Thursday, May 22, 2014

This Land is My Land

As soon as I moved out of D.C. in 2010, I started to recount all the things I didn't do while I lived there. What about all the monuments, all the memorials, all the museums? What about all the great touristy stuff right in my own proverbial backyard that I never even bothered to check out? On return visits, I tried to get some of it in but never quite found it atop my priority list.

When my friend Isaac called a few weeks ago to say that the Washington Monument would be reopening & that he wanted to get tickets to go to the top of it, I was happy to join. It's been closed since August 2011, when a 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit the District & did precisely no damage except to the city's tallest building & most iconic monument. The repairs made & ugly scaffolding removed, it was finally fit for visitors again, & we (in a somewhat overeager fashion) bought tickets as soon as they went on sale.

Tornado warnings & possible thunderstorms threatened to cancel our plans in the lead-up to the evening, but when the time came for our 8:30pm tour, the weather couldn't have been more perfect. Clear & just a little bit windy, with an uncharacteristic lack of humidity, it was the ideal night to look out from 550 feet over the Mid-Atlantic area. I'd never been up the monument, & my friends hadn't been for more than a decade apiece, so we played tourist in our own city & made the 70-second elevator ride to the top for the best view in the capital.

As we stood in line, sandwiched between two groups of middle school students visiting the District on class trips, I remembered what it felt like to be an eighth grader from the suburbs experiencing a city for the first time, to horse around with my friends at the FDR Memorial & snap photos with the massive bronze statue of Fala the dog, to stand in the bread line, to jump across the stones in the fountain. I remembered what it felt like to be 21 years old, a rising senior at Kent State University, sitting on the lawn outside the Washington Monument with friends in my summer work/study program, the first time I'd ever lived out of Ohio, inexplicably moved to tears as I watched fireworks explode over the city on a muggy Fourth of July night. I remembered when it felt like just a few years later to be 23, when my friends & I braved the bitter cold with thousands of other Americans standing on the National Mall at dawn to celebrate the first inauguration of President Barack Obama, back when we still truly believed in change we could believe in.

I remember the big moments, like all of those. But I'll remember the smaller, quieter ones, too, with friends like these on nights like this, just living life, looking out over the first city that ever held my heart - the city that took me in, watched me go, then let me come home again.




Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's a Zoo Out There - But, Like, Really

My email went to five music-loving friends. It was short & to the point:
Anyone want to join me at Portugal. The Man's free show at the Zoo next Monday? At 6:30, it's cutting it pretty close to work hours (it's still sort of during work hours), but it sounds quirky & bloggable, so I'm going to go & would love company.
Yeah, sometimes I make plans around events that might make for interesting stories - & in this case, it paid off.

The Smithsonian National Zoo's partnership with Portugal. The Man (don't blame me for their inaccurately placed punctuation) is intended to raise awareness of endangered species, specifically Sumatran tigers, the smallest surviving tiger species with only 400 left in the wild. The Zoo distributed copies of the band's new song, aptly titled "Sumatran Tigers," to 400 social media influencers. The catch? The polycarbonate records are made to disintegrate after a certain number of plays - literally "a song manufactured to go extinct unless it's reproduced." Through this #EndangeredSong campaign, record recipients were tasked with "breeding" the song, digitizing it for the masses & ensuring its survival.

Yeah, this is the most genius social media campaign ever, & I shall refer to it forevermore as the most impressive effort I've thus far encountered. So first, there's that.

But secondly, there was also this free show, which I was excited to attend. I arrived with three friends, two friends-of-friends, & a picnic blanket (OK, it was someone else's picnic blanket), full of enthusiasm & sweating bullets in the sudden D.C. heat. We joined about 2,000 fellow attendees for a nice, seated lawn show at which everyone in attendance seemed to be in unanimous but unspoken agreement about the "seated" part.

Except for one kid.

This little bro, who was probably about 16, stood up to dance alone, blocking other people's views & inspiring boos from the crowd behind him. When a cop approached him & asked him to sit, he solidly refused - casually at first, then with more intensity (here's a video), & finally, he was hauled off the lawn in a spectacle that stopped the band & paused the whole show. When he was finally cuffed & hauled away, the whole audience cheered & the band apologized & everything continued as planned.

Until the last song. During the last song, one of his friends decided to stage a protest of his own, more peaceful this time but equally obnoxious. He approached the band at the edge of the stage & leaned in for a hug from lead singer John Gourley, who waved off an approaching police officer & accepted the hug in an attempt to diffuse yet another distracting situation. Except then the kid ran on stage, picked up a tambourine, & danced with the band through the duration of their final - & very long - song. That led into "Hey, Jude," & on the na-na-na-nas, the whole crowd finally stood en masse & sang together, confused & amused.

These two ridiculous interruptions sullied an otherwise excellent show for an excellent cause, & my friends & I grumbled about them with an appropriately level of oldness. "Do you think they're on drugs?" one friend asked. In fact, I think I can pinpoint the precise moment I became an adult: It was when someone asked me how old I thought the rebels were, & I said, "Old enough to know better, young enough to be on Molly." Also, I initially wrote "hooligans" there instead of "rebels," so it's official - I'm old.

It also reinforced, as so many experiences do, that D.C. is the right city for me. This ain't Coachella, bro. Sit your hippie ass down & enjoy your free zoo show from the grass like every other goddamn suited-up pseudo-hipster in this town.

The Smithsonian National Zoo's Global Tiger Initiative is working to double the number of wild tigers by 2022. Text NATZOO to 20222 to donate $10 to their efforts. Learn more or donate online.

Monday, May 5, 2014

"I Always Thought That Only R.L. Stine Wrote Books"


Writing a book has always sounded like something other people do - people who aren't me. I'm a good writer, I know. It's what I love to do, & even though it's not the focus of my professional life, as I planned when I majored in journalism in college, I've found ways to grow as a writer, to keep it in my life in a meaningful way, & even to find an audience for it (hi & thanks!).

I've thought about writing a book, for sure. I've thought about it my whole life. I used to tell people, "I'll write a book when the time is right. But it's not right yet." Over time, I stopped telling people that - stopped telling them I wanted to write a book at all - because I began to think I'd never reach that point, that the "right" time would never come.

Yesterday afternoon, I attended Brunch, Blogs, & Books: Going from Blogger to Published Author, a panel organized by local blogger Tyece of TwentiesUnscripted.com. After an hour of schmoozing & bottomless-mimosa boozing over brunch at Madhatter, three panelists - two bloggers-turned-authors & one former book beat reporter - took the stage to tell their stories & answer our questions.

The brunch was delicious, the company of my friends Jenn & Maxie was spectacular, & the panel was really interesting - but frankly, it wasn't mind-blowingly helpful or oh-my-god informative. The panelists were all just normal women, around my age, who seemed like people I could know, friends I could have. They were just regular people who turned their side hobby into a side hustle, worked their love of words into something bigger than a corner of the Internet. 

But that was what was so powerful, because like I said: Writing a book has always sounded like something other people do. Writing a book has always been for people who are smarter than I am, more driven than I am, better writers than I am, more compelling storytellers than I am. Writing a book has always been for people who have more time & more ideas & more words & more fans. In short, writing a book has never been for me...

...until yesterday, when I realized, for the first time, that it could be. These women were normal, like me. They had day jobs, like me. They expressed self-doubt, like me (the title of this post came from panelist Alida Nugent, a.k.a. The Frenemy). And yet they still created successful, on-actual-bookshelves books - like I could someday. Watching these totally average (in the most inspiring way!) women talk about moving from blogging to book-writing, it hit me in a much more powerful way than it ever has before: Hey, I could do that.

Panelist GG Renee Hill told us, "If you feel an urge to write a book, listen to it. Write the book. Don't wait until you're ready. You'll never be ready."

I'm not ready - which means I'm probably ready. And now I'm going to try to figure out how to do this.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Them Good Old Boys Were Drinkin' Whiskey & Rye

As a general rule, my drink of choice is cheap beer - Miller Lite, Bud Light, PBR. The fanciest I ever get is Yuengling or the occasional Sam Adams. "Fanciest." I know.

It's sort of embarrassing to be a perfectly normal adult with otherwise decent life taste who only likes bad beer. Other people get so excited about lagers & malts & "notes" & flavor pairings. I kid you not, I was at The Fainting Goat with some friends recently, & one of them was thrilled to find a fresh hop in his fancy beer - like, a tiny little flower, packed into the bottle! But um, I hate hops. Please get your fresh hop away from me.

I've mostly come to terms with my drink preferences, but I'd still like to be a person who enjoys normal, not humiliatingly terrible types of alcohol. That's why I was excited, albeit also incredibly nervous, to visit The Whisky Attic last month while in Vegas with friends. Located atop the biggest beer bar in the country, The Whisky Attic is home to 850 kinds of whiskey (whisky? I don't know these things), lining the walls like books in a library. How did I, self-proclaimed lover of cheap beer, end up at such a fine & foreign-to-me establishment? Some of my fellow travelers fancy themselves quite the whiskey aficionados, & they were enthusiastic about adding new whiskeys to their love lists. I was just (mostly) enthusiastic about the prospect of trying to become a person who doesn't hate whiskey.

We set up a private tasting in which our Whisky Attic host, J.D., taught us a brief history of whiskey & how to employ the Carmer Spirits Tasting Enhancement Method (C:STEM), a whiskey-tasting method developed by the bar's owner. After our backgrounder, J.D. asked each of us a few questions about our personal preferences - what whiskey we already drank, how spicy we liked our foods, whether we liked the flavors of chocolate, caramel, & butterscotch - & then he created individual tastings for each of us based on our responses.

Prior to this, I'd tried whiskey only a handful of times - whiskey sours at a cousin's bat mitzvah, a 7 and 7 here & there, a tiny sip of a friend's peaty whiskey that made me feel like I was going to die because I hated it so much. It should go without saying, then, that I didn't have high hopes about my tasting.

But as it turns out, those Whisky Attic folks are pretty damn good at their jobs. Of the five whiskeys J.D. chose for me, I only hated one - & to my surprise, I found that I actually liked the rest! In fact, I liked them enough that I made note of the four good ones, & the next week, I went to my favorite D.C. liquor store (yes, I have one of those) (it's 1 West Dupont Circle Wine And Liquor, & I call it "The Magic Liquor Store"), & I bought my first bottle of whiskey. It was a moment of pride, lemme tell ya, for everyone except my wallet. Ouch.

This week, I finished my first bottle of whiskey, too - & then today, I attended the DC Funk Parade, where I drank only PBR. Hey, I'm a girl who knows what I like - but it's nice to know I can be a little bit more high-brow if I so choose. Bottoms up!

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