Our story begins at the start of 2019 not on a bridge spanning a mighty river, but in the cramped quarters of New York City’s Koreatown. As my office was just across Herald Square from the one-block neighborhood, it was a frequent destination for myself and coworkers for quick lunch runs, bubble tea breaks, and, in this case, group karaoke outings.
Unlike the karaoke establishments we usually frequented with private rooms to belt out 80s ballads in seclusion, someone suggested we try a new spot that had one large karaoke set-up in the main bar room. Song lyrics and music video accompaniments were projected onto a wall in the back across from the bar. Patrons paid to add individual songs to the queue, which meant that there was time to kill as we tolerated the screeching of strangers until it was our moment to shine.
As of this writing in 2023, my small talk skills are fairly rusty, but in 2019 I was at my peak. I could schmooze with the best of them, and my time in that karaoke bar was no exception. Everyone I’d walked in with, including myself, was huddled together in small groups idly chatting to pass the time. I don’t recall what the conversation entailed that preceded what would be the fateful discussion I was a part of, but it probably went something like this:
Coworker A: …And that’s why the chicken had to come before the egg.
Coworker B: That’s absurd. Whatever animal evolutionarily preceded the chicken had to have been an egg-laying creature, so it only stands to reason that the egg that hatched the first chicken came first.
Me: Wouldn’t it be fun if I had a podcast about walking over bridges?
By 2019, it was fairly well known to my coworkers that my commute consisted of a 5-mile walk from Queens to Midtown Manhattan (weather permitting). Almost everyone thought I was a little crazy for forgoing the subway and adding an extra hour to my travel time, though at the same time I’m sure they felt it added to my charm as the quirky member of the team. The root of the joke of creating a podcast was that I was investing even more energy in what was seemingly an absurd way to get to work. Thus, I expected the reaction to be something along the lines of:
Coworkers A & B, in unison, between fits of uncontrollable laughter: Oh, Jacob, you’re so funny!
The actual response:
Coworker B: That’s a great idea!
Coworker A: *Nods in agreement*
This put me in a bit of a predicament. My joke had been misconstrued as an actual suggestion. I played it off at the time, saying that I’d need to look into the logistics of how to start a podcast, but the stage had been set. One of the coworkers even brought it up a few days later before a meeting. There were expectations of me. I had a potential audience who I couldn’t disappoint.
So I went about following through on what I’d promised to follow up on. I created a SoundCloud account. I tested how recordings sounded using different microphones. I contemplated long and hard about what kind of podcast I actually wanted to produce.
That was the question that plagued me to the end. What was the point of Jacob Walks Over A Bridge? What was going to keep people coming back to listen to future episodes? I had never been an avid consumer of podcasts, even when I was in my peak walking era. When I first started my pedestrian commute in 2016 I tried listening to Welcome to Night Vale, but found it difficult to both pay attention to the story and focus on not getting hit by a car (which did happen once, a story for another time). I didn’t have the desire to report an in-depth history of the Queensboro bridge, lacked the credentials to comment on its architectural structure, and the dangerous nature of the bridge’s shared pedestrian-cyclist path (the second-most dangerous in NYC at the time, in my professional opinion) didn’t lend itself to reading anything from a script. What I settled on was a podcast that was totally improvised, having no running theme other than I was making it up as I went along. One of the only features of the podcast that could be considered scripted, the opening “Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening,” was ad-libbed in the first episode, and then with no idea how to begin the second episode I carried it over to start subsequent recordings. I was always proud of myself for being able to talk continuously for ~25 minutes for each recording, though the end result was often a discombobulated mess.
While it was indeed a mess, it was a beautiful one. Those who listened to the first episodes stopped short of describing them as ASMR, but the response was generally positive. Recording myself gave me an escape while walking that my usual walking activity, Pokémon Go, couldn’t (there aren’t many Pokémon to catch over bodies of water). I had a blast making it, and even managed to record an episode in Philadelphia while on vacation with my first guest. When the first season concluded at the end of April 2019 I was on the fence about a second season. I had fun discussing everything from the plot of Lost to my hunt for a new apartment, but was it worth doing it all over again? Dedicating myself to another season meant additional planning and further committing to the bit. I hadn’t achieved the viral fame I’d fantasized about, and after moving to Manhattan shortly after the last recording I no longer had a bridge to cross to get to work. By the end of the year, however, the devil on my left shoulder won out vs the angel on the right, and during a winter trip through Europe I boldly declared that a second season was imminent.
Like many grand plans in 2020, things didn’t turn out quite the way I’d hoped. Before the season began I crowdsourced funds for a premium SoundCloud account, and along the way included some fun incentives for folks who donated. All of the traveling I thought I’d do that year would have provided ample opportunities to record in new and interesting places. Unfortunately, few supporters were able to redeem their coupon for one high five, and I spent the entire year in the New York tristate area. With nowhere else to travel, I recorded episodes while visiting every borough of the city, as well as on an epic walk to New Jersey. Despite the setbacks that came with living life in the age of Covid, a podcast about walking over bridges became a great incentive to get out there when exploring outside was one of the best and only ways to exercise. Even in 2021 and 2022, when the world opened up enough to record outside the city limits, some of my fondest memories of the podcast are when I’d walk over a bridge in New York I’d never crossed before and discover a new neighborhood waiting on the other side.
When it comes to clout, I know my podcast wasn’t turning many heads. Apple wouldn’t even provide listener statistics for the longest time since not enough traffic had accrued for them to have enough data to share. I often joked that I would know I’d made it in the podcasting world when I got a HelloFresh or Blue Apron sponsorship, since they were the companies who seemed to sponsor almost every podcast my old roommate used to listen to when he cooked dinner. I never reached those heights, though word often passed to me either first or secondhand that folks enjoyed listening to what I had to say. Occasionally, especially at the start of my tenure as a podcaster, I tried advertising new episodes on my social media accounts. I even started an Instagram account for the podcast, though I was never great at keeping that up to date. A hoard of loyal followers never materialized from those efforts, but at the end of the day I wasn’t walking over bridges to accrue a legion of fans. The podcast was a passion project to supplement an activity I was already doing. To that end, it was a successful venture.
I’d be lying if I said bridges weren’t on my mind when I planned my weeks-long European vacation to bookend the 2023 New Year. There were several episodes where I mentioned how I wanted to travel more and visit bridges in foreign lands, and as travel became more accessible post-2020 that became more realistic. As I prepared my itinerary, I made sure to set aside time to do a few bridge walks, even planning some days’ events around where a bridge was located. By 2022 I knew that my time as a podcaster was nearing its end, so what better way to celebrate all I’d accomplished than splurging on an overdue vacation. I may have outed myself as an American to those who chanced to hear me record in passing, but that embarrassment was worth being able to satisfy a long-held itch to create content concurrently with adding stamps to my passport.
Now, after almost 70 episodes, it’s time to hang up my recording-while-walking-over-a-bridge shoes. A podcast born from a joke about my 5-mile commute from Queens turned into a (very niche) phenomenon. I have one more episode planned for whenever one of my invited guests returns to New York, but after Episode 69 is recorded and uploaded, that should be it. If at some point in the future I’m inundated by a fervent letter writing campaign by fans who discovered my recordings 20 years too late I’ll consider a revival, but as things stand any future bridge crossing will be in solitude. Or, more likely, will take place on a Citi Bike.
Thank you to everyone who tuned in and supported me in this endeavor. I’ll see you all at my next public creative outlet.