Sara Schleede grew up looking out the window during road trips on Interstate 35. It was the highway that led her family to the University of Oklahoma, where Schleede’s sister attended. Trips to visit the grandparents entailed driving the long stretch of road between Allen and Austin. They’d stop at the McDonald’s in Italy for a bathroom break; Schleede would pick out a kolache to snack on in West, Texas. Once Schleede came of age and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, I-35 then became the road to go home for breaks.
As a senior graduating in May, Schleede is transforming her connection to Interstate 35 into a long-form podcast titled “35.” The five-episode podcast will explore the histories and stories along I-35 within the state of Texas, and it’s set to air just in time for Schleede’s graduation. Schleede hopes listeners will learn about aspects of Texas they didn’t know before and gain a better vision of what the state beholds.
“I want to kind of reveal the diversity in Texas that maybe not everybody believes is there,” Schleede said. “It’s a huge state. There’s a little bit of everything here.”
The podcast originally came about in the summer of 2019. At the time, Schleede planned to do a long-form podcast about Interstate 35 in its entirety, from Laredo to Duluth, Minnesota. To spice things up, she would road trip the entire highway, stopping in select locations to unearth their stories and Americana lore.
Come March 2020, these plans were then scrapped. Due to the pandemic, a summer 2020 road trip was out of the question. By August, Schleede reimagined the podcast to be solely about Texas, that way she could report safely and still finish the podcast within her last year at UT Austin. Although the pandemic transformed Schleede’s original vision, she wants “35” to be an escape, something that will whisk listeners to new places. When travel becomes safe again, she hopes listeners will play “35” on their very own road trips.
“I really like listening to podcasts in the car,” Schleede said. “If my podcast is something that fills somebody’s road trip, that would be amazing.”
Schleede is the first and only member of The Drag to lead a podcast on her own. She created her first podcast, “Request Pending,” during summer 2020, but “35” will be the largest audio project she’s tackled. Instead of relying on a partner, like for other podcasts at The Drag, Schleede worked with various students from the Digital Innovations Capstone class. Although she doesn’t have a consistent partner to rely on, Schleede has enjoyed independence in the process; it’s taught her to trust her gut and realize the benefit of diverse feedback.
“35” will air mid-2021