. OâBRIEN: Why are you discovering this now? It's five days that
FEMAâs been on the ground. The head of police says it's been five days
that FEMAâs been there. The mayor, the former mayor, putting out SOS's
on Tuesday morning, crying on national television, saying, please send
in some troops. So the idea that, yes, I understand that you're feeding
people and trying to get in there now, but it's Friday. It's Friday.
Mr. BROWN: Well, the people want to believe...
BIANCULLI: But it's not all bad news and rehash. That same Spike Lee
documentary, which is called âIf God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Riseâ
and airs tonight and tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern on HBO, covers new
ground. Too much, actually â squeezing in both this year's Super Bowl
win by the New Orleans Saints and the BP mega-oil spill.
But it also looks for signs of hope in the rebuilding of New Orleans and
vicinity â and finds them, among other places, in the infamous Lower
Ninth Ward, where actor Brad Pitt and his business partner, both heard
here, have arranged for the design and construction of hundreds of new
homes for low-income residents.
(Soundbite of Spike Lee documentary, âIf God is Willing and Da Creek
Mr. BRAD PITT (Actor, film producer): What you see here now is just
under 50 houses either lived in or under construction, and - but itâs
more than that. We rejected the idea that affordable housing has to, you
know, use crap materials, toxic materials and appliances that run up a
familyâs utilities bills.
Unidentified Man #2: As you can see here, weâve put solar panels on all
the houses and these panels, on a day like today, provide enough
electricity to run the entire house. So this house is feeding
electricity back to the grid, which makes the electricity bills next to
Mr. PITT: They are safe, because we donât know - we donât know about
this wall here. We know itâs safer. But we got to make sure that these
homes are going to be here if something like that were to happen again.
BIANCULLI: The point of all these TV specials is clear - we shouldn't
forget what happened five years ago. And TV, more than any other medium,
brings it back the most vividly the way we first experienced it.
GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of TVWorthWatching.com and
he teaches TV and film at Rowan University in New Jersey.
You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.
I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.