Care to Make It Interesting?

On Media, the Environment, Cities and Life Decisions

My dad and I made a bet.

We both watch the HBO show Last Week Tonight (he watches it on TV; I use his HBOGo password). We each fit the target demographic. We appreciate the way Jon Oliver explores important, timely issues with creativity and depth - he makes important but otherwise dull stories (like infrastructure and bail bonds) interesting. But we don’t much care for his jokes. Many of his jokes just don’t land. Frankly, I find them and their usual formulas quite tedious, but if the show thinks they’re necessary to make the information palatable, so be it.

Because of the audible laughter received by the jokes, my dad is convinced that it’s all fake, and that John is actually delivering to the camera in an empty room. He doesn’t believe that the show is taped in front of a live studio audience. “Why don’t they ever cut away to them? Or show them at the beginning, like they do on The Daily Show?” That’s his argument.

In the tradition of said Daily Show, as well as John Oliver’s own stand-up career, I’m sure an audience is present. I point out the timing of his delivery, the way he pauses, repeats or drags on a bit in reaction to the audience, and the general giddiness visible in his energy. It’s clear that he tailors his act to real people. That’s my read of the situation.

So we make a bet — is the show taped in front of a live studio audience? Yes or no. Of course it is. Here is my proof:

One person’s experience as an audience member
From this Quora Q&A
Tickets to the New York taping
HBO’s official page for tickets

So that settles our bet — my dad concedes defeat. What was on the line?

He originally suggested that we make a gentleman’s bet of the usual $1. But might it be more interesting to come up with our own stakes for each other?

Since I’ve Won

I come from a critical, analytical family. We goad each other - surely too much at times - over how to live our lives. It can get obnoxious, but it comes from love. With this bet, I wanted to somehow affect my dad’s life in a positive, productive way, but without being ridiculous about it. I can’t exactly change his core, after all. Like all of us, he has deep-rooted habits and beliefs, so whatever I proposed couldn’t fly in the face of that stuff. I considered all this, and here’s what I came up with:

He has to buy a fully electric car. It’s the decision I would want to make if I were in his position (of being a daily commuter in the suburbs). He’s a conscientious consumer on this issue already and has owned a hybrid before, so this isn’t asking too much for him. Unfortunately he gave up on that car - not a Prius but it might as well have been — and is back to just a regular high-MPG whatever. It bothers me that he’s gone backward on the advancements made in this field, but now that I’ve won this random bet, I can push him back in the “right” direction.

Recently I read this great article by Wait But Why on Tesla Motors and Elon Musk, and it made me want a Tesla, for sure. I myself am not a car owner, but I want to experience an electric car purchase vicariously, to encourage those around me to make more thoughtful choices in this area of life. Read the article and I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion I and its author do - we all need to get off oil and electric cars are clearly the future.

I won’t go too far into this stuff, because it’d be reinventing the wheel, but suffice to say that climate change is a real thing, the world is becoming a less hospitable place because of our burning of fossil fuels, and if we have any hope for a decent future, we need to stop doing that.

Even in the case of not caring too much about Earth — after all, the planet should be just fine in the long term; it’s us humans that need to worry — and even in the case of not caring much about humanity — after all, we’re a plague on this planet, really - I myself am against fossil fuels because of the sheer slog of it. Extraction, refinement, shipping, filth, economy, war - it’s all such a fuss, isn’t it? What I mean is: I am an advocate of clean, renewable energy as a minimalist. All our energy is derived from the sun anyway, however you spin it: sunlight that feeds plants and animals that die and decay and turn into crude material that we dig up. Sunlight that affects air pressure and wind currents. Etc. Might as well just invent panels that collect that energy directly, like writing the most elegant code.

Similarly with cars, they’re such a headache. All those engine parts and grease and everything. Electric vehicles (EVs) don’t bother with any of that: no gas, of course, no oil changes, no leaking. The only liquid in an EV is the windshield wiper fluid. There’s no gaskets or exhaust pipes or pistons - it’s all simplified. It’s beautiful. I know most of us can appreciate that simplicity.

For people like my dad to really commit without hesitation to gas-free, plug-in EVs, two main hurdles must be crossed: the cost of the unit and the battery, or driving range. The cost is certainly a factor — current Tesla models price most drivers out of the market. But that’s because Tesla always intended to aim itself at the super-rich first, and then use those sales to eventually fund a car for the masses, which they’re currently making. It’s due out in 2017. There are other electric cars - in fact, every company now makes one, or has one in development, because they see the writing on the wall. But we don’t quite have the great, affordable all-electric for the masses. Well, there are many options — the Nissan Leaf stands out as perhaps the most popular - but they have limited range. (The Leaf tops at around 80 miles before needing a charge — just fine for daily life, but difficult for road trips.)

Battery technology and infrastructure are each evolving rapidly. Elon is building a super-impressive new factory that will churn out batteries for Teslas and what he anticipates to be a huge EV (electric vehicle) market. And he’s installing tons of charging stations throughout the world, so that they will soon enough be as easy to find as gas stations. So anxiety over not making it to your destination is becoming less and less an issue every month.

It really is remarkable how one man is tackling such a major component of our climate crisis. He sees the scientific evidence and implications and just decides: electric cars — these need to happen ASAP. The least we can each do is buy into the market he is quite single-handedly creating. My dad is on board. His current car will be ready to trade in around the time the Model 3 Tesla is released. I’m excited to see my dad soon own a plug-in car, to never worry again about gas prices, to never need a tune-up, besides rotated tires, perhaps. Now he’ll just have to become more tech-savvy to take advantage of the seriously high-tech interface.

Of course, the next step for our environment is to ensure that our electricity — which we all consume like it’s our life force (which, let’s face it: it basically is) — becomes cleaner. This means powering our city grids with solar power and wind and geothermal and tidal and maybe still nuclear power, and not coal. Coal isn’t quite as bad as gasoline, but it’s not good. (Look at China.) Elon is tackling this too, of course, helping to develop and install solar panels on people’s houses so that each of us can sustain our energy needs on our own. Pretty incredible.

If He Had Won

I asked my dad what he wanted from me. He comes from a similar angle, wanting to affect positive change on my life in a big, realistic way. He also has his own agenda, which is fine. It involves me being closer to him, and perhaps with my own family, or at least an open door to the possibility. And he wants me to “succeed,” to be in a place where “success” is most likely to happen.

He wants me to move to Los Angeles. I’ve mentioned to him before that I one day might. He wants it to happen sooner rather than later, like when my visa expires, or even before then. I live in Europe, but I suppose a move back to the states in inevitable, barring a significant commitment here that hasn’t shown signs of materializing. He knows that my ultimate goal remains to write and direct films, so LA is the natural place to be. I love the weather, I have friends there and my parents live upstate. (I know Californians don’t say that — sorry.) I lived in LA for one year after uni, before moving to New York for 10 years. At this point, LA is as appealing as a return to New York is, so if there’s any momentum toward it, I would. My dad knows this. He wants to instigate that momentum.

It brings up questions, of course. Where “should” I live? Where do I “belong”? What are my priorities? What is my life, anyway? (Don’t you wonder?) And who am I? Haha. Are there reasons or sufficient answers to these questions? Should I somehow feel it? It’s all kind of pointless navel-gazing, but I suppose it’s worth a quick articulation of such amorphous thoughts:

First of all, I love the freedom to even have this discussion with myself. I appreciate my circumstances that allow me to establish a home anywhere in the world that I feel like. I feel fortunate. Most people just grow up in a place and stay there. That’s fine — sometimes I envy that simplicity. And lots more people decide where to live based on a job or a significant other, or just grow roots where they first move, like around their college, for instance. As much as I would welcome these factors in my decision-making process, they simply aren’t. I’m too aware of the infinite possibilities out there.

So I think of what interests me: I love big cities with culture, the ability to see small indie films that only open in major markets. I feel at home among a “creative class”. I enjoy anonymity. I like streets that are always awake, the ability to party and drink and eat as late as I feel like. I love dreams floating in the air. I love architecture and the flow of streets. I love bicycling casually. I think about these things when thinking about “my” city. There are a handful that I love, that I would live in.

Berlin is my favorite. I love everything about this place I currently live, and for the list above, it does extremely well, and excels in even more ways that are less tangible. It has real values like peace and health and joy and well-being, and these values are visible in real ways. The streetlights aren’t too bright. The police presence is low. People congregate outside and drink casually. Everyone is polite, in a stay-to-themselves sort of way. All the bars have couches and dim light and good music at the perfect volume. You can buy a beer at 4am for less than a buck and drink it on the street. Germany has a strong safety net — beggars and vagrants aren’t common. There’s a general equality; if there are super-rich people among us, they do well to hide it. There’s no obsession to be “the best.” No one identifies as a “winner” or “loser.” The lifestyle here is laid back, affordable, pleasurable, leisurely. Under the right circumstances, I could stare here indefinitely.

My life here has its drawbacks. Specifically, I’m very far from where I came from, from “home.” Starting over is always hard, of course. It’d be nice to take everything I’d done in the States and move it here, but it doesn’t really work like that. I suppose it’d help if I bothered to do more in New York. Anyway, it’s all a hassle, even just legitimizing my existence here, like registering where I live, finding a proper apartment and the whole visa situation. And while I’ve made friends here, the people that “really know me” are on the other side of the planet.

Oh, if only America was cool like Europe.

Why doesn’t everyone I know just move here? At the moment I am quite secluded. I guess I did move here in order to be alone with my thoughts, first and foremost, to dedicate my time to creative pursuits, even if they tend toward the heady and philosophical. I party, and have friends here to unwind with. But I’m separated from my oldest, dearest friends. Where are they? They’re scattered everywhere, of course. Frankly, it’s annoying. It’s important to have some close friends wherever you live. Most of mine are in New York, but that seems to change every year, for one reason or another.

My dad knows about all these existential issues of mine, of the seasonal depression I’m prone to, of the language difficulties and other cultural barriers, and my own weaknesses in terms of just “taking charge of life.” He exploits this, uses it all as ammunition to say: “Why not just move now to LA?” As if existential crises don’t run rampant there... I guess the winter blues would be more mellow. California dreamin’ and all that.

There’s another Wait But Why post about some of this stuff, about aging and spending time around important people. It does make me consider my dad’s own agenda, of being closer to my parents. It’s a factor. But come on, it’s not the only factor. I do have to wonder: where can I best advance all of my interests?

Right now, I’m loving European life. But in time, we’ll see how it goes. I like how undefined the future is, how free I am to do whatever. But it’s a double-edged sword; some structure could be nice, some planning and concrete sense of things to come. If I’d lost the bet we made, I could accept it — back to California and a path as legitimate as any other. But for now, I embrace the unknown, my current flow. It’s interesting to me.

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