We rolled in last night after the most lovely little getaway to explore Minneapolis. Things have felt a bit off this month with our family’s rhythm that I can’t really explain right now, but that have made our down time feel a little more stressful and less enjoyable. As I surfed Midwest adventures on Groupon, I came across a deal for a cute hotel and we decided to just head on over there for a little escape.
For us, this trip was just WILD. Unplanned, poorly packed, and flying by the seat of our pants. A need to get the heck out after a gloomy, freezing, and dreary week in Indiana.
One of the coolest things about this job is the ability to find and connect with someone just about everywhere we go and my dear friend, Kelly Whalen, offered to spend a day with us and take us on a tour of the city. Since we had no plan, this sounded like heaven.
It was a magic-making kind of day where the kids hit it off like crazy, we ate incredible food, the conversations never dwindled, and we explored areas in her town that she hadn’t even got to do yet. Magic, I tell you!
Each of our trips end up having some kind of theme to them where we dive into something and just binge the heck out of it. Our fall trip, for example, was the trip of Hamilton that ultimately lead to our Christmas gift of tickets for our kids.
This trip ended up being the S-Town trip where my husband & I listened to seven hours of the most fascinating podcast I had ever encountered in my lifetime that has had my brain going nonstop since I finished it. (please note, no, this podcast is not for the kiddos- headphones were on them with something else going!)
If you haven’t heard of S-Town, it is a history-making podcast from the producers of Serial & This American Life where host, Brian Reed, leads their investigative team into a small town in Alabama to investigate a murder. John B. McLemore of Woodstock, Alabama, had emailed the producers of This American Life saying he had a story to tell about a covered-up murder that happened in his town. He calls his town, Shittown (thus the podcast name) and begins a year-long conversation with Reed that leads him all the way out to Woodstock to investigate McLemore’s claims. The series takes an immediate sharp turn that, honestly, shocked me to my core and the podcast becomes something entirely different than a true crime story.
They wisely released the show in it’s entirety which allows you to binge listen to this whole series without the usual Googling that I might have been doing between episodes, like I unapologetically did between episodes of Serial. Since the story develops and evolves so quickly, each chapter feels like almost its own unique listening experience and is almost like taking in a short story audiobook collection that come together in wild ways.
I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t dove into it, but I will say that the themes are dark, sexually graphic at times, and the language could be bothersome to some. The last two episodes, in particular, were unsettling on many levels, in what John might have wanted to have kept private and the fact that I don’t think much of it really added to the story of John.
What I will say is that this moved me in ways that I had not expected. It is a portrait of a tortured genius who desperately wanted love in his life. It’s about the cyclical nature of poverty, mental illness, frustrations with world issues that we cannot change, the struggles about leading a life that is true to you for fear of perception by those in a small town, and the rich layering of all people. Reed’s compassion flourishes even through, in my opinion, some of its more dicier moments.
Since John B. McLemore was a horologist, one of the most poignant moments in it were McLemore’s own reflections on time and how we use our time. He reflected on how many hours we actually have in our life to make use of. It was very mathematical and analytical, but so very rich.
Our time on earth is so fleeting and we are all gifted only so many hours in our day. How am I using this precious time and how can I make those moments really and truly count? Why are so much of my efforts and anxieties focused on things that just don’t matter and how can I make a better use of these hours given?
It made me thankful we had taken that trip.
They were precious hours that filled my cup.
There is much that I found to be profound in S-Town and there are far more thoughtful commentaries to read than I what I can share with you. What I can say though is that it moved me and made me think about a lot of things in new ways and it challenged me in ways that only the best documentaries and nonfiction books have.
I plan to relisten to this one to see what new nuggets I can get out of it and what I will hear in the story now that I know where Reed is leading me.
Once you finish the show (and not before!), you can head down the rabbit trail of articles and podcast commentary like I did:
S-Town Host Brian Reed on True Crime Podcasts and That Major Twist
Brian Reed, maker of S-Town: ‘People’s minds go to paranoid places very easily’
What does the song at the end of S-Town mean?
Who is John B. McLemore
Pop Culture Happy Hour’s Take On S-Town
Sorta Awesome’s Thoughts On S-Town
Longform Interview with Brian Reed
10 Podcasts You Need in Your Life After ‘S-Town’
Have you listened to S-Town? What did you think about this podcast?