Caffeinate Me, Cleveland!

Monday, September 28, 2015

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I'm a longtime fan of Starbucks. I know, I know, a lot of folks have a lot of disdain for the corporate caffeine monster, but I've just never been one of them. I understand their complaints - expensive, overly corporate, not as high-quality as they claim to be, etc. etc. - but you can't help who you love.

Unfortunately, my new neighborhood is a Starbucks desert. (There are a couple nearby downtown, but parking is too big a burden to bother.) Many a hipster Clevelander has raised their nose to me & declared that the dearth of Starbucks in our fair city is because the 216 is above having a big-name coffee shop on every corner, "like in some cities." They remind me that local coffee shops abound, & that I would be a better citizen of the CLE if I would give my patronage to them instead of to The Man.

So I do, albeit somewhat grudgingly. As I said, I like Starbucks. It tastes the same in every state, & I'm a big fan of getting a free drink after every dozen. Without a good nearby location, though, I've begun exploring indie alternatives to my favorite caffeine source. Here are my local likes so far.

The Root

15118 Detroit Ave., Lakewood
The Root was my first Cleveland-area coffee love, & it's still my favorite. It's just down the street from my boyfriend's house, which is, alas, a bit of a schlep for me now, but it's worth the 15-minute drive to get to this sweet little cafe with hippie vibes & delicious vegetarian food. Their beet pizza - yes, beet pizza! - has my heart, & because I can stay there unobtrusively for hours and order lunch, it's an easy place to spend an entire day.


2366 W 11th St., Cleveland
This coffee shop next door - like, 20 steps away from my place - is perfect for a quick caffeine fix when I'm working from home. At first, I felt like it was a less-than-ideal spot for camping out because although the prices are low, it just doesn't seem like a place you're supposed to stay for very long. I once heard a crotchety barista lamenting that "All our generation knows how to do is stare at a computer!" - which was not exactly welcoming of a millennial staring at a computer 12 feet away. Now, though, I'm on good terms with all the baristas & stay for hours, regardless of whether they want me to or not. Civilization, I love you.


2180 W 11th St., Cleveland
This place doubles as a record store & a ticket vendor for shows at the Grog Shop, & I like it a lot - but I just don't think I'm quite cool enough for it. Somehow, whenever I walk through the doors of this hipster haven, all I can think is, "Oh, God, have I ever been cool?" And then I feel convinced that the answer is no. It's the second-closest coffee shop to my house, though, & they have amazing lighting, so when the weather is nice & the sun is out, I choose Loop over Civilization so that I feel like not-a-hobbit.

Phoenix Coffee

3000 Bridge Ave., Cleveland
I've never tried the downtown location (again, parking) but the Ohio City location is a gem. It has a seriously trendy vibe but somehow also manages to be cozy & welcoming, which is probably due in large part to its uber-friendly baristas. It's great for people-watching and for dog-watching, since it allows canine companions to accompany their caffeine-seeking owners inside, & even though the space is small, the staff doesn't seem to mind - & in fact seems to welcome - laptop-toting millennials like me.

What does it take for you to count a coffee shop among your favorites? And if you're a Clevelander, I'd love to hear which local cafes (or accessible Starbucks locales!) get your vote.
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Another Day, Another Corporate Complaint to a Store I Used to Like

Friday, September 25, 2015

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 I've already told you that I make special requests at the grocery store & call businesses to tell them when their street signs are misspelled & that I aspire to dress like a crazy old person before I am crazy & old (or at least old, because this post may prove to you that I'm already slightly crazy).

It should come as no surprise, then, that when I get riled up about something, even something very minor, I am occasionally the type to contact corporate offices to lodge formal complaints. I try to be polite in doing so, but, well... I do so. I know most people don't - they take to social media to complain, or they whine to their friends, or their stew silently - but I figure that if I'm mad at a brand, I ought to tell 'em so.

That's how I ended up emailing Francesca's while on my vacation last week, a letter I am both proud & embarrassed to share with you here.

And look, I know: The story you're about to read tells of a total first-world problem, which is to say that it's not actually a problem at all. I know that. Please trust that I care about a great many actual issues & regularly write to my elected officials about them. But does that mean I can't also give a shit about sweater swindling? I think not.

Hi, Francesca's folks,

I purchased a wrap made of sweater material in-store at your Hilton Head Island, S.C., boutique on 9/15. The item, not available online, is described on its store tag as "Tribal Pattern Ruana." In store, it was displayed next to a sign that said "sweater wraps" were 30% off, with fine print saying the sale excluded ponchos, shawls, & a few other select styles.

When the Francesca's employee checked me out, my item did not ring up with a discount. When I asked why, she told me my item did not qualify as a "sweater wrap," but when I asked what would qualify - & asked her to specifically show me which products fit the bill - she was unable to do so. Her colleague was similarly unable to pinpoint was a "sweater wrap" was. It seems that nothing, then, counts as a sweater wrap at Francesca's - & therefore nothing is eligible for this sale price.

When I returned home, I noticed that the tag on my item said, "A MUST-HAVE WRAP!" It's made of sweater-material, it's self-described as a wrap... surely it should\ qualified for the sweater wrap sale, right? I went back the next day (9/16) to clarify. During this visit, another Francesca's employee told me that, despite my item *seeming* to be a sweater wrap - & saying "wrap" on the label - it did not qualify for said sale because it didn't have sleeves. Apparently sleeves are what makes an item a "sweater wrap" & not just a shawl, which is how she described my item (despite the label saying otherwise). She offered to return my item, if I was dissatisfied with the price; I chose to keep it because, well, I like it - I just can't, for the life of me, figure out why a sweater wrap doesn't qualify for a sweater wrap sale.

While I see on your site that all the items similar to the one I purchased do not qualify for this sale - because indeed, they don't have sleeves - I have to say: This sale seems to be dishonest bordering on scammy. Aside from the final employee, no one I spoke to seemed to have any idea what actually qualified as a "sweater wrap," a vague term seemingly invented by Francesca's for the sake of confusing customers into thinking their purchase is eligible for a discount... & then buying it anyway. The sale terms are much clearer on your website, which simply says that all sweaters are on sale, but this was not the case of the wording on the in-store signage.

Though I very much expect not to hear from your customer service team (just as my tweet to your corporate account went unanswered), I couldn't help but take the time to tell you how negatively this whole situation has impacted my view of the Francesca's brand. I kept my full-price sweater wrap because I like it, but frankly, if I can help myself shopping there in the future, I will certainly take my business elsewhere.

Thanks for your time,
I confess that halfway through writing this letter, I thought about how amused you guys might be to read it - because it is just such a ridiculous thing to write - & so I started to really play it up for the fine folks at Francesca's. The part about this experience souring me on them a bit, however, is not at all a dramatization.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some crocheting to do & some kids to shoo off my lawn.
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How a Podcast Creator Inspired a Podcast-Hater to Recognize Her Inner Storyteller

Friday, September 11, 2015

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"No pressure: Who listens to podcasts, anyway?!"

Those were the words of NPR's Sarah Koenig, whose name may ring familiar - & whose speaking voice certainly will - if you've ever listened to the podcast Serial. As the first podcast to go viral, Serial has been downloaded by more than 99 million people in every country around the word except for North Korea & Eritrea. Its success is even more incredible, considering its creators' doubtfulness that they'd ever reach the  300,000 listener mark.

As far as who listens to podcasts, well... not me, really. Try as I might, Serial is the first & only podcast I've ever liked. But 99 million people can't be wrong.

When a friend asked if I'd be interested in seeing Koenig & Serial co-creator Julie Snyder speak at Case Western Reserve University on Wednesday, I couldn't have been more excited. As an unabashed true crime fanatic, I was positively thrilled by the prospect of hearing all the behind-the-scenes, cutting-room-floor details about the Adnan Syed case.

Except that's not what it was about at all.

Sarah & Julie (can I call them that? I feel like we're friends now) discussed the case, of course, but their talk wasn't really about Adnan or Hae or Jay or the streaking Mr. S. No, their talk was, at its core, about authentic story-telling - finding the hook, teasing out the most interesting bits, bringing the audience in. It was about two radio nerds who sometimes have bad ideas like the rest of us (they told us about the failed podcast they tried to make happen prior to Serial) & who worked really hard to do something new & different with a project in which they saw serious potential.

They talked about the intense, grueling investigatory journalism that went into gathering all of the proper pieces of this one big story. They talked about how Sarah had to become a character herself in order for her to connect with the people she interviewed, & for listeners to connect with her. They talked about how they navigated the murky moral implications of turning a real-life murder into news entertainment. They talked about how it felt to be on the receiving end of both enthusiastic obsession & heated criticism.

And through it all, they were real. They were normal. They were me, just... you know, super-successful & working for NPR. They were humble & relatable & funny, & listening to them explain how they created Serial - & what it meant to them, personally - reminded me of why I wanted to be a journalist all those years ago.

Like every high school senior of the class of 2002, I wrote my college acceptance essay about September 11th. Specifically, I wrote about how I thought I'd wanted to major in journalism but wasn't sure until that night, when I watched as reporter Ashleigh Banfield, still shouting news reports into her microphone, ran down a narrow alley as a building adjacent to the Twin Towers fell into a pile of dust & smoke & rubble on live TV.

I went to journalism school, but today, I am not a journalist. I never was, really. I worked for my (award-winning!) college newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater, & I like to think I was pretty good at it - but I wasn't really made to be a reporter. As a junior, I had a stress-related breakdown & abruptly quit my position as administration reporter, the staffer who interviewed the university president & other such difficult characters. Reporting hard news gave me hella anxiety before I even knew that anxiety was even a real thing, & I knew I didn't want to do it professionally.

I still thought I'd become a journalist, though - a features reporter, maybe, or, on the days when I dreamed big, a magazine editor. Even if I wasn't cut out for breaking news, I was still made to write. It's the only thing I've ever been good at, & it's the only thing I truly, madly, deeply love. (Except for tacos. I truly, madly, deeply love tacos.)

Some days, I get down on myself about where I ended up - or, more specifically, where I didn't end up. I'm a social media manager at a nonprofit, & although I love my job, I am decidedly not a journalist. I am not what I was supposed to be, what I promised myself on September 11, 2001, that I was going to become. The only thing I've ever really wanted to be when I grow up, even now.

But these two wildly successful NPR personalities pointed out that they never really set out to become wildly successful NPR personalities. They set out to be storytellers, because they've always been storytellers, & they happened to tap into a medium & a method that worked out really, really well.

Maybe I'm never going to be Sarah Koenig or Ashleigh Banfield. Maybe I'm never going to be a journalist or even a "real" writer. But like them, I have always been, at the very least, a storyteller, & listening to Wednesday night's talk reminded me that there are a thousand ways to tell a story well, so long as you're committed to telling it at all. And I am.

So thank you - yes, you! - for being here, for reading my stories, for making me feel like a real writer even on the days when I am, in fact, "just" a storyteller with a navel-gazing blog instead of a front-page byline or my name on a masthead. Thank you for believing in the power of my words, even when they're not changing the world. And thank you, Sarah Koenig & Julie Snyder, for reminding me that maybe they still can.
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Why I Got a Little Choked Up at a One Direction Concert, Despite the Fact That I'm Toooootally an Adult

Thursday, September 10, 2015

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The first concert I ever saw with friends was the Backstreet Boys, way back in sixth or seventh grade. Cleveland's outdoor music venue, Blossom, is in my hometown, & a friend's mom scored tickets for a group of us to sit in the pavilion area, which felt very cool & VIP; most people sit on the lawn at Blossom, but we had real seats. We painted a huge banner that read "JUST CALL US THE FRONTSTREET GIRLS," which is, now that I think of it, either very witty for 12-year-olds or totally nonsensical.

Way back in the fall of 2014 - I don't even think I lived back in Ohio yet - I made a Twitter deal with friends to attend a One Direction concert in Cleveland this summer. At the time, the concert date was so far away that it almost didn't feel real, & it just seemed like a funny thing to do. "Yeah, yeah, I'm totally gonna go see a boy band in the super-distant future when I'm 31, haha!"

And then the concert day arrived: totally going to see a boy band at age 31.

Sure, I was initially a little embarrassed - most attendees our age were escorting squealing, excitable tweens - but you know what? It was also damn fun. We got slightly drunk, sang at the top of our lungs, swooned for celebrity men far too young for us, used our iPhones as "lighters," & laughed at all the ridiculous but creative signage we spotted throughout the crowd. Here, a sampling of my favorites:
  • "Blow me a kiss"
  • "Just turned 21!"
  • "Bachelorette checklist: Take a shot with 1d"
  • "Can I touch your buns, Harry?"
  • "Please adopt me."
  • "Bless us, Father Harry"
  • "It's cool, I'm 25!"

For me, what made the concert unexpectedly special was not (just) the fact that Liam Payne has a really lovely face. No, what made it special for me was looking at the crowd, full of thousands of those squealing, excitable tweens, & knowing that, for many of them, it was their very first concert. It was the concert they would remember - in the way you vaguely but nostalgically recall things that happened when you were 11 - for the rest of their lives. It was the concert they would name 20 years down the road when asked which musical act they first saw live & in the flesh.

It reminded me of being 12, in that Blossom pavilion on a hot summer night, wearing a shirt with Brian Littrell's face on it in a totally unironic way, & screaming at the top of my 12-year-old lungs with my very best friends. It reminded me of being unabashedly obsessed before that kind of obsession became slightly embarrassing & moderately creepy. It reminded me what it felt like to be free & happy & young & excited about life & certain that if I dropped a letter off at the Sheraton where they were staying, my favorite boy band would almost certainly reach out to invite me onto the stage with them.

It reminded me that I might be an adult now, but I wasn't always - & we are never too old to enjoy feeling like we aren't.
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How to Wash a Pee-Soaked Cat In Your Bathtub & Laugh Harder Than Ever Before

Monday, September 7, 2015

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Like crazy people, Mike & I thought it would be fun - fun! - to take my cat, Helo, to my mom's house so that he could meet her dogs, Jed & Chyna. Actually, it was sort of fun, although Helo was mostly confined to the guest bedroom because Jed was dead set on eating him. I did take Chyna, the nicer of the two dogs, in to visit him a couple times, & they became fast friends - or at least OK acquaintances. Nothing is cuter than watching a cautious cat & an excitable dog play a nervous game of hide & seek.

Helo does pretty well in his carrier, & he doesn't seem to mind riding in the car. On the drive to my mom's house, in fact, we let him out so he could explore a bit, & he propped his paws on the back window so he could watch the world go by.

On the way back to Cleveland, though, Helo seemed uncharacteristically agitated. He was meowing at the top of his tiny cat lungs, trying to force the carrier open with his claws & his head, smashing his face against the clear plastic lid. We laughed it off, thinking he was just exerting some newfound confidence after having faced down a dog & survived.

Except then he went quiet, & I realized that he had been trying to get out of the carrier... because he had to pee. And when he couldn't get out, he peed in his carrier. And all over himself.

So, uh, how do you wash a pee-soaked cat???

After much laughing & a little bit of panicking, I decided to leave Helo in the carrier & just put the whole thing in the bathtub. My handheld showerhead, which is super-annoying when I'm trying to shower, served as my blessed weapon of choice in this war.

I turned on the water & directed the spray right into the cat carrier, & though I fully expected the cat inside to lose his mind, he didn't so much as meow. I think he wanted the shame washed off of himself just as badly as I wanted the smell of urine washed off of him.

After a minute or so of hosing him down, I opened the carrier to find the saddest sight I've seen in a long while: a sopping wet medium-haired cat, peering up at me with his eyes wide & his fur heavy against his body, looking demeaned & ashamed & sad as hell. I tried to catch him in a towel to dry him off, but he was too fast for me; he shot out of the bathtub like a bat out of hell, sloshing water all across my hardwood floors as he ran.

We caught up with him in the living room, where he stood dripping wet & more than a little undignified. When I caught him, his body seemed to sag against me, defeated, & he let me wrap him in a towel like a human child.

Did I mention that I had stripped down to my skivvies in order to try to give my cat a bath, lest he attempt to destroy everything around him upon making contact with the water? So just imagine the scene: Me, half-naked & laughing hysterically. My cat, sopping wet & totally pathetic. My apartment, covered in wet paw-prints. And my boyfriend, filming the whole thing.

Needless to say, I haven't laughed that hard in a long time.
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My Hometown is Suddenly Full of Cool Outdoor Art Installations

Friday, September 4, 2015

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I wouldn't necessarily call my hometown "full of culture." It's a nice place, & I love it, but as an example, every festival held on the downtown riverfront, from Italian Fest to Irish Fest to Oktoberfest, features a bevy of carnival foods from corndogs to funnel cakes, without much distinction between them.

I was surprised, then, when I was having lunch with my mom earlier this summer & noticed that a large-scale reproduction of a painting was being installed on the brick wall of the bar across the street. My mom mentioned that a large piece of art had gone up outside the local library, too, as part of Inside|Out, described as "a community-activated art project that brings high quality art reproductions from the Akron Art Museum's collection into your neighborhood."

Cool, right? It's like an art scavenger hunt all around town!And so I set about trying to find all of the 10 art installations around the city of Cuyahoga Falls.

There was, of course, the one we watched go up...

...& this sort-of-macabre one at the local library.

There was this industrial-looking one in the park across the street from my middle school...

...& this brightly colored one at the community center that hosted a lot of awkward dances for students of the three area middle schools when I was growing up.

There was this wintry one right downtown, on the wall of one of my favorite brunch spots...

...& this very serene one sandwiched between the police station & the gym where I worked in college.

There was this one, another pretty little winter scene, in a lovely little park I didn't even know existed...

...& this wacky, eyeball-filled one in another lovely park I didn't even know existed.

In all, I only had time to find eight of the 10 before by big move up to Cleveland, but it was such a fun way to explore my hometown before I left. I hope that other residents are enjoying it as much as I did, teaching their kids that you can eat a gyro at the Irish Fest but still hold a deep appreciation for the finer things in life.

Thanks, Akron Art Museum, for making my hometown a little bit artsier this summer!
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8 Terrible Things About My New Apartment

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

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I've lived in my Cleveland apartment for just over a month now, & it hasn't been difficult to come up with a litany of things that I can't help but loathe about my new space. After reading the start of this ever-growing list, I'm sure you'll agree that life in the 'Land is simply terrible for me at this time. I deeply appreciate your sympathies.

Shall I list all these apartment atrocities? Let's go:
  1. I live just blocks away from the heart of one of Cleveland's best neighborhoods. I'm within walking distance of "downtown" Tremont, a great little area full of delicious restaurants (think Michael Symon!), quirky bars, charming boutiques, & a delicious ice cream shop. How am I supposed to save my pennies when there are so many excellent local businesses deserving of my patronage? 
  1. There's a huge park across the street. Lincoln Park has a playground, a small swimming pool, a gazebo, & tons of green space, which makes it a natural location for outdoor festivals like Taste of Tremont, Cleveland Scene's Ale Fest, & a weekly farmers' market. How will I maintain my indoor-kid street cred if I'm always tempted to go outside?
  1. I have two enormous bay windows. My apartment is flooded with natural light, such that I don't need to turn on any lights until the sun is almost all the way down. How am I supposed to help out my local electric company if I hardly ever need to use my electricity?
  1. My kitchen is massive. The size of this kitchen rivals the size of my entire D.C. apartment, with plenty of counter space & gorgeous glass cupboards that run all the way up to the ceiling. How am I supposed to continue to insist that "I don't cook" when this apartment makes me want to try to become a Top Chef? 
  1. I have my own parking spot. For reasons unknown, I am the only tenant in my building who has one of these; everyone else parks on the street, battling the crowd during events &, presumably, snowplows during the winter. How am I supposed to sustain my perpetual car-related anxiety when I have my own reliable, cozy little spot to keep it in?
  1. All my neighbors are really friendly - all the ones I've met, anyway, which is most of them. How am I supposed to cultivate my notoriously hermit-like ways when my very friendly neighbors are always stopping me to chat & to offer help as I unload things from my car or carry heavy things up the stairs?
  1. No one lives below me or next door to me. The apartment downstairs is a commercial space that is used very rarely, & there are no units on either side of me - just one to the back, with whom I share only a bathroom wall. How am I supposed to bother aforementioned friendly neighbors with my loud Taylor Swift tunes & top-volume Harry Potter viewings if there's no one around to bother?
  1. My landlord is lovely. You may recall that I once said she reminded me of "a hybrid of my mother & an older version of myself." So, uh, what's not to like?! But really, she's excellent. How am I supposed to amass ridiculous stories about apartment living when I'm stuck with a totally normal, nice landlord?
OK, OK, this is all obviously tongue in cheek. This apartment makes me really happy - particularly #3, the fact that it's sunny & bright at all times. For once, I actually love working from home, & I have this apartment to thank. Did I mention that there are two great local coffee shops within .2 miles? Be still, my iced coffee-loving heart.

Of course, it's not all sunshine (literally) & roses (figuratively, as I have no yard). There are, as with any apartment, plenty of things I actually don't love: Wood floors are a bitch to keep clean, I have a handheld showerhead that makes bathing a real chore, access to the bathroom is through my bedroom, my oven didn't get a proper cleaning before the last tenant moved out (gross), my neighbors to the back seem to throw a lot of parties, I don't have air conditioning, & my bedroom window faces a well-trafficked route to school for a bunch of very loud kids...

But all of those are manageable, especially when I think about the fact that I finally live here now. If I look to my right when I'm crossing the street on my 20-step walk to the closest coffee shop, I can see the small but beautiful Cleveland skyline right there, Terminal Tower framed on either side by my artsy little neighborhood. I swoon every time.

On January 1, 2015, I posted this Facebook status: "I only have one resolution for 2015: Become a Clevelander." I did it, & I love it, & I have no intentions of leaving any time soon. Home, I've finally found you.
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