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John Roderick On Finding The 'Real America,' And A Few Garbage Dumps, By Riding The Rails

Parker Miles Blohm
John Roderick of The Long Winters

John Roderick was born in the Seattle area, but spent much of his youth living in Anchorage, Alaska.

“Growing up in Alaska, you’re an American, you know you're an American. But you’re also thousands of  miles away from America. So we fetishized America," said Roderick, who these days fronts the indie band, The Long Winters.

After high school, Roderick decided that the way to see America, and absorb the wisdom and freedom of the open road, was to stick out his thumb and hitchhike across the country.

He and a friend had made it as far as Tacoma, where they were staking out rides across the street from the Tacoma rail yard. And the trains there caught his eye.

“We were watching these freight trains come and go, and this gradual dawning: like there’s no fence between us and the rail yard. There’s nothing keeping us off those trains,” he said.

They crossed the street and, rather tentatively, vaulted up onto an empty boxcar.

“And the world went from black and white to color,” he said. “It was more than I expected. It was better than I expected. And its like you're riding an animal, like a prehistorically sized animal that no one else has the chutzpah to ride.”

Roderick told Sound Effect host Gabriel Spitzer where that first ride wound up, and what he found when he really did see America. Click the “Listen” link above to hear more.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.