First-person diaries, sound portraits, and hidden chapters of history from Peabody Award-winning producer Joe Richman and the Radio Diaries team. From teenagers to octogenarians, prisoners to prison guards, bra saleswomen to lighthouse keepers. The extraordinary stories of ordinary life. Radio Diaries is a proud member of Radiotopia, from PRX. Learn more at radiotopia.fm.
One day in 1947, NYC bus driver William Cimillo showed up to his daily bus route, but instead of turning left, he turned right. Over the next week, he traveled 1,300 miles in his municipal bus, ending up in Hollywood, Florida. The bus had broken down, he’d run out of money, and had no way of getting home. Plus, he was now the most wanted bus driver in the country.
This story originally aired on This American Life. Go to www.radiodiaries.org to find more stories and sign up for our monthly newsletter.
We have music this week from Podington Bear and “Detour” by Patti Page.
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The Last Place: Diary of a Retirement Home
For the past year, most nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been in lockdown. Residents have been kept apart—not just from their families, but from each other. They ate meals alone in their rooms, met new grandchildren on Zoom, and some were alone when they died.
Today many retirement homes are starting to open up again. But the fact is, many people grow more isolated as they age. Even in normal times. Friends and partners pass away, family members and kids get distracted by their own lives. To many of us, nursing homes are a place where we too might end up—they’re a bit of mystery that we visit from time to time, a world apart.
Years ago, I got to know residents at Presbyterian Homes in Evanston, Illinois. And I gave a few of them tape recorders to keep audio diaries of their lives in retirement. Today on the show, The Last Place, diary of a retirement home.
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Music this week from Blue Dot Sessions and “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” by Nat King Cole.
Soon after he entered office, President Biden issued an executive order allowing transgender people to serve in the military. It was the latest in a long series of shifts in who can serve and who can't. Women only recently were able to serve in certain ranks. And it wasn’t until 1993, that congress lifted a ban against women flying in combat. But women actually started flying military aircraft much earlier than that, 5 decades earlier. During World War II. They were known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots… the WASPs.
Music this week from Blue Dot Sessions, “Flying” by the Beatles, and “Come Josephine in My Flying Machine,” performed by Blanche Ring in 1910.
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Burma '88: Buried History
On August 8, 1988 — a date chosen for its numerological power — university students in Burma sparked an uprising against the military dictatorship. They’d been living under military rule their entires lives. And they had had enough. The uprising ultimately failed, but it planted the seeds of democracy. It was the moment Aung San Suu Kyi first appeared on the political scene, and became the icon of the democracy movement. Today on the podcast: we take you back to the summer of 1988, a moment in Burma when change seemed possible.
Music this week from Bang on a Can, Kyaw, Kyaw Naing, and Blue Dot Sessions.
Living with Dying
One year ago, on Valentine’s Day 2020, Peter Fodera’s heart broke. It stopped working. He collapsed in the middle of teaching a dance class. Someone performed CPR, someone called an ambulance. EMT’s showed up and he lay motionless. He technically died that day. But later at the hospital, Peter’s heart started beating again. On the anniversary of Peter’s brief death, he sat down with his daughter Juliana who has Noonan Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. While Peter’s experience of dying and coming back to life may seem miraculous to some of us, it doesn’t to Juliana. By her count, she’s died 21 times.
Music this week from Podington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions, Man Man, and Gotan Project.
Teen Contender: Then & Now
In 2012, Claressa Shields was a 16-year-old boxer in Flint, Michigan. She had an audacious dream: to be the Muhammad Ali of womens boxing. We gave her tape recorder to keep an audio diary as she fought to make it onto the first ever women’s Olympic boxing team.
Claressa is now 25 and fights professionally. With two gold medals and four world championships, she’s achieved her boxing dreams. But with boxing shut down during COVID, she has turned her attention to a different kind of dream. She bought a house. Today on the podcast, we hear Claressa’s original audio diary and bring you an update.
Teen Contender won a Peabody Award in 2012. The follow up story aired on This American Life as part of their 25th anniversary special.