Sunday, January 31, 2010

Before There Were Cars, Did Portlanders Walk?

I’ve been in Portland one full week, and I’ve taken detailed notes – on lots of stuff. When I experience something that I’m pretty sure I’d never encounter in San Francisco, I jot it down.

In Oregon, I’ve noticed...

1. The air suggests pine trees and burning wood. It smells like a perpetual campfire around here.
2. It rains. A lot.
3. The speed limit on the freeways is a miserable fifty-five miles per hour. And Oregonians don’t dare go fifty-six.
4. But they also don’t honk or raise their middle fingers when I make a minor behind-the-wheel mistake such as turning the wrong way on a one-way street and then reversing until I reach an alley, until I can shut off my car and cry for a bit. So that's a plus.

In San Francisco...

1. The breeze smells like sewage, mostly.
2. The sun glistens year-round. And the fog shows up like clockwork each evening.
3. Fifty-year-old hobos trot down the hilly streets wearing lacy, see-through tops with nothing underneath. Others fly through the Financial District on hot-pink roller skates with golf clubs in each hand, which act as walking (or skating?) sticks.
4. People take cabs; they don’t drive.

Really, what I’m trying to write about is the cab-versus-car thing. (That was a lot of build-up for a minute of bleading about transportation, wasn’t it?) I want you to know that I’m stumped on the subject. I can’t help but wonder, if Portland is supposed to be the greenest city in the country, why do so many folks drive? I haven’t been here long, but in San Francisco it appears buses and street cars and BART trains and taxis are much more rampant than they are in Portland. True?

Another thing: It seems no one walks – anywhere. I’ll admit the sample population from which I draw this conclusion does not include downtown executives who live just blocks from their offices, and it definitely doesn't include tree-huggers in tie-dyed tees who’ll bike miles in the rain; my sample population is made up mostly of twenty-four-year-old sorority graduates in peep-toe pumps and dresses who whine about walking a half-mile to the next bar after a lavish dinner, because they’d rather show up in wheels.

The one time I suggest walking through Portland instead of driving? I hear crickets – and then gasps of panic. But trekking a measly half-mile in Portland is like moseying from San Francisco’s Ferry Building to the Bank of America Building, which is a snap, even in three-inch heels. Jenn’s the only one in the bunch who gets it. She responds with, “Sure, Megs!” But it's only because she lives in San Francisco.

Next, I suggest hopping in a couple of cabs. (Because why give ourselves headaches and drive?) (In my mind, time is money, and I don’t enjoy wasting precious minutes designating a driver and racking my brain trying to figure out ways to park on the street that doesn’t involve having to parallel.) After another round of horrified looks, I pull out my BlackBerry and pretend to answer a text and then study an email from U.S. Student Loan Services. I wish the earth would swallow me up.

For next time, though, I’ll know that some Portlanders still prefer driving to walking. (And driving to taking cabs.) (And driving to utilizing public transportation.) Perhaps in the next few weeks, though, I’ll have a different take on the subject.

Until then? I’ll be in my Jeep.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bridge Town

After spending four days in the City of Roses – or, well, in a suburb of the City of Roses – I decided it was time to change the name of this blog. Conveniently, I don’t have a job, so I was able to spend a good portion of the day thinking up a way to merge the concepts of San Francisco, Portland, and, of course, me. I threw out my first batch of ideas, which included but was not limited to San FranPortland, Foggy Roses, and The Girl Who Thought She Was Too Cool for Everybody’s Favorite City.

Thus, I came up with A Tale of One Girl and Two Cities.

(Genius!) (Granted, it’s kind of dull – and reminiscent of a Charles Dickens classic – but mostly genius!)

After the epic title change, it seemed only appropriate to slant the description of this blog, too. Originally, I was all about publishing 365 entries in 365 days. And we all know how that turned out. (Never again will I promise to do something every day for an entire year. It only leads to failure – and friends who go off the deep end.)

Anyway, here’s what I came up with:

I’m always up for putting a new bar, restaurant, park, or designer boutique to the test, especially when in the City by the Bay or the City of Roses. And, like thousands of other writers who haven’t yet become rich and famous, The Julie/Julia Project has inspired me to blog about it. So here I am, broadcasting my sometimes absurd, occasionally romantic, and often disastrous experiences in San Francisco and Portland. It’s a familiar yet bizarre tale of one girl, in two cities, living two extraordinarily different lives...

(Again, genius!)

So now my blog is updated, my suitcases are unpacked, and all that’s left to do is shuffle around the house in my bathrobe and slippers and ask myself, What the hell do I do now?

Lucky for you, my schedule is wide open. Which means I have time to do things like travel the city and learn the ropes and report back. The other night, for example, I decided it'd be productive to drive over four of Portland’s bridges while memorizing their names, colors, and locations. And when I got home, I whipped open my “Best Places Portland” book to bone up on these fun facts:

The Steel Bridge is the only verticle-lift bridge in the world with twin decks capable of movement. It's Portland's shortest bridge – only 211 feet long!

Until 1988, the neon "Made in Oregon" sign near the Burnside Bridge advertised Stag Sportswear. This bridge is the site for the Saturday Market.

The Morrison Bridge opened in 1958 to replace Portland's first river bridge, an 1887 toll bridge that charged 15 cents for a horse, buggy and driver. (What a deal!)

The Hawthorne Bridge predates the Steel Bridge as the world's oldest verticle-lift bridge still in full operation. It opened in 1945.

Yeah. I need a job.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hello, Portland!

If your name is Jennifer Combs, Maijken Gillihan, or John McCloskey, I owe you an apology. I haven’t blogged in days, and yes, I realize this goes against everything I promised myself when I began this experiment. I’m also aware that it’s January 27th — and that this is only my tenth post of the month. Oh, and yes, I’m getting your emails and text messages on the subject...

Post! I’m having withdrawals!

If you don’t start writing, I’m going to stop checking your website.

So, have you given up blogging?

You’re my closest friends and family members, so you know exactly what went down this past month. If you were me, wouldn’t you take a break from the blogosphere, too? Wouldn’t you take a break from sharing stories about your personal life with complete strangers? With cyberspace? It’s not like these narratives materialize on your computer screens by themselves, you know; they take time — energy, brain power! — to produce. Which I haven’t had much of lately. (Oh, and by the way? I love you guys.)

Anyway, the three of you know I’ve moved back to Oregon, to the Beaver State, and am living with my parents in the house I grew up in. (What’s the word for used-to-be empty-nesters with a twenty-three-year-old living at home? The twenty-three-year-old is a “boomeranger,” I believe, but what about the parents?) Soon I’ll have an amazing job and reside in a classy apartment in downtown Portland, of course, but for now I have to make do with what’s at hand. Mom and Dad are well aware of my plan, which is why they bought me a beautiful bouquet of roses — to reiterate the fact that I'm a City of Roses girl now — and a “Best Places Portland” book a few days ago. When I arrived home after an eleven-hour drive from San Francisco, the charming book rested on the vanity in my room against an eruption of red blossoms.

I tore open the package to find the “Best Places” manual. The cover read:

The Best in Eating, Going, Getting and Seeing
262 Boutiques and Specialty Stores
43 Venues to Rock Out
The 200 Best Restaurants

So I started from the beginning, with the fold-out map. (Which is essential for my survival in any city.) (Have I mentioned my north-south-east-west disorder? If not, it’s a horrible disability that causes me to: turn the wrong way at almost every intersection — as in, steer the car left when I should be steering right; not realize which way is north, south, east, or west; and incompetently give directions — from anywhere, to anywhere, including my house, school, the gym, the bank, the neighborhood grocery store, and so on. It’s a dreadful ailment known as Directional Dyslexia. In fact, sometimes my GPS navigation system can’t even help me.)

Anyway, I continued reading about the lay of the city and the general costs of living, dining, and entertainment in PDX. Then I came across this sentence:

“Prices at Portland restaurants may be above the national average, but if you’re used to eating out in San Francisco (Portland’s close big-city neighbor), dining in the City of Roses may seem like a bargain.”

As if not having to pay sales tax or pump my own gas isn’t enough to jump up and down in pure jubilation, now I learn that dining is cheaper than in San Francisco, too! (I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: This is not at all shocking. But it’s fun to hear, especially when you’re broke and jobless and expected to write about stuff — like restaurants. I’ve learned that you can’t really write about restaurant experiences unless you actually visit — and experience — them.)

So Jenn, Maijken and Dad? This means more meals out for me, and more blogs for you.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

White People Love Grammar

This morning, a friend sent me a little treat from his daily calendar, "Stuff White People Like." It’s written from the perspective of a non-white person, giving advice to other non-white people on how to make friends with white people. Today’s tidbit discusses grammar.

I fell over laughing when I read it. Mind you, I’m the most grammar-nerdy girl you’ll ever meet. And by grammar-nerdy I mean obsessive compulsive. If you know me, you’re aware that this form of OCD is well beyond the point of quirky or semi-attractive – you know it flirts with insanity. (In fact, there were three spelling mistakes and a few punctuation errors in the tidbit about grammar. So I took the liberty of fixing them for you.)

I realize each of my devoted bleaders can probably identify specific posts in which I’ve made horrible spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence-structure, and word-usage errors. But please forgive me, because sometimes I’m hurried and don’t double-check my work until later in the day, when it has been published for hours and already perused by some of you. The good news? If you’re one of these bleaders who has noticed an error or two, you’ll find the below excerpt laugh-out-loud hilarious.

* * *

White people love rules. It explains why they get so upset when people cut in line, why they tip so religiously, and why they become lawyers. But without a doubt, the rule system that white people love the most is grammar. It is in their blood not only to use perfect grammar but also to spend significant portions of time pointing out the errors of others.

When asking someone about his biggest annoyances in life, you might expect responses like hunger, being poor, or getting shot. If you ask a white person, the most common response will likely be: "People who use their when they mean there. Maybe comma splices. I'm not sure, but it's definitely one of the two."

Another important thing to note is that when white people read magazines and books they are always looking for grammar and spelling mistakes. In fact, one of the greatest joys a white person can experience is to catch a grammar mistake in a major publication.

* * *

For those of you who are still with me, have you ever noticed an error in a book? One that’s published by a reputable company such as Little, Brown and Co.? I have. And then I've struggled not to crack my own skull open.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Have Your Cake, And Eat It Too

I have just a couple of days left at work, so I'll leave nothing up to your imagination. You see, something really funny happened today, and I have to tell you about it. (Granted, when you’re in a position like I’m in, and you’re sitting at a desk and observing herds of rich people in the comfort of their own homes for eight hours a day, funny things happen all the time. But this one takes the cake.)

Despite the monsoon that’s materializing outside (and the locks of soaking hair that weld to my face as a result), the day begins like any other day: I’m pounding away at the keyboard, ignoring the jumble of papers that obscure my desk. Every so often, I look up to greet a resident with a murky “Good morning” as he enters the lounge to fill up on fancy coffee and biscotti or tea and honey. When he leaves, I’m compelled check the coffee bar and take inventory of the mess he has made.

A cute, stainless steel mini-trash can sits beautifully on the counter; however, I’ve come to the conclusion that it must not look like a trash can, because people refuse to use it. Instead they toss their Stash tea and Splenda wrappers on the silver platter that holds a milk carafe, a neat stack of to-go cups and lids, and a dainty bowl filled with sugar cubes. Splenda and hot-chocolate powder is sprinkled across the counter along with a mound of used stir-straws (which also fit nicely in the garbage can, if one opts to use it). Biscotti crumbs coat the shiny hardwood floors.

Seeing as I’m the only one around to do anything about this, I do something about it. I snatch a rag from behind the bar and drop to my hands and knees, careful not to run my nylons or tear my skirt or roll an ankle. I’m wearing sky-high pumps, which I’ve learned is no excuse for ignoring a pile of crumbs or garbage in a building like Luxury Condo. (In the past, when I’ve reported messes such as this one, I’ve been told, “Go get the Windex and do it yourself.”)

The good news is that not many people can say their daily duties dip into a multitude of professions. But I can. After ten months at Luxury Condo, I’ve gained valuable experience that has prepared me for each of the following trades:

1. Manager – of anything
Because let’s face it, I’m in charge.

2. Babysitter
Not only do I dress as an elf and decorate cookies with five-year-olds at our Christmas parties, but also I play peek-a-boo regularly – with more than one kid. And I'm pretty good at it.

3. Concierge
Need dinner reservations at a swanky new bistro? Unfortunately, I’m the gal you want to make friends with.

4. Janitor
See “get on hands and knees to clean cookie crumbs” above.

5. Event coordinator
Before I realize the resident handbook clearly states “No More Than Twenty-Five Guests Allowed on the Club Level,” I okay an eighty-person shebang – complete with unlimited booze and a DJ – on our outdoor terrace. Security is an issue, and my job is up for discussion the next day, but the party-goers have a ball.

6. Counselor
Coping with grief? Marital Problems? Parental challenges? I’m a happy, single, twenty-three-year-old girl with no kids, but by all means feel free to share your story with me and have a good cry. My demographic and temperament hasn’t stopped anyone at Luxury Condo from doing so.

Anyway, like I said, today is a normal day. Which means I’m writing emails and rolling my eyes when no one’s looking. (At this point, I suppose I’m wearing my Manager cap.) An older woman, a nanny, strolls toward my desk with a one-year-old boy and stops in front of it. I glance up without moving my head from its downward, ultra-focused-on-the-keyboard position. My pointer fingers continue to fly across the keys.

“What can I help you with?” I say sweetly, carrying on with my typing.

“Eh, um,” the lady stammers. She looks about seventy years old and speaks with a muffled accent. “Do you have any cake?”

“Any what?”

“Cake? Where do I get the cake?” she repeats.

“Did you say tea?” I ask, mystified. Her words are difficult to understand. I think she said tea, but I don’t know if it’s only because I don’t want to believe that she just asked me for cake. I’m positioned at a well-built, ritzy desk – which is covered in papers, yes, but ritzy nonetheless – with not so much as a food item in sight. (Hell, even the decorative apples on the table across from me are – decorative.) There’s a coffee (and tea) bar around the corner, but no cake…

“I said cake. CAKE!”

Now she’s yelling. But before I can get mad at this woman for asking – no, demanding – something so ridiculous, I laugh at the thought of storing a cake under my desk, at my feet, for occasions like this. What did she think? That I’d whip a chocolate mousse out from one of my desk drawers?

I tell her I’m sorry, but we do not have any cake available at this time. The woman is very upset – and storms off.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I'll Miss You, San Francisco

My mind screams, Stay in San Francisco! Make lots of money and go shopping whenever you want! Live in a suave flat! Be fabulous! But my heart, simple and subtle, says go to Portland.

Following my heart is how I got to San Francisco in the first place, remember? I packed my bags and left home within two days of deciding to move – and I didn’t have a job or apartment lined up then, either. I ended up making great friends, finding an incredible company to work for, and living it up in a city that I called home for two years. I’m confident I’ll do the same in The Great Northwest.

I'll miss you, San Francisco, but I'll be sure to write, call and visit. And as for you, Oregon? I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Sea Lions are Gone!

And they’ve moved to – drum roll, please – Oregon! Word on the street is that there are some pretty awesome sea lion caves in the Beaver State. But I still wonder why this town’s greatest attraction has left our beautiful City by the Bay for a northwestern region, where it rains more than it shines.

Did the creatures run off to find food? Friends? Work? Family? What about love? Because they certainly didn’t depart in search of better weather. In San Fran, you can pretty much guarantee any day of the year will be 65 and sunny. If truth be told? I’ve done away with all my umbrellas and winter coats. (And sundresses and tank tops.) (Not that that’s a good thing.)

When I first hear about the sea lions’ vanishing act – about the mammals disappearing from Pier 39, where they’ve lived for twenty years – I’m in Portland for a long weekend, staying in my old house, in my old room. After a year and a half in San Francisco, I’m weighing the pros and cons of moving to the northwest, following the sea lions. (Pros? No sales tax, and there are people to pump my gas. Cons? Rain, cold, and unemployment.)

Eyes bulging, Mom looks up from the sea lion article she’s been reading for the past ten minutes. In her pink bathrobe, she curls into a ball, coffee in one hand and glasses in the other. Her red hair is wild from sleep but self-possessed.

From across the living room she looks at me and then sets her steaming-hot coffee mug (which reads “World’s Best Mom”) onto the mantle, near the fireplace. Assuming she’ll say something Mom-ish (“Why don’t you take a bubble bath and then come to lunch and go shopping with me? That’s just what you need!”), I give her my undivided attention. After all, this weekend is devoted to thinking, and listening. My plan is to think about what I want to do with my life – move to Oregon or stay in San Francisco – and have all the answers by Sunday, when it’s time to leave for the airport. (Hey, I never said it was a good plan.) This weekend is so much about thinking, in fact, that when Dad leaves the house for work, instead of telling me to have a nice day, he shouts, “Have a nice think!”

Comically, in her most newscaster-ish, Katie-Couric-ish tone, Mom declares: “Meghan McCloskey and the sea lions have migrated from the great and powerful Bay Area all the way to the depths of Oregon. Will it be permanent? Nobody knows. Where they’ll go and for how long is a mystery to all of us...”

She continues like this until we're laughing so hard that no sound comes out.

Later that afternoon, I can’t help but wonder: If the sea lions could make the journey so abruptly, by following their hearts and listening to their guts, why can't I? (Besides the fact that they don't have to worry about jobs and housing and stuff.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

UPS Sticker = My Cheap Thrill

Receiving packages in the mail might be on my list of Top Five Favorite Things Ever. There’s nothing like tearing open a cardboard box without knowing what’s inside, my mind racing with images of clothing and artwork and concert tickets and home goods. What could it be? The sensation of uncertainty and excitement that comes in the form of a UPS sticker is better than a warm cup of jo on a cool day, better than a blind date that doesn’t end in disaster – better than retail therapy.

And yesterday? When I arrived home? Not one but two – two! – brown packages were waiting for me. They rested against my metal mailbox that sits in the center of a whole row of mailboxes, which I never want to open because it screams bills! junk! jury duty!. (You know how they say big things come in small packages? Well, the only big things I’ve ever received in small packages are bills – for my Jeep, my credit cards, and my highway-robbery college education. And those don’t count. So I stick with the more appropriate saying, Big things come in gigantic packages.)

I (read: Darren) towed my one gigantic package and one medium-sized box back to the condo, where I made a mess by dumping the little Styrofoam nuggets (what are those things called?) across the concrete floor. My arms grew weak while shredding the outer tape and burrowing through the white and aqua-colored nuggets, hunting for my prize.

What could it be? WHAT COULD IT BE, DAMNIT?!

I became anxious, jumpy, my own version of the Energizer Bunny. Just a moment before, I’d been lounging on the couch in a hideous pair of sweats, contemplating whether or not I had enough strength to get up and make dinner for myself. I’d even thought to suck down some water, go to sleep, and wait to eat until my Starbucks breakfast (read: coffee) the next morning. (Yes, sometimes I’m that lazy.) But all of a sudden I was wound-up and famished.

The box was much too large to house a gift certificate; it stood taller than I did! And it was far too light to hold a piece of furniture, except for maybe a couch cushion or a set of bath towels. (But who would send those?) I tore my way through the bubble wrap and at last caught sight of a pattern of black and white stripes. Confused, I yanked the contraption from the casing and – hurrah! – found my answer.

My uncle had sent me a keyboard – a musical one, not one for my computer – from North Carolina. He now owns a newer, nicer keyboard, but he has been talking about sending me this thing for months, maybe even years. How could I have forgotten? I plugged it in and set it on my desk, on my computer-work-station-cum-music-studio. It looked brilliant.

Now I just need to learn to play.

Oh! Package number two, the smaller one, was a photo-adorned coffee mug from Christyn. Thanks, C!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cirque du Soleil at the Bay

If there’s anything that can snap me out of a funk, it’s a circus. In fact, I believe a good circus can snap anyone out of a funky mood. Case in point: Darren and I have had some rough times these past few weeks – so rough, in fact, that they’ve involved me staying on friends’ couches instead of at home with him. But he’s had tickets to Cirque du Soleil since Christmas, so a few nights ago we decided to ease the tension with a good old-fashioned clown show.

The evening begins just like any other evening: with glasses of wine and witty conversation. The only variation is that we’re far away, isolated; we don’t hug or kiss, and the few smiles we share are strained with unease. We pop open a bottle of Napa Valley’s succulent chardonnay, which has been sitting on the top shelf in our refrigerator for months, waiting for a special occasion to be glugged down. There haven’t been many special occasions lately, and we figure Cirque du Soleil is as good as it’s gonna get. I drink mine, a little too quickly, while humming nervously in the bathroom, reapplying the makeup that I’d put on before work that morning. Darren lounges downstairs, in his favorite corner of the couch.

At 7:20 p.m., we take our last swigs and plod out the door – I in my colorful heels and he in his Cole Haan’s – just like we do every night. But this time we don’t hold hands. Tenderly, we fix our eyes on each other, like people do when they’re on first dates, and then decide to walk (instead of ride the T) to the circus. His walking-instead-of-riding decision is not a normal one, so I determine that tonight must be special. The bright yellow tents are set up just a mile down the road from our Potrero Hill condo.

The whole way there, we chatter, apprehensive, about The Biggest Loser and the snow in Park City, Utah and the new apartments and hospitals that are scheduled to go up around the neighborhood. Our words are those of strangers, but our eyes, our auras, are those of best friends. We’re friends who have been separated, perhaps unwillingly, and forced back together to revisit the reasons why we became friends in the first place.

We’re having fun. By the time we get through the gates and under the big yellow tents, we’re comfortable enough to laugh together. We haven’t laughed in unison in a long time.

Soon the acrobats take center stage and begin sashaying around the arena, stirring up the audience and provoking fits of mirth. The talent is dressed in bug costumes. There’s a lady bug here, a cricket there, and they come together to walk tightropes, swing in the air by their heels (which are wrapped around only a thin piece of rope), juggle, toss one another to the sky and flip and twirl on the way down, and bounce on trampolines.

The crowd is happy, and so are we.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Marina Girls in a Marina World

The bus comes rolling to a halt on the corner of Chestnut and Laguna. Today I’m in the Marina, catching the 30X, for a reason that is much too long and agonizing to explain via blog post. (Sorry.)

On each of my shoulders is a vinyl bag stuffed with t-shirts, jeans, a hairdryer, a hair straightener, make-up, shampoo, books, and doodads to entertain myself with while I’m staying at Jenn’s (such as a battery-powered “twenty questions” game). In addition to beeping gadgets and bursting suitcases, I’m lugging an extra-large Nordstrom shopping bag, because I decided to (ignore my New Year’s resolution and) go shopping two nights ago. It didn’t dawn on me that I’d have to haul my goods around with me for the rest of my life. (Again, I can’t give details via blog post.) (Just go with it.)

There’s no doubt the plush sweaters and belts and scarves and shiny necklaces are well worth every penny, but at this point I’m not sure they’re worth carting around for a week straight. (You know how when some people have bad days, they eat? Well, when have bad days, I charge boots and bags by way of Capital One.) (If you’re wondering, I feel much better today.)

Anyway, I don’t quite blend in on the 30X, the Marina Express. After a graceless entrance involving my tripping over my bright red American Tourist suitcase and spilling the contents (read: "delicates") of my shiny silver Nordy’s bag across the dirty steps leading to the pay-fare station, the bus driver stands up to scold me for bringing too much “crap” with me. (If my situation is too unpleasant to explain via blog post, there’s no way I’m spilling it to the bus driver – and the 80 passengers crammed around me – so I burble an apology and gather my things and squeeze into a corner.)

After just a few minutes, I decide I pretty much hate everyone on the bus. I’ve never seen so many 20-something yuppies in my life, and that includes one awful night when Luxury Condo’s PR company threw a party and invited every social-climber in its urban professional circle, most of whom were still drunk or high from the night before.

As we whir through Ghirardelli Square and North Beach’s Little Italy, rows of blond heads tilt downward at BlackBerrys and iPhones. Shiny red fingernails flip piously through emails that can’t be as important as they seem. Coats are long and black and free of lint, scarves are in perfect knots around milky necks, and shiny gloss paints the lips of both the boys and the girls. They’re goody-goodies.

I’m a world away from them. Yes, my coat is long and black but it’s covered in fuzz. (Who separates their whites and darks anymore, anyway?) And yes, my fingernails are painted and shiny but in an offbeat grayish color. My bag is Longchamp, but it explodes with “crap” and isn’t perfectly fastened like the ones around me. And I’m reading a hardback – not emails. I look around, trying to spot another literate on the dense bus, and I finally notice someone with a book – a paperback, not a holy Kindle.

Thank, Gawd! Someone with a brain. I peep closer at the cover to see what the dude's reading. He’s not far into chapter one, but I don’t judge. (Hey, reading is reading.) I’m close to changing my mind about this whole crowd of three-piecers until I catch a glimpse of the book he’s perusing: “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.”

And then I pray my stop is next.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. Not serious ones, anyway. One year I told myself I’d watch all 115 episodes of The Wonder Years in a week. Another year I vowed not to eat cookies, although I made no rules against scoffing candy, chips and ice cream – unless they had cookie dough in them. Last year Alexa and I swore off fast food, even though I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ordered a burger or a carton of soggy fries from a dollar menu. (And on New Year's Day we went to breakfast at Burker King, our tails between our legs.)

Seriously? Keeping a New Year’s resolution is harder than it seems. Apart from my Kevin Arnold pledge, all of my past January oaths have involved avoiding something, keeping away from something.

The problem?

If I can’t have something, I want it even more – even if I never really wanted it in the first place. (And vice versa. I about gagged myself after gazing into Kevin's nauseating brown eyes for a week straight.)

So this year I’m keeping things positive. I won’t deprive myself of any essentials (or go overkill on any more of Hollywood's child stars).

The resolutions highest on my list are Read the Books I Bought About Writing My First Novel and of course Start Writing My First Novel. Naturally, Hit the Gym and Get Skinny are on there, too. I should also work on saving money. So Cut Back on Nordstrom is the only downbeat point on the list. Be Friendlier to Strangers didn’t make the cut (as much as I wanted it to, damnit), as it’s not compatible with the other resolutions. If in the next twelve months I’m faced with the option of either living with my parents or paying for a studio apartment in Portland, I expect Find a Way to Make Some Money Even if it Means Selling My Soul and Working in a Cubicle will be on the list, too.

But I suppose my real resolution should be Stick to My Resolutions.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Wish me luck, and Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Lone Whiskey Shot, The Lone Palm

I took my first sip of whiskey on New Year’s Eve in 2002. I planned to ring in 2003 with my first hangover, although back then I wasn’t aware of the implications of alcohol-induced illness. (Nowadays, as an exceptionally grown-up and mature woman, I dread hangovers so intensely that I abide by these rules on nights out: (a) take one glass of water with every drink; (b) stick to vodka sodas, and for Jeez’s sake lay off the cosmos and lemon drops; and most importantly (c) bear in mind the old saying that got me through college alive: Beer before liquor? Never been sicker. Liquor before beer? You’re in the clear.)

In 2002, my best friends Elisa and Aubrey were ready for their first hangovers, too. We did everything together, so we figured why not take our first drinks together? And the next day, why not lie in bed and puke our guts out together? It sounded like a good enough time. (Part of me wishes our story ended like this, with puke – because it’d make a great blog post – but it didn’t.)

So on December 31, 2002, we treaded softly from Aubrey’s bedroom – where we’d spent hours in front of the mirror, getting ready – into the laundry room. Her parents kept their liquor in the cabinets above the washer and dryer (before they started locking it up). We donned weighty Southridge High School sweatshirts – a varsity basketball logo on mine, and a track and field insignia on hers – over sequined halter-tops that exposed our tight, sixteen-year-old midriffs. We’d applied more make-up than our usual splashes of mascara and dashes of blush on our cheeks and noses. The night would be epic, and epic called for sparkles, eyeliner, nail polish, and strappy sandals. We didn’t dare wear our sandals into the laundry room, though, in an effort to keep quiet. So we sported dirty socks instead.

When we got inside, I poked my head out the door, my eyes bulging from their holes and darting around the corner, as Aubrey hoisted herself onto the washing machine and reached into the blessed cabinet. I was the lookout, Aubrey was the mastermind – the thief – and Elisa’s job was to sit in Aubrey’s room and “look natural.” After a few minutes of heavy panic and apprehension, we trotted proudly back to Aubrey’s room and presented Elisa with the loot: three Budweiser’s – in bottles. One for each of us.

This’ll do the trick, I thought. I knew we all were thinking the same thing. We smirked mischievously at one another until it was time to leave for the party.

Only later did we realize that it takes a lot more than an eight-ounce bottle of Bud to catch a thrill. So before midnight we hid in the bushes and each took a shot of whiskey. And that did the trick. (And to this day I can’t stand the taste, smell, or mere thought of whiskey.)

Seven years later, as a twenty-three-year-old girl prancing about The Lone Palm – a quirky watering hole in San Francisco’s Mission District – with a vodka soda in one hand and a bottle of H2O in the other, blissfully awaiting the New Year, I don’t feel so grown up. I don’t feel so different than I did back then. With a stranger, I bat an oversized balloon back and forth across the bar and then watch it pop against a fan that whirls overhead. I laugh deeply, genuinely. The countdown begins, and my heart thuds in anticipation even though I’ve done this twenty-two times before. But this time could be different. I wonder what will happen in the first precious minutes of my new year, my new decade. Something great, I believe.

Perhaps I’ll always be my sixteen-year-old self, seeking adventure. I’ll always be the young girl ready for her first hangover or her first move to a big city or her first trip around the world.

And perhaps I’ll despise whiskey forever.