Posted by Arlo on Jun 24, 2003 under Thought Objects

I like to take my lunches late. When you get back to work at two or three in the afternoon, the rest of the day just seems to fly right by. In the last couple years, I’ve slowly come to realize there are other benefits, as well.

For instance, the Drive-Thru at McDonald’s (Called the “Auto-Mac” in the Spanish-speaking world – how wacky is that?) is always empty and, at the intersection nearby, it’s actually possible to make a left turn (if you live in Juneau, you know what I’m talkin’ about!) And if, like me, you find yourself using your lunch break to run errands, it’s nice to know that the lines at Costco and at the bank are quite short at 2pm. For the most part, late lunches rock.

You know what totally sucks about a late lunch here in Juneau, though? Go on… Take a guess!

AM Radio. That’s what you were thinking, right? Oh, yeah. I’m sure it was your second guess.

In three cross-country driving trips, I developed a sort of love/hate relationship with AM radio stations. Pre-XM Satellite radio, on a long-distance trip, you would constantly find yourself switching stations. Even the most powerful FM broadcasters would only stay with you for about a half-hour on each end of a big city. Just when you find the perfect station, it would fade back into static leaving you cruising the frequencies with the scan button.

AM at least gave you slightly more listening time because the signals propagated farther. (In fact, I remember hanging out with Sheldon some nights in Ketchikan, each eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and cruising the AM dial to pick up stations from Seattle, Vancouver, even Japan!) Even on the trips where I was forced to drive through British Colombia, long sections of the road had only AM reception. They might have been only logging reports, but at least it was something to listen to.

Now I actually like to listen to AM talk radio stations when I drive. Eventually, even the best mix CDs grow old in your car, and music stations bother me because I end up waiting through a dozen songs I hate just to hear one that I like. Doesn’t matter what station it is, they never come close to matching my musical tastes. Talk radio is usually more engaging, at least for me, because I find myself actively listening to and thinking about the programs.

In the mornings, on my 2-minute trip to work, I’ll catch a piece of the Glenn Beck program or maybe Rush Limbaugh. Afternoons, sometimes, I’ll listen to Mike Reagan’s talk show. Even at night, usually when driving home from late ultimate games, The Laura Ingram show might be on. And of course, every hour (on the hour!) will be a brief CBS news snippet.

At this point, I’m so far off on a tangent that you’ve probably forgotten that I have a problem with late lunches. Let’s get back on track. You see, when I take my lunches in the early afternoon, I almost always catch a piece of the Dr. Laura Schlessinger program. To put it mildly, this woman annoys me.

You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that I’m not one to form opinions about people without first giving them the benefit of the doubt. In fact, when they have very little bearing on my life, I usually don’t consider what they say and do much at all. But this Dr. Laura character (and how she conducts her show) is just so hard to stomach.

Let’s back up a step and consider one of the other talk radio hosts I mentioned. Rush Limbaugh is a good one. Sure, you’re not going to like him if you don’t share his political views. He definitely takes the party line on every single topic – even going so far as to use “blatantly ignoring his caller’s points” as a debate skill. But in his defense, he’s obviously educated, he listens to what people have to say, and then either agrees with them or vehemently argues with them.

(And here I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s take his stance on the war with Iraq. I’ve heard callers, Democrats to be sure, call in to tell him their opinion that they don’t think we should go to war on moral grounds. A typical Rush answer? “So you believe we should just do nothing? Just let them continue their reign of terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction?” He presents going to war and doing nothing as our only two choices and leaves the caller foundering. I can’t believe that when he cuts a caller like that off the line that he really believes that they didn’t have another alternative in mind – say, working within the United Nations’ guidelines, leveling economic sanctions, or what have you. No, I suspect Rush simply cuts them off to make them appear ignorant and to appease those that are already in agreement with him. If he really does think that the world is as black and white as he makes it out to be on his program, well, I guess he’s a bigger idiot than I give him credit for… But at least he’s still entertaining!)

So how is Dr. Laura different? For one, she’s downright rude to the people that call her. With Rush, I somehow find this attitude more acceptable. You’d be a fool to try to argue with him when he holds all the cards – he can put you on mute or hang up on you at any time. And besides, you’ll never convince him to cross the Republican Party’s line, anyway. But the people that are calling Dr. Laura are, in many cases, different. They are in dire need of advice – personal advice – to help them through tough emotional situations.

Make no mistake, Dr. Laura is just as opinionated as any other radio talk show host (and that’s saying something!) She has set herself up to be a proponent of family values and, to her, there is no gray area. Your relationship with your nuclear family is the most important thing in the world, and she never deviates from her moral stance.

I don’t want to paint you a picture of “Arlo vs. the Family Values.” I come from a family where my parents divorced when I was 11 years old, and I lived, for a time, with a stepfather and stepbrother. I know the importance of family values, but I also realize that there are always extenuating circumstances.

The problem with Dr. Laura’s show begins as soon as someone calls in and, more often than not, Dr. Laura starts making assumptions. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard her verbally cut a caller off in order to render an answer before she even hears the background info! How can you render judgement on someone without listening to his or her entire story?

“Dr. Laura, I really need your help. I’m thinking about getting a divorce from my husband and I’m worried about my kids…”
“Don’t divorce him. Work it out.”
“But, Dr. Laura…”
“No buts… You love your children, don’t you?”
“Yes, but…”
“No buts! If you love your children, and you understand that to raise them effectively they need a father, then you know that you’ll have to work it out with him.”
“Next caller.”
(Starring at the disconnected phone in her hand) “But my husband sexually and emotionally abuses me in front of them…”

Okay, so maybe it’s not quite that bad, but if you’ve listened to the show for any length of time, you’ll realize I’m not too far off the mark. The point I’m trying to make here isn’t that she’s too abrupt or too terse with callers. Far from it… it’s a radio talk show and I’m sure they’re working under tight time constraints. You can’t have a caller chatting on the line for a half an hour now, can you? No, what Dr. Laura does, or rather doesn’t do, is listen to her callers.

“Dr. Laura, my mother-in-law-to-be wants me to change our wedding date…”
“So, do it.”
“You want to be happy, don’t you?”
“Yes, but…”
“Then do it. You don’t want to start your new life together fighting with his family.”
“Okay, but…”
“No buts, just change the date.”
“Yes, but my mother…”
“Oh, “Your mother!” “His mother! Just go out and do the right thing!”
(This one was actually a true exchange, if paraphrased)

Yes, granted, Dr. Laura can’t be expected to tell them only what they want to hear. (It’s rather obvious that some of the callers are trying to settle an argument by bringing in the opinion of “an expert.”) But with a little empathy, she might realize that many people are in situations that can’t be simply remedied. Sometimes it appears as though she doesn’t even realize that people are calling out for help.

I really feel for the people that are facing a true dilemma when they call Dr. Laura looking for advice. If Dr. Laura would just listen sometimes and render her advice in a apologetic, yet soothing way that doesn’t take the caller one step closer to suicide, that’d be something. But, no. I just don’t get it… maybe “soothing and apologetic” would lower her ratings. I’m sure there’s an audience out there that just loves to hear people “put in their place” on the radio.

Well, I’m not one of them and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stabbed the power button on my radio with the only sentence that seems adequate echoing through my mind: “That bitch!”