I have hobbies. Some mainstream. Some unique. Traveling is a hip hobby. Most wannabe globetrotters get to become one with ease today. But there are a few hobbies that have fewer takers these days. Like shortwave radio. Shortwave radio was what gave me company through a better part of my teenage years and my 20s too. It also connected me to the world outside when I was wary of real journeys and shut myself off in my room for years.
The world outside knows of all the historic and monumental milestones that DC has to offer. But very few have any knowledge of the hidden gems like this one, which has been the primary voice of the nation to the rest of the world for almost a century. My interest in radio as a hobby had grown phenomenally over the years, thanks to my dad's endless reminiscing about his time as a radio hobbyist. And it is no wonder that Voice of America was also the first station that got me hooked to the world of radio. I have been an ardent listener of one show in particular for ten years straight. It was on the recommendation of this show's host did I get a speedy, no-holds-barred US visa, after that Schengen Visa debacle. (Sorry, I am just good at making a mountain out of a molehill.) Visa rejection is an entire adventure in itself, it is for another time.
So Suresh and I donned our best clothes and reached the studio. My favorite host of all time, Larry London, was waiting for us outside to sign us in. As we walked around the enormous looking VOA building to the visitor's entrance which was located at the back of the building, facing away from Independence avenue, I could see a figure in an orange jumper looming in the distance. I took hasty steps and as I got closer, I couldn't believe I was seeing what I was seeing. It was Larry himself, in flesh and blood. I remember waving back with glee, being in a daze for a bit, exchanging warm embraces and handshakes, but most of it is one big blur now.
After we were signed in, Larry took us to his cosy little office and showed us around. In the meantime, my brain fog had cleared a bit and I had found words to say. We exchanged pleasantries and then I was talking nineteen to the dozen. He showed us his scrapbook of all the memories from his days as a radio presenter in Japan and all across the globe in the years that followed, until he got to VOA, where he has held the same post as our favorite radio show host for two decades now. We had an extraordinary experience, to say the least. There are certain things in life that you won't believe they exist until you see them with your own two eyes. Larry was one such rarity. Even as I was basking in this sense of awe and wonder, it was already time for his show. Just when I thought it was too soon to say goodbye, Larry ushered us into the recording studio. It struck me, then. We were going to be on the show too. If you had heard how loudly my heart was beating, you would have wondered if I wasn't having an infarction. We went on air shortly and were live around the world just like that. To be on the other/cordoned-off side of the radio was a truly rewarding experience. During the one hour show, Larry played some music like he always does and talked to us so casually, we forgot people out there were listening to us. If you had asked me in that very moment, I would have told you that one hour isn't enough time at all for the things we admire in life. Larry's air time was over in a jiffy and we were taken on a studio tour soon after, where we learned about the history of this broadcasting giant and some interesting tid-bits.
Afterwards we wound up in Larry's office again to let him know we didn't want to keep him from his work, but he insisted on having lunch together. He took us to this amazing buffet place just two blocks from the VOA building, and there was so much, we couldn't even count the dishes. Our chatter continued over lunch too and then some more. After all, we had years worth of things to catch up with. There was "positive vibes" written all over Larry. We stayed with him well until the time he clocked out that day and the three of us walked out of the studio like that is the routine. He walked us down to the National Mall from where we could see the Capitol building and the National monument on our either sides. He gave us a general overview of the place and which attraction lay where, and then it was time to go different ways. I told myself that this was definitely not the last time we are seeing this wonderful person. It certainly couldn't be. We stood there for a while watching him go and then started walking in the opposite direction. On a whim, I turned around to see if I could still spot that neon orange jumper, but he was already lost in the crowd.