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.

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Arrivederci & hello again

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A few nights before I left Rome, I took a last stroll along the Tiber. My friend was trying to catch a nutria and I was “helping her,” which actually meant I had just invited myself along so I could distract her with irrelevant conversation and convince her to let me shoot Crocodile Hunter-style videos of her talking about ducklings in an Australian accent. She did not catch a nutria. I am not helpful. Don’t take me places.

But anyway this walk along the Tiber, however unsuccessful it may have been as a hunt for large rodents, was such a fantastic way to say goodbye to the city I’d fallen in love with ten weeks prior. Three hours spent meandering past suitcases full of moss and beached tires, gaggles of drunk tourists, barefoot, sitting on the banks and belting out pop ballads, the cheerful slur of “WE’RE GERMAN!” echoing downstream when they noticed us snickering past them. As is only appropriate, the Ponte Sant’Angelo guitarist played “Hotel California” not once but twice as the sun set, bringing my final count to 10 (not as impressive as I’d hoped for, but still abnormally high). I can still kind of hear it, much like I can still kind of taste that stupid-delicious pizza marinara from Dar Poeta, which I ate later that evening. As for the nutella calzone… I am not yet emotionally ready to discuss my feelings.

Throughout my last week, I kept joking that it was a good thing I was leaving Rome. On that Saturday, Karly and I set out for the Corso to do some shopping – we walked from Trastevere to Campo, and from Campo we somehow ended up by Castel Sant’Angelo, which utterly perplexed us, and then suddenly we were at Largo Argentina, overrun with stray cats, and we were like… how did we get here? Then we were on a street I recognized, and I thought we were nearing the Piazza del Popolo, but out of nowhere popped the Altare della Patria, blearingly white and not where it was supposed to be. Do you remember back in April when I claimed to have a sense of direction? I’m now comfortable admitting I never had one at all, but I’m still inclined to believe I was living in a place which strove to deceive me. I always end up characterizing cities as teases. I guess when I can clearly see their cleverness trumps my own, there’s always something to chase. Rome is dangerously enigmatic, so I laughed as I claimed to be saving myself from a lifetime of lostness – even though I kind of wanted it.

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I wanted to come home, but I didn’t want to leave. Standing on the corner of Piazza San Cosimato and waiting for a taxi, morning, June 5, felt incredibly matter-of-fact, as did the stiffness of my back as I went into the sixth hour of trying to sleep on my transatlantic flight. There wasn’t really anything I could do about it, I was being pulled. And I was beyond happy as I jogged through baggage claim at Seatac into the arms of my mother, and I’m still very happy to be here in this PNW sunglow of a summer with family and a shower that doesn’t leak – but, as I expected, it feels like Rome is something I dreamt. I keep finding myself silently reciting “Ode on a Grecian Urn” while I do the dishes, just to prove to myself that I actually went to Rome and memorized poetry.

Well, it happened. I was happy there, and I’m happy here. Mostly, I’m grateful. Grateful for my professors, my friends, pizza, knock-off Birkenstocks, notebooks and noteworthy people, drinking fountains, and, it goes without saying, mosaics. I’m grateful that I can now take it easy on myself when my jogging endurance is abysmal, because I spent two months “eating carbs and staring at art.” But seriously where the hell is the gelato? Damn it, America.

Tomorrow, I get to see Sufjan Stevens, who basically propelled me through Italy with “Chicago.” It’s become like the cliche traveling hipster song, I know, but it will always, always remind me of shooting across the country by train and feeling impossibly young and ready.

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All things go, all things go.

Hot mess in terminal S

The other day, I frustratedly scrawled the following into a notebook:

I am sitting in Gate D6 at the Amsterdam airport. In a bout of nostalgia which is completely circumstantial and not my choice at all, I am HANDWRITING this blog post before I can type it. Why? I made the mistake of A) owning a dinosaur of a laptop that constantly needs to be plugged in, and B) packing my outlet adaptors in my checked luggage rather than my carry-on. In my defense, though, my plan was to NOT EVEN HAVE TIME to use an outlet at this airport. Originally, I was only supposed to spend an hour here between flights. But OH the utter fickleness of a flight itinerary booked through Delta.

See, yesterday I was on the “Flight from Hell” (this term was coined by Nancy, an elderly woman standing in front of me and my friend in the practically stagnant line for hotel vouchers… which I will get to later). Our flight to Amsterdam was scheduled to leave Seattle at 2:15pm, and at first things were looking alright – we had some pre-flight mimosas and boarding was relatively painless. Took our seats, settled in, watched the cheesy safety video. After all of this, we were told that one of the air valves on the plane needed repairs and they were bringing in a maintenance team, which would delay us slightly – that’s fine, whatever. Delays are normal and problems need to be fixed. Eventually the maintenance crew left and we were forced to watch the safety video again, which was comically irksome, but then we were finally up in the air. I mean, we were up in the air for thirty minutes. And then they notified us that the valve problem had not, in fact, been fixed, and we had to return to Seattle to re-address the issue.

… and then I took a pause in recording my story because yet another flight of mine had been delayed. And I wasn’t even sure if I had a seat on it. (“I didn’t even cry!” she exclaimed with pride)

Me, when I'm being cool as a cucumber in a time of crisis

Me, when I’m being cool as a cucumber in a time of crisis

Anyway, I am now ready to continue telling this story. As you’ve probably noticed, I call it “Hot Mess in Terminal S.” Because when we re-landed in the Emerald City, we touched down at Terminal S. And it was a HOT MESS, YOU GUYS.

So. The pilot turned the plane around and parked it back at Seatac. The maintenance crew came back. Since we were all in the middle of watching the Oscar-nominated movies we never had the chance (or money) to see in theaters, we did not de-board the plane. You don’t turn down the opportunity to watch free, good movies, ever. That is a rule. But much to our chagrin, the movies eventually ended and we were STILL sitting on the runway, five hours after we were supposed to take off. Dry airplane sandwiches could not squelch the widespread, ever-growing annoyance. Eventually the crew began to sense that their passengers were slowly turning against them, and they let us off the plane, saying we would re-group in approximately two hours and then we would be on our way – at 9pm.

The disgruntlement was palpable (and also quite audible) as we exited the aircraft. We distributed ourselves among the four restaurants in the terminal, and some people re-booked for a flight the next day. It was an odd and miserable atmosphere, with dozens of strangers exchanging knowing eye-rolls and sardonic laughter while dunking over-priced chicken strips in plastic containers of BBQ sauce. I was, of course, sorely disappointed because this delay pushed back my long-awaited reunion with my best friend in Glasgow – but I also thought the situation was pretty funny. It was so ridiculous it was kind of unbelievable. I continued laughing when we had to watch the stupid safety video for the THIRD time around 9:30 that night, although at this point the spirits of the group as a whole had risen a little bit. Hope had finally re-gained some buoyancy all thanks to free Pizza Hut at the gate’s info desk. We settled in under our paper-thin airplane blankets and resumed our movie marathons, greatly looking forward to our inevitable takeoff.

After 45 minutes of sitting on the runway, a man’s voice came over the intercom. “I have some bad news,” it said mournfully. I chuckled, thinking it had to be a joke. Spoiler alert: it was not a joke. The pilot had just exceeded the hours he was legally allowed to spend on-duty. “I’m afraid we are going to have to shut this down tonight” explained the mystery intercom man as the undeniable rumblings of mutiny spread throughout the economy cabin. Once again, we de-boarded. Slowly, angrily, some people loudly and profanely. And then… The Lines.

A massive line formed outside the gate’s desk with passengers demanding hotel rooms, re-bookings, and profuse/tearful apologies from each and every Delta employee at Seatac Airport. My friend and I joined this line, and we stood there so long that my backpack straps actually gave me a slight rugburn on my shoulders. When we reached the exhausted and trampled-upon employee working the service desk, he kindly printed us a hotel voucher while repeatedly wiping sweat from his brow (I felt very, very bad that he had been scheduled for this shift – worst shift ever, dude). Sadly, though, the shuttle to this particular hotel was no longer running, and it was definitely not within walking distance. And after unsuccessfully fumbling around with the computer keys for ten minutes, our poor Delta friend sent us off to the airline’s check-in desk at the front of the airport to get another hotel voucher.

Our journey to this destination involved running down an escalator and retrieving our luggage from baggage claim, only to arrive at the check-in desk where there was, you guessed it, another line. This one was at least fifty people in length and it was not moving. Like at all. For twenty minutes. Despite counting ourselves among the more patient and civil Flight from Hell passengers, we finally got fed up enough to abandon our efforts and just pay for a cab to our shuttle-less hotel. I think I fell asleep en route.

The next morning, we encountered a few other disheveled non-traveling travelers in the hotel lobby. We had all been automatically rescheduled for a 2pm flight that day, but it was not as straightforward as it sounds – the details we received were few and vague, and connecting flights had been metaphorically mangled with a blunt-edged knife (as I learned for myself when I reached Amsterdam). But rather than express our irritation directly to the Delta employees at the airport (since they didn’t really have anything to do with it), my trooper of a friend and I rebelled in a more mature way by proceeding to the nicest restaurant in Terminal S – now our second home – and ordering champagne and $15 entrees, fully intending to demand reimbursement because we were not provided food vouchers. It was his idea. Pretty brilliant.

Although our flight that afternoon departed late (and we had to watch that damn safety video again), it did depart… AND IT ARRIVED! In a place that wasn’t Seattle! Imagine that! And now I write to you, happily, from the quiet lobby of the Glasgow Airport. I think my unlucky streak is over. Let’s all cross our fingers.

Next time: I express my love for Scotland and yes there will be pictures.


PS: even though this particular flight was undeniably a shitshow, I do not mean this to be an attack on Delta Airlines – most of the employees I encountered tried very hard to be helpful and dealt kindly with some pretty angry people. I mean, they could improve their safety information video, but…

Best 10: Netflix Edition

#netflix

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Netflix: a beautiful and dangerous thing. So many movies. So many TV shows. So many options, what is one to do? You can waste half of your life just browsing. Well fret not, dear readers, I am here to help you. Without further delay, I proudly present to you my second annual “Best of Netflix” list, now including TV shows and documentaries:

1. An Idiot Abroad

Starring Karl Pilkington, Stephen Merchant, and Ricky Gervais' laugh

Starring Karl Pilkington, Stephen Merchant, and Ricky Gervais’ laugh.

Quick Summary: Karl is cranky and hates adventure – so naturally his friends, Ricky and Stephen, send him to exotic locations around the world to film a documentary travel series. From visiting the “Alright Wall of China” to a village of flatulent snakes in Thailand, Karl remains unimpressed and full of reasons to whine.

Without a doubt, this is one of the funniest series I’ve ever watched. It’s basically two grown men thinking up ways to bully their friend from thousands of miles away, and it is BRILLIANT. No matter what they arrange for him, whether it be dogsledding or climbing Mount Fuji, Karl’s reaction is priceless and usually makes me double over in laughter. It’s inappropriate, ridiculous, occasionally offensive, and his attitude is rotten, but apparently this all makes for phenomenal television. Six million stars for An Idiot Abroad.

2. Helvetica

Starring people who are obsessed with fonts.

Starring SO MUCH HELVETICA

Quick Summary: Fascinating interviews with prominent typographers and graphic designers are punctuated by montages of Helvetica-ridden city streets; seriously though, it’s everywhere.

This documentary is proof that any subject can be intriguing if only handled in the right way. It’s not just about the history or ubiquity of the font known as Helvetica, it’s an exploration of the links between culture and design in the past sixty-odd years, and it is really interesting. Type is something so present in our lives everyday, and we hardly ever give it a second thought (with the exception of Comic Sans, because everyone vehemently hates Comic Sans). This documentary will make you think. And it will also make you try to recognize things written in Helvetica wherever you go, which is kind of annoying and kind of fun.

3. Love Actually

Starring every actor in Britain.

Starring every actor in Britain.

Quick Summary: Somehow Hugh Grant has become Prime Minister, and his sister is Emma Thompson, who is married to Alan Rickman, who works with Laura Linney, who falls in love with the real-life version of Aladdin…?

As the cover claims, this actually is the ultimate romantic comedy. Very romantic, very comedy. Who even cares that it’s set during Christmastime, love is not seasonal!

4. Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

Starring, who else, Mike Birbiglia

Starring, who else, Mike Birbiglia

Quick Summary: Mike Birbiglia delivers a hilarious and sweet stand-up routine at Seattle’s Intiman Theater (woohoo Seattle).

I feel like usually stand-up comedy is just stand-up comedy. You know, a line of jokes delivered semi-obnoxiously, a comedian strutting around the stage, pulling faces and extracting raucous laughter. Maybe it’s just the subject matter of his performance, but Mike Birbiglia seems different to me. He’s not obnoxious at all, he’s endearing and honest, and his routine flows really well because it’s a story. Good writing, good delivery. GOOD MAN.

5. Say Anything…

Starring John Cusack and Ione Skye.

Starring John Cusack and Ione Skye.

Quick Summary: Classic (maybe the original?) underdog-falling-in-love-with-the-valedictorian story. So very 80’s. So very boombox.

First of all, John Cusack was precious in 1989. Second of all, Cameron Crowe directed this and Jerry Maguire, so two big points for Cameron Crowe. Also, up until this year, I thought “In Your Eyes” was sung by Phil Collins. Speaking of Phil Collins…

6. Tarzan

Starring cartoons.

Starring cartoons.

Quick Summary: A shipwrecked family builds a sweet treehouse (hm, Swiss Family Robinson?), but then a jaguar attacks the parents and the baby is kidnapped and raised by gorillas.

See, I thought every 90’s kid ever had seen this movie, but one of my best friends hadn’t watched it till I made her last summer – so despite it’s popularity, Tarzan still belongs on this list. If I had to pick my favorite Disney movie, this would probably be it. The music alone makes it worth watching. (but it’s also just really good and I love Minnie Driver’s voice)

7. Aerial America

Starring the United States of America.

Starring the United States of America.

Quick Summary: Sweeping aerial footage of the 50 states (although there are only 10 episodes on Netflix) is accompanied by educational commentary.

IT’S NOT AS BORING AS IT SOUNDS. In fact, this is the second time I’ve blogged about this show. If you’re interested in history, or geography, or even just roadtripping around the states, you should watch this. You can sit on your couch and eat a pint of ice cream and not feel bad about it because you’re technically “learning.” One downside to this show: it makes me want to go everywhere, and does not provide me with the means to do so. I guess you take the good with the bad?

8. How to Grow a Band

Starring the band Punch Brothers

Starring the band Punch Brothers.

Quick Summary: Cameras follow Chris Thile and his bandmates around on their first tour together.

I was really excited to see this pop up in my suggestions the other night, because a) I have been listening to this band a lot lately, and b) after watching the Swell Season last week, I am digging the films that document both music and the dynamics between the people playing it. How to Grow a Band showcases some really fantastic musicians, and it explores how they learn to create things together without falling apart. And I don’t mean to trivialize Thile’s talent by choosing to talk about how adorable his crooked teeth are, but really, his crooked teeth are pretty adorable.

9. D2: The Mighty Ducks

Starring Emilio Estevez.

Starring Emilio Estevez.

Quick Summary: The Ducks add a few members and become Team USA, competing in the Goodwill Games in LA – but will they have to sell out in order to win?! Will the Icelandic team kill them in their sleep?!

One of the best parts of babysitting three young boys? Movies like this suddenly resurface. I don’t care what anyone says, D2 is a forgotten classic. I’ll admit I am not a huge Emilio Estevez fangirl, and I don’t really like hockey either, but the kids in these movies are so perfect (comedically and athletically) and who doesn’t love a good team bonding scene? I only watched this a few days ago, so maybe that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about it, but I’m pretty sure this movie is actually gold.

10. Amelie

Starring Audrey Tatou.

Starring Audrey Tatou.

Quick Summary: French people speak French and everything is quirky and magical.

I don’t know why this is #10 on my list – it’s actually one of my favorite movies, ever – but I’m too lazy to switch things around. On a gloomy day, this will totally turn you around. Life is beautiful, people are funny, love is real. It’s overly optimistic and a little fantastical, yes, but we need stuff like this every once in awhile. Especially stuff that’s scored by Yann Tiersen. Anyway. Amelie is timeless and everyone should see it at least once, come on, humor me.