This Week On Metro Connection: Communication (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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This Week On Metro Connection: Communication

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we're going to focus on something we do all the time, every single day, whether in person, on the phone...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

...over the computer...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

...via text...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

...or for those of us who still remember how to use a pen or pencil, with a letter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

In turning over in my mind the contents of your last letters, I have put myself into great agony, not knowing how to interpret...

SHEIR

In other words, we'll be talking about communication and the many ways we here in the Washington region reach out and touch someone, metaphorically speaking, I mean.

SHEIR

We'll explore how D.C.'s drivers and cyclists sometimes get their signals crossed.

MALE

We know this is a safety issue and we know what we could do to fix the safety issue.

SHEIR

And we'll discover what ancient fossils are trying to tell us about climate change.

MALE

We had this major thermal maximum, the hottest time that we know of, and it came on very fast.

SHEIR

Plus, revisiting the bygone days of newspaper row.

MALE

There was more of a news community, it was more a group.

SHEIR

And getting steamy with the Washington romance writers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE

I think a lot of people now are in the closet reading it. I hate to say that because I don't think it's something that you should be ashamed of. But there really are people who do that.

SHEIR

But to kick things off today, if you've been surfing around Tumblr or YouTube, you may have come across a bunch of videos showing people pronouncing this specific set of words...

FEMALE

Garage or schedule...

MALE

Schedule, figure, jaguar, lieutenant, water...

FEMALE

Lieutenant, water, advertisement...

SHEIR

And answering this specific set of questions.

FEMALE

What is a bubbly carbonated drink called?

MALE

What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?

FEMALE

A soda.

MALE

That's a cart.

FEMALE

Cart.

FEMALE

Cart.

SHEIR

It's called accent tag and the internet meme highlights the many ways people speak English across the world. Now, it just so happens the accent taggers you're hearing now all hail from the same corner of the world, namely...

FEMALE

Washington D.C.

FEMALE

Washington D.C.

FEMALE

I'm from D.C.

FEMALE

D.C. in the house.

SHEIR

But the question is, do they all have the same accent? And actually while we're at it, is there even such a thing as a D.C. way of speaking? Well, it just so happens that researchers at Georgetown University's Linguistics Department are trying to answer that very question, through something they call...

MS. ANASTASIA NYLUND

The language and communication in the D.C. Metropolitan Area Project or LCDC for short.

SHEIR

That's Ph.D. student, Anastasia Nylund. She and her fellow LCDC'ers have interviewed nearly 150 Washingtonians and listened to recorded interviews from the 1960s to get a clearer idea of how people in the D.C. area talk. And not just how people talk actually but what people talk about.

NYLUND

How people tell stories.

SHEIR

What people tell stories about.

NYLUND

And how people use language to sort of situate themselves in the social life of this city.

SHEIR

Let's start with that first one, how people talk. Nylund says she's found that when you ask folks in D.C. if they speak with an accent...

NYLUND

A lot of people will say, "Well, I don't really have an accent."

SHEIR

But they also say they're often perceived as having one.

NYLUND

So I've got people telling me, some people think I'm from the South and other people think that I'm from the North and I'm wondering where they get it from because I'm a Washingtonian. Or people hear a southern drawl and maybe it's there but I don't hear it. I'm not southern, I'm a Washingtonian.

SHEIR

And that, Nylund says, shows how closely language is connected with identity. And ever since D.C. became the nation's capital in 1791 its language and identity have been richly influenced by African-American culture.

NYLUND

And so some people will definitely say that Washington speech is African American speech and the most probably distinctive is some of the local words, like bama, for kind of an un-cool person. Jont, for pretty much anything, any noun can be replaced with "jont." "Cised," to be cised about something, psyched.

SHEIR

But as Anastasia Nylund's colleague, Patrick Callier attests, the study of African American English in D.C. goes beyond words.

MR. PATRICK CALLIER

Yes, so some of us have been looking at how sound systems in African American English in D.C. have been changing over time.

SHEIR

Like, say, certain vowels.

CALLIER

I looked at the pronunciation of the vowel in glide or pry or price and in traditional southern vernacular, be it white or African American, that would be pronounced like "glahd" or "prah," right.

SHEIR

But as he and his team have analyzed LCDC's archival recordings from the 1960s.

CALLIER

Basically what we've seen over time in D.C. is a slight decrease in overall use of this "prah" pronunciation among African Americans, particularly among African American women.

CALLIER

No, Patrick Callier may have the vowels covered but Jessi Grieser another PhD at Georgetown, is all about the consonants, in particular, T-H.

MS. JESSI GRIESER

So, saying "dat" instead of "that" and how much that comes out.

SHEIR

And Grieser says a number of factors seem to affect how much it comes out among speakers.

GRIESER

And who they're talking to, what they're talking about, whether or not the person they're talking to is also white or black.

SHEIR

Grieser recalls interviewing this one woman about her traditionally African American neighborhood and how she thinks it's changing.

GRIESER

As she was talking about her neighborhood becoming integrated, she started using the more standard English as opposed to African American English variants. So she was using "dat" and "de" and all these things as she was, as the neighborhood was black and as the neighborhood became whiter, so did her speech.

SHEIR

Examples like these, Anastasia Nylund says, demonstrate how fluid language can be, as it reflects the ever-changing social, cultural, political and economic landscapes of Washington, D.C.

NYLUND

Language isn't something that just happens. It's not just something that we're born with. It's something that we use, you know, creatively kind of as we go through our lives.

SHEIR

And the beauty of something like The Language and Communication in the D.C., Metropolitan Area Project, she says, is how it can capture some of that language and, she and her colleagues hope, bring about a greater understanding of this dynamic and complex place we call home.

SHEIR

The LCDC team just received a grant to build a brand-new website so that is in the works but if in the meantime you'd like to know more about the project, including how you can participate in an interview, you can visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We head to the street now to investigate some of the challenges communication can bring. In this case, the challenges of conveying the design of an unusual new project that will affect Washington's drivers and bicyclists alike. Nowadays, D.C. ranks among the nation's top cities for bicycling. But we've seen some bumps along the way as the District has bulked up its bike lanes. Jacob Fenston brings us this story about the latest case of signals getting crossed.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

On November 14, Collin Hughes was riding his bike to work, the same commute he had done every day for more than year.

MR. COLLIN HUGHES

Right, I was headed towards the White House and the car was to the right of me because it's a center bike lane.

FENSTON

That's the wide separated bike lane in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. The car was a taxi but Hughes didn't even see it as the cabbie drove up behind him.

HUGHES

Somebody tried to hail the taxi from the opposite side of the street, so he accelerated and then did a very sharp U-turn to get the fare, without looking in the bike lane.

FENSTON

The cab driver struck Hughes, sending him and his bike into oncoming traffic. He was shaken but unhurt. In the past two years there have been at least 11 accidents like this. Bicyclists in the bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue, hit by U-turning cars.

HUGHES

A center bike lane is not a really common feature in a roadway so when people want to do a U-turn, they actually just look at the oncoming traffic in the opposite lane and if they don't see anything coming at them then they do the U-turn. They don't think that there's a cyclist, you know, on the inside.

FENSTON

And police haven't been writing tickets because it was actually unclear whether U-turns across the bike lane were illegal or not. But on Wednesday after weeks of pressure from cyclists Mayor Vincent Gray announced new emergency regulation.

MAYOR VINCENT GRAY

The current situation leaves bicyclists too vulnerable to injury or even possibly being killed. Therefore, I've directed the pertinent District of Columbia agencies to immediately address this issue.

FENSTON

New rules make D.C. law explicit, doing a U-turn across a bike lane is illegal, period. But bike lane design issues don't end with U-turns. Each of the District's three separated bike lanes has a different and possibly confusing design. Mike Goodno, the District Department of Transportation's bicycle program specialist, says these evolving designs reflect a learning process as bikes are squeezed back into a streetscape long dominated by cars.

MR. MIKE GOODNO

We're right between, what are we, 23rd Street and 22nd Street.

FENSTON

I met up with Goodno downtown on L Street near the beginning of the city's newest separated bike lane or cycle track. It's is huge, 8 feet wide and separated from the rush of cars by a row of plastic bollards. It's a bike expressway, except some drivers are using it as an expressway too, sneaking onto the bicycle side of the bollards and speeding past traffic.

FENSTON

So that was an interesting move there.

GOODNO

Yes, a van just entered the bicycle lane between two missing posts to make a left turn.

FENSTON

Not every driver has got the hang of this unique design just yet and not everyone likes it.

MS. TAMARA WILKINSON

I hate it. It makes this too confusing, it's very confusing.

MALE

Rush hour going from four lanes down to three, its tightening things up. It's taking a half an hour just to get down L Street.

FEMALE

I wish the bicyclists would use it. They tend to still use the lanes, the vehicle traffic lanes instead of using this.

MS. MEGAN MCCARTY

This is just some info on how to use the L Street cycle track, (unintelligible) .

MALE

Yes, I was looking at that.

MCCARTY

Yes, because it's...

FENSTON

Megan McCarty is bike ambassador for the Washington area Bicyclists Association. It's her job to educate bikers and drivers, like this driver, who cut into the bike lane where he wasn't supposed to.

MALE

Right.

MCCARTY

Just so you don't get a ticket if...

MALE

Thank you.

MCCARTY

Yes.

MALE

Appreciate it.

MCCARTY

No problem.

FENSTON

She also nags drivers who park in the cycle track. Today there's a mail truck blocking the lane and a few blocks later, a huge recycling truck.

MCCARTY

The drivers of this recycling company parked in the cycle track and I went to talk to them about where it's legal to park.

FENSTON

What'd they say?

MCCARTY

He laughed and said, "Thanks."

FENSTON

Despite the occasional parked truck, bicyclists zipping by love the new cycle track.

MR. BRIAN MCENTEE

You know, it's like a cheat code. You can get through the congested traffic in a dedicated bike lane.

FENSTON

Brian McEntee commutes by bike, riding the full 11 blocks of the new cycle track every day.

MCENTEE

I think by and large it's been really productive for the relationship between cyclists and drivers. It gives drivers sort of a place to expect cyclists, rather than sort of weaving in and out of traffic.

FENSTON

The separated bike lanes also make cycling through the city less daunting, attracting more riders. According to the District Department of Transportation, bike traffic on streets with cycle tracks has tripled or quadrupled, to as many as 400 bikes per hour. And planners hope that as more cyclists hit the roads, more drivers will get used to driving around them. I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

Okay, all you drivers and bicyclists, what do you think of the city's bike lanes. You can email us at metro@wamu.org or find us on Twitter, our handle is @wamumetro. And if you're at all confused by the new L Street design, you can find a handy dandy diagram on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Time for a quick break, but when get back, using art to communicate the story of an uncle you never knew.

MALE

Growing up, that was the story that I was kind of told, is that Uncle Richard was lost at sea. I don't think as a child you really understand death, but you don't understand someone completely vanishing as well.

SHEIR

And taking the words of a beloved and dearly departed sibling to heart.

MALE

Confronting the end of his life brought me to a place of understanding that I never otherwise would've gotten to.

SHEIR

That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Our theme today is communication. And in this part of the show we're going to focus a bit on life lessons and how we communicate them to others. We begin with the story of Silver Spring native, Dan Sullivan and his brother Tom. Tom was the kind of guy who ran at life full force. He was constantly making snap decisions and always finding beauty in even the most frightening moments.

SHEIR

But when he was just 30 years old Tom died of a strange disease. And Tom's death made Dan reconsider his own more cautious attitude toward life. Dan recently visited Tom's grave in Virginia with Raphaella Bennin, who brings us his story.

MR. DAN SULLIVAN

The gravesite's over in that direction there. Let's go see the grave site.

MS. RAPHAELLA BENNIN

Dan Sullivan and I step out of his car and onto the grass of Arlington Cemetery.

SULLIVAN

It took me awhile, actually, to come here, to see the headstone. It just makes it that much more real when you see the name, you know, Thomas Joseph Sullivan, Sergeant U.S. Marine Corps, Iraq, December 22, 1978 to February 16, 2009. I mean in some ways it's beautiful, but this is just not a site I ever imagined.

BENNIN

Tom joined the Marines in 2000. He had always been the brother to make quick decisions. And he was constantly telling Dan to stop being a wimp and just go out and do things.

SULLIVAN

He just went it full force. I mean he went into boot camp. He got through boot camp. He loved the Marines. He actually had the opportunity to quit before he was sent to Iraq. And he believed so strongly that the Marines was what he was destined and wanted to do, so he re-upped.

BENNIN

So Tom went to Iraq, but while he was deployed, he started to feel sick. He came back to the U.S., but he kept getting sicker.

SULLIVAN

The thing that started to get obviously wrong was the gastro-intestinal problems. And it was very debilitating. He would literally miss three or four hours a day having to be on the toilet. And then he started having pain. And they started prescribing things, heavy-duty painkillers and steroids for the inflammation. The doctors were just not able to conclusively diagnosis. And his doctors didn't recognize that this illness was kind of part of his sacrifice.

BENNIN

Tom was dying of something called post-deployment illness. Doctors still don't really understand what causes it or how to medicate for it. The main theory is that while Tom was in Iraq he was poisoned by toxins in the air from explosions or burn pits, the byproducts of war.

SULLIVAN

As he was going through all of this, he just kept living his life as fully as he could.

BENNIN

He got married. He had a daughter. And then, in February of 2009, Tom died without a concrete diagnosis, but the autopsy showed the bad shape his body was in.

SULLIVAN

His heart was severely damaged. His brain was swollen. His kidneys were exhibiting signs of failure. His heart was also enlarged. His lungs were full of fluid and the medical examiner thought that the actual thing that ended up being the final cause of death was this pneumonia.

BENNIN

It was Dan who found Tom's body. He had gone to his brother's house to check on him.

SULLIVAN

The moment that I found his body and I was alone at the time in his house, and realizing that the sum total of everything that I feared was basically right there. I don't know. I just had a sudden shift in consciousness. There was almost a moment where I kind of thought he was kind of like, all right, Dan. Now go out there and stop being a wimp.

SULLIVAN

That was a critical turning point for Dan, a final push from his brother to pursue life as decisively as Tom had. Dan and his family decided to start an organization, The Sergeant Sullivan Center. They organize meetings with doctors, government agencies, non-profits and patients to increase education and research around post-deployment illness.

SULLIVAN

It took ten years after the Persian Gulf War -- 10 years or so -- for there to be a statement that in fact Gulf War vets were sicker at a higher rate than the average population. I think the answer is we don't need to wait ten years. We need to take the information that's available and use it to the best possible benefit of those who are sick. And that's a step in the right direction.

BENNIN

Now, it's been almost four years since Tom died. Not surprisingly, Dan still thinks about his brother all the time. Particularly about these conversations they had as teenagers. They used to sit on their parents' back porch, drinking boxed wine and smoking cigarettes.

SULLIVAN

Nobody ever seemed to know what we were doing. So I remember very vividly him saying to me, I know that you're gay and if that's what you want, just own it and do it, you know. And then he asked me if I was afraid of AIDS. And I said yes. And that's when he said, have you ever considered that if you got AIDS maybe you might learn something from the experience and be better for it? I thought he was crazy.

BENNIN

But Dan says that now he understands what his brother meant.

SULLIVAN

I mean, there's a lot of horror and beauty in all of this stuff. And I've met a lot of people now who have a serious illness in their lives, really, really sick, suffering in awful ways. But boy, when we all get together and when we talk to one another, there's an energy and a force and a commitment to living and to making this illness make sense, and make things better for other people. That is beautiful, that coming together in the face of devastation.

BENNIN

Dan says that the devastation and the coming together and the horror and the beauty all seem to go hand in hand. I'm Raphaella Bennin.

SHEIR

This story first came to our attention through the storytelling group Speakeasy D.C. To learn more about the Sergeant Sullivan Center or Speakeasy D.C. head to our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

This next story is about another man who lost a family member in a time of war, but unlike Dan Sullivan, who we just heard from, Benjamin Bellas never actually met that family member, an uncle named Richard Hunt. Hunt mysteriously disappeared while serving in Vietnam. That was ten years before Bellas was born, but that lack of a direct relationship doesn't mean Bellas hasn't felt a sense of loss over his uncle's death.

SHEIR

Bellas is now an artist. And in a new exhibit, "Losing Something You Never Had" he digs through maps, slides and his uncles old uniforms to explore that loss. Emily Berman has more.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

If you walk into Chinatown's Flashpoint Gallery at just the right moment the back wall will be illuminated with bright blue waves and a seagull flying low over the ocean's surface. This slide was taken by Benjamin Bellas's uncle, Richard Hunt. It's timed to project once every 23 minutes. Hunt was 23 when he was last seen alive. In 1966, Hunt was on a top-secret mission, flying over the South China Sea toward Vietnam. It was a routine mission, until suddenly, it wasn't.

MR. BENJAMIN BELLAS

The plane runs into some type of mechanical failure, they believe, and starts to drop altitude rapidly.

BERMAN

The pilot signals for everyone to check their parachutes and jump.

BELLAS

My uncle and three other crew mates did that. They bailed out of the plane into the South China Sea.

BERMAN

Immediately, the Navy began a search and rescue operation. They found one soldier's body and a life vest, but that was it.

BELLAS

Basically, vanished. And for the longest time that's all the more details the family had. Uncle Richard was lost at sea.

BERMAN

Now, nearly 50 years later, Benjamin Bellas is using visual art to explore what's known about his uncle's disappearance and what's not. Some of the pieces of art are made using his uncle's belongings, like this standard issue pea coat that Hunt got when he enlisted. It's sitting upright on the floor, filled out by bunched-up paper, but not just scrap paper. It's stuffed with the article that ran in the newspaper after he went missing.

BELLAS

When you lose someone like that and at a young age, you lose not only your uncle, but you lose, you know, an aunt. You lose cousins. I mean it's kind of exponential, right, on down -- you lose an entire branch of your family that you will never know.

BERMAN

The exhibit also includes a copy of Hunt's flight log, a branch cut from a tree and a small wooden camel he sent home to his family from abroad. Bellas says he's interested in how context changes the way we seen an object. When we look at the flight log, he says, suddenly we notice all the empty space below the last flight. Sure, it's just a page in a notebook, but it's also fraught with emotion.

BERMAN

Just down the gallery wall, a grainy video plays on a small screen. This is the voice of Richard Hunt. Not his uncle, a different Richard Hunt, one who toured Vietnam and produced a video all about his trip. It came up in an online search so Bellas ordered a copy.

BELLAS

You know, for an ordinary individual watching this video with no sort of relationship to this story or this history, it's simply what it is. This kind of tour of Vietnam and the sights and the sounds and the tastes and those types of things, but for an individual with my history and my context, when I watch this it resonates very differently.

BERMAN

Not only did Bellas's uncle disappear during the war, but also 20 years later, when the Vietnam War Memorial was unveiled, his name wasn't on it.

BELLAS

So he was even further disappeared from the record.

BERMAN

Bellas's sister took up the cause. She worked for a year and a half to have Richard Hunt's name added.

BELLAS

Essentially, what happened is that it was a clerical error. The flight that he was on was on had been recorded as an operational flight, when in fact it was a combat flight. They got the code wrong.

BERMAN

His name was added this past May. And in a nod to that memorial, Bellas created his largest piece in the Flashpoint exhibit -- a giant blue rectangle.

BELLAS

Thirty-five feet long by about 42 inches tall.

BERMAN

It takes up the entire gallery wall and mimics the scale and shape of the Vietnam Memorial. Only this wall is blank.

BELLAS

Within the incident report, they specified the point in longitude and latitude where it was he bailed out from the aircraft. And so I took those coordinates and placed them in Google maps and it located that point on the map. And then I zoomed in as far as I could zoom in and took a screenshot of that.

BERMAN

There's nothing there now, Bellas explains, but it's easy to imagine what might have been there the day Hunt disappeared. And in that way, the plain blue rectangle is a canvas for the viewer's imagination. Leaving us to create stories, draw personal associations and like Bellas, lose something we never had. I’m Emily Berman.

SHEIR

"Losing Something You Never Had" runs through December 21 at Flashpoint Gallery, in northwest D.C.

SHEIR

So let's say you have these dreams, one of them is of becoming a professional musician, but you also really, really want to be a doctor. Eventually, you're going to have to choose between the two paths, right? Well, on Chevy Chase man has found a way to pursue this pair of passions. And, as Heather Taylor tells us, even though the two fields seem very different, this man has found a way to get them to communicate with each other.

MS. HEATHER TAYLOR

Dr. Phillip Pearl is dressed in a white hospital coat, standing in a compact room, jammed with chairs and a few meeting room tables. He's instructing a class of George Washington University medical students.

MS. HEATHER TAYLOR

Earlier in the day, he could be found making hospital rounds, consulting with patients and their families.

MS. HEATHER TAYLOR

For someone in the medical profession, Pearl's routine is hardly unusual, except for one thing. Listen to his title.

DR. PHILLIP PEARL

I'm professor of neurology, pediatrics and music at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Colombia College of Health and Sciences.

TAYLOR

Pearl spent years immersed in both medicine and music, figuring out a way to combine them, to incorporate them successfully into his life. And since 2003, he's developed a lecture that combines the two fields seamlessly.

PEARL

I have a presentation I do called the Neurology of Famous Musicians.

TAYLOR

In it, Pearl talks with physicians, medical students and other members of the medical community about composers and musicians who suffer from neurological problems.

PEARL

For example, I'll talk about Robert Schumann, who had all sorts of problems and also lived with bipolar effective disorder. And during my talk I talk about how the medical problems affected the musicality of the composer. And then I'll play Schumann.

TAYLOR

And then…

PEARL

I'll talk about George Gershwin, who died tragically young. And then I'll play some Gershwin.

TAYLOR

Over the years, he's given this presentation at meetings of the American Academy of Neurology, here in the states and in Italy and Israel. But that's only part of Pearl's approach to combining a life of medicine and music. He's also working with the piano builder and engineer Warren Shadd on a manuscript about adapting musical instruments for individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities. So how did this dual path of medicine and music begin?

PEARL

I grew up in a musical family. My dad was a professional jazz trumpeter. And by the time I was in sixth grade I had outgrown my local drum teacher and started working on the xylophone and took some entry exams and an audition and was accepted to Peabody.

TAYLOR

That's the elite music conservatory in Baltimore. Pearl considered going into music full time, but his father recognized the challenges of a musician's life and urged him to go in a different direction. Pearl headed to medical school. These days, Pearl plays professional jazz piano, vibes and drums, with a steady stream of performances at local venues. Pearl thinks that one key to creating a full life of music and medicine is to surround yourself with good people and teams.

PEARL

Medicine, for example and particularly medical research, is no longer done by individuals that much. It's done by teams. And I just try to take advantage of the associations one can make with other good people. There are so many good people in all of these areas, in medicine and research, in music, at the university, at the medical school, at the hospital.

TAYLOR

But what if he had to choose between music and medicine?

PEARL

I absolutely love the practice of medicine. It gives me a lot of significance to my life that I don't think would be there without it. And yet, I've always needed the music. And if I don't play for awhile I'm pretty unhappy.

TAYLOR

So when it comes to translating his passion for music and medicine into two career paths, this 21st century renaissance man realizes that it's not an either/or proposition. Phillip Pearl knows it means incorporating them both. I'm Heather Taylor.

SHEIR

After the break, going back to the golden age of newspapers and finding out what happens when communication gets hot, very hot.

MS. AMANDA BRICE

I don't particularly like a lot of the stereotypes we hear of the heaving bosoms and all the stuff that you…

MS. REBECCA YORK

Bodice rippers.

BRICE

Bodice rippers, yes.

SHEIR

We'll get a little steamy with our monthly literary segment, Bookend. It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we're speaking loud and clear for all to hear with a show about communication. Earlier in the program we met researchers who've been studying how Washingtonians communicate and how those speech patterns and accents reflect our region's history and culture. In this part of the show, we're going to go back in time. In just a bit we'll go digging for ancient fossils and consider what those fossils are trying to communicate about our region's climate.

SHEIR

But first, we'll visit a place that once served as a communication hotbed here in D.C., especially when it came to the news. And we'll head over there with a guy who knows a thing or two about D.C.'s news biz. You may have heard him on the show before. His name is Paul Dickson.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

I'm a local writer and my new book is called "Words From The White House," which comes out in January.

SHEIR

Before Paul penned his repertoire of more than a dozen books, he was a print reporter in Washington, sent here by a magazine to cover the space race.

DICKSON

It was like a childhood fantasy. He said, Dickson, go down there and start writing about this attempt we're gonna make to land on the moon. And I'm saying to myself, what?

SHEIR

So Paul's actually spent a fair amount of time around the spot we're visiting today. It's the northeast corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, where nowadays, you'll find a big Marriott Hotel and a little gift shop selling political knick-knacks. But once upon a time, this area had the grand distinction of being D.C.'s very own Newspaper Row.

DICKSON

This was sort of the center of the nation's news gathering. And it really starts in the Civil War. And the key to the whole place is on the corner here was the Western Union office. So in the day before telephones or anything else, all the newspapers clustered here. The New York Times was back in an alley. Sort of where the back of the Marriott lobby is today is where the New York Times -- a big building. It was about a six-story building.

DICKSON

The New York World was here. The Boston Advertiser was another door down. The New York Tribune was here. The Baltimore Sun was here. Just about every paper east of the Mississippi was here during that period. And it really hits its peak during the Spanish-American War. You've got President McKinley running the war from a war-room. He actually has a war-room in the White House. He's the first president to have not only a telegraph, but he's the first president to have a telephone. And he's cleared out one of the rooms and he's put up all these maps and he's actually talking to battle-field commanders, admirals in the fleet, about the war itself.

DICKSON

And McKinley, he would be running from the White House, which is only a block and a half, two blocks away. He'd be running down here and holding sort of impromptu press conferences, telling the reporters from the various papers what he was up to, how the war was going.

SHEIR

So instead of having the press come to him, McKinley would essentially go to the press.

DICKSON

Yes. Also, this is where a lot of the taverns were. The Washington Post office -- we're now about a couple hundred yards down. The Washington Post had this monstrous sort of gothic building, on either side were Gerstenberg's and Shoemaker's, which are two taverns. And a lot of members of Congress would come down in the evening, Senate and House, would come down and drink at these taverns and talk to the reporters from their districts and such, or try to get the reporters -- sort of lobby the reporters, reporters would interview them.

SHEIR

I was going to say, is that kosher?

DICKSON

I guess, but it was how it worked back then. So it was a very vital, active place. And on the corner was the old Abbott Hotel, which was here right up until the 1920s. And finally in 1926 it was ripped down and the National Press Building, which is now here today, was erected in its spot. And they were going to consolidate all the bureaus of the different papers, rather than have all these sprawling two-story buildings, have them all in a building where they could have, you know, central access to communications and such.

DICKSON

But the reason the press club was founded in the first place -- and the first press club was up on F Street above a jewelry store -- was that the infamous or famous, depending on your sensibilities -- taverns that were here, they had to close at midnight. And there were a lot of people working the morning shift and working the overnight shift and they wanted a place to go drink and eat after midnight. So that was the nexus of the press club, was a place to fortify oneself in the middle of the night.

SHEIR

So what brought about the end of Newspaper Row?

DICKSON

The papers modernized. The Post, it moved from this building, uptown, 15th Street. The other papers consolidated in the new press building. It was pretty much done for when the press building opened.

SHEIR

As someone who got his start in the media, you know, reporting on the space race, do you feel at all a nostalgia for a time when something like Newspaper Row existed?

DICKSON

I feel a nostalgia in the sense that there was more of a news community. It was more of a group. Not that they collectively thought one way or another, but it was knowing all these people. I mean, walking up to the press club and seeing Eric Sevareid or seeing Cronkite, or seeing these really important people who would be part of the press corp. Now they're sort of removed from it all by the television tube and the whole thing, but I guess as, you know, sort of somebody who was trained and born as a reporter, probably before I became a writer as such, I was a reporter, I loved it. I loved the swagger, the fun of it, you know, the sawdust on the floor, you know, but I'm a dinosaur, you know.

SHEIR

Well, Paul Dickson, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

DICKSON

Thank you, Rebecca.

SHEIR

Paul Dickson is the author of the upcoming book "Words From The Whitehouse." Words and phrases coined or popularized by America's presidents. You can see photographs of Newspaper Row, then and now, on our website metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Okay, so now we're going to step way further back in time for a story about our prehistoric past and what it may be telling us about our future. Sabri Ben-Achour has the story.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

The history of the past 100 million years is in a box in David Powars' home office in Winchester, Va. Powars is a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. So it kind of makes sense that his home office is basically an archeological site in and of itself. There are piles 6 feet high of maps and papers and boxes, fist-size drill bits.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

He pulls out cylinders of rock and clay he drilled a few miles south of D.C.

DR. DAVID POWARS

Right here on the Potomac River.

BEN-ACHOUR

The cylinders are samples of the bedrock from hundreds of feet below, so you can see all the layers of soil, mud, and rock from ages past. And these ones are mostly blackish green.

POWARS

This green sand.

BEN-ACHOUR

Powars can read this record like a book but instead of words, he sees microscopic fossils and layers of minerals and 55 million-year-old-poop.

POWARS

Why it's called a green sand is these tiny little feces from the bugs that were living in it, that are little black and green minerals.

BEN-ACHOUR

From looking at that old, poopy clay and the fossils inside Powars can tell that 60 million years ago the D.C. area was a calm, shallow sea where microscopic bugs could live their little bug lives gently swimming and pooping in peace. And then, 55 million years ago...

POWARS

Everything changed.

BEN-ACHOUR

In the geological blink of an eye, the Earth totally changed and you can be seen in Powars' rock sample.

POWARS

All of a sudden dramatically, bang, we go into this Kalinic rich clay.

BEN-ACHOUR

The next layer in his rock sample is cream colored because all those happy green pooping bugs are gone.

POWARS

All the bugs are missing.

BEN-ACHOUR

All the shell fossils that were in the layer before are gone too, they've gone extinct.

POWARS

The sedimentation rate during this short period, it increased ten-fold.

BEN-ACHOUR

This bizarre new Earth is home to a lot of rain and a ton of massive storms. Mega rivers form between the Potomac and the Susquehanna and dump huge amounts of mud into the calm sea we used to have.

POWARS

This was a big river-dominated shelf and it's like the Amazon. You got this big river that's just dumping out there and that's what these sediments tell us.

BEN-ACHOUR

The Washington region, according these rocks, looked like the Amazon.

POWARS

Something had to happen dramatic to do that.

BEN-ACHOUR

What happened was climate change. In fossils all over the planet from this time, the carbon changes. Massive amounts of carbon entered the atmosphere and the oceans and the greenhouse effect intensified.

POWARS

We had this major thermal maximum, the hottest time we know of and it came on very fast. It had worldwide effects on the climate and the oceans. It killed off a lot of stuff in the oceans.

BEN-ACHOUR

How hot did it get?

POWARS

So all of a sudden tropical fauna will be found and flora will be found up in the Arctic. Crocodiles, palm trees, rhinoceros.

BEN-ACHOUR

The Earth's temperature rose 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

POWARS

The shoreline was some place west of Richmond, west of D.C., some place on the Piedmont. We've just dated marine sediments west of Richmond and it rose another 10, 20 meters it's calculated. Some like to say five meters but even five meters in a short time would be a lot.

BEN-ACHOUR

Nobody knows where the carbon that caused this change came from, could've volcanoes, could've been escaping gases. But scientists were able to calculate how much of it was released. Lee Kump is a professor of geosciences at Penn State University.

MR. LEE KUMP

The total quantity of carbon added to the atmosphere was something on the order of the quantity of carbon that we have in known fossil fuel reserves today.

BEN-ACHOUR

So are we headed toward a future in which the Blue Ridge Mountains are ocean front property? Gavin Schmidt is a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He says it's hard to say because the world 55 million years ago was pretty different to begin with.

MR. GAVIN SCHMIDT

There was no ice around, it was a very different base climate. So there was no huge continent of Antarctica covered in ice, there was no Greenland ice sheet. And so a lot of the things that we're worried about going into the future, going into this next century are associated with features that are kind unique to this climate.

BEN-ACHOUR

Another difference, the thermal maximum carbon release took 20,000 years and the super warm period lasted 170,000 years. Humans could easily burn up all their fossil fuels in a couple hundred years and Lee Kump says in this case, speed matters.

KUMP

The temperature rise, again, in the worst case scenario could be comparable to this extreme warming event in Earth history but even more critical here is that the rate of change is maybe a factor of ten faster.

BEN-ACHOUR

There's a big difference between having 20,000 years to adapt to something versus having just a few hundred. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

We'll race back to the modern day now and wrap up our communication show with Bookend…

SHEIR

…our monthly conversation with D.C. writers. And today we'll check out a type of literature that's something of a juggernaut in the publishing industry these days, as it scoops up a great share of the consumer market than any other genre. It's the romance novel. And on this episode of Bookend, Jonathan Wilson sat down with romance writers from the D.C. area. Rebecca York, author of more than 100 romance novels and Amanda Brice, a young author who writes romances for the teenager set.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

So Amanda, let me start with you. Now that you see yourself as a romance writer, how do you wear that label? Do you like that label? Do you kind of bristle at the stereotypes around that label? What do you think?

BRICE

I live the label. I don't actually write romance, per se. The books I write are for teenagers, and obviously, what's important to teenage girls? A lot of them like teenage boys. So there's always going to be a very strong romance element in my books, but my books focus more on the mystery and the suspense. But I love reading romance novels, and I own that label. I don't particularly like a lot of the stereotypes that we hear of the heaving bosoms and all the stuff that you…

YORK

Bodice rippers.

BRICE

Bodice rippers, yes. All the things that you hear in the media about stereotypes about romance. But there were books like that. But the romance genre has come a long way in the past 30 years or so, and it really is one of the most popular genres in America today.

SHEIR

Rebecca, yeah, so you mentioned bodice rippers, a term everybody knows. When somebody throws that term out to you what do you think of? Do you think that's what I write? Do you think they don't know what they're talking about? How do you deal with the stereotypes around the romance genre?

YORK

I think they don't know what they're talking about. The reason I write romance is that I like happy endings. The idea, you know, it's not literature unless is ends badly. And I really don't like that. There's enough misery and bad things happening in the world. And I have the power to write these books where I invent characters who I really like and it gets to come out the way they want it to come out and I get to make it happen.

SHEIR

Obviously, there's been tons of attention, whether you guys like it or not, there's been tons of attention on one book, "Fifty Shades of Grey," right? I'm sure you guys get this question or talk about this all the time. Is there, you know, I think this happens with any genre that grows. Within every genre there are sub-genres. So in romance there's erotica, there's Christian romance, there's teen romance. What is that like to deal with? I mean, do you like being grouped with all these different things? Do you make distinctions between these different types of books? Has the popularity of that book or the attention that that book has gotten, has it been good for what you guys do?

BRICE

Romance as a genre is a big enough tent that it can include the various different elements and I think that's great because it allows people to be able to read the genre and find the type of book that they really like. As for the "Fifty Shades of Grey" stuff, I don't really write the more racy stuff, so, I mean, like I said, I write for teenagers. So it's been really great for a lot of other authors.

YORK

People will say, I really don't like romance or I don't respect romance or I don't read it at all. So how do they know? Weirdly, I think that the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon introduced women to romance who would never have read it. And that means that they may then go on to read my books and that would be great.

WILSON

Do you think that there are still people reading romance out there who don't tell other people that they read romance because they, you know, are afraid of, like, those stereotypes that we've talked about? Do you think those make up a lot of the readership that you guys have, the steady readership? Because there are people out there who maybe, you know, they won't tell anybody, but they're buying these books.

BRICE

Well, I used to commute to work on the Metro. And I used to see a lot of people with their book and it was always the big book that was Oprah would talk about. So I called it the book that people would buy simply because they wanted to be seen on the Metro reading it. Now, with e-readers, you got your Kindle, you got your iPad, you got your cell phone and you're sitting there reading a book and nobody knows what you're reading. So I really think that there are probably a lot of people reading romance on their commute to work, where they might not have always done that in the past.

BRICE

I, for one, always, proudly had my paperback. So I'm like loud and proud, I don't care what you think, but I think a lot of people now are in the closet reading it. I hate to say that because I don't think it's something that you should be ashamed of, but there really are people who do that.

YORK

You know, in ages past, there was less of a dichotomy between good literature and fun reads. Sort of in the 20th century, I think, it split apart, so that you had serious fiction and genre fiction. You know, there is some romance that's fluff, but I think that you would be shocked at the depth of what you find in a lot of romance novels.

WILSON

Rebecca York and Amanda Brice, thank you. And we'll talk to you again.

BRICE

Thank you.

YORK

Thanks.

SHEIR

Amanda Brice is also the incoming president of Washington Romance Writers, a group that has just kicked off an online book club called Washington Loves Romance. You can find more information on our website metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Sabri Ben-Achour, Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman and Jonathan Wilson, along with reporters Raphaella Bennin and Heather Taylor. WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. Metro Connection's managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts" and our Door-to-Door theme, "No Girl" are from the album Title Tracks by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, that's metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org you can find our Twitter and Facebook links. You can read free transcripts of stories. And if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing by clicking the This Week On Metro Connection link.

SHEIR

To hear our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or find us on iTunes. We hope you can join us next week when we'll bring you a show about parenting. We'll hear from Washingtonians who are single moms by choice. We'll learn why a growing number of couples are going overseas to find surrogates to carry their babies. And we'll meet a family gearing up to sail around the world.

MALE

I don't want to leave my friends, but I also want to go on all these adventures.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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