Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Poverty Sucks

I was at The Nana's house yesterday going through some old framed art she had when I came across this delightful poster:

I think this about sums up poverty versus wealth perfectly.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Whatever happens in Cabo...


...will most likely show up on this blog, recounted in painstaking humorous detail, because guess who's flying to Cabo San Lucas in August?

ME!!!!!!!

J and I just booked our vacation package yesterday and I'm so excited my head feels like it's going to explode -- poof! -- into a cloud of Pixie Stick dust. (My sugar high is apparently not helping).

I've been all over Mexico countless times (Cancun, Mexico City, La Paz, Guadalajara, et. al.), but in all of my 28 years I have yet to visit Cabo. And so I'll share with you the extent of my knowledge:

What little I know of Cabo can be chalked up to that third episode (aptly titled "Whatever Happens in Cabo") of Laguna Beach Season 1 (yes, I am a huge Laguna Beach fan, The Hills pales in comparison to the splendor of its predecessor, and don't pretend you never obsessively watched Laguna Beach either.) Clearly, watching Stephen yell "Slut!" to a drunk, dancing-on-the-bar-in-a-miniskirt-with-no-underwear Kristen Cavallari in what looked like a Senor Frog's is not all that Cabo has to offer. Neither was the swim-up bar in the resort's pool where the Laguna Beach gringos spent their afternoons.

Originally we were going to book a week in Vegas as a post-Bar/Thank God Law School is Over/belated three-year anniversary trip, but after seeing how cheap beach destinations were, we decided Cabo would be a better way to unwind. A better way to lay like broccoli. The pricetag was unbeatable: $780/person, which includes...well...everything. Seriously. Airfare, six nights in a luxury beach resort, various amenities, and all food and drinks (including alcoholic beverages). Basically we won't have to take out our wallets the entire week we're there. We can just sun, swim and consume, which is exactly what J wants after three years of torts and civil liabilities. (Oh and I had no idea prior to us booking but our resort is the one Mtv sent the Laguna kiddies to in that spring break episode! It's fate, minus the annoying spring break crowds.)

Any fun, specific things I should check out while in Cabo? I know the ocean currents at the tip of Baja can get a little cray cray, and the last thing I want is a picture of me bear-hugging Lola stolen off Facebook by CNN as my name flashes by in the news ticker as "An American Girl Lost at Sea After a Minor Mishap While Banana Boating"....so banana boating is out. Other activities I should know about?

I am quite the salsa dancer when the right music is blasting, so I know I'll be doing that. And floating up to the pool bar multiple times a day. And shopping (how I love the peso-dollar exchange rate). And reading in a hammock on the playa. Lover's Beach also looks fantastic, so I'll probably be taking a boat ride to check it out:


All of J's classmates have flashy, expensive post-Bar trips planned after July. Some are going to Europe for a month, or taking a few weeks on a Mediterranean cruise, or going to Costa Rica till they have to start work in October. While I would have loved a month in Italy, right now a week in Cabo will more than suffice.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A letter to men, by Christina Hendricks

"One minute you're on top of the world, the next minute some secretary is running you over with a lawn mower."

In honor of the Mad Men Season 4 premiere in exactly one month (July 25th -- set your DVRs!), every Friday leading up to the fated night I'll be running a post related to the show and/or its actors. Today is an open letter to men penned by Christina Hendricks for Esquire in April.

I love that when it comes to men, Christina seems just as confident as the Joan Holloway character she plays. As copywriter Paul Kinsey said: “Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe — every woman is one of them. ...Though Marilyn's more of a Joan, not the other way around.”

And here's why (in her own words):

We love your body. If we're in love with you, we love your body. Your potbelly, everything. Even if you're insecure about something, we love your body. You feel like you're not this or that? We love your body. We embrace everything. Because it's you.

Speaking of your body, you don't understand the power of your own smell. Any woman who is currently with a man is with him partly because she loves the way he smells. And if we haven't smelled you for a day or two and then we suddenly are within inches of you, we swoon. We get light-headed. It's intoxicating. It's heady.

We remember forever what you say about the bodies of other women. When you mention in passing that a certain woman is attractive — could be someone in the office, a woman on the street, a celebrity, any woman in the world, really — your comment goes into a steel box and it stays there forever. We will file the comment under "Women He Finds Attractive." It's not about whether or not we approve of the comment. It's about learning what you think is sexy and how we might be able to convey it. It's about keeping our man by knowing what he likes.

We also remember everything you say about our bodies, be it good or bad. Doesn't matter if it's a compliment. Could be just a comment. Those things you say are stored away in the steel box, and we remember these things verbatim. We remember what you were wearing and the street corner you were standing on when you said it.

Remember what we like. When I first started dating my husband, I had this weird fascination with the circus and clowns and old carnival things and sideshow freaks and all that. About a month after we started dating, he bought me this amazing black-and-white photo book on the circus in the 1930s, and I started sobbing. Which freaked him out. I thought, Oh, my God, I mentioned this three or four weeks ago and talked about it briefly, but he was really listening to me. And he actually went out and researched and found this thing for me. It was amazing.

We want you to order Scotch. It's the most impressive drink order. It's classic. It's sexy. Such a rich color. The glass, the smell. It's not watered down with fruit juice. It's Scotch. And you ordered it.

Stand up, open a door, offer a jacket. We talk about it with our friends after you do it. We say, "Can you believe he stood up when I approached the table?" It makes us feel important. And it makes you important because we talk about it.

No shorts that go below the knee. The ones almost like capri pants, the ones that hover somewhere between the kneecap and the calf? Enough with those shorts. They are the most embarrassing pants in the world. They should never be worn. No woman likes those.

Also, no tank tops. In public at least. A tank top is underwear. You're walking around in your underwear. Too much.

You don't know this, but when we come back from a date, we feel awkward about that transition from our cute outfit into sexy lingerie. We don't know how to do this gracefully. It's embarrassing. We have to find a way to slip into another room, put on the outfit as if it all happened very easily, and then come out and it's: Look at me! Look at the sexy thing I've done! For you, it's the blink of an eye. It's all very embarrassing. Just so you know.

Panties is a wonderful word. When did you stop saying "panties"? It's sexy. It's girlie. It's naughty. Say it more.

About ogling: The men who look, they really look. It doesn't insult us. It doesn't faze us, really. It's just — well, it's a little infantile. Which is ironic, isn't it? The men who constantly stare at our breasts are never the men we're attracted to.

Marriage changes very little. The only things that will get a married man laid that won't get a single man laid are adultery and whores. Intelligence and humor (and your smell) are what get you laid. That's what got you laid when you were single. That's what gets you laid when you're married. Everything still works in marriage: especially intelligence and humor. Because the sexiest thing is to know you.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Nana and moving day

Today is moving day -- again!

It's hard to keep up with my nomadic lifestyle but to recap we've been staying with my grandma (aka "The Nana") while figuring out where exactly we should live in the Bay Area (read: waiting to see if I got that one dream job. Wah-wahhh. With that offer off the table not only can I now breathe easier, but I can live practically anywhere in the region.) Since all our earthly possessions are just down the street in a public storage locker we decided to stay local in Walnut Creek and recently found an adorable one bed/one bath apartment in the heart of the downtown area, which means I'll end up spending copious amounts of money window shopping and imbibing often at Nordstroms slash H&M slash all the other cute stores and restaurants that are basically 500 ft. from my new front door. (In the inimitable words of Rachel Zoe: "I die.")

Though I'll only be one freeway exit away from my nana, I'm a little sad about leaving since living here for the past three weeks has been more hilarious than I expected. Why? Because I realize, staying here, that my 84-year-old grandma is essentially the Fruit Cake Lady:



Perhaps everyone's grandmas are like the Fruit Cake Lady and it's just dawning on me now, but there is something highly comedic about a sweet old lady who tells it like it is. No nonsense, no bs, no concern for political correctness. I guess when you get to a certain age you simply don't give a damn anymore -- and I love that. The shock factor is magnificent.

Take last week when hilarity ensued in the form of her two shitza-poo puppies, who she took out in her car to run errands with. As nana was in TJ Maxx cruising the home goods aisle, one of the puppies ended up getting into her container of medicine in the front seat and ingesting all 30 pills. The dog (of course) needed its stomach pumped and all my nana had to do that evening to describe the day's events was plop the empty, chewed-up, orange pill bottle on the dinner table with her shaky hands in front of J and I. This was followed up with a comment from her about the "damn" dog being suicidal.

And this is how it's been. Over the last three weeks my nana has uttered dozens of gems, but unfortunately I can only remember a few that made me laugh out loud:

On methods of eradicating Bluejays from her garden:

"If I had a shotgun he wouldn't be so happy, plopping around in that bird bath. We've got too many Bluejays in my garden."

On Justin Bieber's performance on the Today Show:

"Who is this Bee-bur person? He looks like a little girl. Frank Sinatra would be turning over in his grave if he could see this."

On Christina Aguilera's performance on the Today Show:

"Well I don't know about you but I think she looks like a tramp. Who wears their underwear outside their pants? A tramp..."

On Marilyn Monroe:

"She was pathetic."

On sleeping with a 12-gauge shotgun (my late grandpa's gun) next to her bed every night:

"I hope I never have to use the thing. I've never shot a gun before, but the world is a dangerous place. You never know."

On an obese young women in a tight, short dress walking past our lunch table:

Muttered under breath: "Oh honey. That dress is doing absolutely nothing for you."

On whole-milk ice cream she insisted I eat:

Me: "This scoop probably has, like, 1,000 calories in it..."

Nana, after a brief pause: "So what. It's milk. It's good for your skin."

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Mad Men Season 4 poster out

I know you've all been clinging precariously to the edges of your seats since last November, hands wrung, breath baited, waiting for Mad Men to premiere again (haven't you? HAVEN'T YOU? ...or is this just me?...). To feed such an unhealthy addiction to a now classic cornerstone of the pop culture canon, the first poster touting Mad Men season 4 was just released today *pulls out tourniquet and prepares for rapturous high*:

(image via EW)

Creator Matt Weiner told Entertainment Weekly today that the new season of Mad Men will find the characters all questioning who they are.

"It’s about stripping away the things these people think define them,” Weiner told the magazine. “Once they’re taken away, they just may have to look at who they really are.”

Knowing Mad Men, this poster is rife with symbolism. It's never as it seems; therefore, this isn't just Don in an empty office. Out of all the office accoutrements to include in this picture, why go with the phone? What is Don looking at? Why does he have a lit cigarette but no ashtray? (Is he looking to figuratively burn the place down?) Why shoot in an office with floor-to-ceiling windows? Is he moving in or moving out? (Perhaps to California to take up permanent residence in that amazing Palm Springs house with the group of jetsetters?)

The imagery may not seem as compelling as the promos for Season 3 (the one where Don's sitting in his office, cigarette in hand, as the tide is rising around him), but Weiner & Co. can't give away too much in this first look. And that's fine with me. All I know is it's nice having Don back in my life (*casually undoes tourniquet and tosses it on coffeetable*).

Friday, June 18, 2010

A big fat "no"

So I wasn't going to say anything about it publicly but since I've just been passed over for the "other top candidate" I guess now it really doesn't matter: I just came thisclose to an editorial job at a well-known national website based in SF that would have paid more money than I could have ever dreamed of making as an editor, and would have allowed me to blog full-time for their website, which caters to women ages 18-34 years old. Blog posts would have included recaps of Bravo reality shows, travel tips, personal finance posts, career articles, what-to-wear-to-your-interview gems...all geared toward women in my age demographic. In short, if I had to go back to a desk job (which, believe me, I really don't want but need to do while J studies for the Bar and we figure out the next phase of our life; writing books only pays for so many bills), this would have been the dream desk job. The dream desk job that would have paid more than handsomely while still allowing me to remain a journalist (read: The Reason I Went to School And Majored in What I Did).

I'll admit, I got much closer than I expected. After applying on an absolute whim back in March, thinking they would be flooded with resumes and I'd probably hear nothing back, I not only got a call back but also got sent an editing/writing test. For the test I had to create a mock blog and write a handful of blog posts focused on topics they provided. I knew I kicked butt in creating the faux blog, but was still surprised when I got an email asking me to come in for an interview. Remember that weekend in late March when I flew out to California last-minute? Yeah, that was the reason. The interview was one of the best in interview history (I can say this with utmost assurance), and after that I heard...nothing. Nada. That whole month of April was like listening to a million crickets chirping in a symphonic hall with first-class acoustics.

Finally, though, they got back with me in early May and told me I made it to their top three. Cloud 9, people, Cloud 9. I had to speak with their managing editor in a phone interview, which I ended up conducting in the parking garage of a mall. But that, too, went well. I was told I would hear back within a week then...nothing. Again. Which I was fine with since that meant I wouldn't have to move early and would get to partake in the cross-country roadtrip J and I were excited to embark on.

Back in California I emailed them and asked what the hell was going on (okay, I didn't exactly ask that way, but had my life been a comic strip and not an actual life, herein is where they would have been illustrated as a wall-eyed, gangly chicken that I would ring the neck of and shake violently back and forth whilst demanding some sort of answer). I'm the most impatient person you will ever meet and thus have no tolerance for indecisiveness (other than when ordering off a Chinese food menu, but that's beside the point). I just wanted to know: Did I get the Godforsaken job or not? All this waiting was only building the whole thing up into a dramatic production that I was tired of having to explain to friends and family. To be honest, four weeks ago I began growing disinterested in the position since I'd already waited over two months for an answer and all that waiting had put a bad taste in my mouth. Think acrid sushi that's been left out for three days. Not good.

A week later, while I'd pretty much given up hope of ever hearing from them again, I got an another email. I was hoping it was either a "yes" or "no"; this was all getting ridiculous and what I actually wanted most was closure. But no, they were asking me to come in for a third interview. (Insert long eye rolls here.)

***BTDubs, I should probably mention that during this same week I interviewed for another editorial position for a publication in the Bay Area -- one that seemed JUST as amazing. I would have been pretty high up on the masthead leading a newsroom of designers/reporters/etc. and deciding how and when stories would be published. That interview went well and a day after I was offered the job. Squee. Though it would have been magnificent I turned it down since the pay was a little lower than what I was looking for. (I know...if the job is perfect who cares if pay isn't up to par, right? Confession: If I was single, or even in a dual-income relationship right now, I would have taken it. But right now with J not bringing in...well...any income, I can't have two people living on that kind of salary.) So I declined the offer and waited for my third interview with El Company of Indecision.***

On Monday I walked into their SF office for my third interview and it went well. Again. In fact I began to wonder why they even called me in for a third interview since I met the exact same people and they asked me the exact same questions. At this point I knew it was down to me and one other top candidate. Out of hundreds of resumes sent in it had climaxed to this. After the interview I was told I'd hear back this week. And I did. They sent a very polite, very professional email explaining that though they really liked me, they decided to go with the other candidate because she had a deeper finance background (I'm almost 100% sure she had her MBA, based on how they spoke about her.)

When I read the email, I instantly got all Regina George and this was the first thing I thought:


Then my second thought was: "Thank God. Finally. I have closure." A euphoric wave of relief crashed over me and I was okay again. No more anticipation or uncertainty. It was done; the job was off the table. Nothing about it was looming over my head like a little indecisive raincloud, following me everywhere I went for the last three months.

J actually took it harder than me. When I told him they said "no" his face immediately went white and it looked like his heart was going to fall out his butt. But I reassured him that it was all going to be fine. After all, I'd already gotten one job offer in the first two weeks of being back in the state. Plus after J's rejection from an amazing firm in Newport Beach (we found out recently they opted to go with someone who'd already passed the Bar and was out of school), I'm bulletproof when it comes to missed job offers. There was so much more on the table with that Newport job and J had gotten so far in the interview process that when we received the letter in our mailbox I felt like I'd been hit in the chest with a wrecking ball. In matters of job searches, nothing could ever top that feeling. Ever.

But you know what the worst part is about my latest job news? It isn't me not landing the job or how long they took to get back to me or the fact that in all honesty going back to a desk job -- even if it was the dream desk job -- made me a little sad since it would take time away from my writing. None of that. The worst part is having to listen to the pity I'm hearing from those close to me, telling me (repeatedly) that it's "[that employer's] loss," "they missed out on an excellent employee," etc. etc. (insert long list of cliche "well-at-least-you-got-as-far-as-you-did" phrases here.) It sickens me. I don't want to hear ANY OF IT.

I especially don't want certain people (read: my grandmother), handing me self-help books titled "Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and Life" the next morning. (Yes, this actually happened and it further made me feel like Paul Giamatti in Sideways.) All these reaffirmations of support and sympathy make me want to vomit. Seriously. Why? Because I was over it when I got the rejection (I get over things very easily), so listening to people constantly bring it up as though I'd banked my hopes and dreams on a stupid desk job makes me feel completely misunderstood. There is nothing worse than not only feeling misunderstood, but also receiving pity for said misunderstanding.

Basically right now I feel like this:



I'm all stocked up here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back when life was simple

...my to-do lists resembled these:

(images via HuffPo)

Now they include:
  • Find reasonably priced apartment in an unreasonably priced Bay Area neighborhood.
  • Go grocery shopping.
  • Cancel private health insurance. (This alone is a tedious task: For the reams of bureaucracy involved, no one's ever accused BlueCross of being efficient of all things. During my last year of coverage I couldn't even pay my monthly bill online; according to them it had to be done by check -- remember checks? -- through the mail. Welcome to the 21st century.)
  • Pay bills.
  • Get new tires for car (because all I really want to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon is spend time inhaling rubber vapors in Costco and Big-O Tires, looking for the best deal)
  • Save some semblance of a down-payment for the start of my real estate empire my first house.
  • Figure out how I'm going to conceivably own a Porsche 911 before my 35th birthday.
  • Give Lola a haircut (which takes longer than one would think since her haircuts are somewhat akin to shearing a sheep.)
  • Work.
Not as fun as eating ice pops, folding "close", and staring at this alleged Isaac fellow, but it could be much worse. I hope I never have to add "attend three rounds of chemo", "file for divorce", or "ask everyone I know for money because I'm broke" to my to-do list. Though my current list of priorities has changed drastically from the one I wrote at age 5 (the one that included "eat my tube of cherry chapstick") I'm happy with where I'm at. Some things are meant to change with age. This includes ingesting lip balm.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My night with Jim Morrison

The crew.

The other night we had a small beach bonfire with my sister, brother, and his new girlfriend. In Santa Cruz, after all, the obligatory bonfire is the go-to venue for meeting new significant others.

We all loved his girlfriend and had fun laughing, roasting marshmallows and playing guitar -- yes, we sit Indian-style around bonfires playing guitar -- as we watched the sun set. Soon the landscape turned black save for a few small glowing fires just down the shore. I thought nothing of it since there were five of us around the fire (two men), and the last thing I thought was to be scared of what could be out there in the dark. Not only were we on a relatively sheltered part of the beach but we were also in front of a posh beach resort, where the only scary people are those with copious amounts of Botox between their eyes.

So there we were, taking turns repeating lyrics as comedic spoken word from some of the most crass rap songs we could think of, when a figure emerged from the darkness around our bonfire. He held a piece of driftwood and his arm was outstretched as though it was guiding him toward our fire.

We abruptly stopped our Lil-Jon-as-spoken-word fest as he placed the wood in our fire and joined us, cross-legged on the sand. The man, who had to have been in his mid-20s, had a wild look in his eyes, his clothes were dirty, his hair long and dreaded. By firelight he resembled part-Jim Morrison and part-Charles Manson. None of us said anything until he spoke.

Random vagrant: "There's petroleum in this fire. I can smell it."

(He erupts into laughter. We remain quiet, slightly freaked out, and watch him.)

RV: "I just inhaled it. Do you smell it? Do you?"

(No one answers, so of course I chime in.)

Me, in a conversational tone: "I don't think there's any petroleum in this fire."

RV: "Yes there is. I saw it from a distance. I can see things, you know. I can see the cancer growing in all of us. In all of you. I see radiation in people's eyes."

Me: "Interesting... Are you from around here?"

RV: (Laughs.) "No, I'm from Connecticut."

Me: "Wow, you're a long way from home."

RV: "I have no home. ...I don't belong anywhere... I go where I want."

Me, as though I hear this every day: "That's cool."

(Silence.)

RV: "I once took 56mg of shrooms." (He laughs maniacally again and suddenly everything is quite clear to us.) "I also took acid a couple times. Those two blotters of paper, man, they changed my life."

Me: "It sure seems that way."

RV: "And you know when I took the acid I saw people for who they were, I saw the truth about humanity in the eyes of everybody I passed. I saw the death growing in each of us..."

Me: "You don't say..."

RV: "...people live their lives and they don't remember they're going to die someday. We're all going to die. How can you ignore something like that?" (He giggles for a minute.) "I know we're all going to die. People forget about that. But I see. When I look at people, I can already see they're dead."

Me: "You do have a point."

RV: "After the acid...I just never looked at things the same again.

(By this time no one besides me has spoken up, so of course this has turned into a conversation between he and I. Or just he and he. I wasn't sure.)

RV: "I have a son. His name is River, he's three years old. His mother was pregnant with him when I decided to marry her."

Me: "You have a son? How old are you?"

RV: "23. But I don't see him anymore. His mother won't let me see him. I know why -- it's because she's a demon. I've married a lot of people, in my own way. Not by society's way. One day I took shrooms and told her I wanted to marry her by the ocean so we did, but when we were standing there, marrying each other, she turned into a demon."

Me: "Far out..."

RV: "...So I ran away. I couldn't marry a demon. Then law enforcement wouldn't let me see my son after that."

(I vaguely see the outlines of my brother and his girlfriend, shifting and uncomfortable on the guitar case they're sitting on. My sister to my left is making "let's-get-the-hell-out-of-here" eyes at me. J has his hand on a piece of firewood in case anything cray-cray goes down since this guy is obviously strung out on some pretty intense narcotics.)

My brother, who begins to stand up: "We're going to start heading up to the car."

J: "Good idea."

Brother to random vagrant: "Hey man, you can have the rest of the fire. Stay warm here as long as you want tonight."

RV: "Thanks. Oh, I'm -- I'm sorry. Did I mess up your bonfire? I keep doing that to people." (He laughs and actually looks genuinely embarrassed -- as much as someone who's got pupils dilated to the size of saucers can.)

Us: "No, it's fine, enjoy the fire."

We start to walk away with our guitar and towels and marshmallows and realize RV is following us up the dark path we need to climb to get back to our car. My brother's girlfriend grabs my arm and we put our heads down and run up to the front of our group since RV is lagging toward the back, talking to J about demons and Connecticut and this girl he once knew who had pentagrams burned into her arms by her parents.

Now I'm not scared of homeless people and I'm not scared of drug addicts, but I am scared of the unpredictability of a homeless drug addict and what said person is capable of doing to a handful of unarmed beachgoers on a dark hillside path. We collectively decided by a few raised eyebrows and shared whispers to follow the trail up to the resort instead of taking the fork toward our car. Being in the vicinity of resort-goers en route to their bungalows sounded much better than being murdered in a thicket of Eucalyptus trees.

My brother began fumbling with his blackberry, and before he realized it was on speakerphone, a loud "911, how can I help you?" cut the tension and RV's murmured conversation he was having with himself behind us. We couldn't help but giggle as RV, completely ignorant of why 911 could possibly be called, said "That's a random number to accidentally dial."

Once we reached manicured landscaping we took a hard right up a cement path past a jacuzzi full of overly tanned men, and RV absentmindedly kept walking straight, into the gullet of the resort area. Whew. After taking his phone off speaker, my brother told police that RV wasn't a threat but needed to be picked up from the grounds for some sort of psychiatric evaluation (I forgot the code number for this but since my bro used to be in law enforcement he could speak the language).

The irony is that much of what RV said around the campfire -- though it was said in a drug-induced haze -- was poetry. The kind of poetry people like Jim Morrison wrote down and put music to. Jim, like RV and others, was high out of his mind when he rode the stream of his consciousness, but in a strange way his words made profound sense. In fact, some of the greatest poetry and literature and music of our time has been written by those experimenting with substances I am not condoning. I just think it's interesting, and my night with RV affirmed this, that it's bizarre how we herald so many artists and visionaries as geniuses because of the profound, often-psychotropic words they write, and yet a disheveled vagrant uttering these exact words to a group of strangers seems crazy and unpredictable.

Genius and Crazy...much more closely related than I thought.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The "Ain't Nothing Wrong With Freedom, Man" Trip across America, in pictures

The day of departure. A confused and somewhat disgruntled Lola (above) in our empty and cleaned apartment.

On the road in Pennsylvania.

Crossing the Mississippi. Wish we could have spent more time in this Illinois/Iowa area, it was adorable.

One of many gas station stops in Iowa. J posing with the real star of the show: the truck.

Corn Palace!

You know you love it.

My love affair with corn continues.

And we're back on the road...

Lola really not liking this whole roadtrip thing. (During most of the trip she had her head shoved down between two seat cushions in an attempt to make it all stop.)

Somewhere in South Dakota.

Near the entrance to Badlands

Setting up camp at Badlands. It was very windy, as evidenced by Lola's ears (above) and J's frustration at getting the tent up (below).

Me contemplating the meaning of life.

Sunset at Badlands. This photo didn't do the sky justice at all; the pinks and purples were amazing in person.

On our way out of the park.

Our trusty steed on a summit.


Oh yes, did I mention we saw buffalo? BUFFALO, people! We pulled over when we saw this beaut, who ignored us as he ate grass.

Me casually hanging out at Mount Rushmore.

Attempting to outdo the spectacle of Devil's Tower.

We came upon a soft rock face carved with hundreds of initials as we hiked up around the base of Devil's Tower. Some dated back to the '60s and '70s (my favorite: "Chad + Sarah, 1978"). J decided to deface government property and add our initials to the mix.


Somewhere in Wyoming.

J much too excited about his $1 cashout from the penny slots at Boomtown Resort & Casino in Nevada.

The next morning at Denny's in Boomtown, perusing the surfeit of gastronomic delights on the menu.

Twelve more miles past Boomtown and we finally crossed the state line.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The "Ain't Nothing Wrong With Freedom, Man" Trip across America, in words

Little did I know when we started out on this hallowed journey toward Valhalla we'd wind up face-to-face with a mama Grizzly, defending her cubs who just happened to find the beef jerky in our now-clawed-open car just as satisfying as we did. Apparently Lola had done little to satiate their hunger earlier in the night when we discovered she'd gone missing on a routine potty break. With J wielding a hatchet behind me, the Grizzly now charging toward us with her snout wrinkled and teeth bared, I gripped the hunting knife in my white-knuckled hands and....

Got your attention yet? Good. Cause none of that happened although it would have been sweet if it did. Ditto if we had found ourselves in the path of some giant tornado, J, Lola and I strapped to a random pole on a Kansas farm by nothing but a leather belt, Twister-style. But that didn't happen either.

We encountered no killer mosquitoes, vengeful bears or creepy toothless truckers (okay, maybe a couple) on our "Ain't Nothing Wrong With Freedom, Man" Trip Across America (a name we borrowed from a Dennis Hopper line in Easy Rider). In fact, for such an unplanned cross-country jaunt it went surprisingly well, save for a slight...situation...near the South Dakota/Wyoming border. But even that was more funny than terrible (to me, at least. J: not so happy.) With that, here are the highlights of our journey:

After two days straight of driving on the road, taking turns sleeping while the other drove, fatigue began to set in somewhere in Iowa around midnight. And of course we happened to be on one long stretch of freeway that had NO exits for what seemed like a hundred miles or so. Just the road in front of us, dark cow pastures on either side. I could barely keep my eyes open. "Must...get...to...South Dakota..." I murmured, as exhaustion continued lulling my eyelids closed. J kept yelling at me to stay awake until we could pull over but after a while his yells were useless against my fatigue, so we switched places in the cab like a deranged Cirque de Soleil trapeze act while our truck roared down the freeway. I know what you're thinking and in hindsight I don't recommend anyone attempt this, but the alternative was either a.) die in a horrible truck accident by falling asleep at the wheel, or b.) die in a horrible truck accident by parking our vehicle on the narrow highway shoulder and risk getting hit by one of the many passing Big Rigs traveling at speeds of 85+ mph. Seriously.

When we finally found an off-ramp we pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of some hybrid truck stop slash dive bar. (There was nothing else around.) Nestled between parked Big Rigs, we pulled out our sleeping bags and climbed into the front seats of our Hyundai on the tow cart. The air reeked of cow manure and the smattering of semis parked in the lot had their engines running all night for what I think was air conditioning in their sleeping cabs, but I'm not sure. All I knew was that after two days of pounding hundreds of miles of pavement, all I wanted was a few hours of sleep beneath my polyester sleeping bag. As terrible as it sounds it was actually fun. I'd finally become a nomad.

During our second night in Iowa we drove through a town called Sac City and though it was all closed up for the evening, it was fascinating. Sac City is a sleepy little village only a few blocks long, built next to a two-lane thoroughfare that winds through the center of Iowa. There's a small high school (or K-12, I wasn't sure), a community center, a post office, a convenience store, a few charming storefronts selling antiques and other oddities, and a handful of locally owned eateries. Most driving through would probably find it un-amazing but something about it intrigued me enough to comment out loud that I'd love to come back and stay at a B&B. Someday we will go back.

Our first "real" stop -- meaning we actually hung out for a few hours in said place -- was Mitchell, South Dakota, home to the infamous Corn Palace. "How hokey," you might think. "A whole palace made of corn?" Yes. And it's phenomenal. It's not entirely made of corn anymore, though I think when it was first built it was (imagine the popcorn potential in such a place!). Anyway, while the Corn Palace was delightful I was even more intrigued by Mitchell itself. Mitchell was and is the kind of community Norman Rockwell painted in all those Saturday Evening Post covers. We wandered in and off the main street and were greeted with warm smiles from locals as they went about their daily business. Even stopping in a local coffee shop was fabulous -- the barista and cashier were genuine, happy and hospitable. It was a nice respite from what we'd grown accustomed to out East. I'm delighted that this kind of town still exists...the kind of place where everybody knows your name.

Next stop was Badlands, South Dakota, where we set up camp for a night. Badlands is a peculiar but stunning national park filled with craggy stalagmite-looking rock formations in the middle of the Dakota plains. Once inside the park it feels like you're on the moon. It's barren, solitary and captivating. The winds had picked up by the time we pulled our tent out that afternoon and it was high comedy helping J set up everything while 30mph winds whipped past our faces and gear. J tends to lose his patience in situations like these so I have some hilarious pictures of him as he struggled with pieces of tent that ended up wrapped around him like a superhero cape. Of course, it didn't help that I was howling with laughter as I continued taking pictures of his plight. He's such a lucky man to be married to me. ;)

The next day after Badlands we stopped at Wall Drug Store on our way to Black Hills National Forest. I know, I know, what's the big deal about some old drug store, right? Well, everything, actually. This particular drug store takes its name from the town of Wall, South Dakota, where it's located. Wall used to be known by locals as "the geographical center of nowhere," until a guy started Wall Drug Store and saved it through the Great Depression by using an advertising gimmick of offering "free ice water" to any customers. To this day Wall Drug still serves free ice water and 5-cent coffee (along with a plethora of cheesy South Dakota tourism merchandise and some of the best homemade fudge I've eaten in my life). Wall Drug is known around the world because of the hand-painted wooden signs that advertise their business globally. Apparently there are Wall Drug signs promoting free ice water in places like London, Kenya, and even in the Paris Metro. The more you know.

Later that day we cruised into the Black Hills National Forest near the South Dakota/Wyoming border. Herein is where our story takes a turn for the ridiculous, kiddies. We were uber excited as we drove past the ranger entrance. After all, the Black Hills are home to some fabulous sites: Mount Rushmore, Jewel Caves, the old outlaw town of Deadwood where Calamity Jane out-drank her male counterparts and Wild Bill Hickok was eventually gunned down. Oh and buffalo. We couldn't wait to see buffalo. Our plan was find a campsite, set up the tent, take the car off the hitch and use it to drive around the forest (the mountains would have been much harder to traverse in our Budget Truck). So we found a campsite and as J unloaded our gear I patiently waited, suddenly writhing like a spastic each time I'd hear a buzzing in my ear from one of the many wasps who had found our campsite just as splendid as we did.

Once J was finished he circled our car on its hitch, undoing the four chains that held it in place (two in the front, two in back). As he climbed into the car and started the engine I suppose I should have been paying more attention from my vantage point on the street because as soon he backed off the hitch there was a loud pop...or was it a crunch? I can't remember now but all I can recollect was that it was a hideous sound. An expensive sound.

"I think you bottomed out!" I yelled over the engine. But the minute he peered out the window and I watched the blood drain from his face, I saw exactly what the problem was. The left tire behind him was completely crooked, and was now turned at an obnoxious, wall-eyed angle. Apparently he'd forgotten to take the rear chains off and the left axle thing (don't you love how technical I am?) was completely bent.

Ugh.

The funny thing? After the initial shock wore off I just couldn't be angry. Of all places and times for something like that to happen -- Mount Rushmore was supposed to be the peak of our journey -- we now had a car that could barely move, much less make it up a steep mountain to see the Four Heads. How could I not laugh? We deliberated for a moment before I decided we should just pack up all our gear and try to see Mount Rushmore on our way out of the park that evening. The sun was already beginning to set and there was no sense staying at the campsite for two nights when we wouldn't have easy access to climb all those hills around us comfortably in a smaller car. So we left.

Mount Rushmore was, of course, magnificent and we got to catch a lighting ceremony around 9:30pm which made it even better. But by the time we pulled out of the parking lot there we were exhausted. It had been a long, hot day, filled with stops at famous drug stores and absent-minded wrecking of rear car axles. So we stopped in a tiny tourist town just a few miles down the winding forest road from the monument, but the first motel in said town cost $120 -- $120! For what looked like an inimical den full of bedbugs and tired slot machines -- so we decided to keep driving...the entire length of the Black Hills. At this time it was around 11pm and though we only had about 30 miles to get out of the national park, they were 30 miles of steep elevations and harrowing descents. Not the ideal setting for a full moving truck with car hitch.

It was silent during most of the ride, but there was palpable tension in the air. We each gritted our teeth, J behind the wheel, me in the passenger seat, as we silently hoped the truck wouldn't break down climbing one of the many mountains at 10mph, or even worse lose its brakes as we descended each 7% grade. We managed to drive through Deadwood on our way out, which was cool since it still remains an "outlaw"-style town with antiquated storefronts, saloons, hotels, restaurants and city streetlamps. I can't wait till we return and I can spend more than just 5 minutes there.

Finally, finally!, as the Budget truck was seemingly on its last knee, coughing and sputtering up the final behemoth of a mountain, we reached the main freeway and exited the Black Hills. The first town we came upon was a place called Spearfish and we ended up crashing at a Howard Johnson there (which, I should mention, had peculiar taxidermy fowl strategically placed on the walls above the check-in desk in the "lobby" if you could call it that. It was very Psycho, and I half-expected to see Norman Bates walk out from back, asking if we'd like a room and to possibly meet his mother. But there was no Norman Bates, only a middle-aged, tired-looking man with a thick Russian accent who knocked five bucks off the price of the room because he could tell I needed a break).

All I cared about was a.) taking a shower (it had been days since we bathed and though I was a trooper about the whole camping thing, even about the bugs, I couldn't wait to have access to soap and running water. Especially since temperatures had been hot the whole week. Yummy.), and b.) sleeping. That night I fully appreciated the merits of a hot shower and warm, clean bed. Too many of us take for granted those everyday things.

After we awoke in Spearfish and checked out of the HoJo we crossed the South Dakota border into Wyoming en route to Devils Tower. Devils Tower basically looks like a giant slab of clay that someone stuck in a forested area of the corner of the state. My description does not do it justice because it's magnificent. I think it's about 900 feet tall and deep grooves are etched up and down the length it, making it look like a giant bear sharpened its claws on all sides (which is actually the Indian legend about the monument). From our campsite we had a sweet view of the Tower and were even conveniently located next to a Prairie Dog town in the park, where hundreds of thousands of burrowing chipmunk-looking animals would "bark" (or more like squeak) at passing walkers and cars as they protected the openings of their burrows. Later that afternoon J decided he wanted to hike up around the base of the Tower, and though it was hot I trudged along, climbing to an elevation of probably around 300 feet, which gave us spectacular views of the land down below.

That night at Devils Tower it rained. Luckily our tent was waterproof but sometime after the rains stopped it began getting cold. Butt cold. The kind of cold where two hoodies and a pair of flannel pajama pants wasn't enough. I hunkered deep into my polyester Target sleeping bag, which wasn't equipped for such temperatures and would probably have been better suited as a slumber party bag on a living room floor. I remember hoping I wouldn't freeze to death sometime in the night, like Jack Nicholson did in the final scene of The Shining. All night long I'd wake up to my teeth chattering, I'd check on Lola beneath her blanket, and then try to fall back asleep as I wondered how many giant ants I'd squashed under our tent base as I lay there freezing to death.

But I survived. The next morning temps returned to normal and we packed up yet again, hoping to make it to Salt Lake City by nightfall. We crossed the state of Wyoming in almost a perfect diagonal, fighting fierce winds the entire way. J mentioned we were only getting 5 miles a gallon through most of that leg of the trip. Once we reached Salt Lake City we found a motel near the airport (we didn't know SLC at all and had no clue what area we were in, but things often look better at night). In the morning we were pleasantly amused with our surroundings. Especially when I witnessed a blatant drug deal go down at the gas station across the street around 8:30 in the morning. Oh and speaking of drug deals, I also watched one transpire at a gas station in Casper, Wyoming. My guess it was probably meth since it seems meth use in these cities is abnormally high (many anti-meth billboards dot main thoroughfares). Sad.

From Salt Lake City we blasted across the rest of Utah and the entire state of Nevada until we reached Reno. Our plan was to stay in Reno for the night but as we drove through the downtown casino area my heart sank with every block. Reno was just as seedy as people say. There were blocks upon blocks of broken down, abandoned motels, many filled with squatters and people who'd taken up residence in whatever rooms they could find. Old barbecues and car parts lay sitting outside dingy motel doors and front offices, many of these places actually advertising they had vacancies. The last thing I wanted was the contents of our truck stolen (we were, after all, carrying my three seasons of Mad Men, people), so we continued on the freeway past a few upscale housing developments until we reached a solitary resort and casino called Boomtown on a hill outside of Reno's lines. It seemed we stumbled upon a retiree's heaven. There were numerous luxury RVs parked outside and we were by the far the youngest couple on the casino floor. This I could handle. For $50 we got an excellent hotel room and had fun that night listening to a live motown band and gambling with a few dollars at the slot machines. It was a very Hunter S. Thompson-esque way of ending our cross-country roadtrip. Fear and Loathing in Boomtown.

The next morning we crossed the final state line and within 4 hours were home. Throughout our trip pounds of beef jerky were consumed, along with copious amounts of fast food and the occasional slurpee for good measure. And we even got to see a couple buffalo in South Dakota. All in all, it was an amazing trip.

I was going to post photos but this has become a novella, so I'll throw up photos in a pictorial essay in a day or two. I know I've been blogging erratically but once we're settled I'll be back to my normal blogging routine.

Oh and in case you were wondering, J just fixed our car (how I love being married to a man that knows cars.) The part was only $60 and his labor was free. Score. It took him 6 hours to get the two bolts off (they'd completely rusted through because of the DC humidity), but once they were off it took a mere 15 minutes to put the new piece on. I helped out, true to form, in a fabulous new floppy sunhat and heels, as I sat in the shade and kept him entertained with rousing conversation. Again, he's a lucky man.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

We made it!

After seven action-packed days on the road, skipping over the country like a stone, we finally made it safe and sound to the California coast! (Oh Pacific Ocean, how I've missed you so.) This roadtrip has been three years in the making and though it only lasted seven days (I voted to spend one month on the road; J voted one week because of this silly little test called the Bar or something he has to study for) it was symbolic for us not only as a couple starting the next chapter of our lives, but as an adventure back to our roots.

Right now we're staying with my grandmother in the Bay Area while we look for an apartment on the Peninsula just south of San Francisco. (Confession: it would be amazing to live just up the street from Steve Jobs in Palo Alto and "accidentally" run into him in line at Starbucks one morning. We'd chat about stolen iPhone prototypes, Steve "The Woz" Wozniak, and what happened on last night's Grey's Anatomy, though methinks he's probably more of a Private Practice watcher. Clearly we'd be BFFs. Clearly.). Suffice to say J and I are now living out of three of our boxes as we look for a pad of our own, and though it may seem like we are in flux with jobs and housing and all those other delights...we're happy. We're home. The air smells different here. Familiar. People are nicer. Happier. I can go out at night and not have to worry about being mugged or shot. It is not muggy or cold. It just "is". Life is good.

I'll be posting a roadtrip recap and pics soon, but in the meantime here's an open letter I wrote to DC the day I left the District region:

Dear Washington DC,

In the inimitable words of John F. Kennedy, you were once described as "a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm". As a resident for 3.5 years, I can say that this is 94% true.

For being the hub of all things political for our great land, your lack of efficiency is embarrassing. Traffic patterns, time spent waiting in lines, terrible customer service across the board, the list goes on and on. When you can't figure out that white, reflective paint should be used to connote freeway lanes, something is seriously wrong. And please don't get me started about the "mixing bowl" or whatever it's called, that tangle of odds and ends of freeways and parkways and streets that all snarl together right around the Pentagon. But okay, so what you lack in proper city planning can be made up in your jobs, right? According to...well...everyone who's much more rosier about things than me, you held your own in unemployment rates while the rest of the country plummeted during that whole recession thing. All right -- maybe California is still licking its wounds when it comes to its battered employment rate, but all your jobs exist mostly because of one thing: The federal government. Which is cool, if one is into that. Working for The Man is a venerable career path, but it's not for everyone...especially one fellow blogger, who recently summed you up "as a company town for the worst company on Earth – the federal government of the United States of America."

Hmm what else am I happy to leave behind. Ah yes, the weather, the hideous income disparity within your district lines, and your general population who tends to be in a permanently foul and overly aggressive mood. At times some of these people can also be terribly pretentious (so much so, in fact, that after living here for 3 years I will never, ever again wave off LA as being so full of BS. Au contraire, LA seems like paradise now.) Sure I've found some great people and good friends here, but in general it's been a disappointment. Maybe I'm a little too mellow yellow for you, but I can't help but think that a lot of people dwelling within and outside of your beltway would lead happier lives if they just chilled out. Not everything has to be 1.) a battle, 2.) about what college you went to (bonus points, it seems, for Ivy League and anything UVA-related), or 3.) what you do for a living. Maybe if there was more common courtesy practiced between your inhabitants you'd make a more pleasant place to live. (When I heard an impatient guy at Macy's call the cashier an "asshole" out loud because he wouldn't stop ringing people up and help him RIGHT AWAY on the floor I knew I'd just about had it with your lovely, charming residents.)

You're a strange city -- a city without the feel of being a city. You just...exist. So unlike other big cities like Manhattan, Chicago, et. al. A big city without big city benefits, some have said. There's no awe, or wonder, or spectacle. Aside from the obvious obligatory phallic jokes that are made daily about your national monument by tourists and residents alike...you're just there. A muggy anomaly built atop swamp land with a terrifying crime rate, some of the worst traffic jams in the U.S., and a freeway randomly named after Martha Custis.

It's been real, but now it's time to blow this taco stand and start the next chapter of my fabulous life.

Peace out, DC.

(Ed. Update:
Apparently I'm the most popular outgoing link on DC Blogs today. Just a reminder to new readers: This open letter is merely my opinion of the overall experience I had in the DC Metro area. Of course I had good times in the city as well, but for me the weather, lack of common courtesy and other daily realities tended to outweigh the good. Again, my opinion.)
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