Babies on a Plane

I love people watching. There are few places that offer a better chance to observe human nature than an airport. It’s been a while since I shared an air travel story, so put your tray tables up, your seat in the upright position, and buckle up for a story from 10,000 ft.

My flight from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles requires a quick layover in Dallas, by far one of my least favorite airports. Mostly, I find that the whole “Everything’s bigger in Texas” thing also applies to the people sitting next to you on your flight. As I get to my seat, I’m elated to see I will not have to rub shoulders with my neighbor, but little did I know that my flight would be less than comfortable.

Just as the final passengers are trickling onto the plane, I notice an odd sound coming from the row in front of me—the sound of four distinct breathing patterns. I freeze. The plane is full, there’s nowhere to hide. I close my eyes and say a prayer for peace on Earth and peace within the heart of the baby placed on her Mother’s lap. My prayers go unanswered.

Within minutes, before we’ve even pulled away from the gate, the stale air of the cabin fills with a piercing screech that would shame

even the shrillest of banshees. It’s a sign of the times that the bouncing bundle lacking joy wants to play with an iPad. But wait—there’s another child flying with them, a girl between the ages of three and five. Like a broken record accompanying the baby’s squeals, the older sister begins repeating ad nauseam, “Mommy, you’re closing your eyes.” As if that was news to her mother. At that volume and with that much repetition, it’s news to no one on the plane.

And then, something happens that I could never have predicted, and yet should have expected. The baby’s shrieks have excited another baby a few rows back. They embark on what can only be described as an all out scream off. For each round, the blessed babes elevate their screeches just one pitch higher and louder than the other.

If I’ve ever been thankful for being childless, now is the moment.

I admit I was already pretty peeved this morning. I woke up at 5am after only a couple hours of restless sleep, hindered by a long-standing fear of oversleeping and missing a flight. My exhaustion was tested when the cashier at Dunkin Donuts poured me a coffee with cream even though I explicitly ordered a black coffee. I was too far down the terminal to turn back by the time I’d taken my first sip and realized her mistake. My coffee-addicted, lactose-intolerant body has not been handling the surprise well.

As the babies test their lung capacity (and their respective mothers’ will power), the captain announces that we’d be a bit delayed because the ground crew needs to defrost the plane. Something tells me this won’t be a problem when I’m leaving LA to come back.

Just as the diva infants begin to bring their war of wails to an end, a third baby chimes in. Rather than join his peers in eardrum shattering cries, our latest entrant opts for an onslaught of coos. It’s like baby acapella of the worst possible sort. I try to find a melody in the trio’s vocal eruptions. Alas, no baby Mozart’s in this group. To my dismay, it’s simply a continuous mix of dissonant tones. Maybe it’s a post-melody, post-harmony arrangement—seems perfectly plausible.

I remember one of the first flights I look as a child. At least I think I do, though I shouldn’t be held the accuracy of my recollection. My brother and I flew with my parents to Hawaii. We were on one of those big planes with the long center rows. Our parents seated us on the inside of the row—even then I felt suffocated. The flight felt endless, but we entertained ourselves with our shiny new Power Ranger toys. I can only imagine that there was some caffeine-deprived passenger wishing my own mother had decided against taking us along.

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Baby 1’s name is Dar. I pick up this information midway through the flight when her older sister rats her out for spilling popcorn. Her mother, like a pro, continues to chat to her neighbor as though oblivious to the clear and utter chaos around her. Older Sister alerts her mother that Dar is now eating popcorn off the floor. Mother continues to chat with her neighbor (how exactly the baby managed to reach the popcorn on the floor is beyond me).

The floor-popcorn distracts Dar enough to halt the screaming. A moment of silence, but I know this glorious break won’t last long. It’s just an intermission in a show I never asked to attend. I close my eyes, welcoming the possibility for rest. Just as I’m about to drift off, Baby 2 begins to sob, surely missing his or her new companions. I’ve never been so happy to hear that the plane has begun its descent into the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

Almost home!

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Go West, Young Man!

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This blog, brought to you by the linguistic styling my  star-spangled sidekick, Captain Amurica.

Seeing as the Star Spangled Girl decided that she wanted to regain her cherished independence from the clutches of DC’s public transportation system and my work schedule, it was decided that a cross country trip driving the aforementioned Yellow Submarine was to be had. Engaging in such a trek was something I had talked about and wanted to do for awhile, and seeing as how such an opportunity might not present itself in the near future, I willingly agreed to be a travel partner, navigator, and general co-pilot on our trek across the wide open nothingness of middle America. With stops planned in LA, Las Vegas, Denver, Jefferson City, MO, and Morgantown, WV the stage was set to traverse nearly 2600 miles and 41 hours of driving time. Needless to say the trip would be a lot of open road in a very small and enclosed space. I just hoped that by the end of it I wouldn’t be hitchiking it home.

Los Angeles

My first impression of LA, having never been there before, was nothing if not an odd sense of familiarity. Having so many movies filmed there, it almost seems as if one has been there before, with the palm tree lined streets and wide open 5 lane freeways conjuring images of every movie I’ve ever seen that was filmed in sunny southern California. And sunny it is no doubt, with gorgeous weather and even better beaches. Coming from the East Coast where the humidity has been between 90-100% , the lack of swampiness in the air was quite a welcome relief. The sheer expanse of LA was also noticeable, as it seemed almost impossible to get anywhere without having to hop on a freeway with a million other people. The lack of any sort of real “downtown” are a la New York, Boston, or DC was also something that I had trouble wrapping my head around, but all things considered LA is pretty awesome. While there it was a whirlwind of family 4th of July BBQs, eating lots of food, and doing all the toursity things that must be done upon a virgin visit to any major metropolis such as LA. It is at this time that I would like to extend a special thank you to the family of the Star Spangled Girl for taking me in like family and providing endless hospitality. Thank you for everything.

While in LA we decided to do tours of Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, and Westwood, where I had possibly the best ice cream sandwich on the planet. A quick word about each:

  • Hollywood – As a lover of movies and someone who could carry on an entire conversation based solely in movie quotes, Hollywood was great. We toured the Chinese theater, the Walk of Fame (if only to find Alex Trebek’s star), and Hollywood Blvd. Lots of tourists, lots of shops and lots of hustlers tryin to squeeze a dollar out of 15 cents.
  • Santa Monica  Saw the famous pier, the end of historic Route 66, and played some skee ball at the arcades. Not too shabby.
  • Venice Beach – Ahh the boardwalk at Venice Beach, where I saw the greatest collection of artists, stall hockers, and general weirdos. The kingdom of the eclectic is what I would refer to it as, with everything from hand carved African art to $40 medical marijuana cards all available on a stretch of sandy Boardwalk. Stopped by Muscle Beach to take some pics and Marvel at the athletic endeavors of a couple of rather large men engaged in what YouTube has dubbed the “24 hour prison workout.” The sights, sounds, and especially smells were something I won’t soon forget.

Stay tuned for more from our courageous partner later this week.

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.

Happy Birthday America! (Now Eat This)

Happy Fourth of July!

It’s strange, I suppose to leave the most American place in America (our nation’s capitol) during the most American holiday. Who am I kidding? The most American place in America is Texas and the most American holiday is Thanksgiving, with National Donut Day in a close second.

That said, I can’t imagine a better place to spend this Fourth of July than with my family in Los Angeles. This year, I’m happy to announce that my boyfriend will join the Weissenberger-Venti festivities, God bless his soul…and America. I have a rule- I try not to write about my relationships. Turns out, makes it kind of awkward if things don’t work out. Also, as I’ve said before, people don’t necessarily like to have their business put out on the Internet. But as Anthony has happily agreed to contribute to my blogging-across-the-country-challenge, I figure I can make this exception.

What’s on the agenda for America’s birthday? Let’s answer the real question: What’s on the menu?

To celebrate being American on this most sacred of holidays, I’m going to share one of my mother’s famous recipes. By famous recipes, I mean a recipe that she got from someone/somewhere else and has “made her own” by adding too much or too little of some ingredient by accident and pretending it was totally on purpose.


Momma Weissenberger’s Peach Crumble

6 peaches, cut 1/2 in
1/2 lemon, zested, juiced
2 tbsp maple syrup

Mix the peaches, lemon zest and juice, and syrup together

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter

Mix sugar, spices, and butter together

Place peaches into 9×13 pan and pour crumble over
Bake 15 min covered at 350 degrees
Uncover and cook an additional 30 minutes

Enjoy!

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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.

Good Tweet, Bad Tweet

A couple weeks ago, my parents and grandparents stumbled their way from Los Angeles to the District. Somewhere in between getting lost on the wrong side of the Key Bridge and chowing down at some of DC’s finest, I got stuck on a topic that I never talk about–social media.

Techies aren’t just born, they are bred.

I filled the 8 days I shared with my family with talk of tweets and pins, teaching them how to check-in on Facebook and explaining Twitter and Pinterest. The result? I was tagged into every restaurant we went to 3 times, and my grandpa (@MillenniumMayor) has been spam tweeting Karl Rove, Glenn Beck, Martha Maccallum, and Sarah Palin.

It’s not surprising when social media noobs like my family ask how to do Twitter the right way. I hesitate to say that there is a right or wrong way to tweet, but there are definitely better, more effective ways. Have I lost you?

Don’t fret–I have a perfect DC meets LA way to explain!


Bad Tweet

Earlier today, the US Embassy in Brussels tweeted:

The tweet references the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) which had an event on the topic of women and counterterrorism (#WomenAndCT) yesterday afternoon. It’s a well-done tweet, with the exception of using the wrong handle for CSIS. On the other hand, CSIS does a terrible job with their response:

I have a ton of respect for (and would love to work for) the Center for Strategic and International Studies, but this tweet is simply bad form. CSIS has forwarded a modified tweet from the US Embassy in Brussels that looks like it was written by Justin Bieber after he raided his parent’s liquor cabinet. Why did they shorten keywords like instrument and expert and remove the space between 4 and peace, but leave important and according complete? This tweet could have read:

MT‏ @usembbrussels #Women are important weapon against terror & instrument 4 peace say experts @CSIS http://bit.ly/HXg9jG #terrorism #Verveer

Is this better? What do you think?

Good Tweet

If you are scoffing at seeing my own face listed under the title of good tweet, fear not. My vanity has not yet taken over.
Earlier this week, I had an exchange on Twitter which I think demonstrates best practices for political and advocacy Twitter usage. As an extra bonus, it also includes one of my favorite topics, Kim Kardashian!

Kim Kardashian took headlines by storm this week when she said on her reality show that she might consider running for Mayor of Glendale someday. The city of Glendale, sometimes referred to as “Little Armenia” by locals, is very close to where I grew up–in the same congressional district, in fact. Congressman Adam Schiff represents the district, and so I thought I’d poke a little fun at him and the situation.

I never expected a response, and yet within 24 hours:

What can politicians take away from this tweet? The response (1) demonstrated that he was actually listening and engaging rather than just broadcasting, (2) took the opportunity to share one of his positions that his constituents feel strongly about (Armenian Genocide), and (3) it felt personal and real, not stiff or like a form letter. These are the kind of interactions that politicians should be aiming for to maximize the impact of their online discussions.

But the conversation didn’t end there. No, Kim Kardashian didn’t chime in. @CharaGG, however, did:

The link posted goes to an indiegogo website that asks people to donate to her documentary project that deals with Armenian genocide. My guess is that she either follows Rep. Schiff due to his strong support of Armenian Genocide recognition, or she searched for Armenian genocide on Twitter and inserted herself into relevant conversations. In doing so, she tapped into a conversation that was already occurring online with people who care about a topic. This is good social networking. This is digital engagement.

Until next time.

A toast, “To Mayor Kardashian, may the stress of politics not make her want to pull her own extensions out.”

“The people drawn to Twitter are people on the cutting edge, the real nerds who are resentful of the fact that the general population have found and taken over Facebook”

~Steve Dotto, host of Dotto Tech

Holiday Cheer to my Rear (Feliz Navidad)

New Years’ Resolution: Post more updates on Star Spangled Girl.

The holidays are about two things: food & family.

My family is moderately insane–in the best way possible?–so I’m going to call a majority of the most interesting stories of the holiday season off-limits. What a violation of the spirit of truthful, open blogging, you exclaim! I commiserate. If nothing else, I believe in that one, true blogging philosophy and I truly wish I could post the gut-busting, tear-jerking, utterly scandalous details of my time back in LA. Unfortunately, not everyone feels as comfortable having their private lives publicized for all eternity on the big, bad Internet. While I don’t quite understand it, I respect it. Kinda.

As a result, you will get an overly detailed account of the traditional foods of my Germexitalian holidays. Yes, I know I just wrote a blog about food. Yes, I know this makes me sound like a total fatty. But when my future robot companion (see #3) is reading my blog to me, I want to be able to cherish the memories of being able to stuff my face with insanely high caloric foods. In the four months I was in DC, I gained 5 pounds; In the two weeks I’ve been home, I’ve gained 2.5 pounds. Call it water weight, call it what you will–thats Holiday Cheer to my Rear.

Part 1- Feliz Navidad

A couple videos to get you in the mood. Hint: It’s not a Mexican-American Christmas without the second one!!!


Tamales

(If your life is sad and you don’t know what a tamale is, click here)

Every year in mid-December, my mother’s enormous family [enormous number of people, not enormous people] migrate from all over Los Angeles, San Bernadino and Orange Counties to East Los Angeles (technically Monterey Park, but it’s right next to East LA college so I argue its an accurate description) for a tamale-making extravaganza. Four generations line up at the counter, aprons in tow, ready to spread & stuff 300 tamales for Christmas eve. It’s a mix of assembly line and gossip circle, which normally isn’t much of a problem, but this year my grandpa decided we needed to take steps to preserve the process and wanted to video the entire event. At the corner of the kitchen, in the most cumbersome and awkward place possible, he put up his video camera on its tripod and hits record. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite make it clear enough to us that our every word was being immortalized via DVD. Almost immediately, in true Venti fashion, a rather racy conversation began as people began to trickle through the front door. Suddenly, we were hit with the stark realization that the little red light on the camera was illuminated–judging us, mocking us…knowing all.  Evidence of the questionable exchange needed to be quickly destroyed from existence. Wouldn’t you know it was grandpa’s last DVD? After a quick trip to the supermarket, we were back on track and on film. In the end we got most of the day on tape–and only about 46.27% would be problematic for the Motion Picture Association of America (They do movie ratings).

Our little tamale army make red (pork/beef mixture) and green (chile) tamales. Just like Italians with pasta sauce, most people (of Central or South American descent) believe that their grandma makes the best tamales. When I say that, though, I’ve got some legitimate back up. My family’s tamales are so badass they were even featured in the LA Times food section! In case you are wondering, we do make a couple sweet tamales but I find the idea of them to be absolutely disgusting, so let’s not even go there. Personally, I prefer the red tamales. This tends to work out for me because for some inexplicable reason more and more of my family members are becoming vegetarian and that means more meaty goodness for me.

Cheers, a toast to meaty goodness.

“I’ve got cousins galore. Mexicans just spread all their seeds. And the women just pop them out.”
~Jessica Alba 

Stay Tuned for Chapter 24.2: Holiday Cheer to my Rear (O Tannenbaum).