Thursday, August 30, 2007

Introduction

It all started when a monkey assaulted my older sister, Cara. It leapt onto her head in the middle of a crowded Moroccan town square. If it had only been one monkey, I might never have caught the travel bug. But fortunately, there were two monkeys. The second monkey leapt onto her head to brawl with the first monkey. Cara started screaming, and her friends had to step in, and yank apart the dueling monkeys, thus liberating a frightened Cara. She escaped with only a cut on her nose, where a stray claw had accidently swiped her. Lucky for her, she didn't get rabies. Lucky for me, I went on an adventure to rival hers, which would change the course of my entire life.

I blame it on the monkey. I hadn't thought much about studying abroad until she told me this particular story. It was a "right place at the right time" scenario. I was spending a particularly miserable summer between first and second year of college, looking for something more definitive in life; something more adventurous, something more extreme. A monkey on the head sounded like just the ticket.

I researched, and found two study abroad programs on-line, one semester in Vienna, Austria, and one in Florence, Italy. Not exactly the type of places you go when you want to be attacked by a monkey, but I only meant it figuratively, after all, what I was really looking for was adventure. What I found was adventure, and a monkey.

Title Story, Circa 2003

I'm preparing to embark on a week-long sojourn across Morocco with Debra. Since this is my last chance to hang out with my future roommate, Captain Control (aka Amanda), we decide to take a bonding trip together to the infamous Rock of Gibraltar. The idea of a British-owned territory, on the Southern tip of Spanish soil, which overlooks Morocco, is an adventure not to be missed. We hop on the local bus and race to the rock.

The bus rolls over the crest of the hill, and the sunlight staggers us momentarily, dazzling our eyes as a plethora of pubs, kitschy tourist shops, and red phone booths lay scattered in the foothills before us. We are in Britain! But we're still in Spain! We are positively chomping at the bit to indulge in overpriced English treats and kitschy souveneirs. We're dying to speak our mother tongue, and exchange euros for pounds. But first things first, we head straight to the rock, and abandon the village 'til later.

We pony up a little extra cash to take a tour. We'd rather be safe than sorry, as we've heard there are heathen apes roaming the land freely. The van fills with fellow tourists, and our passive-agressive tour guide surges forward, racing up the side of the rock, the van lurching and swaying dangerously around the corners.

We're starving, as it's getting on mid-day, and neither of us had the foresight to order breakfast. We inquire as to whether there's going to be a stop, so we can grab a quick bite from the gift shop. The guide informs us that everyone else wants to buy postcards anyway, so he'd be happy to cease his boring history lecture and let us indulge our touristy whims.

I'm wondering if this last comment is directed at me, since he noticed my head starting to nod as he droned on and on in a monotone about the history of the moors. I have greater concerns, however, when I make the unhappy discovery that English country equals expensive country. I settle on a BLT which looks and smells delicious, but costs the equivalent of 15 US dollars, and half of my daily budget. Captain Control discovers a banana in her pocket, and crows happily that she is spared the fate of spending unnecessarily on overpriced gift shop fare.

Me: "This better be a damn good BLT." I grumble, licking my lips in anticipation of the first, glorious, $15 bite.

We head outside the building to partake in our lunch. After paying such an outrageous price, I'm eager to savor and enjoy every last morsel. The other tourists are spread out, chain-smoking and chatting, so we decide there's plenty of time, and set up camp on the left side of the van, preparing to eat. I've barely removed the cellophane wrapper on my sandwich, when a giant specimen of a barbary ape (some 20 yards directly ahead) whips his head around on his neck faster than I thought humanly (or apely) possible, and sizes me up.

I freeze, the sandwich extended halfway to my lips. Without a sound, the ape charges. Everything seems to go in slow-motion, and I experience what the victims of "When Animals Attack" must endure. It feels like hours, but in a matter of seconds it's over. Our eyes lock, and the ape races towards me, going full tilt. My feet are frozen to the ground as if they're planted in concrete. Do I run, hide, or play dead? Even if I had the time to make a decision, I wouldn't be able to move, so paralyzing is my fear. I hear spectators screaming in terror, like an empty echo ratting around the distant corners of my brain, as one long-fingered monkey hand closes around my left thigh, and the ape heaves himself on top of me, using his other extremity to knock the sandwich from my right hand in one fell swoop.

Clutching his prize, he trots back to the fence he calls home, and proceeds to pick through my sandwich, a look of disgust etched across his featues. I watch with dismay, as he discards $10 worth of bread and LT, and nibbles daintily on the bacon. To my left, Amanda is standing dumb-founded, jaw hanging slack, still gripping her banana like a lifeline.

Seeing her banana shakes me from my fear-induced reverie, and I start to feel indignant.

Me: "What the hell? You're holding a banana, for christsakes! What kind-of ritz-ass ape goes for the bacon instead of the banana?"
Guide: (Nonchalantly) "Oh yeah, I'm probably supposed to mention not to eat outside of the van, or the apes will attack." He looks bored, shrugs, and flicks cigarete ash onto his shoe.
Me: "These apes are running amuck! Aren't you supposed to protect me for that!?" I thrust a shaky finger toward my attack ape, who's now regarding me with a superior expression.
Me: (bitterly under my breath) "Yeah, I'll bet you enjoyed that bacon, didn't you?"

We head to the top of the rock, where baby apes of the cute variety are clamboring across the laps of tourists eager for food and photo ops. Amanda takes a picture with "a darling one" perched on her shoulder. I won't get near those beasts with a ten foot pole, so I spend the majority of the tour scowling at apes from the safety of the van window.

Not a moment too soon, the tour van makes it's final descent down the steep hill, to return us to the safety of the British village. As we head past the now infamous gift-shop-of-terror, I see my attack ape squatting on the fence, licking his chops, and surveying the shop door for his next innocent victim. Determined to snap a picture of the ungrateful bastard, I whip out my camera. I swear I'm not making this up. He winks at me, flips me the bird, and high-tails it out of there, leaving me shaking indignantly in his wake, sans photo.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Adventures in Flying, Part Deux

Post-reception, and I'm traveling with a glass of wine and a glass of champagne in my belly, so already the return flight is off to a good start. Add to that the fact that I'm flying with some wedding companions; fellow writer, Kelly Manning, the "other" Kelly, and old high-school chum Daniel Llenas. We regale each other with tales of "when animals attack" and I top everyone with my barbary ape scenario. We're all feeling a little too lazy and tired to try and get seats next to each other on the plane. This is my first mistake.

I've got the aisle seat next to an older, wizened, Alaskan couple. Since it's the red-eye, everyone settles in immediately to sleep. I look back at a sea of snoozing faces. Jaws hanging slack, heads contorted at odd angles, a woman buried in a man's lap. I wonder briefly if they even know each other. I'm jealous, it doesn't matter how tired I am, insomina always sweeps over me once I'm buckled down into my cramped seat. I scrunch into a ball, and try to pretend I'm on a train. This attempt is thwarted by a screaming child seated directly behind us. The Alaskan man twists in his chair and admonishes the parents harshly-

AM: "Would you gain control over your child, and tell him to stop kicking my seat?"

The woman seated behind us is chagrined and starts cursing at her son under her breath. I have to bite my tongue to keep from cheering. Finally, someone who understands my opinions on child-rearing! The little buggers should be seen, but not heard. And preferably not seen either. I'm just happy that I didn't have to be the one to say something, for a change.

Halfway through the flight I realize that the plane is relatively empty, I just happen to be in a row stuffed with three people. Since I'm the single person, it makes sense for me to move to a row with one other person and give this couple their space. I look around, but all the single row people are completely stretched out across their row of seats, snoozing with mouths gaping open; lucky bastards. I can't exactly roll up on them and tell them to move. And I am sitting in my assigned seat already, and really, I just can't be asked to transport all my crap. I cast a guilty look at the couple, but they appear to be asleep, so maybe they don't mind. I sigh. I'm the only person wide awake on this whole damn flight, and as a result, beverage carts have become obsolete.

I'm getting to the point of near-hibernation when I catch a whiff of a scent so foul it's all I can do not to gag. It takes me a second to realize that someone is secretly farting, spewing out Silent But Deadlies right up my nostrils and into my brain. I glance wildly about trying to identify the culprit. I suppose it's human nature to want to know- "Who farted?" But as SBDs are indeed silent, there's no way of knowing. And what would I do if I found out anyway? Tap the person on the shoulder pleasantly and say-

Me: "It appears that you've been farting in your sleep. It's the nastiest odor I've ever smelt, and if you would kindly stop, I might be able to get some shut-eye tonight. Thank you!"

I'm glancing to and fro, imagining myself starring in my own Scooby Doo mystery of "whodunnit." I eye my neighbors across the aisle suspiciously, it smells like it's coming from that general direction. But then I'm accosted with another fart through the air ducts, and it's just so strong! It has to be the Alaskan couple next to me. There's no way around it.

If it was one or two farts, it would be mildly understandable. But this is an onslaught, a bomb raid of one farting attack after another, and I am standing directly in the cross-fire. I try everything to wriggle my way out of it. Burying my nose into the pleather seat, putting my arms around my head on the tray table. But there's no way out. I'm trapped on an airplane reeking of methane. Never in my life have I been in such a precarious situation.

When the plane lands, I sprint off of the smelly abomination as fast as my stubby little legs will carry me and jog down to baggage claim, gasping for fresh air. My second mistake of the evening is that I neglected to print out my flight itinerary, and even conveniently forgot to jot down my flight numbers.

I love traveling with myself. I'm so completely laid-back and unprepared. I just roll up to airports, pop my credit card into the e-ticket machine, and hope for the best. As a result, I suppose, I've had some of my greatest adventure stories when things don't work out as planned. But I'm hoping today isn't one of those days.

If I had the foresight to print out my itinerary, the ticket agent in Juneau would've been able to check my beastly bag all the way to D.C. But because I don't, I now have to fetch my bag from baggage claim, re-check it, go through security, find my gate, and get on my connecting flight, all in one hour.

I'm the first one at baggage claim (as if running did any good, this part always takes forever, anyway.) And sure enough, a kindly gentleman worker informs me-

KW: "Oh, we haven't even received the bags from your flight yet, it'll probably be on one of these three carousels."

He waves his hand, indicating three enormous carousels that are not even within walking distance of one another and shrugs non-committally. I groan, and spend the next 20 minutes pacing back and forth between carousels like an angry, savage, guard dog, ready to rip out someone's throat.

I grab my broken bag and fly to the American ticket counter. (Well, as fast as a little person with a busted knee, towing two huge backpacks and a laptop can fly.) Panting, I arrive in the nick of time, as they have a sign posted that states you must be checked-in 35 minutes prior to flight time. Damn, these airline bastards are picky these days. Breathing a sigh of relief, I heave my monster at the check-in lady and hustle to security.

The security line resembles a human diagram of the large intestine. It's an utter cluster fuck, with masses of lines weaving in and out of each other, and winding around and around in a riot of circles. I stroll to what I interpret as the end of the line, and hope for the best. With about 15 minutes to spare, our Lady of the Line announces they've opened another, less populated security lane down on the other end. Mass chaos breaks out and the people in front of me jostle each other for the chance to break out into a run and get first dibs on a spot in the new line.

Being the experienced travel I am, I know to hold fast and my line will magically surge ahead as everyone bounds away searching for greener pastures. Sure enough, I'm through in 5, and on the plane in 10.

I'm sitting by the window, utterly exhausted from the night's events. Fortune smiles on me, and I fall into a head-nodding daze. I must have been a sight, because at the end of the flight as I'm groggily collecting my belongings, my friendly seat-neighbor girl asks-

NG: "Did you have a nice sleep?" With a hint of a snicker, and a grin on her face.
Me: "I guess. I took the red-eye last night and didn't sleep at all. I'm flying from Alaska to D.C. and it's a rough haul. How long was this leg?"
NG: "Four hours."
Me: "Damn, I guess I slept through it all."
NG: "Yes, you did!" And she starts cracking up in a way that suggests my head was either buried in her shoulder, or I was snoring up a storm to entertain and annoy all of my neighbors. I cringe and grab my stuff, not wanting to hear any vivid details of my embarassing sleep gymnastics. Time for the next flight.

Dallas to D.C. passes in much the same manner. Only this time I force myself to sleep, or attempt to sleep, the entire time, with my eyes buttoned tightly shut, until we're ready for the final descent. The captain announces it, and the bright D.C. sunshine hits me square in the eyes and dazzles me momentarily. We draw closer and closer to our destination, and I watch as cars, monuments, and freeways grow and wiggle through the port-hole window. The strangling shadow of Alaskan melancholy finally lifts, and a new feeling surges through me, one I've been waiting to feel for the last five days. Homecoming. I'm returning home.

Marital Bliss

The wedding festivities consist of a bridal shower, bachelorette party, rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, wedding, and two receptions. I thought it was called your special "day", not your special "week"?

I arrive in time for the bachelorette party, in which everyone gets exceedingly drunk. The hotel room is wallpapered with cut-outs of the male anatomy courtesty of Playgirl (and Kelly for providing it). Elizabeth recruits a ring of underage male strippers, proceeds to bite one on the ass, and sends them all packing fearing for their lives. Our bride, Kristie, spends the following day "puking and pooping" (her words) in recovery from said festivities.

The week takes a turn for the worse. The happy couple just wants to elope, and admittedly doesn't enjoy being the center of attention. The parents, however, have taken the wedding to heart. Kristie's mom has replaced her as the quintessential bridezilla. Kristie also finds out she's not allowed to invite her friends or bridesmaids to her own bridal shower. While this probably pisses her off, I consider it a lucky break.

Our next scheduled appearance is at Glacier Gardens for the rehearsal, and Sandy Beach the following day for the rehearsal dinner. Why the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner take place on two seperate nights, we have no idea. Also an interesting choice, to have the wedding semi-outdoors and the rehearsal dinner definitely outdoors, seeing how we live in Juneau, where it rains 360 days a year. Sure enough, it's raining and cold, but we manage to enjoy ourselves, dining on veggie burgers and bright pink cake, which several of the guys deem "too gay" to partake in. (They do seem to regret the color choice, though, as they gaze wistfully at my heaping serving of strawberry cake.)

The next day is the wedding, and I sit in the back row with Mike (Elizabeth's boyfriend) and make sarcastic comments. Not because the wedding is horrible, but because it's my personality to do so. Well okay, Kristie's dad marries them and gives a very Alaskan speech about our "crazy, materialistic world" and makes a few too many comments about how much thought Kristie and Ryan have put into this decision. (Thought? They've barely been engaged four months!) And the groomsmen did walk in to "When a Man Loves a Woman", but overall it's lovely, and Kristie, especially, is lovely.

I have to snicker because Kelly has previously informed me that she refuses to bow her head and pray when asked to do so at important events. (This conversation came about because Kristie's family is religious, and she was asked to do so at the rehearsal dinner.) Instead, she chooses to make eye contact with the other people (like her) who aren't praying and make them feel uncomfortable. Sure enough, I keep watch on her, and at the "let us bow our heads and pray" moment, Kelly scans the audience for innocent bystanders she can lock gazes with. I'm cracking up, and Mike elbows me, and hisses-

Mike: "Pray!" under his breath with a grin on his face.

There are two receptions. The first is the Christian family reception, which takes place immediately after the ceremony, in which no alcohol is served. Therefore, no typical wedding events take place; such as the bouquet toss, the toasts, or the wedding party being seated at the head table. Never before has the purpose of alcohol at a wedding become so clear. We all sit around, stare at each other, struggle to make conversation, and devour chocolate ganache instead. With nothing to do, we stand in the freezing cold as the wedding party takes more pictures than a Japanese family at the circus.

We take a ride in a limo (I'm invited only because I'm considered Kelly's hot date for the night) to DIPAC, the fish hatchery, for the second super secret reception in which alcohol and dancing are served. It seems weird to outsiders, but the fish hatchery is prime location for a wedding reception in Alaska. There's a security guard, in the event of wedding partiers getting too out of control (or in case someone wants to incite a mass break-out and set the "little fishies free", which actually happened on a past occasion.)

I make it my personal mission to get people drunk and dancing. The reception is off to a bit of a slow start, but once we dim the lights, the party gets underway. I do find it interesting that a few guests are ignoring the bash, and have broken out the fish booklets to spend the evening gazing at the fish tank with rapture, identifying species of fish. (Only in Alaska). My timing couldn't be worse, and I have to leave the fest as abruptly as I came, since I'm due to fly home on the red-eye with some other party guests.

I manage to leave all the make-up I own in this world on the floor of Kelly's car, (and her mom calls later to inform us that my necklace and earrings have been spotted in her driveway as well.) I hug my favorite friend Kelly good-bye, and wave at my hometown through the SUV window as I pull into the parking lot of the airport. The Alaskan adventure is over.

You Can Never Go Home Again

After the BBQ ass incident, Kelly and I recover, and gear up for dinner and drinks with some of my old, favorite partners in crime at the "Twisted Fish" (our hometown fancy restaurant.) I'm excited to partake in seafood, as the last time I lived here, I didn't even like it (horrors, I know).

We drive to the restaurant after returning from the wedding rehearsal. Kelly's feeling justifiably irritated, as the bridesmaids have endured a girlie scuffle over who stands where during the ceremony (typical wedding drama, somebody shoot me in the head, please.) The sight of a glorious rainbow hanging suspended over the harbor, where the float planes are idling and the cruise ships are lolling, momentarily lifts our spirits.

We roll into the restaurant, and I spot my old friends, who have all, er, expanded a bit (myself included). A romp of an evening ensues. Well, it starts as a romp, and ends in depression.

Maybe it's because the rain has been pouring non-stop, and Juneau is a gray and dreary world. Maybe it's because I have a bad attitude. I can't seem to put my finger on the reason why I've been feeling melancholy since my initial drive through town. Maybe it's because I've changed, grown out of the place, and no one seems to notice or care.

Whatever it is, I'm sorry to see I don't have much in common with my friends anymore. After the initial re-cap of life and the rummaging through of old yearbooks, I find myself with nothing left to say. It appears they're standing still in an isolated universe, and I'm moving forward, as I have been, for the last seven years.

After the glitz and glamour of clubbing in Vegas, going out in Juneau is a sad enterprise. And I was so looking forward to it, Kelly had assured me that it was fun, when we were a few years younger, back from college during the summer, and seeing everyone we knew out and about. Now when I see people I know, we uncomfortably avert our eyes, scan our brains to remember each other's name, and engage in the same conversation that I'm about to become immensely weary of.

Me: "Oh my god! How are you? What have you been doing for the last seven years? So, you're staying in Juneau? Me? Oh, I'm going to China to sing opera. I'm a gondolier."

At about this point, the conversation dries up, and we stand there, helplessly staring at each other and looking to beat a path of escape.

Our night of clubbing begins at the Alaskan, which is a hippie bar, consisting of a slightly older crowd. The bartender (a girl who's the quintessential Juneauite, whom I recognize from high school, but choose not to converse with, even though I know full well exactly who she is) conveniently forgets to give me my beer, so eventually, I get it for free. I nurse it slowly, while Lena dances with her fisherman boyfriend, who was in my brother's graduating class, and Lexie expounds upon her fear of flying, which is preventing her from going to Spain.

We move on to the Imperial, the "club" (aka, bar with a dance floor.) There's actually a line out the door, even though the inside is relatively empty, for the sake of "appearing" hip. I find this hilarious, but everyone else seems puzzled at my laughter, and proud of said line. We dance. I can't get quite comfortable enough to have fun. Maybe it's the recent knee surgery cramping my moves, or the creepiness of being at a club surrounded by drunk, native Alaskans. Maybe it's the stories of recent times when my friends used to smuggle alcohol into the bathroom of this pathetic place so they wouldn't have to pay for drinks.

Either way, I go home with an overwhelming sense of ickiness and a sadness foreign to my natural state of happy living. Juneau seems to be sucking away my soul, and I can't help but notice it's done a number on my friends as well. To be fair, I do get a chance to bond with my truly Alaskan friend Amy, who doesn't seemed affected by the destructive soul-sucking force, and is happily engaged after attending college at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The topper is when "last call" occurs around 2am (also bizarre when compared to Vegas) and a drunk guy slings his arms around Alexa (who thankfully, has retained her New York fashionista sensibilities from college, and not prescribed to the rubber rain boot wearing and sweatshirt era of Juneau dress) and my shoulders, slurring-

DG: "The only thing I regret about this evening is not dancing with you two, beautiful ladies."

I want to point out that I actually did dance a full two songs with him earlier in the evening, which were apparently not so memorable. He's interrupted by drunken guy #2, however, so he slinks out of the bar.

Drunken guy #2 also flings his arms across our backs and starts rambling with a thick accent, that neither Alexa or I can understand, and we keep shooting- "Help me, what the fuck is he talking about?" looks at each other. We manage to disentangle ourselves from him, and wade outside onto the sidewalk, which has become the late-night-dumping-ground for partiers emerging from downtown bars.

There's a cop car parked up the street, and it's occupant is standing on the corner, keeping a watchful eye on us as we leave the bar. I've seen several Juneau cops throughout this trip, and it interests me that a city containing 0 crime has such thrilling patrol action. At least we know the capital of Alaska is being protected!

Kelly and I manage to have a blast anyway, as we always do. Stomping through puddles at the beautiful Shrine of St. Therese, braving the rain hunting for bears at the glacier (which has also, depressingly, receeded away into the distance, and some day in the near future, Juneau will cease to host the world's only drive-up glacier). We stay up all night giggling, gossiping, and trying on outfits for the wedding. I teach Kelly how to pose for the bridesmaid side shot to make her arm look skinnier (a lifetime of being fat has made me the resident expert), and she teaches me that I can still wear a bra without keeping it snapped in the back.

We're such girls. We end up buying the same pair of shoes, and the same Alaskan beer sweatshirt (good thing we live across the country, and soon-to-be world from each other.) Who knew Juneau was a shopping mecca? Even though the nugget mall has become a failing enterprise (you can stand on one end and see the other), cute clothing boutiques have cropped up downtown, and the greatest shoe store I've encountered in this lifetime now resides in little ol' Juneau, AK.

I'm swelling with Alaskan pride, and yearning to buy everything I can get my hands on that represents my hometown. Because I'm such a vagabond, I own relatively little, and have nothing to show about my home or my travels. My ripe, old age is causing desire in me to remedy this situation.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Your Ass on a BBQ

We're in Udder Culture, and I'm dreaming about ordering my old favorite, the brownie delight, when I see a youth sporting a choir sweatshirt.

Me: "Oh, you're in the JDHS choir? Great, I was in it too, from 1996-2000." I'm obviously over-enthusiastic, and the youth regards me with a blank expression of disdain.
Youth: "Lucky you, did you want to order something?"
Me: "I guess I'll take a low-fat 4-oz chocolate frozen yogurt."

No brownie delight for me, and no conversation with anyone interested in the fact that I've returned to town after seven years. Apparently, it's not a big deal to the rest of the world, and I just need to accept this fact and move on.

Kelly and I spend an interesting evening peddling contraband on the internet, (otherwise known as an illegal match.com profile for my sister, back in D.C., unbeknownst to her). We're not going to tell her either, until we get a few dates lined up. We decide against this plan after we discover we're required to pay 34.99 for the first month. (Cara finds out the following morning anyway, when the system administrator bombards her with e-mails about her profile and photo being approved.)

To better understand the next story, perhaps now is the time to thrust Kelly upon the world. She looks harmless to the casual observer, but upon closer inspection, there lies a raging loony within. We've spent our childhood together doing such activities as; attempting to synchronize our Paula Abdul cassette tapes for hours over our rotary phones, screaming "make me do the pose again!" while striking said pose, and dancing atop the sculpture classroom tables, and ordering pizza immediately after consuming mass quantities of food at the Circus Circus all-you-can-eat-buffet. She's also my marathon running buddy, and we've had some interesting encounters circling the strip at 3am, leaving drunks in our wake, in an attempt to beat the Vegas sunrise. This should provide a bit of background for the insanity to come.

I beg Kelly to go to Pizzeria Roma for lunch, and she readily agrees, as she informs me that hot guys now work there. Hot guys in Juneau? And delicious thin-crust meat pizza adorned with sundried tomatoes and feta cheese? Yes, please. We settle into our seats expectantly, and I'm surprised to see that, indeed, this place is positively crawling with good-looking male waiters. Kelly and I are drooling over a particularly hot specimen, a Greek adonis, who is strolling directly towards our table. I actually cheer out loud and punch my fist jubilantly in the air upon his arrival.

Me: (with glee) "Yes!"
Waiter: "Excuse me? Do you guys know what you want?"
Kelly: "Your ass. On a barbecue."

Who says that? I fall out of my seat, I start laughing so hard. Kelly has to give my order because I'm on the floor, crying. But the festivities don't end there.

What goes better with pizza than beer? We head to the Alaskan brewery next, where a stereotypical Alaskan man, complete with a zz-top beard, who's been around since the opening of the brewery in 1986, gives one of the most amusing tours of my life thus far. Complete with stories about eating the bitter hops and regretting it for the next two hours, to drinking from 8am to 8 pm, in typical Alaskan fashion, this old codger has seen it all.

Homecoming

At the Seattle airport, on my way home, I feel the adrenaline begin to kick in. (Well, as much adrenaline as can kick in after two glasses of pinot and seventeen hours of airplanes and airports.) I start to visualize my homecoming as if I'm a local celebrity. The yocals are stopping their trucks in the middle of the road and running out to scoop me into their arms, with shouts of joy, and leaps of glee. The prodigal son has returned! We hold hands, and dance off into the blazing aurora borealis in a hippie haze of peace, love, and freedom. Needless to say, this isn't exactly how it goes down.

Back in the day, the Alaskan airlines wing of the Seatac airport was a hub of socialization for Juneauites. Used to seeing someone I know in every corner, I glance wildly about in an attempt to reconnect with kindred spirts from my past.

Thus begins the first in a series of disappointments. I don't know anyone anymore. I think I recognize the guy sitting two rows behind me on the airplane, but what should I say?

Me: "Excuse me, do I know you from high school?"

Instead, I spend the flight curled up in a ball, with my back facing the tray table and my face smashed into the polyester seat. I'm attempting to sleep, and stealing occasional glances at said blonde boy. (Who Kelly later informs me is notorious playboy, Andy Dietrich, of whom legend was told in high school, and who I only knew by name, and vaguely by face.)

I notice the dress and demeanor of my fellow travelers is changing the further I head out west. Instead of the business attire of Washington D.C., the crowd is now sporting brown rubber boots, beat-up North Face fleece jackets, and a riot of unkept hair. I relax with a smile. I am returning to my people.

I always say, when people didn't fit into society on the East Coast they kept heading further and further west. So what happened when they didn't fit in on the West Coast? They headed to Alaska! There's an old saying for women when it comes to meeting men in Alaska-

"Where the odds are good, but the goods are odd." Although the ratio of men to women may be 10:1, the choices are reclusive hermits with excessive amounts of facial hair, or downtown hippies who don't understand that there's a universe beyond Juneau.

Excitement mounting, we skid onto the runway and I crane my neck for my first glimpse of Juneau through the port hole window. Setting foot in the airport, I am assaulted by a strangely familliar, yet hauntingly different feeling. The Juneau airport is hilarious, it's an international hub that's the size of a shoebox. Prior to arriving, the flight attendant announces-

"You can pick up your bags at the baggage claim."

That's right, there's only one carousel here. I spot Kelly right away in the "throng" (handful) of people waiting for their loved ones, and we head down the escalator to claim my busted bag. I spy another girl I remember from my childhood, Blair Ramsdell. But does she recognize me? We make eye contact, and it's uncomfortable. What do I do now? Run up and embrace her? (I know, I wouldn't put it past me either.)

Me: (a trifle too bubbly) "Hi! I'm Colleen Dilts! Do you remember me? I haven't been back in seven years!"

That would be a little too weird for even me.

The first thing that strikes me as we walk out into the night is the lack of city lights, and the cold temperature. It dawns on me how much has happened in my life since I last lived here. I've seen the world, lived in big cities, purchased real estate, endured relationships and careers, obtained a college degree, and now it's all coming full circle. Everything looks a little shabbier, a little grayer, and a little more pathetic than I remember it. The architecture especially, is no sight for sore eyes. It's as if the buildings and signs were resurrected in the seventies and left on the hill to die. It's 11pm on a Wednesday night, the downtown temperature sign reads 53 degrees, and not a soul is stirring. We're the only car on Egan drive (our main drag, a two-lane highway, that is oddly devoid of any street lights).

To be fair, the scenery is as strikingly beautiful as ever, if not more so. The mountains still rise vertically out of the sea, the mist still clings to the mountains, and the evergreens peek out behind the mist. It's impossible to truly recognize it's greatness as a disillusioned youth, counting the days until you're set loose upon the world.

Kelly and I wander out again during daylight. We zigzag back and forth across town, in her parent's rust-dotted Subaru, the national car of Alaska. I remember the 15 minute drive being described as a "commute" in my childhood, with my parents rolling their eyes at the prospect of having to drive from North Douglas island all the way to the Valley. Now, this seems utterly ridiculous. The sleepy town of Juneau doesn't know what the word "traffic" is. We head downtown and park in a free space, to avoid paying a whopping 50 cents per hour. At least the parking is shockingly cheap, for a tourist mecca.

I'm disturbed to discover all the downtown shops have been rearranged. They're all still here, but it's as if my memory is playing tricks on me.

Me: "Um, wasn't Mail Call on the other side of the street? And what happened to Rainbow Foods? What's this new restaurant doing here?"

Kelly: "Yeah, Mail Call's across the street now, and Rainbow Foods grew and it's in the old radio station building, and this is a brand-new restaurant."

Mail Call is an old Juneau favorite of mine. It used to be a post office cum the-only-porn-store-in Juneau. My high school chums Jesse and Greta felt the need to take me there for my 18th birthday during our lunch break. (We also registerd to vote and called the phone psychic, but that's another story.) The front of the store is a closet-sized run-down post office, for mailing god-knows-what, since there are other bigger and fancier post offices in town. It's all an excuse for what dwells in the back of the store; racks of porn, and dusty shelves lined with sex toys. There's a disturbing little hole in the wall where the creepy propieter watches us as we giggle over a copy of "Bear" and try to act like the sex toys don't make us nervous.

Most of the shops I so fondly recall are still here, but it's as if a tornado has swept through the area, picked everything up, and set it all back down un-touched, and in a different order. I rub my eyes and we trudge through the rain to Silverbow Bagels, so I can enjoy my old-time favorite, the super cinnamon bagel. The guy working at the bagel shop also looks familliar, but again, not quite familliar enough. I realize I have let too much time slide past without returning, and now no one knows my name. It's not like a po-dunk town in the south where I'm the only person who has left. I might be the only person who hasn't come back in seven years, but everyone else has relocated by now too, is getting married, starting careers, and having babies. Apparently, I have to make a concentrated effort to see people I know around town.

These near-sightings continue over the next 48 hours. Next, I recognize a teacher's aid that everyone hated in middle school, named Cricket, at Valentine's coffee shop. Not exactly someone I want to run and hug. And what are the chances she's going to recognize me? Then there are people I think I recognize, that probably aren't those people at all.

Me: "Wasn't that Ishmael Hope, our spirit leader, senior year?" And, "I know I know that girl from somewhere."
Kelly: "What are you talking about?"

The food has paled in comparison to my memory also. The cookie at the Alaskan fudge company wasn't gooey and delicious, and the super-cinnamon bagel seemed to have sprouted raisins over the last seven years.

Adventures in Flying

The trip starts out painlessly enough. I check-in with my e-ticket, and I’m whisked through security. I can’t believe my luck when I end up in an almost empty plane and am granted the back section completely to myself. I stow my bags and make the fatal error of placing my exceedingly important money belt in the pocket in front of me. The Sacred Money Belt contains such necessary goods as; my birth certificate, social security card, passport, credit cards, etc. I realize I’m executing a potentially fatal maneuver, but I figure a strict reminder not to forget will do the trick. I chant this mantra over and over again in my head-

Me: “Do not forget, do not forget, do not forget.”

I forget. I can’t help it; I’m distracted by the flight attendants. I’m overhearing a riveting conversation regarding the truth about airline safety. This is the eavesdropping jackpot! Stewardess #1 chides us over the intercom-

S1: “Folks, please do not shove your bags into the overhead bin with so much force, the light above will break!” She turns to her cohort, “I’m so paranoid, and I’ve been on two flights this last month where that happened!”
S2: “I know, I was on a flight last week and it caused a two-hour delay!”
S1: “Last time, the engineers came on and repaired it with masking tape! I couldn’t believe it, there was glass everywhere, and the light wasn’t working, and we were told to take off anyway! How safe is that?”

I don’t do a very good job concealing my gaping wonder. I’ve gotten so used to spying on people comfortably behind a pair of sunglasses that I’ve forgotten you can’t actually stare at people unabashedly with your jaw hanging slack. I keep making mistaken eye contact with Stewardess #2, and she hastens to get rid of me.

S2: “We’re going to move you. Trust me; you really don’t want to sit back here by the noisy engine.” She winks at me conspiratorially, and I have no choice but to oblige, and follow her into the masses seated in the middle of the plane. I’m placed in a section of two seats (not three), by the window, with no one sitting next to me. This sucks. I’m no longer able to lie flat, surrounded by empty seats, and a plethora of interesting flight attendant commentary to listen to. I wonder if I can protest that I like noisy engines, and desperately want to remain in my assigned seat, but it’s too late. She’s already bustling around the plane with an armload of fleece blankets.

Resigning myself to an uncomfortable fate, I partake in my other favorite waiting-for-the-plane-to-take-off activity, which is watching the signal people. (Flaggers?) I just love them, with their orange signals, knee pads, fluorescent vests, and ear muffs. If I ever worked at an airport, that’s what I would do. Forget fetching bags of puke from angry customers or the stress of having to land planes in hairy situations. I would want to be the tiny neon dot on the ground, waving the planes in.

Our flagger is priceless. Exceedingly scruffy and lackluster, he waves our plane out of the gate, and I watch him double over and examine the bottom of our plane with a growing look of concern on his face. As we’re slowly backing away, he signals another flagger, and they both get on their knees, pointing and peering beneath our plane. They converse briefly, shrug, and we’re on our way, taxiing down the runway with increasing speed. I can just imagine their conversation goes something like this-

F1: “Hey, check it out! Bucket-loads of hydraulic fluid are leaking out of the engine!”
F2: “Sweet, could mean there’s a crack in the engine.”
F1: “Maybe we should say something.”
F2: “Nah, it’s more interesting this way.”

I glance wildly around me to see if anyone else has noticed this exchange, but I appear to be the only concerned party. Fearing for my life, we take off, and lurch dangerously to the left. The captain makes a friendly comment about turbulence, but I know better. The engine is about to explode and we’re all going to tumble to our deaths.

What I should fear is not the end of my life, but the end of my trip before it’s even begun, seeing how I’ve left Sacred Money Belt behind. I don’t even realize it, until Stewardess #1 brings it to me. I yelp with panic, and she pats me on my head sympathetically (with just a touch of condescension.) No matter, I’m too busy cursing myself for my stupidity. Unfortunately, I can’t say this is the first time I’ve made this mistake. Um, more like the fourth? The first time was in high school, when I sprinted all the way across O’Hare (second largest airport in the world) in platform heels and a little skirt. (I excited a group of Asian businessmen who were also running to catch a flight.)

AM: “Look at her go! She’s kicking our asses and she’s in heels!”

I arrived panting, at the gate, only to discover that the door is already locked, with the next flight preparing to take off, while holding my camera hostage. Again, a kindly stewardess takes pity on me and opens the door, allowing me to retrieve the goods.

Shivering with fear at this near disaster, I manage to curl up (not so comfortably) and sleep. My head is nodding and I’m suspended between sleep and wakefulness. I love it when your head actually rolls onto your chest, and you yank it upwards, glancing suspiciously around to see if anyone noticed you snoring, or worse, drooling. Brings back memories of falling asleep in a puddle of drool in high school French class, and Mme. Spence waking me up with a stern reprimand-

Mme: “Colleen, you’re on my list!” I never did get to find out exactly why being on her list was considered such a dire threat.

We land with no sign of an exploding engine, and I’m excited to discover that the gate for my connection is H10 and I’m flying into H13. Should be an easy connection. Would be, if today wasn’t the day I chose to ride the short bus to school.

I glance at the departure screen before getting comfortable and pulling out my computer. I’m tapping away when I notice the computer clock says its 12:35. I frown, and consult my ticket, which indeed, states we should be boarding at 12:30. I have a moment of panic, as I’m the only one sitting at the gate, there aren’t even flight attendants. Something must be wrong.

I rise from my seat, struggling to balance my open computer, backpack, Sacred Money Belt, and laptop bag (don’t want to leave my baggage unattended, after all!) and shuffle back to the departure screen. Glancing between my ticket, the screen, and my gate, it looks like everything is on-time and ready to roll. I sit back down, feeling more and more uneasy as the clock on my computer creeps towards 12:45.

Fear escalating, I trudge back to the departure screen for the third time, only to stare quizically at the same information, and scratch my head. As I’m walking back to my seat I have the mind-blowing realization that there’s been a time change, and the clock on my computer is now an hour ahead.

I smack my forehead with an open palm. How long has it been since I traveled? Did I even go to all the countries represented by the brightly colored patches on my backpack?

A grandmother and her two granddaughters join me on the bench. This is my personal hell, as there’s nothing I hate more than loud children. And these children are of the obnoxious brand. They’re staring at me with their beady, gluttonous eyes as I’m munching away on a bag of potato chips. I glare back at them. There’s no way I’m sharing with a bunch of rug rats. They get the message, sulk, and pull out identical Discmans. To my horror, they start singing along loudly with childish voices. I look around to see if anyone else notices this extreme irritation, but everyone is regarding them with a certain degree of charm and acceptance.

I consider moving, but then decide since I was here first, they should be the ones leaving. I steal myself for another glance in their direction. The youngest one has constructed a cat’s cradle out of her chewing gum and is playing with her sister. I’m utterly disgusted by this, and upon closer inspection, I realize that Grandma is snoozing away with her head thrown back against the seat and her mouth open. Perfect. The disgust turns to vomit as they start to eat the ABC gum twined around their grubby fingers with great zest.

It’s time to board the plane, and I’m ecstatic right off the bat because there are male flight attendants! I happen to think male flight attendants are the greatest thing since sliced bread, perhaps even better than signal people. “Todd” shows me to my window seat, wedged next to Granny and Gramps. It’s okay, because I don’t mind old people. After all, I spent every holiday with my grandparents as a child. It's those damn babies that make me nervous.

Granny and Gramps are restoring my faith in humanity, as they intertwine hands and settle into their role as the cute, romantic, old couple. That is, until Gramps starts hitting on our stewardess unabashedly. (Yes, my happiness is premature as I discover we are not in Todd’s section of the plane after all, or any other male steward for that matter.) I watch as they flirt openly in front of Granny, who doesn’t seem to mind. What the hell?

I feel uncomfortable, having witnessed this private exchange, and keep my fingers crossed that Granny and Gramps won’t feel the need to converse with me throughout the course of the flight. I plug into my i-pod and close my eyes, as an extra measure of discouragement from conversation.

Every time I open my eyes on this flight, it’s traumatic. The first time, I realize I’m sitting behind the world’s most affectionate couple. Yuck. The second time, my head is turned all the way to the left, and I open my eyes and find myself staring at Granny’s gigantic earlobe. Really, it’s the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen, I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before. It’s the size of a dinner plate! Uncomfortably, I finger my own earlobes and wonder if the hoops I'm currently wearing will cast a similar fate upon me. Throughout the course of the flight, I find myself staring obsessively at her earlobes, as if I might drown in their great depth. Every time she glances my way, I feel a surge of guilt at getting caught peering inquisitively, and I jerk my head back, while simultaneously screwing my eyes shut, so she’ll think I’m sleeping.

Four hours and twenty minutes goes by awfully slow in this manner. The drink cart makes its first pass, but I decline. The drink cart passes again, and I’m getting amped to order. The stewardess completely skips me! I can't believe it! It’s as if I branded myself a non-drinker the first time around, and now I don’t even get the courtesy of an option. The decision has been made for me. I won’t be drinking anything on this flight.

I’m relieved when we touch down in Seattle, and I scurry down to baggage claim to meet Stella, who I’m going to spend my five-hour layover drinking heavily with. We'll be regaling each other with tales of when we used to dance in Vegas together.

My monster of a bag finally emerges on the conveyor belt, and it’s come completely undone. My underwear and tennis shoes are now flopping out of the gap in my bag, on display for the world to see. My bag has, how shall we put it? Seen the world. It's been lined with duct-tape, sewn with dental floss, tied with knots, and embedded with safety pins in it's spine. Basically, it's ready for retirement. The safety pins have become utterly mangled. I mange to salvage one, and pin the bag back together, but barely. It’s hanging on by a single strand, and I have no idea how it’s going to make it to Juneau. (Or China, for that matter.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Dragon Boat Border Patrol

Cara and I drive to Baltimore, fueled by two-day-old fried rice (I'm having premonitions of life in China) with the musical "Wicked" blasting on the car stereo. I'm hanging my head out of the window, howling along and simultaneously catching flies. We meet up with Cara's friend Dawn, who lives in Baltimore. I'm on a mission to hunt down the sloth who calls the Baltimore aquarium home.

On our way to said aquarium, we stroll across the water front. It's positively reeking with the stench of raw eggs. What better activity to partake in than swimming? We don't exactly dive straight into the pollution, but it's almost as bad, because we decide to take a magnificent dragon boat ride.

I spy some typical touristy paddle boats, only these are adorned with gigantic plastic purple dragon heads and tails, bobbing along in the wake. I'm always attracted to kitschy activities, and today is no exception. It's like my very own cheesy Disney ride! Grabbing Cara and Dawn by the hands, I drag them to the dock so we can rent our own Barney, and paddle around in an extremely clustered and limited manner.

Paddle dragons are bouncing off each other in a series of bumper-car-esque collisions. The front of our dragon, "Chessie", is badly cracked. Our dragon apparently has encountered several battles, and is looking a bit worse for the wear. It doesn't elicit much confidence in the boat's ability to stay afloat, but no matter. We're already severely handicapped since the enormous dragon head blocks driving visibility completely.

After paddling for ten mintues, craning our necks to see where we're heading, and avoiding mishaps with other dragons, we grow tired of the immediate area we're only allowed to paddle in. We're wondering what would happen if we just lit out of here, paddling as fast as our stubby, little legs will take us (which, in this decrepit dragon is uncomfortably slow), and head out for the open ocean, never to return. How would they react? They can't come after us, we are in our own boat, (if you can even call it that) after all.

We soon find out they can come after us. Our intention all along has been to take turns paddling (it's surprisingly tiring, either that or we're surprisingly out of shape, probably the latter.) Cara and Dawn trade places, and Cara decides she enjoys the view more standing broadly across the back of Chessie, with her hands on her hips, surveying the ocean scene in the manner of proud shrimp boat captain, Forrest Gump, standing astride his "Jenny." I hiss at her-

Me: "What are you doing? Sit your ass down!"
Cara: (Defiantly) "No. The view is way better up here and it doesn't smell nearly as bad. Besides, it doesn't say anywhere that I can't stand."
Me: (reading aloud from large sign posted in front of boat). "All participants must remain seated at all times. What do you think that says?" I hear shouts being issued from the dock. "Jesus christ, they're yelling for your ass to sit down!"

Cara sits begrudgingly. We cruise calmly to the center of the quagmire of twisting and turning boats, when a motor boat carrying a youth wielding authority comes screeching away from the dock.

Teen: (speaking to manager over radio) "Which boat, the purple dragon?" He cuts a sharp corner and starts aiming at another purple dragon, which is bobbing harmlessly nearby. We think we're in the clear, until he rounds on us.

Teen: (angrily bellowing) "Hey you! My manager told me to come pull you guys in! You are NOT allowed to switch seats! He licks his lips and cracks his knuckles agressively, clearly relishing his role as good cop/bad cop. "I'm just gonna give you a warning this time, but I better not see any more funny business."

Dawn: "We didn't know, I swear, we'll never do it again!"

Everyone on the water is staring at us gleefully, as if they've just witnessed a crime being committed. The guy from the other purple dragon even asks us if we're okay, and lets us know he's got our back, as if the border patrol was going to rough us up, and a riot was forthcoming. He obviously wants in on the flouting-of-authority action.

Me: (to Cara, in most annoying manner possible) "I told you so, why in your right mind would you think you're allowed to stand on the boat?" Maybe it's the gondolier in me, having spent copious amounts of time drooling my way through safety training at the Venetian. "Maybe the fact that they require us to wear hideous orange life vests should have tipped you off?"

Once I'm done playing the annoying sister, I realize that getting pulled back to shore is exactly what this dull ride needs to spice it up. So I start brainstorming ways we can make this happen. How hilarious would that be?

Me: "I have an idea, once our 30 minutes is up, let's make a run for it, and see if the dragon boat border patrol will tow us back in and ex-communicate us from the ride!" Dawn wasn't having it, but she does let us linger on the water for a few extra minutes, in case the nazi in the motor boat comes zooming out again to inform us that, according to his stop watch, our ride is over.

Unfortunately, it doesn't happen, and we move on to the rather less eventful aquarium. Maybe it would be more exciting if the sloth wasn't so far up the damn tree that all we can see of him is a postage-stamp size block of fur on his butt. Maybe it would be more exciting if it didn't cost 22 bucks, and require us to wait three hours before entering. Either way, it's lame, and the sloth's name is Rosie.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Free Lube Jobs, Come and Get It!

"Hi, Rob? This is Colleen. You don't know me, but I was calling to inquire about the free lube job that you advertised on the fence here at King's Dominion amusement park. It looks like you wrote it with a sharpee pen, right before the entrance to the Volcano roller coaster. Please give me a call back, thanks, byeeee!"
(Transcript from actual voicemail message.)

I love amusement parks, but I hate waiting in lines. To pass the time, I come up with one of my greatest schemes yet- I'm going to whip out my cell phone and dial all the "for a good time call..." phone numbers that are graffitied across the park. I cross my fingers for a live person, but instead I get Rob's voicemail. I'm wondering if he wrote the message himself, or if one of his friends did. (Perhaps an ex-girlfriend?) Either way, I'm excited that he has a deep, sexy voice, and I'm eager to get to the bottom of the "Who does that?" mystery of writing-on-bathroom-walls. I'm not having luck getting ahold of any other culprits, so I'm going to have to hang my hopes for answers to this universal question on a return call from Rob. It hasn't happend yet, but the jury's still out. I'll give him 48 hours. (Although, if I said that on your answering machine, would you call me back? I didn't think so. Not even out of curiousity?)

My new friend, Jimbo, saves my cell phone bill by keeping me entertained during my next bout of line-waiting. He's playing a sports announcer, and doing a running commentary on speed slide participants. (You know, the super scary, steep, 60 mph, feel-like-your-free-falling, enema-inducing type of water slide?)

Jim: "Nice! I think her boob fell out! And that was a definate wedgie."
Jim: "We're getting some crack on this one, boys."
Jim: "How's that for cheek peek?"

I'm pretty excited for my review. Taking a flying leap onto the slide, 2 seconds later, I arrive at the bottom, prying my swimsuit out of my ass crack (where it's become unsettlingly lodged). I flash Jimbo the thumbs-up. Cara comes down the slide next and gives me my report.

Cara: "Here's what he said- disappointingly, no crack. He was expecting more from you in that area. However, you made up for it with a quality wedgie, and the top of your tank crept up pretty high in the back. Overall, an excellent display."

None of the lines at the amusement park quite compare to the experience of waiting 50 minutes at the KFC drive-thru on our way home. And no, I don't mean 15 minutes, I mean 50 minutes. 30 of which are spent parked next to the speaker box, eagerly awaiting the hunger-reducing sound of "May I take your order?" By the time Cara and I arrive at said box, we have already put in a good 15 minutes of time just waiting for the two cars ahead of us to place their orders. And we'll be damned if we're not going to get the new Biscuit Bowl!

Backing up to the beginning: We can't figure out if the person driving the Escalade in front of us is a guy or a girl, so henceforth, it will be referred to as Schmale (She-male). Schmale is a total prick, and the person working the drive-thru is an idiot. Schmale also happens to be an idiot. (Still not sure how this explanation necessitates a 50-minute wait time, but I digress.)

DT: "Um, can you say all that again?" (After Schmale has ordered two bags worth of food.) Schmale repeats order about seventeen times, continually amending, making changes, and just generally being an asshole. I mean, clearly the kid's a retard, could you go easy on him for the sake of everyone else in line?

DT: "Is there anything else I can get for you?" Schmale proceeds to change the entire order once again.

Cara and I rejoice when it is our turn to pull up to the speaker. We'll even make it easy, all we want is a biscuit bowl. 5 minutes turn into 10, 10 turns into 15. The cars behind us decide to leave. We wonder if we should leave, but we're a little too annoyed, amused, and curious about what the hell is going on. We start to have a running dialogue about the action occurring in front of us.

Me: "Look, it says Schmale owes 25.51, that means they're going to have to prepare a lot of food."
Cara: "Ooohh, here comes the drink cups."
Me: "Uh oh, the drink cups are getting sent back."
Cara: "The price just changed to 24.46."
Me: "Why are they having a 5-minute conversation? I want to see some action!"
Cara: "Damn, did Schmale just throw that food out of the window? What a dick!"

The car behind us honks. Schmale and drive-thru worker crane their heads to examine us, as if realizing for the first time that we've been sitting here for 30 minutes.

Cara: (addressing 2nd line of cars behind us through driver window) "We've been sitting here for 30 minutes, you guys might as well just go." We sit through five cycles like this, of cars lining up behind us, and Cara sending them on their way.

This situation has become ridiculous. Especially in light of the "We strive to get your order in 60 seconds" sign that is prominent outside Cara's window. After 50 minutes go by, our food is finally in our hands.

Me: "What happened?"
DT: "We got their order wrong, and they refused to get out of line, sorry about the wait."

We didn't even get a discount for all of our troubles. But finally, the long-awaited, glorious biscuit bowl is in our hands. We've been craving this item ever since spying a billboard on the freeway during our trip to Philadelphia last weekend. We sink our teeth into the first bite, passing the bowl back and forth eagerly (as if it was a different type of "bowl", and not just some crappy fast food). The verdict? It sucks.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Great Smithsonian Adventure

I know I've left my dear readers (all 2 of you) in the lurch as to the results of The Great Smithsonian Adventure. The truth is, I couldn't bring myself to go until today. It's a raging inferno outside, 100 degrees with 80 percent humidity. Today's the first day it's cooled off enough for me to encounter the bloody heat.

I'm feeling pumped to don some dorky tourist gear, but have to think twice, due to said weather. So here I am, in sport shorts, tennis shoes, a visor, (don't worry, it's nerdy) a tank top, and LOTS of sunscreen. Dumb maneuver #1, showering prior to stepping into sweat bath.

Dumb maneuver #2, getting off at "L'Enfant Plaza" instead of the metro stop aptly named "Smithsonian." Seems like a no-brainer, right? But I'm a "local", and therefore privy to such top-secret knowledge as the fact that several Smithosonian institutions are actually located closer to "L'enfant Plaza" than "Smithsonian". This is true, if you also know which exit to pop out of once you return to the glaring light of day. "L'enfant Plaza" happens to be one of those extraordinarly large underground stations, which encompass all of, like, 17 blocks. I get off at the farthest possible exit, and end up in some random federal building, where I'm getting frisked for entering.

I finally reach the national mall, and I'm already hungry, hot, and exhausted. I head to the native american museum first, because I love their tribal dining facility. Having previously enjoyed an exquisite meal that included eel salad, a bloody buffalo steak, and some delicious salmon, I was ready for my second gastronomic experience. Remembering how succulent the buffalo was last time, I decide on a buffalo burger, with fries and a soda. Once I'm sitting, I take a look at my food and realize I just paid 14 bucks for a damn happy meal. To make matters worse, I'm surrounded by people munching away on various unusual entrees. I consider asking if they'd allow me to exchange a burger with a bite already taken out of it.

Have I ever mentioned that I'm the world's worst orderer? I should start making other people do it for me. I should've tapped the shoulder of the guy standing in front of me and said-

Me: "Excuse me, but do you mind choosing what I'll eat today? You see, if I do it, I'll just end up eating some shit."

Or maybe I could go with the subtle "I'll have what he's having" approach. But I digress, I'm getting distracted from my original intent to people watch.

After five minutes of listening to thinks-he's-so-damn-smart-dude expounding upon native american theories with his ever-attentive companion who's just trying to get a word in edgewise, I was ready to throttle him. What good is having an overly intellectual conversation with yourself? If I was her, I wouldn't be impressed. This dude was just talking to hear himself talk. I decide to move on, since Cara and I calculated that I would be spending approximately fifteen minutes in each museum in order to squeeze in all nineteen in one day. I throw away the remaining seven dollars of lunch and head to the air and space exhibit.

Can I help it if I'm seduced by the planetarium and IMAX movie theatre? Ooh, and they have kites in the gift shop? I live for that shit. Once I reach the theatre and see that Tom Cruise is narrating the film, I turn on my heel and head to the planetarium. (I hate Tom Cruise). Instead, I get to listen to Robert Redford wax nostalgic about the big boom theory. The eternal rule-breaker, I stealthily check to make sure the usher is busy with the projector. Then I slip to the floor to enjoy the movie laying on my back, while everyone else cranes their necks to peer at the ceiling. The downside of this plan is that more than one spectator treads on me on their way out.

Rubbing my newly bruised hand, I head to the modern art museum. Did I say I live for IMAX? I actually live for modern art. Or rather, I live for all the psuedo-intellectual people peering intently at pieces entitled "Black Dot" and expounding upon their depth, because they're so artistically inclined. Today's favorite work was a random hunk of beeswax covered in plaster, called "Child at Soup Kitchen." I stared at it for about five minutes, trying to make out a face in the wax. Nope, just a hunk of crap. For all you Juneauites out there, I found a partner piece to the "Nimbus". (You know, that hideous hunk of twisted neon green metal in the courtyard of the AK state museum?) I found "Nimbus 5", a simillarly awful chunk of blue plexiglass.

Lucky me, I was in time to catch the 3pm tour. Even luckier me, it was a private tour. Even luckier duckier me, the tour guide was hilarious and waaaayyy too into modern art. She kept tossing me tough questions, like a teacher trying to trip you up during an oral exam. But when it comes to modern art, I can play with the best of 'em, and I parried with some pure gold bullshit, if I do say so myself. (And I do.)

TG: "What stands out to you immediately upon entering this room?"
Me: "The juxtoposition of the placement on the wall of each piece."
TG: "What specifically about their placement do you find interesting?"
Me: "It's what the artist does with the negative space. He put as much thought into how he was going to place the art on the wall, as he did to the art itself. He's saying they're equal in their artistic merit. Like, if he had made a different choice, it would be a completely different work of art.
TG: "You're right, when he gave us our tour, he spent as much time explaining the space between as he did talking about each individual piece."
Me: "I think he exaggerated the random placement of each piece to show the audience that chaos in and of itself is order."
TG: "Exactly! You're so brilliant!"

I walk away having convinced my tour guide that I am the young, modern messiah of art. I'm feeling smug, because I happen to believe most modern artists are laughing their way to the bank, while their audience trips over themselves to analyze random squiggles and blotches of paint. Come on, I could paint that with my eyes closed. I leave the museum with my retinas aching from over-exposure to neon flasing lights and Sylvester Stallone's torso during the video installation portion of our tour.

I'm starting to feel burned out, but I bravely soldier on. The african art museum, the asian art museum (was that the Freer exhibit?), and some other art museum all blend together in my mind. The temperature is creeping up dangerously and I am in desperate need of refreshment. I head over to the natural history museum for some diet coke. I'm disconcerted, as I watch a youth dig a grubby finger into his nose. He shakes out a heinous bogey and flings it at an unsuspecting skeleton of a wooly mammoth. Having lost my appetite for dinosaur bones, I'm relieved when Julie calls and inquires what I'm doing tonight.

Me: "Getting the hell out of here." The museum is alarmingly packed wall-to-wall with screaming children.

Easier said than done, this time I go to the "Smithsonian" metro stop, and fight my way through the rush-hour crew queuing eagerly to get home after a long, hard day. I'm heading down to the platform, when out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of Kevin, a 21-year-old ex-barrista, who used to flirt mercilously with me.

Shit! He can't see me! I told everyone at Starbucks I was leaving for China ten days ago! (I just didn't feel like working anymore, can you blame me?) I attempt a dodge-and-weave maneuver which is a little more advanced than my recuperating-from-surgery left knee can handle, and the next thing I know, I'm tumbling, and pulling over a metallic trash can with me, as I crumple to the skanky subway floor. Kevin's head whips around at the sound of the commotion.

I cringe, curling into the fetal position in order to hide, while simultaneously concocting a wild story about having flown back to DC for two weeks while the Chinese government sorts out my work visa. I feel like Meg Ryan in "French Kiss", during the scene where she's frantically crawling away from her ex-husband covered in food. Only I'm covered in trash, and I'm not crawling on some posh hotel floor. At that moment, the train doors open and he hops on. I breathe a sigh of relief and brush trash off myself as I wait for the next train to approach.

The train is crowded, but I manage to find a seat. I'm given a large berth as a result of my trash-eating experience. A homeless woman, also smelling of trash, isn't afraid to approach and takes the seat next to me. She reeks of pee and alcohol, and is busy smearing bright red lipstick on her cheeks. She asks me for money, but since I never carry cash, I don't have any to give. Then she asks me to pick her chips up off the floor. At least I can do this, and as I'm bending down, a good samaritan hands me two bucks to give her. Next she asks if we can help her out of her seat. After an extended bout of pushing and grunting from me, and a lot of heaving and pulling from good samaritan, she is able to totter off the train.

Good samaritan sinks into the seat next to me and wipes sweat from her brow.

GS: "We never know what will happen to us in this life. You were good to her."
Me: "No, you were good to her, I didn't have any money."
GS: "She had angels surrounding her and helping her today."

I don't know about "angels", but I did feel like I put some change in the ol' karma bank. Time to take another shower.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Porcelain God

I spent last night at Capitol City Brewery by Union Station, followed by the Irish Billy Goat pub. Unfortunately, there was nothing billy goatish about the joint, so I was rather disapointed. I was expecting brutish wooden tables, icy cold pints, and animal heads to be mounted on the wall. Instead, I got to hang out in a small rectangle of plexi glass and steel. So clearly not deserving of an Irish name. I don't think they even served Irish beer.

We had more success at Capitol City Brewery, where we made best friends with our waitress, who felt the need to sit down and tell us her life story. Mind you, we even got the full round of pics. The kid she adopted from her unstable cousin at the tender age of 19, the surgery report from her last bout of cervical cancer. After suffering through these excessive unpleasantries, we thought for sure we would get a wee discount on our bill. Nope, I think we were just expected to leave an extra-large tip after all the too-personal attention.

It was one of those nights- me worshipping the porcelain god at 5 am, while cringing at the memory of some unsavory drunken behavior. Cara waking me up a mere 3 hours later, so we could get on the road, while questioning me on the state of the living room, and especially her hand-crafted coffee table. It's currently littered with debris of an unpleasant nature and various wine stains. (Umm, I can't remember?) So much for being able to hold my liquor post-college. Thank god for McDonalds. The hangover gods must have invented those spectacular sausage egg mcmuffins, aka, alcohol sponges, which saved the road trip and the day at the theatre. That'll teach me not to pay for my mistakes.
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