I don’t think I would have been able to log the 500 miles of walking I put in last year if it wasn’t for some kind of distraction in my ears. If I hadn’t had something to keep my mind off the fact I was simply walking out and back from my apartment, I probably would have gotten overwhelmed and bored and that would have been the end of that. I’ve got a pretty good mix of music I can go to, but my real audio companions were a handful of podcasts that managed to keep me company on my weight loss journey.
I didn’t get podcasts for the longest time. I’d sampled some, and they came across as these messy, sprawling free-form conversations in desperate need of some restraint, filled with in-jokes that I’m sure were hilarious for the participants and their friends, not so much for everyone else. But needing to fill hours of walking time and wanting some non-musical options, I really looked started looking into them and managed to come across a pretty solid rotation. These aren’t the only ones I listen to, but they’re definitely the ones that I got the most mileage out of, literally.
This podcast very much takes on the personality of its creator and host, Tom Vasel. Vasel started off writing pretty in-depth reviews of board games on Board Game Geek, which grew into The Dice Tower podcast, and eventually an entire network of affiliated podcasts and an annual convention here in Orlando. He’s one of the most influential voices in the hobby, which you’d never know from listening to the guy. He comes across as what he is, really: a very enthusiastic geek. Not that his opinions are those of some guy living in his mother’s basement. He clearly knows his stuff, and I’ve found my tastes aligning with his more often than not. The podcast features some regular contributors, some of which are stronger than others, but it’s Vasel and co-host Eric Summerer who are the heart and soul of the show, coming across as two buddies excitedly chatting about their favorite hobby.
Imagine if Mystery Science Theater 3000, instead of hilariously talking back to bad movies, instead spent an hour hilariously venting about how bad they were. That’s How Did This Get Made? Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas (and frequently a guest or two) voice their anguished disbelief at what they subject themselves to. Scheer and Raphael are funny, but it’s the manic fury of Mantzoukas that really puts HDTGM? over the top. He goes from defeated befuddlement to profanity-laced anger to leering innuendo like a champ, and the laughter during their occasional live shows is infectious; I frequently find myself laughing out loud, the reaction from passersby be damned.
Its episodes rarely run longer than thirty minutes. It’s often nothing more than a single voice with no sound effects. And yet Welcome to Night Vale is one of the most absorbing listening experiences I’ve ever had. It takes the form of a Prairie Home Companion-esque local radio broadcast from the small desert town of Night Vale, only instead of folksy wisdom and nostalgic good cheer, host Cecil Palmer dispenses good-natured paranoia and supernatural goings on. The show has followed everything from an ominous dog park residents are urged not to even acknowledge to the mayoral campaign of a citizen who just happens to be a five-headed dragon. What makes Night Vale work is the amazing performance by Cecil Baldwin as his namesake, lending a comforting yet creepy vibe to the proceedings. It’s a literate, sometimes unsettling, sometimes inspiring show whose 38 episodes I tore through in a matter of weeks. The only bad thing is that now I’m stuck waiting for new episodes instead of having them waiting for me.
There are some other podcasts in the rotation — NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and the Dice Tower Network’s The Secret Cabal most prominent among them — but these three have been near constant companions on my wanderings through west Orlando. I feel an odd sense of fondness for them, since they’ve been a big part of my weight loss. I don’t want to say I couldn’t have done it without them, but it would have been a lot harder.