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.

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First Impressions

Today was the first day of school.

I packed up my bag the night before, laid out my outfit, conjured up the perfect peanut butter sandwich for my midday snack and slept an unusually restful six hours. It was calm–I should have known.

In case you haven’t discovered this about me yet, I am a hot mess ball of stress. Anything that I could possibly worry about, I worry about. Even things that I couldn’t change, I worry about. Sure there are plenty of terrible things associated with this neurotic tendency–ulcers, poor sleep habits, irritability, etc.. But I CAN say that when an emergency or freak incident occurs, I am freakishly calm because I’ve already played out the scenario in my head a million times and I know what to expect and how to handle it.

Usually the night before a big event, I will toss and turn–playing out every possible thing I could stupidly do to ruin the next two years of my life. I plan my words carefully, anticipating every question to come my way.

Something has changed though, recently, I’ve been cool and collected. That internal pressure somehow balanced below the surface. Initially, I thought it was great. Maybe God, in his infinite wisdom, thought it appropriate to finally remove that stick from my ass.

It served me well enough at my interview on Friday. It actually couldn’t have worked out better.

But today…Today the Type-A, control freak, overacheiver within me let me down.

My morning started early-orientation at 9:30 (I realize this isn’t early for normal “working” people, but give me a break). Orientation went well. I met the 14 or so other people in my tiny department as well as some of the professors. Only once before in my life have I been surrounded by so many highly accomplished people (but that’s another story). There is something unsettling when the leading researching in your area of study laughs at your normally lame industry joke and says “Please, call me Sean.”

No, super-awesome-rockstar-professor…please let me call you Professor. Not even Professor So-and-So because your name is too sacred to be said aloud.

The director of the department kept stressing that now we were adults, and practically considered colleagues. We would be published alongside them and be consulted as experts in the making in our own areas. I almost laughed out loud at that one. Expert, me? No sir, just go ahead and tell me what to think; its much easier that way.

The other people in my department had interesting back stories, but we didn’t get enough of a chance to really break the ice for me to decide whether or not they are people worth getting to know personally.

Orientation went well enough. I was optimistic. I thought maybe I could handle this…I was wrong.

Later that evening there was a department reception. Wine was served to students and faculty alike by a man in a tuxedo, and a dozen cheeses were prominently stacked on a silver platter on stark white table clothes. Industry witticisms that would normally draw blank faces caused the room to erupt in fits of laughter:

“My new media forum is taught at the Newseum, which is a wonderful place in DC, but if we listen to Professor X’s position we might as well rename it the Museum of Archeology”

^This had the room cracking up.

I’m sure at some point I will actually discuss the things it is that I am studying and my areas of interest–and why that statement had the room rolling.

I didn’t do too badly at the reception. Receptions are very popular in DC, and always extremely awkward. People tend to kind of stand around with a drink, maybe talk to people they already know, but networking doesn’t happen nearly as often as one would think. I am determined to not sit around quietly with a drink in my hand–I will not be that person.

My solution? Embrace the awkward. Uncomfortable situations happen, but what makes them uncomfortable is the unwillingness for people to accept that they are uncomfortable. The best ice breaker ever? “Wow, so this is really awkward.” Believe it or not, I’ve found that it works 99% of the time. Also “Hi my name is Liane.” I’m not sure if it works as well if you have a different name, but I guess you could try it for yourself and tell me how it works.

So you’re thinking, it sounds like you had a good day. But its not over yet.

Media Theory, sounds like a blast of a class, right? My professor is a USC alum, she proudly proclaimed as one of the students in the class said they had just graduated from there a few years ago. “This guy is going to be my favorite student,” she laughed as she threw up her little SC gang sign. Enter the mild sinking feeling in my gut. When it came my turn to introduce myself, I quipped “If he is your favorite student, I’ll be your least favorite–I graduated from UCLA” (This is one of the greatest school/sport rivalries of all time–In case you didn’t know-click here for more info)

imagesShe was smiling, but I could see the disgust in her eyes and the plot of terror unfolding in her mind. Her kind gaze had turned calculating and she quickly finished introductions with the remaining of the 15-2o students in the class.

“So,” she began, “Media Effects, what is the first thing that comes to mind?” Silence. Silence. She takes a deep breath. Silence. “Ok, you!” She says, the disgust and fervor for destruction reignited and she stares into my soul. In that moment I could have not recalled my own name. I was both blank and overwhelmed by a million things rushing into my head at once. Media effects is what I am studying, broadly. I could have passed by saying “the effect that media has on something”, but no…nothing. An airy breath escaped my throat that sounded something like “Pass, oh my God, I’m so embarrassed”– and she moved on–content that she had destroyed my spirit.

First question, first class, first day of Graduate school–my only mission was to NOT sound like an idiot…and I failed. I couldn’t even describe the basic idea behind why I was there.

If nothing else, the rest of the semester can only get better.

To……(8 claps) U (clap clap clap) C (clap clap clap) L (clap clap clap) A (clap clap clap), U-C-L-A Fight Fight Fight!

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”
~ A strong challenge from UCLA’s finest, John Wooden

(I also want to say that actually the professor is really awesome, and I think she is going to make otherwise difficult/dry/boring material very exciting…but that makes less of a story, doesn’t it?)

Notebook of a Nomad

Ah, an homage to my former blog of choice. Check it out at http://www.notebookofanomad.blogspot.com.

I felt a little like a nomad again today as I wandered alone through the streets of Foggy Bottom, the area of DC where George Washington University is located. It sounds like some place out of Tolkein’s Lord of the Ring series, though, doesn’t it?

Oddly enough, I did see a female dwarf/midget/little person today and then shortly after a man who was 6’9”. I feel bad for people who are extremely tall. I was sitting outside of Starbucks, when this giant walks passed me and this conversation occurs:

Awkward Guy On the Bench Next to Me: (yelling) Hey man how tall are you?
Giant: 6’9”
Benchyeller: Did you play ball?
Giant: Used to
Benchyeller: College?
Giant: Yeah
Benchyeller: Professional?
Giant: Only in the Dominican Republic
pause
Benchyeller: You’re tall

I thought that last “You’re tall” was really necessary after he felt like publicly playing 20 questions with him. That’s excessive. You know tall people are tired of hearing it. Like people with accents probably want to punch people in the face when they are asked where they are from!

The picture above shows where this conversation occurred. That is not why I took the picture, though. It’s hard to take a picture of GW campus because it’s not a campus like UCLA, it is more like NYU. The school is flush with the city, camouflaged if it weren’t for the disproportionate amount of people under 25. You can tell a GW building by the blue and yellow flag. This is one of the school libraries. GW knows how to do it right, as the same building also houses a Starbucks, and just outside the doors a Sabrett hotdog stand. Studying students need their brainfood.

This is where I ate my breakfast today. I ordered a Venti Iced Sugar-Free Hazlenut Soy Latte and a Hot Veggie Panini from Starbucks. How LA, right? The barista looked at me and I could read her eyes “Who the hell does this girl think she is?”

DC is not a Soy Latte city- its too complicated and showy. DC is CERTAINLY not a Frappuccino city either- its too much frilly and whipped cream, forget it. Cities have personalities, not unlike people. And different cities have certain drinks which are more suited to its vibe. DC is most definitely a Cafe Americano city. Cafe Americano is no nonsense- expresso and water; strong and bold a Cafe Americano means business.

  • Los Angeles is a Skinny Latte city. Lively and fashionable, but nonfat.
  • Seattle, home of Starbucks, is a Black Coffee city. It’s raining, they just need to get the job done.
  • Dublin is an Irish Coffee city. They throw Whiskey in everything.
  • Rome is a Cappuccino city. It’s got flair and a kick.
  • Madrid is a Hot Chocolate city. Coffee would be too stuffy and not nearly as good with the churros!

Can you think of any others? I’d love to hear what you think about city coffee culture.

A toast, “To coffee, after all these toasts you will certainly need a cup.”

“I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon.”
~Ronald Reagan

 

Flights of Fancy

tail-of-an--airplane

Usually I would think that a blog about a flight goes under that “too mundane to be bothered with” category. However, this flight was truly…special. I will warn you. This is NOT an exaggeration. I know what you are thinking, “I know Liane. She exaggerates, even when she says she isn’t–she probably is.” But no, this was so far out there, exaggeration is COMPLETELY unnecessary.

Once, while using StumbleUpon (Dear Old People and Technologically Inept, I marvel at the miracle you made it to my blog. StumbleUpon is a website that sends you to random websites it thinks you might like based upon a survey you take about things you like) I read a travel advice blog that suggested always talking to the people you sit next to on a plane. It advocated, smiling and getting to know your neighbor because all people are wonderful and interesting. Because its going to be an awkward flight otherwise, right? It then used a smiley face.

Never trust a blog that uses smiley faces.

Meeting and interacting with strangers goes against my basic instincts. Strangers may have candy. If they do have candy, they are certainly not to be trusted. Thanks Mom.

Last summer on the way back from Europe, I was tired. It was the final stretch of my epic plane, train and automobile ride home. I was inflight from Philadelphia to LA, and I let my guard down. In my exhaustion, that ridiculous blog burrowed its way through my common sense. I engaged the nice woman next to me in conversation.

Turns out, she was insane. I mean laughing-to-crying-in-15 seconds-flat-batshit-crazy. I don’t remember the particulars of our conversation. I do remember she was under some delusion she was going to be a popstar. I’ve never seen a 50-something year old popstar with a red weave that had grown out halfway down her head. Lady, I can see your scalp. In case you were wondering, yes, she DID sing me one of her songs on the plane. How did she sound?

Let’s put it this way, I’d rather hear Kim Zolciak (from Real Housewives of Atlanta) sing Tardy for the Party–live, no lip syncing, without Autotune.

For those who don’t know what that means:

“I’d rather hear someone who sings really bad sing a really bad song without the computer program that makes them sound like they are actually on key.”

Here is a link to a video of said Kim Zolciak performing live on Ellen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnp4FkqQx84
I have no idea why she is singing over the track like its karaoke, oh wait, yes I do…it is because she is terrible and they are hoping to drown out her real voice. They fail.

Back to the story, so this woman is clearly crazy and recovering from some kind of hardcore drug- meth, crack, I dunno, but something is wrong with her. I try to turn back the clock. I pull out my magazine. Surely, she knows this means that the conversation is over. No, she leans over the center seat (which was empty) and reads the magazine over my shoulder.

Crazy: Oh damn girl, those shoes are hot.
Me: Yeah, they are really cute.
Crazy: I used to have a pair of shoes like those. But they were black, and booties, and they had these big roses on the side. Oh damn, I’d wear them all the time. To the clubs, to church, to the movies, to…(she continues on and on and on, like Bubba in Forrest Gump naming all the different ways to cook shrimp)

The flight ends and although I smile and nod and gracious thank her for the lovely conversation, the fates are not so merciful. She wants me to walk her to the baggage claim because she *mumble mumble mumble*. Well of course I had to, what’s the worst that could happen? By the time we reached baggage claim she attempted to get me to go to her church and she’d asked me for my number to give to her ex-convict son. Promising. I politely declined.

So, I now employ a new strategy when traveling anywhere alone. It’s called the “I’m-a-bitch-leave-me-alone” method of avoiding interaction. I designed it myself. I took a class in Interpersonal Communication at UCLA, so what I did was reverse all the means of effective communication strategies. To use this strategy, employ any/all of the following:

  • Avoid eye contact. If they can’t see your eyes they are less likely to initiate conversation.
  • Put in headphones. If you can’t hear them, they are less likely to talk to you.
  • Read something. This helps to avoid eye contact, but is more effective with the headphones.
  • Sleep. This combines the “I can’t see you, I can’t hear you” without requiring props of any sort. Very appropriate for those traveling light.

It is important to note that you don’t actually have to do any of these things, sometimes you can get away with just pretending. Who are they to judge you if you take 45 minutes to read Skymall? At least you don’t have to feign interest in their dog’s UTI.

If you do have to interact with those around you (i.e. if nature calls):

  • Smile Politely. Dealing with strangers can be tricky, and if that stranger is actually a crazy, you don’t want to set them off.
  • Speak really quitely. It makes them exert too much effort to hear you and they are less likely to want to continue talking to you.
  • Give one word answers to all questions. They ask, “Is that a good book?” You answer “Yes or No”. It is appropriate to use more than one word if it is noncommital and vague, further exhibiting your lack of desire to discuss. I.e. “Dunno yet.”
  • Do not ask open ended question. Stick to things like “May I pass you to use the bathroom?” (Though “Excuse me” is preferred).

Yes, I know how this sounds. But remember, you aren’t really a bitch, you are just acting like one.

When I boarded the plane to DC, I started off great. I sat in my aisle seat, and when a nice, professional-looking red-headed lady came to sit at the window seat I smiled politely and let her through. She sat, turned to me and said “Let’s hope that’s it for the row, right?” Another polite smile, no eye contact, “I know, right?” I replied.

Silence. Perfect.

A girl my age approaches. I hear my mom’s voice (she may or may not be my conscience), “Make a friend. Maybe she’s going to school out there. Stop being so shy.” This isn’t shyness, this is caution and self-preservation. I smile politely, and let her through. She offers me gum-what did I say about strangers with candy? Obviously this girl was not to be trusted.

What happened next was the most absurd conversation I may have ever heard.

Within the first 5 minutes, these two had revealed the following about themselves:

  • The older (though not old) of the two-let’s call her Red-was 56. She was traveling to DC to meet up with a group of women (her girlfriends) she grew up with in NY. One of them had breast cancer, this one was the second of the group of 5 to have breast cancer. The other was named Kathy. She joyfully said “Kathy kicked cancer.” Then as if a thought crossed her mind, she decided to add “At least for now.” Really uplifting stuff. She works for Hilton and her husband worked in theater but got a studio job in LA, so he works there now.
  • The younger-let’s call her DJ- was actually, a DJ. However, she was currently working as a massage therapist. She hated flying and brought a coloring book to take her mind off the flying. She also had two margaritas at the airport bar. She was going to DC to see her girlfriend.*(see below)
  • Red comments that she also hates flying, but she doesn’t really drink often. She prefers smoking marijuana.
  • DJ also enjoys smoking marijuana, but is curious whether Red prefers a body high or a head high.
  • They both decide that body highs are unsettling, and they don’t like when they hit you too late and then suddenly you realize you’ve had too much. (I should note there were children in the row across from us. They learned valuable lessons that day.)
  • DJ reveals that she is half-black, half-Japanese and that she was a military baby, born in Japan but moved to the States when she was 4.
  • Red thinks this is very romantic.
  • DJ parents are no longer together. She has a tattoo of her mom’s name on her head above her ear.
  • Red wants to know what they think of her in Japan.
  • DJ says they think she is dark. (Rocket scientist, here)
  • Red is curious if she has anything in common with Japanese men.
  • DJ replies that she has only one thing in common with Japanese men, liking women.
  • Red says that she is a loud mouth, but it is because she is from New York and is Jewish.
  • DJ says black people are blunt loud mouths too. She repeats that she is going to DC to visit her girlfriend, who is a Scorpio.
  • Red wants to know what a good souvenir is to bring back to her office workers.
  • DJ thinks, then replies “a statue dildo”.

Clearly, when I think of DC, I think of statue dildos. And what better way to show your office manager you were thinking of him/her than by bringing that back! The conversation continued in such a manner–this was just the first 5 minutes.

I don’t understand why people need to share their life stories with strangers That’s why you have friends, family and therapy. As I was writing that I realized that it was maybe the most hypocritical thing ever written on a public blog. I’m going to own it.

But not only were they on their life stories, but having a full out discussion of their vices-drug use, sexual history, health problems, etc… Give me a break and hand me my headphones.

About 15 minutes before we landed, I did decide to take off the bitch mask for a while. I recommended some restaurants to Red and told her which areas were best for live music and some DC culture. I answered DJ when she asked me what my sign was, “Scorpio, I’m a pain in the ass.” She laughed. She repeated that her girlfriend was a Scorpio, and asked if there was anything I thought she would like for her birthday.

Sure, she told me she wanted a statue dildo at our last Scorpio meeting. No, I bit my tongue, smiled politely and said “I’m sure that she’d probably like something that she said she wanted when she didn’t think you were listening.” Red smiled.

We descended into DC in a thunder/lightning storm. There was no rain as we were landing, but the tarmac was damn from a light drizzle earlier in the evening. The turbulence was bad-not the worst I’ve ever experienced, but bad. Poor DJ ordered a shot of tequila from the flight attendant, put her coloring book away and closed her eyes. When we hit the tarmac, we bounced. The carts in the back of the airplane shook and trays flew down the aisle as the back of the plane swerved side-to-side. It was the worst landing I’ve ever sat through.

But I made it here safe. Took a taxi to GW, hauled my bags up to my room and started settling in.

(see here)*This brings me to a very important point that I’ve wanted to make for a while. When a person of my parents/grandparents generation says they are going to see their girlfriend they mean female friend. When a female of my generation uses the word girlfriend, they mean they are a lesbian. The exception is that a person may say they are going out with their “girlfriends” meaning group of female friends. And this isn’t so strange. Sure, it’s a result of the feminist movement, but let’s explore this a little further:

If I’m met up with Ashley Shirk my grandma might say, “Did you have fun with your girlfriend?” No big deal, right?

If Ralf met up with one of his guy friends my grandma would never say, “Did you have fun with your boyfriend?”

Because the more you drink, the better you think my writing is, I propose a toast, “To strange people in strange lands.”

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
~Leonardo Da Vinci