Mile High Munchies

It was a gamble leaving Cedar City, Utah for Denver at 8pm on Monday. There was a chance we wouldn’t make it, but my instincts told me to take the gamble. I’m happy to report we safely made it to the Mile High city at 4:30am on Tuesday.

We dropped the car off at the VW dealership in Lakewood, and were able to pick it up 4 hours and $1000 later. That’s fun.

But the car trouble didn’t stop us from enjoying the full splendor of the city of Denver, Colorado. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for the city. In fact, I thought it was going to be full of hipsters and mountain men. I was right…but it turns out that’s not a terrible thing. In fact, Denver is extraordinarily cool. Anthony and I met up with his college buddy who works as a bar manager (as well as a number of other jobs). Adam graciously led us around the city, showing us a little peek into the everyday world of Denver.

Denver speaks to me. In particular, Denver speaks to my tummy. If you know me, you know I like some crazy food. Denver didn’t disappoint. First, we stopped off for lunch at an exotic sausage place called Biker Jim’s.

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There’s a similar style place by where I live in Clarendon, but NOWHERE near as good. Anthony and I split:

Alaskan Reindeer Sausage w/ Cream Cheese & Caramelized Onions
Rattlesnake & Pheasant Sausage w/ Harissa Roasted Cactus, Malaysian Jam, Scallions, Cilantro & Onions (two ways)
Charred Tahini Cauliflower
Good Juju, a beer brewed with Ginger

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It was refreshing drink, delicious food, and outstanding company. But the food and drink adventure didn’t stop there!

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After a stop off at the Great Divide tap house for some of the best IPAs and stouts I’ve ever tasted (don’t worry, Guinness, your place is safe in my heart), our wonderful host took us to one of the most highly-rated bars in the whole US of A, Falling Rock Tap House. For a mere $7 I had the opportunity to taste a world renowned IPA on tap, Russian River Pliny the Elder.

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After taking an afternoon nap fueled by early mornings and strong beer, I fulfilled a long-time dream…trying Rocky Mountain Oysters. In a moment of vacation brain, Anthony protested to eating them because he’s “allergic to oysters.” After a beat, a wave of embarrassment washed over his face as he realized that Rocky Mountain Oysters are actually bull testicles.

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So what do balls taste like? Actually, not much different than veal! I’m going to have to look for a place close by to D.C. to try them because boy-oh-boy those things were good.

We hopped over to a pizza place in downtown Denver for dinner. After devouring a charcuterie plate and an entire pizza, we headed back to Adam’s place to crash and prepare for our journey to Jefferson City, MO.

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Car Trouble

I began this post in a Starbucks in St. George, Utah. I’m now finishing it up in a Starbucks in Cedar City, Utah- 35 miles away, 2 hours later. I’ve gone through all the stages of grief and I’ve resigned myself to the idea that no road trip is complete without a teensy bit of road trouble.

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However, its usually the unintended hiccups and side trips that create the best stories. A couple years ago, my parents, grandparents, brothers, cousin and I went to Nassau. Upon exiting the cruise ship, we were practically accosted by “Island entrepreneurs.” My mother decides we absolutely MUST take a tour of the Island, and agrees to allow of these eager young gents show us the town. Turns out, he had no car, and no idea of the history of the Island. He just drove us around and pointed out things like where he “pays his bills” and made things up. We literally got taken for a ride. I suppose if we’d gotten a real tour it wouldn’t make for nearly as wonderful a story.

I’m crossing my fingers, waiting to escape the beautiful clutches of Utah. I spent the last couple days in Venice Beach and Las Vegas and I’m still looking forward to this kind of people watching. I killed some time earlier watching women in traditional Mormon garb load their truck at a Walmart. A Walmart…in Utah…playing Piano Man. There has to be some bright side.

The Long and Winding Road

The first leg of Anthony and I’s trip across the country lead us to Sin City. That’s right, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Vegas and I have a long history. My grandmother and mother have a penchant for gambling. I’d like to say that my grandmother has never met a penny slot she didn’t like, but that would be a lie. Martha is, in fact, very particular about her slot machines. For years, I didn’t realize that gambling wasn’t legal because so many of our family vacations ended up at a casino. I swear I learned to count playing 21, and I may have been the only kid in middle school trying to play Pai Gow instead of War.

I remember my first trip to Vegas. I was 10. I spent a lot of time wearing this blue and grey sweater with three butterflies across the chest. My Aunt Lynda brought her daughter Angel and son Ben, who at the time was just a little thing. Everything seemed so magical. So much light, beauty, a mist surrounding the entire strip. Sure, it might be cigarette smoke, but it felt like Disneyland, but for adults.

As we drove to Vegas on Sunday, I’m reminded of some more recent trips. In particular, my 21st birthday.

Like many people celebrating their legality, I gathered my best pals and took to the Vegas strip. I’d tell you more, but, as they say, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Or on Facebook, which still has many of the pictures from the trip 🙂 The story that comes to mind, however, is in reference to the drive home. After a night of doing what people do in Vegas–including numerous Jell-O shots courtesy of my dear friend, sorority sister, and former roommate, Katie–my father was graced with the task of driving myself, my boyfriend at the time, and his best friend back to Los Angeles. It’s fair to say that I woke up feeling a little…off. After half a can of 7-up, I figured I was as solid as I’d ever be and hopped into the front seat of the Tahoe. A few miles down the road, I knew that I was not okay. My father suggested that I close my eyes, rest. Somewhere around Baker, my father–ever the food explorer–saw a sign for Alien Jerky. “What?!” Of course he had to try it, and with the other two passengers excited and near-salivating at the thought of checking out this strange roadside shop, he pulled off the road.

That’s when things started to get rough. They asked if I wanted to come in. I didn’t want to move a muscle, in fact, at that point I’d be more than happy to lay on the side of the road and sacrifice myself to the Gods of Adulthood, as they were obviously rejecting my application.

The happily and eagerly returned to the car, ripping open their bags of cured meat. The smell permeated the car, floating up into my nostrils, causing my stomach to churn and turn. I closed my eyes, praying that my somersaulting tummy would come to rest. It didn’t.

We had just gotten back to the Baker side road, when I quickly rolled down the window, threw my head out and painted the sidewalk.

Anthony and I stopped at that very Alien Jerky spot on the way out to Vegas. Fingers crossed that we can skip the vomit this time.

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Carmelot

Earlier this week I referred to my marvelous golden chariot carting me across the country. I love my car. Fondly called “The Yellow Submarine” by my friends in college, my 2007 Volkswagon GLI Fahrenheit is a thing of beauty and wonder.

Yes, it’s bright yellow. No, that was not what I imagined as my first car. To be fair, my German bumblebee was not my first car. For the years between when I got my drivers license and the time I got my own real car, I drove my mother’s hand-me-down Izusu Trooper. The forest green, top heavy, lunk of a car was a disaster. The window on the driver’s side had a tendency to fall into the door, leaving the driver vulnerable to the notoriously horrible LA weather. Okay, it could have been worse. At least I wasn’t living on the East Coast at the time, but I can promise you I drove with the rain in my eyes on more than one occasion. The car worked, and that was all that really mattered.

When I finally started to look for a car of my own, I spent months researching. If you know me, you know this process well. There’s research, compiling of documents and resources, a ranking system of some sort–typically complete with a formula weighted for more desirable attributes. I like to make educated decisions, protecting myself from the possibility of overwhelming bouts of buyers’ remorse. When I was applying to college, I spent no less than a year writing to different schools for information. When I applied to grad school I put together a binder with dividers and spreadsheets. When I was decorating my apartment a few months ago, I put together a powerpoint presentation with multiple options for each room- with cost breakdowns, hyperlinks, and color coding. I like to know what I’m getting myself into…

As I educated myself on the car options available I was practical. I wanted it to be a solid value, dependable, safe, economic, and not too bad on the eyes. I settled on a black VW Jetta. In December of 2007, I rounded up the two of the best negotiators on the planet–my mother and my grandfather–and headed over to the VW dealership. The only problem with bringing two headstrong, opinionated individuals with you to do you bidding is their ability to negotiate you completely out of the decisionmaking process. Rather skillfully, they convince you that you want what they want and the other party wants what they want. We should really send those two to the Middle East–just saying.

My grandfather was adamant that I not get a black car. First, he told me, black cars are more dangerous because they are harder to see at night. This seemed logical. I liked the idea of black because most of my family members had the practical silver, because it looked cleaner longer. Silver was fine, but I felt some need to push back against the sea of grey in my parent’s driveway. I wanted a sleek black car. He pushed back, beyond the safety, appealing to my vanity. “There is nothing worse than a pretty girl in a dirty car,” he told me for the first of (very) many times.

As we strolled the lot, a glimmer shot into the eye of the salesman. Let me show you what we have, it’s a limited edition. Now we were talking. I don’t really feel the need to be flashy, but I do like to stand out. He took us out to the front and that’s when I saw it, it’s sunshine-bright skin and crimson accents glistening in the L.A. light. “It’s a GLI Fahrenheit,” he told us, “only 1200 in the world. You can see the limited edition plate on the steering wheel. The inside is leather with details and accents to match its exterior. We only have one on the lot, and the car only comes it yellow.” It’s wasn’t love immediately. I liked the idea of having a car that only 1,999 other people in the world had, but yellow? It didn’t feel like me.

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“No one will be able to claim they didn’t see you there,” my grandfather joked. “I’ll be cop-bait,” I argued back. “Well then you better drive safe,” he replied with a smile.

We went for a test drive.

I’m not going to say my grandfather’s a bad driver. He drove me to and from school every day from Kindergarden until I graduated from 8th grade. Without ever complaining, he chauffeured me wherever I needed to go for years. His driving expertise has successfully gotten me from point A to B via two-seater sports cars, spacious Cadillacs, exhilarating jetskis, clunky motorhomes, and even helicopter. We made it to each and every destination and back safely, but there have definitely been some…questionable moments. This was one of them.

I know my grandfather knows how to drive manual. In fact, I believe he was the one who taught my mother to drive. And yet, I could see the white knuckles of the salesman as we stalled and screeched down the streets of West Covina. The man was kind, kinder than I would have been in that situation–shocking. Although, I’m sure I could muster up the patience with a commission like that. When we got back to the lot, I swear he was still shaking a little.

While I hadn’t completely embraced the car, when I finally got it home, we became quick friends. My car became synonymous with my independence, the first thing that was ever really mine. During the summer at UCLA, I’d take my Yellow Submarine up Pacific Coast Highway, just to let him soak in the salty ocean air. I actually hear this is bad for the paint of your car, but what can I say? Sometimes we want things that are bad for us. Can you say you never have?

When I moved to D.C. for grad school, I had to leave my car behind. Washington is no place for a car. While the traffic may not be as bad as Los Angeles (though it’s pretty bad), parking sucks and to make things worse, I’m convinced parking enforcement is in a constant state of needing to prove its worth in a city filled with far more important lawmakers and law enforcers. With all those visiting dignitaries, I’m sure it’s hard to find a vehicle without diplomatic immunity to ticket. I set off to the land of the metro.

But I’m a Virginian now. I moved to Rosslyn (Arlington) in May 2012, and then to the nearby area of Clarendon at the end of that lease. I even re-registered to vote in Virginia, so that’s about as official as it gets. Arlington may be VINO (Virginia in Name Only) and practically just an overflow of the District, the new location has me yearning for my independence–my car. What currently takes hours of walking, metroing, transferring, and walking again, can suddenly become a quick trip. Like my 19 year-old self, I’m eagerly anticipating the world that having my car will unlock. Maybe not the gas expenses, but there’s a world out there waiting to be explored, and I’m on my way to find it.

There and back again

Today, I embark upon a journey. From the muggy swampland of Northern Virginia, I’ll venture to the mystic and plastic land I once called home: Los Angeles. Then, in my golden chariot, I will ride across this majestic country, through 13 states, to return to my Capitol City-adjacent home in Arlington, VA.

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Along the way, my trusty sidekick and I will face perilous obstacles that make us ask ourselves questions we’ve never explored before, like “How much is too much BBQ?” and “How long can I hold it so I don’t have to stop at that nasty rest stop?” Our path will take us through

  • California
  • Nevada
  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Virginia

With stopovers in Las Vegas (Nevada), Denver (Colorado), Jefferson City (Missouri), and Morgantown (West Virginia), it promises to be a thoroughly blog-worthy adventure. Stay tuned to the Star-Spangled Girl and the “Everywhere in Between” tab for more on the sights and sounds from across the U.S. of A.

How to Fall in Love Every Day

Jack London once said,

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Recently, I’ve invited some of my friends to contribute to the Star Spangled Girl with guest blogs from “Everywhere in Between” to bring some new, interesting points of view. You can tell that someone isn’t a writer when they say, “Sure, I’ll write something when I’ve got some time.” While there are certainly legitimate time constraints that can prevent someone from being able to sit down and write 200-400 words that will suit my high standards, if I only wrote when I was inspired my page would probably be blank.

6a00e5521e68af8833012877a0490a970c-500wiIt’s a blessing to be able to write inspired. As the great writers of history have taught us, in the absence of inspiration, there’s always alcohol. I prefer caffeine–a Venti Skinny Hazelnut Soy Latte, thanks! If “blogging for a living” has taught me anything, inspiration is overrated. Inspiration can get you the first 10%, but after that, it’s work–a labor of love. In fact, writing is a lot like falling in love.

Coming up with a great idea is chemistry, it’s infatuation. It’s the spark that drives the pursuit. Then you’re off, not really knowing where things are going to take you. You fantasize about the idea, thinking of all the places you could go and the people you could quote. You brag about the idea, wanting to tell everyone who’ll listen about this new-found gem.

You’re dating the idea, seeing where things go. What are the possibilities? You have to open up a bit, allow yourself to be vulnerable. No good idea or relationship can begin without honesty and a willingness to be open, no matter how uncomfortable. Soon, you begin to uncover a bit more, there’s depth. Some of the things you thought you enjoyed about the idea, you may find less than appealing. Other things are even better than you thought. Another idea may tempt you, promise you other creative outlets to seduce you away. You weigh the pros and cons, decide if you want to proceed.

If you do, you’ve got to commit. You put the pen to the paper or your fingers to the keys. It’s not always easy, and it takes work. You’ve got to compromise–it’s called editing. You have to be willing to divorce yourself from things you thought you absolutely, unequivocally wanted and needed, like extra clauses or turns of phrase. If you focus too much on the little things, holding on to them for dear life, you can ruin an otherwise beautiful narrative. But if it’s the right piece, with enough work, you can usually write your way through it. Maybe you can really have it all.

Sometimes things get messy. You’re writing, trying your hardest. Not every idea is meant to be brilliant. You have to cut your losses. You may throw it aside, violently scrapping the idea that you once held so dear. Or you may choose to publish, accepting that while it wasn’t what you expected and hoped, it’s time for you to gracefully move on to another idea.

Once it’s over, you may never want to see it again. Then, one day, you stumble upon it, running into it in an unexpected place or seeking it out in a moment of weak nostalgia. You might rediscover the love you once felt, rekindle a passion and excitement. Otherwise, you may tip your hat to it, acknowledging that while it wasn’t your magnum opus, it was once something you loved with a reckless abandon.

Successful art is never quite finished. Like love, an idea will continue to evolve, far beyond the day it posts on a website. It deepens and expands, bridging to places you never quite expected when you first felt that spark of inspiration. You can continue to work on a piece of art, or a relationship, forever. In many ways, you should continue to allow the idea to develop and grow.

They say “If you love something, set it free.” This is publishing. If you over-edit and overwork your idea, like a relationship, it becomes stifled and stale. Set your idea free, into the world. If it’s the right idea, it will come back to you. You can continue to work on it, but it will stand up to the test of time–and Internet trolls.

To my brilliant friends, I encourage you to embrace the idea of blogging. Accepting that there is an element of reckless abandon, a vulnerability, an imprecision that it requires. There is no formula. You have to just embrace the unknown and trust your heart.

I’ve Had Some Work Done…

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In case you haven’t noticed, your favorite star-spangled girl’s had a bit of work done. While she’s now LA beautiful, she’s also DC smart. Check out the new features and functions, including:

  • The Star-Spangled Table: Recipes from my table to yours – grill to goodies!
  • Everywhere in between: Since 2011, the SSG charge has been to conquer LA, DC and everywhere in between. Until now, there’s been a lack of adventures in the “in between” places. Thats about to change! Keep an eye on this section for updates from my upcoming trek across the country, plus news from SSG’s friends.

What do you think of the new layout? What features would you like to see?