Pre-coffee: I am easily endeared

I’ve recently come to terms with my impossible-to-kick propensity for projecting onto strangers. It’s just a thing I do. And I do it with a confidence that is pretty unreasonable, by any standards. Is it fair to the people I observe? Often, no. My perception is dependent on countless variables, very few of them being controllable by either myself or the person in question. Chance! It is what life is all about. But many times, the portraits I blindly paint of strangers end up sympathetic and even affectionate. My last blog post, admittedly, was not a great example of this – it was a prime example of my ability to project, but she was unlucky enough to land on the negative end of my Spectrum of Bus Strangers. Today, we will explore the other end. Is your heart ready to be warmed this crisp September afternoon? Because I’m not into guarantees.

Over the course of the summer, I grew very fond of a mother-son pair across the aisle from me. She had an accent – something Eastern European – and cropped brown hair, a kind face. More often than not, she was wearing a cardigan. I never saw her without a crossword puzzle in her lap, which I liked. Her young son, probably ten years old, usually elected to sit in the seat behind her with his clunky, slate gray laptop. He held it like he’d never owned anything more precious. The reflections of light in his wire-frame glasses sometimes obscured his eyes, but never his quiet excitement. One morning, I overheard a conversation between the mother and our bus driver (this was an exceptionally personable bus driver, and he reminded me of a train conductor from the fifties) – she explained that her son was attending computer camp at my university. As if a kid at computer camp isn’t sweet enough, I immediately thought of the woman’s love for her boy. She took the bus into the city with him every weekday for at least a month, presumably dropped him off at his class and waited for him to be done, and then accompanied him on the peak-traffic bus ride home. This gave me a lot of feelings. Her supportiveness. Her sacrifice of summer days. Her dedication to making sure her kid got to do something he loved. Oh, my heart. Seldom does a pair of strangers strike me with such poignancy. Devoted parents everywhere: I admire and appreciate you on the highest possible level.

There was also the Animated Phone Conversation Lady. On any other day, I would have been irritated out of my mind with this woman. Her voice was loud and gruff in a chainsmoker kind of way, and she made clear her impatience with the person on the other end of the line. But for reasons I do not remember, I was in a very good mood that day. I paused my music just in time to hear her snap “she!!! is going!!! to lunch!!! with PATRICK!!! at noon!!!” Her anger was somehow good-humored, which sounds impossible but I can assure you it is not. I loved having no context for this conversation. Earlier, she had identified Lunch Date Patrick as “that freaky fucker” and I was automatically endeared to her. One communication disaster blurred into another as she left her daughter a voicemail, calling the girl’s father by the wrong name and correcting herself a second later. “Hah, oh my god, I promise I know who your dad is.” By the end of that call I think she’d noticed my attentiveness and laughed as she explained her state of mind as “pre-coffee.” I stifled an “I love you, who are you” and simply told her I was familiar with that feeling. I hope she got her coffee. And I hope Patrick lives up to that nickname, even though I’m not sure what that would entail.

Honorable mentions include the edgy guy self-diagnosing on WebMD; the scraggly, white-haired old man with a cane, his dog, and the fresh-faced girl the dog nuzzled into with a sweetness and familiarity only achievable by mangy dogs; the frazzled new bus driver with dark eyes, cracking jokes about how he preferred driving semis cross-country over this shit; the toddler who defiantly held a Starburst over a crack between seats as her mom warned “don’t you do that! ohhhh, don’t you do that!” – and then she dropped it; the man with the freckles and a baseball cap who described the Seattle summers of ’59 and ’71 as “sunny, but not this kind of heat”; and finally, the driver who tossed his trash into the little bucket at the front of the bus with such accuracy that I knew he must have done it a billion times before.

I love people. I really do.

Rome I: sunrises and sightseeing by chance

I’m a little more than slightly irked that a pre-cold runny nose got me up at 6:30 when I could have slept in till 8, but I suppose this is just an unexpected opportunity to reflect on my first few days in Rome. Although my head aches in an unpleasantly dull way from the congestion, this feels like a pretty appropriate time to be doing this – the birds are twittering away, the sun is slowly filling the space of our courtyard, I am at the maximum comfort level in sweats, a crewneck, and a flannel. Really, the only thing missing here is a two-hands-required, bowl-sized mug of black coffee… but I don’t drink black coffee. You know. Goals.

The morning I took off for Rome, I was pretty exhausted (if you recall from my last installment, I did not sleep the night before). So after the continued issues with flights and cancellations, when I finally got into the air en route to Heathrow Airport, I actually, legitimately cried about the beauty of that morning’s sunrise over the Scottish countryside. Before you judge me, please just take a look through my eyes:

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Crying about a sunrise on an airplane full of business people could easily be considered a low point in my life, but I’d argue it was a cheesy-albeit-fitting beginning of my journey to this city. I had my layover in Heathrow, where I ate pizza and drank prosecco at like 9:30am. In my defense, my concept of time at that point was egregiously warped thanks to my sleepless night at the Glasgow Airport, but I did not have the chance to tell my fellow diners this and could feel their cold, judging stares. LIVE AND LET LIVE, GUYS.

Predictably, my flight to Rome was delayed by about an hour – this honestly felt like a blessing after the problems I had encountered in the earlier parts of my itinerary. We’re leaving an hour after our planned take-off time?! We’re practically early! I was in and out of sleep the entire flight, partly because I was knackered and partly because some asshole had taken the window seat, and what’s the point of staying conscious if you don’t have the window seat?

I touched down at FCO around 3:15, waited impatiently for my bag, and hopped into an insufferably muggy cab. I think I had this previously unacknowledged expectation that we’d somehow magically hop from the airport into the middle of the historical city, taking some nonexistent route which wound us past the ruins of the Forum, and the Pantheon, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Quite unrealistic, like so many of my expectations. So when we reached the dingy outskirts of town, with its bright paint and mini marts and buildings thrown up in the 70’s (aka the worst time for architecture), I found myself feeling slightly disappointed that this was a part of Rome. And this made me think about the ways in which I love cities. I tend to love cities for what I perceive to be their authenticity, but when it comes down to it, I’m not even sure how I’d define authenticity. Does the guy selling selfie sticks outside the Castel Sant-Angelo make the monument any less real or valuable? Do the dilapidated fringes of the city detract from its history or culture? Whenever I’ve considered these questions in the past few days, my resounding answer has been “no.” Everything that is a part of this city is a part of this city. And it’s important to learn how to embrace the pieces which aren’t carved out of marble or painted by a guy I learned about in 9th grade art class. I think I’m getting somewhere.

To carry on with the story, eventually we did start seeing crumbling pillars and cobblestone streets, and soon enough our driver had pulled into the piazza where our campus is located and was unloading our bags and saying “ciao.” There we were. In Rome. Getting keys to our apartments. In Rome. Perplexedly gazing at maps and getting lost. In Rome. It didn’t sink in then, I’m not entirely sure it’s sunk in now.

So far, it has been a spectacular experience. One of my favorite things about Rome is that it’s so easy to wander, to just impulsively dive down winding side streets, and sometimes when you’re doing this you can glance up, in a moment which is the dictionary definition of serendipity, and find yourself stumbling up the steps or across the bridge to an incredibly old and famous monument. I’ve done this multiple times. The city is full of sculptures and fountains and panoramic views that seemingly come out of nowhere, jump right in your face when you’re least expecting it. I’m learning to sightsee by chance, which means I get to take in a lot of details that might be glossed over in a whirlwind tour. I absolutely love it.

Equally fantastic is the group I’m here with. Most of them I’ve only just met, but everyone is so kind and chatty and interesting in their individual ways – I’ve got my introverted tendencies, but I love getting to know people and learning their quirks. So, needless to say, this fun for me. What better way to make friends than getting lost in Trastevere together?

I won’t talk about any places I’ve visited yet, but that will come soon. I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep, but I do think my posting on here will be uncharacteristically frequent for the next few weeks; I actually have material! When does that happen?

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The coffee conformist

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Despite being a) an inhabitant of the Pacific Northwest, b) a college student / generally sleep-deprived person, and c) the daughter of a triple tall americano addict, I never really got into the whole coffee thing. Up until I graduated high school, I would order lemonade at Starbucks, and for another two years after I never strayed from iced, unsweetened green tea. I had not consumed a drink with coffee in it until roughly six months ago. Tall, iced, non-fat mocha. I was annoyed with the sheer number of words I had to rattle off in order to get said drink, but I remember enjoying the unfamiliar rush of caffeine, describing it as “fun” to anyone who would listen to my chatter.

The next day, I repeated the process. This time, however, I felt like I was experiencing the physical symptoms of a panic attack, having so much energy coursing through my body with practically no outlet (sitting in lecture doesn’t require much exertion). I decided, at this point, that I was not going to pay five dollars a day for something that made me feel like my brain was out-growing my head. And then a week later multiple passersby witnessed me exiting Starbucks with a tall, iced, non-fat, decaf mocha in hand.

Due to the suburban lack of cozy, indie coffeehouses and my own laziness in the area of drink-making, the coffee thing did not present much of a problem while I was living at home over the summer. Upon my return to the city, though, it became quite the opposite – a coffee shop about a block away from campus lured me in with the free wifi and enormous peanut butter cookies, and who was I to ignore my forgotten flame, the mocha? In an effort to seem more chill and less high-maintenance, I dropped the “iced” and “decaf,” even though I have never been a hot drink person and I know quite well by now what caffeine does to my… wellness. The power of conformity, guys, I’m telling you.

And – I say this quite mournfully – now the non-fat mocha has pretty much become a part of my daily life. It seems as if each one I get has less chocolate and more coffee (particularly the one I’m drinking right now, which I accidentally ordered as a double-shot… when the barista asks, just say yes to avoid any potential awkwardness), and by this time next week I very well may be drinking my coffee black. The funny thing is that I feel like this has just happened to me. Like it has been out of my control. It’s, like, 8:30 in the morning, and I’m in this coffee shop full of books, Ella Fitzgerald’s voice reverberating off the walls, and I don’t want to be that pansy who orders an iced tea. You know? Chunky cardigan, hipster glasses, laptop open to WordPress, steaming mug of coffee; it just makes sense.

I didn’t want this to happen. But I suppose I just have to live with it now. Sorry, body. Sorry, wallet. Sorry, baristas who have to deal with me on a daily basis. Actually though.


On a separate note, my recommended songs of the week:

10:43 pm

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I find living next to the freeway immensely comforting.

Most people, I feel, do not associate urban life with serenity. Constant noise, an onslaught of hurried pedestrians at every street corner, blinking lights all hours of the day and night. Cities are busy places wrought with bicycle bells and ink-filled planners. Late buses. All that jazz. Feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated isn’t a particularly difficult task, I think we citydwellers can all agree. It’s somewhat of a loud and isolating experience.

But I have found the quiet. Every night before I shut my eyes, I sit on my bed and look out at those blinking lights, at the many cars zipping along the freeway, and I listen to a song on repeat (roughly 5x, I’m one of those people). It is always easily the most peaceful little twenty minutes of my day. I can be running, running, running from 6am to midnight, completely stressed, red eyes for want of sleep, and the glow of the city skyline in the distance chills me out almost instantaneously. Magic? Perhaps.

The unrelenting presence of headlights on the freeway outside my window isn’t bothersome, but soothing. 3am in the suburbs is an incredibly lonely hour, but here there is always someone else who is awake and thinking. It’s a good exercise in empathy, watching cars drive by on the freeway late at night. What kind of day did she have? How does he feel about his life right now? I won’t try to deny the corniness of this thought process – it’s straight out of a twee little rom-com. But I like it and I’m going to keep doing it, so there’s really no stopping me. I want to imagine people complexly and be endlessly curious about their lives. Living right next to the freeway is good practice.

It has been a long and arduous week. But I am very happy.

Goodnight, o city of mine.


Songs for nighttime window-staring:

Bros

"Passion"

When twilight drops her curtain down / and pins it with a star / remember that you have a friend / though she may wander far.

I am not a fan of endings. I let myself wallow in their bittersweetness, mostly focusing on the bitter parts, the sad parts. This weekend marked a pretty significant ending for me – I moved out of my apartment, saying goodbye to my three best friends. I understand “goodbye” is probably not the most appropriate word since I will definitely be seeing their angelic, luminous faces again, probably even in the near future, but it really felt like an end. I mean, I can still sit on the couch and watch episode after episode of Skins, but I can’t look over and see O eating popcorn from the “trough” (a really big bowl – we have a flair for nicknaming things). I can cook myself dinner, but I won’t see L attempting to cool off by standing in the fridge while holding a very important phone conversation with her mother. And I can build a fort, but E won’t be sitting inside eating her super weird combination of fruity and minty ice cream flavors (and I won’t have her giant fort-building blanket, so there’s that too).

The paragraph above represents my usual train of thought: something awesome was happening, and now it’s not happening, tears. Oddly enough, I have recently come to the conclusion that this attitude is not helpful and makes me very susceptible to the drab weightiness of melancholia, so I am in the process of changing it. Instead of resenting time for passing too quickly, I am giving gratitude a shot. I got nine splendid months with these girls. My life rocks.

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I’ve always been a huge proponent for being friends with people who inspire you to be a better person, and somehow I have always been lucky enough to find the people who are that for me. I don’t know what I did to deserve the kind of friend who will come into my room and bury me in a hug when I’ve been acting immature, or the kind of friend who will invest herself entirely in my petty problems when she has her own to deal with – but these are the girls I have been living with. We went through breakups and deaths and disappointments and sicknesses, and no one ever got lazy with the love they were willing to pour out. Pretty beautiful.

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This is O. She kind of beat me to blogging about this, but at this point she’s probably used to being copied by me (at least shoe-wise). She is sweet and sassy, my favorite combination. An urban girl, but also a frequent forest-dweller, and the unrivaled pro when it comes to busing around the city. We’ve been attached at the hip since September, and her hip is one which I very much enjoy being attached to. If you ever need someone to play retro Maroon 5 for you while getting ready in the morning, O is your girl. I love her.

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This is L. She is going to be a nurse, and I always tell her I trust her enough to give me an appendectomy. She gives nothing short of her best ever, even when she’s writing essays about vampire romance novels that she vehemently hates. There are very few people who are more enjoyable TV-watching partners – she yells at the overly picky couples on House Hunters, and curls up in a nervous ball whenever someone gets kidnapped on the Vampire Diaries. She’s studious, but man does she frolick up a storm when you stick her outside on a gorgeous day. I love her.

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This is E. We’ve practically been married since we started college two years ago. About a week ago, I told her, “ya know, not only has having you around greatly improved my life, but it has also greatly improved my eyebrows,” and it’s true – the girl has given me eyebrow envy. She enjoys old Disney Channel movies and being adventurous in all of her cooking endeavors. A Gryffindor through and through. Always ready to jump into impromptu dance parties or conversations in a variety of foreign accents. I love her.


It has been an incredible year with these ladies and – while I’m very sad it’s over and we are going our separate ways – I am so thankful for the walks and the talks and the nightly popcorn sessions. To quote a YA novelist whose books I’ve never read: “growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I’m glad for that.” Aaaand for the sake of sentimentality, I will throw it back to our first group selfie:

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Thank you guys for making my life beautiful.